Celebrating 10 years of “retirement”
For 20 years I worked for a major Canadian exporter, working my way from being Chief Accountant to Controller to Chief Financial Officer. It was a great job in a fantastic industry and I worked with mostly good people. We didn’t have a “corporate” culture, it was a very informal kind of culture where you knew that if you were being called into a “meeting” that there was something serious to discuss. Over the years we had our share of fights. There were a lot of swear words and sometimes stuff was thrown around. I remember once seeing a thrown banana stuck on a wall after an especially spirited argument. But we had a good team and bosses that cared.
After 20 years our parent company decided to sell the company when our bosses decided that they wanted to retire. We taken over by a Swiss company. The shoddy office we had outside the center was traded in for spiffy offices in downtown Montreal. I was the CFO, liaison to Swiss headquarters, and administrator of a handful of other Canadian holdings. I suddenly found myself in a spacious office with glass walls and views overlooking Montreal’s financial district. In the previous version of the company I had often worked in shorts and a t-shirt. In the new company image was everything. I was wearing fancy suits and ties.
The first 9 months were the most fun and exciting I’ve had in my career. Without the previous parent company backing us, we were starting new and I was responsible for setting up an accounting system and working with bankers, lawyers and tax accountants. I was paid a shitload of money.
It was once the honeymoon period was over – and routine set in – that things started to break down. Management played favorites among employees which created jealousy among certain members of the team. Outside “advisors” contracted by our Swiss owners and their retinue of company men constantly undermined us. The independence we had been promised when we joined the new administration eroded with every passing day.
A year in, I knew I had no future in the company. The bosses still loved me at that point and there were even whisperings of moving me to Switzerland. But I had seen two senior people from our team beg for their jobs over the previous few months. I had been especially bothered by the glee it produced among our owners. There was discontent among employees and the office had become toxic.
My huge office, with those damn glass walls, felt like a prison.
It had just been a question of time. One day, what started with a minor squabble with my boss over discipling another employee (it was petty and I was against it) led to me blowing up. One afternoon changed everything. Maybe I should have sucked it up and handled it better – but by that point I was fed up.
My “insubordination” put the bull’s eye on me. I was asked to apologize. I said I wouldn’t. Where in the old administration I would have been yelled at (or had a banana thrown at me), in this new one I was handed a lawyers’ letter. I got my own lawyer. Then they made my life miserable in the office, no doubt trying to get me to quit.
It took a few months but I knew it was coming. One morning the company director came in and told me that it was to be my last day at work. I was prepared. I handed in my keys and company phone, waved my goodbyes and walked out. I had cleared out my desk weeks ago. I wasn’t going to be one of those employees doing the walk of shame with a box in their hands.
It was completely painless and I felt relief. I walked down the street to my lawyer’s office and told her what had happened. “You seem completely normal, most people come in here crying about losing their job” she said. In my mind I had been lucky. For 20 years I had worked for a great company with good people making fantastic money. I had worked for another year and a half for the new company where I had enjoyed my job for the first 9 months. And where I had made even more money. Now we were going to take them to court and get even more money. What did I have to cry about? On the contrary, I considered myself very lucky.
That was April of 2011. I was 44 and “retired”.
10 years ago but it seems forever. Over that time we’ve made a lot of changes: we left Canada to travel full-time, we sold our Montreal condo, I started this blog. We are now living in Spain. Hindsight is 20/20, but I look back now and wonder – with Covid – if we would ever have had the chance to do what we’ve done if I had continued working? Who knows what the future holds. But what if that was the one and only opportunity we had to live the lifestyle we have been so fortunate to have?
As for my old company, their personnel has turned over more times than a baby changes diapers since I left. Nobody from the original team is around. None of that is a a surprise. It confirms everything I knew in my heart.
Friends sometimes ask me if I would ever want to work again. My natural response is to say no. I would never work 9-5 in an office again. The truth is that 10 years is a long time and I’ve been out of the loop too long. I don’t know what I can offer anymore. But with Covid I’ll admit there’s been a few times where I’ve been bored and where that I’ve thought that it would be interesting to work again. Especially now that companies have learned that you don’t need to be sitting in an office 10 hours a day. Will I ever work again? Probably not. But my mind is not 100% closed to it.