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The Company Owes You Nothing

By Francis Wade

One of the most powerful lessons I ever learned was from a friend of mine who was almost laid off.

We both were working at AT&T in the U.S. in 1989, and he got the big news that after being hired a few weeks earlier, his business unit was laying off staff. As a recent arrival, he was obviously at the greatest risk.

Luckily for him, the unit changed its plans and he was safe, never again to be threatened with instant job loss.

But the lesson was already learned. He resolved to take his future into his own hands, and started a number of ventures that eventually lead (years later) to the formation of a company that has over 50 employees and does business all over the Caribbean and North America.

AT&T in the meantime, split apart after he left, and almost failed, before being bought by another company that decided to keep the name. This is the only reason the name continues today, eighteen years later.

I regard his sharing the original drama with me as a turning point in my own life. I had never seriously considered a life as an entrepreneur before that moment, but I became way open to new ideas for a business from that point onwards.

I learned a valuable lesson as a 23 year old – the company that employs me owes me nothing.

At best, they owe me a paycheck for the current pay period.

That's it.

Professionals who act as if their company owes them nothing, are much better able to weather the storms that will inevitably happen in their careers. They create alternatives for themselves, by developing outside interests, widening their networks and developing skills that encompass more than the jobs they happen to be in.

Outside Business Interests

In addition to their hobbies, young professionals would do well to pursue business interests outside of their jobs.

One excellent option is to start a company, doing even something small. They’ll learn more from doing so than from any class they take

Another is to help someone who is in the early phases of creating a business. They can act as consultants in helping them get a venture off the ground.

Other opportunities abound in joining professional organizations, chambers of commerce, networking clubs and service organizations. Also, attending trade show, outside training and conferences help them to learn the most recent thinking available.

The internet is a tremendous tool for learning and reaching out to others also, and in divining the most recent trends that are coming to the region from North America or Europe.

Broaden Networks

In 2007, a regional professional needs to have nothing short of a Caribbean network.

The young professional who starts early to build such a network is one who plants the seeds of future success.

Their network will create job openings and professional opportunities that provide a safety-net for difficult times. If they are smart, they will devise ways to keep in touch, and maintain contact even when there is no pressing reason to do so.

Their network will extend well beyond the walls of the company they work for, and as they build a certain level of trusted friendships they will have the confidence of knowing that another job can be found somewhere inside the group of people that they know.

Develop Skills

The best way to develop new skills is to do them in a real setting, and a young professional can start by envisioning that their next job might be one in which they run their own business. If they are an accountant for example, they should start to play with the idea of having their own accounting firm.

The point here is not that they will necessarily take such an action, but the exercise is a useful one to discover what skills they might be deficient in. People who run their own companies need to be skillful in a broad range of tasks that an employee in a job does not need to be concerned with.

Most professionals who work in companies are woefully lacking in the skills it takes to run a company effectively, and they underestimate what is needed to be a successful entrepreneur.

A young professional will look to start developing themselves for jobs that are above them in the company, long before the company decides to send them for formal training (if ever.) They realize that their training and learning is up to them, and not the company.

The more general professional skills of management, personal branding, networking, leadership, internet technology, etc. are just some examples of what they can be seeking to develop on their own time. Once developed, they will be more likely to be promoted, and more likely to shine on projects that require these skills.

I remember when, as a freshman in my first semester, my roommate who happened to be in the MBA programme, advised me to put together a resume. In my 18 year old wisdom I told him I didn't need one. He persisted, and then got me sending it out to over a hundred companies, looking for a summer job.

I got only one, single job offer, and took it.

I also got one hundred rejection letters, but a year later when I was interviewing for the extremely valuable Co-Op programme, I was well prepared and got more offers than any other student in the programme.

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Young professionals who develop their networks, broaden their networks and deepen their skills may be laughed at by their peers, who may not understand why they are "wasting their time."

Fortunately, their opinions don't matter much, as young professionals need to be tough enough to pursue the actions that are right for them and their careers.

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The author is the owner of Framework Consulting, a firm specializing in conducting high stake interventions for Caribbean companies, and the author of FirstCuts monthly e-zine.
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