Last year started, with being up to my eyes in selling our business. By the time the year started we had already been negotiating hard for four months with the prospective purchaser, a large American corporation who owned our most serious competitor. The headline price had been agreed between the parties but two scheduled completion dates had already passed whilst both sets of lawyers wrangled over potential liabilities that seemed so remote as to be laughable. By the time January started both parties had moved into that familiar realm of wanting the deal to complete but with trust almost destroyed and misunderstandings abounding, both sides were weary but ever alert. When it comes to legal agreements, you cannot hope for the best, you just have to get it right.
Two more scheduled completion dates passed fruitlessly by, the sale and purchase agreement had reached absurd length, legal bills had risen alarmingly, insurance had been taken out for the most remote potential liabilities (have you ever heard of The Chancel Repairs Act of 1932?). Tempers were frayed to breaking point. Finally, there we were in our lawyer’s offices on 7th March for closing. The final issues were thrashed out, compromises were reached, clauses adjusted, we all signed and the champagne was poured. I thanked my two business partners of the previous 13 years, shook hands with the new owners, the lawyers and advisers (don’t even think of the fees) and quietly made my exit.
I had looked forward to this day for so long but I just felt numb; I simply wanted to be alone. I drove out into the afternoon sunshine of an incredible early spring day and found myself deep in the Northumberland countryside parked by a small country lane just gazing out at beautiful scenery that hadn’t changed for centuries. Yes! I had finally done it; the culmination of a lifetime of work, the realisation of the biggest goal of my life. Up until this point I had avoided imagining what it would feel like to sell up or to make plans, having experienced the agony of a failed sale process 5 years earlier. I had spent a lifetime working and suddenly it was over.
I could no longer think of myself or describe myself in terms of the role I carried out in business; I was retired; I was unemployed; it was all stuff I used to do. After I had celebrated and visited with my family, I started to take stock. Having been through great change in my life before, I understood and accepted that my life was going to change and that, as a consequence, I was going to change too. It was exciting. I was going to become a different person with a different role in life.
Holidays were not on the agenda in the short term. We knew about holidays, we loved our holidays but they were the annual episodes of escapist unreality and I (we) needed to adjust to life in our home together. For the vast majority of my career, I travelled every week, I travelled the world, I had lived and worked abroad and it was something that suited my restless nature. That had finished and both Denise and I had to learn to adjust to seeing each other every day.
After 3 weeks of indecision I decide to indulge myself in something frivolous (completely against my practical nature) and together we bought a sports car. You see, I led an underprivileged youth (sob, sob) and could never afford a sports car, so sod it and go for it! It’s powerful, senselessly, illegally fast, thirsty, black and British and Denise loves it as much as me. Spring and early summer brought superb weather and we had fun with the wind in our hair.
An approach to work with young people came, helping them make the transition through university and, hopefully, into British industry and was looking forward to an autumn start. However, a shoulder problem I had been aware of for a couple of years started to get worse to the point where I could no longer put treatment off any longer, so it was into hospital I went. After 3 months of recovery and physiotherapy I have regained most of the range of shoulder movement and am working on building muscle and strength once more. Another young people venture seems interested in my experience so I’m following this up later this week.
The early dreams of a money worry free retirement started to look potentially optimistic as the year unfolded with the news in Europe playing out exactly as my fears and fellow Euro skeptics had predicted. Having now had many meetings with financial advisers, wealth management firms and banks, I reached the conclusion that no-one knew what the outcome is going to be. Research also revealed that claims of success were based more on luck than skill. I’m not going to indulge in a bout of banker-bashing but I have now taken the precaution of not relying on a single firm or bank.
Writing a book (or finishing the one I started many years ago) was one promise I had made to myself over the years. This project is still on the list but blogging has provided bite sized bits of satisfaction and new contacts and Twitter is becoming (dangerously) addictive.
So what have I learned from these experiences?
One can succeed in business even if (like me) you start with absolutely nothing, neither qualifications nor money. I don’t know what part luck played for me but I have had my share of failures; the critical aspect was really learning why things had gone wrong and in adapting accordingly.
Make goals, tough ones certainly, but make goals that are realistic based on your experience and abilities and be single minded in pursuit of them. Change tack when faced with difficulties but don’t give up just because it’s got tough. Tenacity and commitment is vital.
Work with good people, trust them, delegate, support them and reward them with what matters to them personally if possible; money is a stupid, blunt instrument when it comes to motivating others.
Get a balance in your whole life that works for you. I have no time for the ‘work/life balance’ expression – it’s an insidious left wing assault on the ethics, enjoyment and fulfillment that work provides for us as humans. Work is an essential part of life and it provides a sense of identity and means of self-achievement and a means of supporting oneself and ones family. Getting a ‘whole life’ balance is tough but so is life; if you can’t hack, it don’t attempt to denigrate those who can.
Never stop learning; if you think you have learnt it all, you’ll be working on today’s problems with yesterday’s mindset. Having spent a lifetime of working towards my own goals, I’ll admit that stopping is tough. But I’m blessed with a mind that wants to keep learning and I’m starting to feel I know where I’m going.
A sense of self-fulfillment has settled upon me and I am increasingly comfortable with how I feel about myself. In my time I have created wealth for employees, for communities, for suppliers, for customers, for shareholders and for governments (I just wish they had spent it more wisely). I feel largely calm where I once felt stressed. I’ve had the ulcers, the heart attack and some other physical problems that working hard can bring but I’m learning to be more relaxed and it’s a nice feeling. I’ve now got time to spend with friends and family and to meet new people and I’m enjoying the change process.
The people I have met through social media have taught me a great deal; I’ve met great people from across the globe and enjoyed their companionship and the views they have shared. I’ve howled with laughter at the humour many can conjure up in 140 characters (or less). But I have also been stunned and dismayed at the level of tribal hatred that still exists in our world. I’ve tried and will continue to attempt to learn what people are feeling and why they feel the way they do. My fear is that due to ignorance and hubris many of history’s mistakes are destined to occur again and again. The world continues to face great challenges and no-one knows how the combination of social, political and economic issues will play out. But I wish that some of you could be more understanding of each other.
But to all of you I wish you a peaceful, happy and healthy 2012.
Image courtesy of betterecm.wordpress.com