“Pick yourself up and get back in the race”
I remember the dread when I was told to send the email to the business that it had been sold. I was incapable of pushing back, of protecting the partnership that we had built, and I complied. That was my low point. I felt as if all control I had was gone and someone else was now in charge of my baby.
The senses of loss, of guilt, of confusion, of anger came throughout the next days. The phone calls and emails, asking why, was there anything that could be done, and the silence from others who I knew felt betrayed.
There was little relief, more a feeling of emptiness, along with a tiredness while trying to explain to those who wanted to listen. I had exhausted myself trying to keep all sides happy, and had really turned myself into a Chief Explaining Officer, but it was now broken.
I had led a charmed life and was a rising star in the world of executive search. I had taken over as CEO in 2009, a business that I had joined in 2003, we had a wonderful few years, built an amazing culture, expanded into new markets and for a while it felt like everything was possible. The vibe was cool and we were building a youthful challenger brand with attitude and care in the stuffy old boys world of executive search.
I was able to lead an MBO on the business and over a period of time a group of us went on a voyage from employee to partners in our own firm. We were deciding strategy, setting up councils, leading services and Practices, working all the hours we had to make the business a success. This continued for a few years when after a few ill fated ventures (new services, new markets) our good luck evaporated and the profits disappeared.
As a team we dug deep, we put salary cuts on the table, made tough calls over long serving staff members but it was not enough and we just couldn’t turn it around. It wasn’t that we were losing lots of money but not enough for our external financial backers who ultimately had the hard controls and decided to buy the partnership out.
They wanted to go a different way, drive the business differently and they could. I remember the feeling of helplessness distinctly and can still go back to that feeling in my gut on occasion. I knew it was over for me, I tried to secure the roles and salaries for those still involved and they were fair. It was me who had to go, the others could stay. I was destroyed for a while, the exit helped ease the pain financially and it helped that as much as possible people were left in their roles to try to make it work in the new set up.
I was looked after too, but I knew it wasn’t for me. It was no longer my business. I never thought control was important for me up until that point it was gone. I was still there but I was not involved, I felt distance and the belonging left me.
I knew I needed to reinvent and refresh and when the last cheque was sent and the time was up I had slowly rediscovered a comfort, confidence and energy that I wanted to go and set up again. The process took about 18 months from loss, anger, confusion, to get back to energy, drive and focus.
My YPO (Young Presidents Organization) network and Forum were integral to me along with family and close friends. Transition sucks especially when it’s not your choice. BUT it can lead to a brighter future. Sometimes you just need help to find it, support to go through it and to hear words of encouragement and shared experience.
Mine happened four years ago, I have since gone on created a new brand (The Naked Headhunter), work with an amazing team (Ackermann International) and still keep in touch with my former team and colleagues (SpenglerFox) who are doing very well.
Perspective can help smooth over a lot but the scars are still there. It was a very challenging time personally. I am always open to connect with executives who are going through or about to go through transition. For some it will be an easy, painless process but for most it will be challenging, soul searching and full of uncertainty. Please do reach out, I am happy to share experience and ideas.
Stay positive, surround yourself with people who genuinely care and will help you build the connections you need as you embark on what will hopefully be an exciting new chapter in your life.