I remember it like yesterday, pure relief, elation, the sudden lightness of being, it felt as if sparkly stars were dancing up and down my spine, my lips curled upward in a smile that just would not quit. I did it, I really did it, I walked away with thousands of dollars in my pocket plus another full year of paychecks coming my way.
It was the day I left the corporate world for good, walking away with a tidy sum and absolutely no regrets. I was around forty-five years old and I knew then without a shadow of a doubt that I would never re-enter the world of global insurance and international re-insurance.
To be perfectly candid, this had once been the insurance career I loved and dreamed about. A career for which I sacrificed, schemed and planned. I was good at it, I worked hard and without hesitation sold my soul to the corporate way of life, I wanted it, badly.
My career had soared, but my personal life was a disaster which landed me back “home” on my mother's doorstep in Germany. A big mistake, one can never go back home again. I was homesick for Texas and I missed the American way of life, what was I thinking...
I found that I had become a "new me", one I was not acquainted with. I used to be fearless and now I hardly had the courage to cross the street. As I licked my wounds I began to dream about a different life and that is how I came up with a plan to have the past finance my future.
Frankfurt, Germany, their European headquarters was not exactly a backwater office. The old branch manager a well respected man who held the office together for over 35 years had recently retired. The replacement from Holland spoke English, French, Portuguese, Dutch and reluctantly German.
It was trouble from the get go. Within the week we all knew he had been brought in to clean house and manage the resulting mess. Everyone was shaking in their boots, holding off on major investments, doing their best to stay under the radar. Clearly he fancied himself on the fast track for a promotion into the ranks of the big time international managers and Frankfurt would be his ticket. A true ax man, the kind who actually enjoys his job.
It would have all worked out for him too, reduce down to a satellite office with a skeleton staff, wrap it all up within three to six months tops and off he would fly into the sunset.
The best laid plans ...
Shock waves rippled through the office as the union reps held conference after conference behind closed doors. I had my sources in the states, rumors flying around the office all turned out to be true, everyone would be let go with that most feared termination of all, the one Europeans dubbed "American style hire and fire". Two week pay and no entitlements of any kind it was whispered. (A new concept back then – commonplace now)
Remember the old fox, the manager who had somehow miraculously kept an overseas office fully staffed for 35 years? Turned out he was a corporate traitor after all.
Upon closer examination and amidst a flurry of phone calls between home office lawyers and the local office union lawyers it was discovered that the company would be obligated, indeed forced to abide by the German labor laws. This meant paying out huge chunks of money, over 250,000 for one of the managers alone, not counting another hundred grand in benefits. Corporate balked, but the union played hard ball.
I was stunned when I heard that the Consulate General became involved, there was even talk of revoking their insurance license, phew.
Corporate rallied quickly, granted they lost this round, but they had a company to run and this was not the only country where the natives were restless about the newest home office directives.
The ax man was furious, he burnt the midnight oil, but there was no way out, the laws were clear and the signature from home office, agreeing to it all those years ago, was right there in black and white. He was trapped in Frankfurt with a mess on his hands and an office to run – profitably. Suddenly he found himself following in the footsteps of a manager who showed a solid 20 to 35% profit every year.
By the end of week two the first official version of a simple office restructuring plan instead of a full scale downsizing list was handed to the union reps.
The office grapevine abuzz with speculation, I made it my business to discover whose name was on the revised list of layoffs and devised a plan.
From the moment I approached the union representative, butterflies in my stomach, I held my breath that my plan would work out. I had to thread lightly, careful.
The only one still slated for the ax in our department was an older fellow, hard working, but unpopular because of his nerdy looks and unfortunate social skills. Widowed, not far from retirement with a teenage son, I knew he would have trouble finding employment with a similar salary and position due to his age and the slim pickings for jobs such as ours.
Insurance at the global level is like a good ole boys club, it is all about the right connections. The players all know each other and depending on the city and the country the opportunities are rather predictable.
My plan could have easily backfired. While I was serious about wanting out of the business, I wasn't foolhardy enough to just walk away, not when such a golden opportunity presented itself, ripe for the picking. I had two things in my "favor", the new department manager was a misogynist who would only be too glad to be rid of me, especially since he considered me a possible threat to his position.
Until recently, all the global specialists had reported straight to the top, the branch manager himself. Now we had a new department manager who immediately tried to keep me off the list for one of the most desirable perks of the job, the annual home office seminars in NYC, even tried to low ball my annual raise, the jerk.
That little twerp of a department manager was a nuisance. He had begun to make my work life miserable which in turn prompted me to seriously analyze my job and work situation. At first I thought I simply had burn-out, not uncommon in the insurance industry.
Serious soul searching with a good Italian red wine while whining about my troubles to my best girlfriend crystallized my true feelings, all I wanted was out. That nagging inner voice swelled up to a crescendo of Hallelujah's – just do it.
Still, it was a scary thought. The sensible thing to do would be to find another job and then quit, but I knew I'd hate the new job, insurance and me were over.
So I cautiously started my own negotiations with the union who had the final approval for the names on the chopping block.
Another two weeks later, an office memo with the list of downsized employees was circulated, my name was on it. Let's just say, I convinced them that I would be the better choice to let go then my colleague.
I had already taken my remaining vacation and was long gone by then.
Everyone in the office breathed a sigh of relief, they'd dodged the bullet, their jobs were safe. Only two other people knew this revised list was the first page of the newly revised corporate five year plan. But you know and I know a lot can happen in five years.
The new branch manager was busy dealing with an unfamiliar market place where he had already lost all credibility. The big boys always know and who doesn't love a good scandal?
I was not surprised to receive a phone call three months later, "would I agree to come into the office to discuss a certain manager and his secretary?" I smiled and agreed to come see the ax man, turned protector of his new realm, the Frankfurt office.
It would be amusing, since he was just now beginning to uncover ...
but that is another long story … seriously:)
June 18, 2012 © Rose Hill – All Rights Reserved
Posted for WWE – writing prompt: serious
What are you serious or passionate about?
A couple of days ago I saw a gather post discussing unions, it made me think of this little story.
I do apologize for the length, it was three times as long at one point:)