Near Yellow Mountain

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Moving on......Updated version April, 2015

In May, I wrote a blog about it being “Time to Say Goodbye”. I talked about needing to leave my current position and the reasons. As it turns out, what I had been told by “the experts” before I left the US for Japan was true – it is hard for a long time ex-pat to return to where you started. My favorite author from high school, Thomas Wolfe, was right. At least in my case, “you can’t go home again.”

By my  favorite author from my high school years - for many expats life imitates art
The feelings I had in May about needing to move on intensified as I watched my ex-boss get fired in June and three others in leadership positions depart quickly. Despite being a profitable business in a company whose stock had just hit an all-time high, the corporate chiefs are never satisfied and seemed to feel a game of corporate musical chairs was in order. I stayed away from the growing chaos as much as possible by spending time with customers in Asia.
Another saying came to mind as I traveled, “you can run but you can’t hide”. Although I dodged the initial salvos from the change machine at HQ, it became apparent to me that a bullet with my name on it had entered the corporate RIF chamber.

A couple days later, I was sitting on a tatami mat on a small island in Japan enjoying sashimi and sake with customers when my cell began to buzz. Night time in Japan meant the day was just getting started on the east coast of America. The news was not good – one of our least knowledgeable people had just been named to run the Division. We had a new boss and not one who appreciated my Asia skills…….
My trip continued for another ten days. I was traveling with a colleague who was equally unhappy with our leadership change. We mulled over the possible impacts. “There is no (expletive deleted) way he can get rid of you, who else can do what you do in Asia?” queried my long-time friend. I smiled and my unease grew.

I flew home to happily find our new leader was out of the country. The buzz in the office was about the coming reorganization. A week passed, a new week began. I had three groups of Japanese visitors coming over a ten day period to visit our plant, discuss the future and play golf (not necessarily in that order). I incorrectly assumed that nothing would happen when we had important guests visiting. Our new leader returned to the office, he wanted to see me at 4PM – before a customer dinner.
I sat across from a man that I had never liked but had always had civil dealings with. He knew nothing about our business and had no international experience before he came to the Division. On the other hand, he was gifted at internal politics and used to work for the company our new CEO came from. His ascent to the top - a victory of form over substance.
“I want to show you my new organization” he said. Not waiting for a reply he described the boxes on his chart. “Did you notice your position is not on the chart?” he said with a gleam in his eye. Since it was a rhetorical question, he went on: “that is because I have eliminated it”. “You are paid too much and I want to get your departure costs in this quarter”. His parting shot was that my old boss was not around to protect me. Clearly this was not a painful experience for him. Rather than give him the joy he was seeking by reacting emotionally. I simply said, “Well, ok, I guess I will go talk to Connie (my wife)” and walked out of the room.

This diagram shows the highlights of the final meeting with my boss.
In a moment, I had gone from 1% er to 8.1% er (unemployed). Of course, inside I was hurt and angry and feeling “screwed”. I left the building, got in the car and hit speed dial on my touch screen (hands free, of course).
Within 30 minutes, I was home – walking our faithful dog Yuki with my wife. I got someone else to host the dinner I was skipping. I talked and talked some more. I told my wife: “this is like 8th grade, I was going to break up with my girlfriend (translation - leave the company) but while I failed to act she broke up with me (translation – they RIFed me)”. Feeling a surge of energy and a lot of emotion, we dropped Yuki at the house and kept walking. After letting me vent, the ever wise Connie said: “look, this is a Christmas present; they are paying you to leave”. “Your non-compete is void”. “Had you left on your own, you wouldn’t be getting paid and you wouldn’t be free to work anywhere”.
Of course, she was right but it took me another 24 hours to see the world through her lens. I started making calls and then I started getting calls.
I still had guests in town to host. I told them the situation. They were not happy with my sudden demise ("but nobody else in your company understands Japan, Joe san"). Nevertheless, we carried on. The golf outing to Pinehurst was still a great time. We planned a November meeting in Japan to discuss the future. What my boss didn’t understand was that my relationships in Asia will continue whether or not I am with the company.
The next week was a whirlwind of activity. I reviewed my severance package and early retirement options, saw a financial planner, had a physical, went to the dentist and eye doctor, talked to two ex-bosses who had also been “let go” but were better off for it. I listened to their advice and started to plan my future. I talked to other trusted friends about next steps. I had my first interview by phone and agreed to visit the company to discuss options as soon as possible.
I video chatted with our faithful Shanghai driver Philip a couple of times. As usual his perspective made me feel good: “I don’t care what the company does, I am always your driver”. “I don’t care if China and America go to war, I am your driver and your friend”. Vintage Philip - not sure where the war comment came from but I understood and appreciated his sentiment.

Good to his word - 30 months later Philip still drives me when I am in Shanghai
I started saying goodbye to dozens of people – at the office during the day and by night via phone and computer to friends and customers in Japan and China. After a few calls I was asked by one person not to say “goodbye” but to say “see you later”. That became my mantra.

Yesterday was my last day of work for my former employer. I had lunch with some friends, got a buddy in IT to help configure my new computer and turned in my things.
The next several weeks will be interesting. There are several options on the table. I haven’t been this excited about the future since the week we left for Japan to begin our ex-pat life. Perhaps I should have acted sooner but no matter – today is the first day of the rest of my life and I am looking forward to the future again.

Post script:  it as been 30 months since I wrote this post. Life and work is good. I formed a company and have been busy ever since. Working on my own has been more enjoyable, less stressful and more profitable than working for a marginal boss in a declining organization.