Saturday, April 23, 2016

A Retired Silverbacks memories of surviving in a Corporation as a Senior.

A Dog on the Hunt in Corporate America

Back when I had my youth and the world was just sitting out there, around the corner it seemed, just waiting for me to conquer it, I was a Dog on the Hunt.

I, like a young unknowing, and uncaring, Don Quixote, took my lance and rode toward all of that excitement and wonder of the corporate world, never looking back.

I jumped into battle, laughing at my mistakes and success', and learning from every good and bad deed. I had no need for detailed analysis, I was a fast learner, and I picked the game up fast.

I learned when to smile, when to keep quiet, and when to put in those grueling eighteen hour days to get the job done. I had my flashes of brilliance more often than my bursts of stupidity. Much more often!

I had a gift! In every job I took on, I made money for the company. Year after Year!

I was a player! I got things done and eventually I moved up!

For years, I ran my race, I fought my battles, winning, as I said, many more than I lost.

Life was Good!

Nature imposes its limits on all men, eventually.

Then, one day, I turned around, and realized that my peers were calling me Sir.

I looked closer, with the eyes of a leader, an Alpha Wolf!

Oh, the other dogs in the pack were still wary of me, and they stayed back the obligatory one step, out of respect or fear, I never really cared which before.

But now, some of their eyes looked directly into mine, and were no longer downcast when I stared back at them, and there was even a slight, occasional, showing of teeth in the conference rooms.

This took me aback at first, so I took a long and candid look into my minds mirror.

And, what I saw was that I had aged, not just physically, but, worst of all, my competitive edge was gone. Well, not gone, but more subdued.

First of all, I had become tired of the constant travel. I had spent too many years on airplanes, in hotels, and in foreign lands. My company was an international force in its field and management was expected to travel and "synergize".

But, honestly, I had become jaded with living on an expense account and just tired of the travel.

I was tired of the living online with a notebook PC always in my grasp. I was no longer impressed with the grandiose hotel rooms, the exotic dinners and holding conference calls at three in the morning with my peers in two or three other countries.

I was waking up far too often, in a strange hotel bed, wondering where the hell the bathroom was, to the left or right.

I was shaving in imported marble sinks, and cursing the damned embroidered towels.

I was staying in five-star hotels and eating in world renowned restaurants, and just ordering a salad.

I had been to those places, so often that I had eaten pretty much everything they had on their menu, at one time or another. It had become boring and it was becoming obvious that eating such rich food, every day, was tearing my stomach up.

But the Young dogs?

Well, they all wanted to go out and paint the town, and drink the exotic drinks they were allowed to order on their expense accounts. They could catch two hours of sleep and then get up and take on the next day.

At the same time I had started to beg off most nights, after the first hour or so, citing my need to prepare for another conference call, or the need to polish my presentation for the next morning.

Their bodies were young and could bounce back on just a couple of hours of sleep, while my older, abused body was demanding more and more recovery time.

So, I had to accept the truth of the matter.

I really couldn’t run with the young dogs anymore.

The faded Wolf

Oh, my mind was clear, and my decisions were as right on as ever, but the competition was fresh, and they were willing to gamble for larger stakes than I was, and they were a lot hungrier!

I could see it, in their eyes, more and more often. Even my blood, that of the Big Dog, was an acceptable sacrifice for thei success, if I slipped in my resolve.

It was all about that old; Dog eat Dog thing you hear so much about in life.

I recognized it because I had been one of them. It seemed to me, that it was only only a few weeks ago, but to be honest with myself, I had once been that hungry for success.

I too had; destroyed, walked over, even crushed, my share of slow, old dogs, on my way up the corporate ladder, without compunction or remorse, and I recognized all of the signs now.

I had grown conservative, and a friend of mine, actually just a co-worker, had even called me a “Silverback” one day, in a meeting.

He was smiling when he said it, and the room grew quiet as the others waited for my usual lethal response.

But, I just looked around, and smiled at him and then I politely corrected his statement and moved on with the meeting. Eyebrows arched, foreheads furrowed with confusion, and there was a new subject for the toilet break later.

And, it was also an epiphany for me. I didn’t have the taste for blood anymore.

The world, and my new place in it, was suddenly very clear.

Watching the older employee get pushed out

I had watched this happen to many others, over time. And, I had sworn to myself that when I saw the signs of it happening to me, I would take the right steps to assure that my demise was under my terms, no one else’s.

