Phom Penh, 24th November, 2009

Today I have been sober for 86 days.


MOBI’S STORY – (PART 17)

THE INSURANCE YEARS (CONTINUED)

 

At first, my involvement with my ex employers, post retirement, went as planned. A week or so following my official retirement, I took my family on a six week tour of Canada and the USA, and shall write more about this later under “The Retirement Years”

Following my return to the UK, after my little odyssey with my family across North America,  I made a few trips to London to attend some meetings in my role as a non executive Director, and also wined and dined socially with my ex boss and other colleagues. I was advised of all the latest gossip, and my opinions were sought on a number of operational matters that required urgent resolution.

I have not previously written about my ex boss’s stormy relationship with the CEO in the Head Office. It could be best described as a “love-hate’ relationship.  My boss was hell bent on forging ahead with our European expansion at breakneck speed, with all the attendant risks that such a strategy involved, wheras our CEO’s desire was to move a little slower and consolidate our position as we went along. But the conflict was more than just a difference over the pace of expansion – it was more fundamental than that. My boss, and I suppose myself and the rest of the European team, were a bunch of “young Turks”, determined to make our mark, and we were intolerant of anyone who got in our way, or in any way seemed to be impeding our progress.

Every stage of our recent expansion; every acquisition; every new, “high flying” member of our management team that we recruited, was the subject of a major battle of wills between ourselves and our head office masters, and in particular, between my boss and the CEO.

As early as the reorganisation of the company’s Irish operations, some years back, (which I have previously recounted), had been the subject of bitter disputes between us and the head office Directors, as they felt that the action we had proposed was far too radical, and that the rationalisation and forced retrenchment of senior Irish staff was unnecessary. In the event, we won the day, and subsequently proved that we had made all the right moves, as the relocated Irish operation was now booming.

So we had proven ourselves over and over, had contributed significantly to the Group’s bottom line profits, and in effect were “riding high” – so high in fact, that my boss was being mentioned in various circles as a potential candidate to become the new group CEO in due course. One way or another, my boss and I had become a force to be reckoned with in the Group, and anyone who dared cross us had better watch out.

I suppose you could say that we had become very arrogant, and probably “too big for our boots”. We were both very tough, outspoken characters, who wouldn’t shirk from making unpleasant decisions and seeing them through, and this attitude even applied to various Head Office employees who met with our disapproval. Our recent major acquisition had effectively doubled the size of our European operations, and whoever headed up the new combined entity would be a very powerful person indeed.

Personally, I had a good relationship with the CEO, had never had any major arguments with him, and often became the mediator between him and my London boss – effectively the voice of reason – whenever things became too heated.

So during one of my early visits to London following my retirement, my ex-boss recounted to me how he had been having a terrible argument with the CEO over a number of critical matters, and that he was getting to the end of his tether as he couldn’t seem to persuade the CEO to see things his way. He asked me if I would be prepared to intercede on his behalf during a a forthcoming visit by the CEO to London which was scheduled for the following week.

Of course I said I would be happy to do what I could to press his case.

So I duly came to his offices the following week, only to find not my boss, but the Head Office Human Resources Director in his office, in a huddle with the CEO. My boss’s secretary was in tears, and I immediately guessed what had happened. By way of confirmation, the HR man came out to say hello to me and then told me that they had just completed negotiations and had agreed a termination package for my boss, who had already cleared his desk and left the premises.

The CEO saw me sitting outside and invited me in for a chat. He was almost apologetic in explaining to me that he had been having a lot of trouble with my boss for a long time. That the arguments had become increasingly vociferous, and that my boss had descended into shouting tantrums and screaming insults, which, he said, were just unacceptable.

Who could argue with him?

So the dirty deed had been done, and we were continuing to discuss the matter, when he was distracted by an urgent incoming phone call, and I was asked to leave the office.

That was the end of my meeting, and that was the last time that I ever went to my ex employer’s offices.

Once he had “tasted blood”, the CEO wasted no time in consolidating his position and getting rid of all vestiges of the previous European team, and putting his ‘own’ people in their stead. There had been a market announcement that my boss had left by ‘mutual agreement’, and that the pace of European expansion would slow down considerably, and the next few years would be spent in ‘bedding in’ the new acquisitions.

But everyone in the market knew the truth. That my boss had become to arrogant and too much of a challenge, and that something had to be done if the CEO was to survive. We had grown the business to an unbelievable level, and our job was done, and  were now superfluous to requirements.

Over the next few weeks and months, there was a mass clear out and dismantling of the management team that my ex boss and I had so painstakingly built up during the previous 16 years

Week by week I received news of yet another senior manger who had faced the chop, and still others, many my close friends, decided to go before they were pushed.

After a couple of weeks the Company Secretary  contacted me by mail  with a request that I tender my resignation from all the European Boards, and had conveniently attached a number of undated resignation letters for that purpose. It served no purpose to resist, as if I declined to resign, I would simply be voted off at the next meeting.

So my last act for my final employer was to sign a raft of resignation letters.

Later, when the dust had settled, I came to the conclusion that the single act that precipitated this “day of the long knives” was my decision to retire. Together, my boss and I had been a formidable team, and it is true to say that most people in the company were in fear of us, and that included the CEO. We held a lot of power, we had the unswerving loyalty of all the key employees, we were very tough in our dealings, and we had an enviable success record.

While I was there, I was able to counsel my boss in his dealings with the CEO, and make sure that his rants did not go too far and that discussions and disagreements were kept civil. But as soon as I left, things clearly got out of hand, and the CEO was somehow able to divide and rule, once my boss had become vulnerable without me there to counsel and protect.

(One of the CEO’s first acts after firing my boss was to appoint one of the newer members of the management team, who did not know us well and would subsequently have a lower level of loyalty, as the temporary CEO of European operations.)

I was probably very lucky to get out before the axe fell, and receive the generous retirement package that I now had. But who can say whether any axe would have fallen had I not made the decision to retire? No one will ever know for sure.

It was with increasing sadness that I reviewed my career and it’s unfortunate conclusion. I had been obliged to precipitously sever all contacts with my employer, and I was dumped into the world of retirement without a clue as to what I would do to fill the yawning, empty years ahead.