Interviews

Why I Left A Great Job With Nothing To Go To

Jon Urch quit a job many people would kill for, just when he was on course for the very top. He explains why starting a brilliant business with scope to grow will vindicate that apparently crazy decision.

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Jon Urch quit a job many people would kill for, just when he was on course for the very top. He explains why starting a brilliant business with scope to grow will vindicate that apparently crazy decision.

Interviews

Why I Left A Great Job With Nothing To Go To

Jon Urch quit a job many people would kill for, just when he was on course for the very top. He explains why starting a brilliant business with scope to grow will vindicate that apparently crazy decision.

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Why I Left A Great Job With Nothing To Go To

Over the years I’ve heard lots of stories of people’s experiences resigning. My favorite is of a friend who marched into work with a resignation letter in his breast pocket, psyched up to hand in his month’s notice to leave for a competitor.  As he was settling in for what he presumed would be his last day, his boss emailed and asked if he could have a quick, urgent word.

“All right, here’s my opportunity” my friend thought.  His boss sat him down, and his concerned expression inspired my friend to hear what his manager had to say, pointless though it would be.  “I’m afraid we have some cost-cuts coming” the manager began, “and that will mean, unfortunately, a reduction in head count.  I know this will be a real blow, but I’d like to offer you voluntary redundancy.  It’ll be six months’ pay and you can take the rest of your month’s notice off if you’d like”.

My friend feigned deep, personal disappointment, graciously accepted this offer and had a six month trip to Australia booked by the following lunchtime.

"It is critical that you part ways with an employer on the best possible terms; there is only downside in storming out"

My most recent resignation was both more straightforward and more complex.  It was straightforward insofar as I got to speak first, it went as I expected, and I left the meeting with a plan for what was going to happen next.  (And I didn’t get six months’ pay.) It was complex in that I don’t think my manager understood why I was leaving.  I was not going to a competitor.  In fact, I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do.

You may not know that more people resign than get laid off.  According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2013 about 30% more people resigned than were let go, and the rate is increasing.  A 2013 report from Harris Interactive showed 74% of people are thinking of leaving, and almost a third report they are actively looking to leave.

While the majority of people who leave do so either because they find something better or because they can’t tolerate their current job/workload/boss, according to a Business Insider survey 22% of people leave to start something up.  That was my call.  And while the percentage sounds small, if you play out the maths of the various numbers I’ve just quoted and BLS Statistics, in the month I quit (October 2014) I was one of 594,000 workers in America who voluntarily left their jobs to forge out on their own.

Why did I do it?  Not because I had any major grievance with my employer – in fact I was only four months into a promotion, as a director managing a team of seven.  I loved the brands I was working on, and I had a strong emotional connection with my employer.  I had been there just short of eight years, and anyone who knows me would tell you I was something of an evangelist for the company and its products.  (Well, I was working on the Guinness beer brand…)

Ultimately, I left because I came to the realization that I wanted the next part of my career and my life to take place outside the big, safe corporate world.  I still had plenty of love for the company I was working at, and for the people I was working with, I just felt a pull to move in a different direction.

These forks in the road are usually very obvious when they happen – like if you get laid off, or your spouse needs to move for his or her career, or you need to move closer to an aging parent – but in some circumstances you just kind of feel that they are there, and that you need to take a different path to the one you’re on.

I have nothing against working for a large company, and nothing but respect for the people who do it over the long term.  There is plenty of upside to it, like a steady pay check, more benefits than you probably realize you have (estimates are that the average employee costs her employer 20% more than her salary in benefits and other overheads), pension planning done on your behalf and paid vacation.  There is also the simple fact that you get paid to be there – you can show up, schmooze, talk with colleagues all day, plan your next vacation, and still get paid!

What it really comes down to is the sense of satisfaction you have at the end of the day.  To me, that is the single biggest motivator for going to work.  Do I feel like I’m making a difference?  Am I working on the projects I want to work on, doing the things I want to do, having the kind of conversations I want to have?  For all of my 12 year career working for two large consumer goods companies the answer to all those questions was a resounding “yes”.  But, over the last year or so, it went from “kind of” to “I’m not so sure any more”.

I had always had in the back of my mind that I wanted to start my own thing, or at least get in on the ground level of a start-up, like an amazing 63% of the workforce under 30 do.  But it had stayed firmly in the back of my mind until the beginning of last year when it started niggling for attention, like a grain of sand in my shoe.  And once it set in, there was just no ignoring it.  The big question now became, if I left, what would I do?

The Drinking Classes story

There are worse ideas than starting a business in the US craft beer industry

At first, I had only vague ideas.  I was working in the beer industry in the US, and for those who don’t know, it is an incredibly vibrant, dynamic market right now. The number of brewers in America has doubled from 1,800 to 3,500 since 2010.  I also fell completely in love with the products and became a total beer geek.  (Check out some of my beer reviews for a flavor.) I had an idea that I would like to do something in beer; I just didn’t know what.

Unlike some people perhaps, I’ve never believed in looking for a job on my employer’s time.  I’ve always held the view that you owe it to your employer to be committed to them, and to give them your best work.  That’s not to say I’ve always been 110% every single day – I’ve had the odd lax day – but I’ve never been focused on something else, especially not looking for another job.

I’m also a little unusual in that at 36 I have no property, no debt and no dependents.  I’m married, but my wife has a great career.  When I started thinking about leaving work I was fortunate to have the flexibility to do so in my personal life, and I take my hat off to anyone who has the courage and resourcefulness to leave a steady job with children and a mortgage.

So it was that I made the call that I had to make a break and take control. I realized I needed to do something different and I realized I needed the headspace to do it.  I had my savings, I had just been paid a reasonable bonus, and, with my wife’s full agreement, I decided that the only way to move forward was to pull the trigger and resign then figure out what to do.

It went pretty well, and by the time I was sat offering to write a formal resignation email with my boss, I felt surprisingly calm and collected.  In my mind it had become the clear next step in my life, and there no longer felt like there were any alternatives.  And, in hindsight, I think I executed it well too.

It is critical that you part ways with an employer on the best possible terms; there is only downside in storming out or in taking parting shots.  I also used my last two weeks as productively as possible both for me and for the team of people I was leaving  (I worked from 6.30am to 7.30pm on my last day!).

I personally phoned almost everyone I had contact with and explained my decision to them.  I created a hard drive full of handover notes and all the documents, projects and presentations I had worked on during my time with the company.  I had final coaching conversations with my direct and indirect reports, giving them whatever support and advice I could.

In return, the company has been great, and I have maintained contact with all the people I wanted to since.  They have been immeasurably helpful in figuring out the next stage of my career and giving me a network of contacts in the beer world I otherwise would not have.  People at the firm have acted as references for me, and who knows, they may even end up as future clients.

Most importantly, the decision to leave feels and has always felt right.  Friends and family have noticed more pep in my step, more vigor when talking about the future, and more enthusiasm about my direction.

If you sense you are not quite the round peg in a round hole you used to be, I strongly recommend taking the time at least to consider doing what I did and setting sail into the unknown.  It is by no means for everyone, and if you do it you need to plan it carefully.

Your two biggest priorities should be managing the financial side and leaving your employer while remaining the best of friends.  But, if you come to the conclusion that you just need to make that step, take it from me that you will feel invigorated and motivated.

Once you are confident that there is no significant danger to your financial or career prospects by upping and leaving, do not fear a negative outcome. Just use your renewed energy and motivation to work your backside off to create a positive one.

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Why I Left A Great Job With Nothing To Go To

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