I had watched too many aging wolves act surprised by; their thinning hair, the muscles slowly turning into fat, and the increasingly frequent doctor visits for treatment of the maladies caused by stress.

All of these physical things, over time, had contributed to their growing vulnerability, in the corporate world, along with the loss of that thirst for more, of everything.

They would trudge along in their daily work until one day, one of the young dogs would “hamstring “ them, figuratively of course.

Their reputation would be besmirched in men's rooms and bars. Their decisions would start to be questioned in meetings instead of accepted as Gospel.

And, I would watch as the fire in their eyes faded, and they would quietly limp, metaphorically, over to the conference room sidelines, turning into a “contributor” and no longer; a mover, a shaker, a doer.

Over time, they would just, kind of, fade out of the mainstream of the decision making process.

Finally, one day, you would no longer see them on the invitees list for key meetings.

They were then jokingly referred to as the walking dead.

Oh, they were kept busy, but it was with special projects, that no one wanted, and their names slowly slid around on the organization charts, and into unimportant positions with no real authority.

And, a few years later, you get invited to a retirement party. Everyone sits around and eats stale cake, sips on cold coffee and flat sodas, and tells funny stories about the departing Silverback.

The Silverback laughs and brags about his retirement plans and all of the fun he was going to have, now that he has all of this free time.

After a while, things get uncomfortably quiet, and people fade away, while the old Silverback just sits there, choking his soda bottle, holding on to his strained smile, obviously wishing he was anywhere, other than at this damned farewell party.

Building my own plan of departure

It’s all part of the evolution of talent in the corporate world.

So, with all of this in mind, I spent a few weeks evaluating my situation, and deciding what my real goals were, and most importantly, how could I use the system to get out under the optimum conditions, for me!

First, I needed two solid years, at my salary, to prepare for my retirement, properly.

Second, I had to relocate from the expensive area I worked in, and to a preferred retirement area, preferably further south and near the coast.

Third, I had to keep all of the Dogs at Bay while I implemented my plan.

Finally, I set my plan into motion.

I went to several of the higher management people that I had a good relationship with over the years, and I told them that I was going to retire in two years. Now that is a long notice, but it was what I needed.

So, following the company line, I told them that I was doing this, so they could train my replacement, and bring them up to speed, so my skills and knowledge would not be lost to the company.

I also explained that I was 59, and I wanted to go out as a contributor, and not as a lame-duck, sitting in some back office with nothing to do, because I had decided to retire.

Only one of them was dimwitted enough to smile when I said all of this, and more, to them, by the way, and every one of them told me I had their total support, and that they would talk to my direct manager, and see that I was treated right.

I was a valuable asset to the Company! My knowledge was a goldmine! It all had to be saved. Training a personal replacement was a great idea. Blah! Blah! Blah!

Interpreted it meant; You old dog! You have nothing but great reviews in your folder, and you are 59. It would take us two years to write you up, right or wrong, before we could get rid of you, and you know it. And, you have given us your notice that you are retiring, so we can’t legally get rid of you, at least not easily and without a lawsuit from you. You Sly old Dog!

Property Management ahead of time

I sold our house, and we rented a townhouse near work to cut down on the commute.

We found a nice house in the Myrtle Beach area of South Carolina, and moved our furniture into our new retirement home. I got all of this done in less than six months.

Myrtle Beach was only a 2-1/2 hour drive, so we began commuting every weekend.

We even joined one of the local golf clubs.

Then, BAM! Our company had a big international reorganization.

Thousands were affected around the world. And me? I was suddenly reporting to a VP in Sweden. We got along well and I only had to fly over there every 4-6 weeks, on average, for a week of meetings.

Most of my meetings were with my new boss and his staff, so I was also able to work from home more and more often. Home being Myrtle Beach.

Business suddenly turned even worse for our company, and there was going to be a big layoff.

So I went to my boss and requested that they lay me off. With my years of seniority, it would be a big boon for me financially, but my manager, and HR, figured this out also, and my request was denied.

But that was OK! I had pushed just hard enough that, after telling me how valuable I was to the company, I even got a decent bonus that last year before I finally set my exact departure date.

The day I drove away from the company parking lot I had met all of my goals, and my two years had stretched into 2-3/4 years.

I had a decent amount of savings put away, my wife and I were in pretty good health, and I was smiling!

The Young Dogs had to get theirs and they had to feed on someone else to get it!

I, on the other hand, had already gotten mine, and I had earned every penny of it.

My smile broadened as I drove down the road to the Beach, thinking about my tee-time the next morning!

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