Let’s see if this month I can do better than May and June… and actually write something meaningful.
For starters, I guess I should update on life. Where to start? That always seems to be the problem. Last month I thought I would organise my thoughts and then write… and in the end wrote nothing. (And didn’t organise my thoughts either).
Let me see if I can provide a chronological summary of the year so far:
January – presented (for the first time ever) a budget to the staff in the office. Given the world “crisis” that we are living through, I decided that it was a good idea to start the year on the “right foot”. Fortunately, or unfortunately, this was a “realistic” presentation of the 2009 market. It was therefore with a 10% drop in income from 2008… and so far, it’s been on track. Of course, that has meant that I have had to lower my overheads (as per the budget) and have reduced personnel in the office. That has been tough.
Vicky, my partner in the firm, was not at all happy with the budget as I presented it. In fact, while I had passed it to her before the year started, I don’t think she had taken it very seriously until I presented it. This year our communication was at its lowest ever. And I eventually asked her to either talk to me or let me know that she was leaving. I left for my holiday in New Zealand/Australia without knowing the outcome of this situation.
When I returned to the office, April 2nd, I found that Tanya (a lawyer in the firm, who I have known since 2003 and worked with me since 2004) had presented her resignation and was leaving to set up her own office with a friend. In some ways, this was a relief, as she was very bright, but very disorganised, which caused chaos around her. She gave me a total of 2 days notice as of when I returned, so it was all a little hectic and difficult to get back into the swing of everything. Of course, I then had to notify all of her clients of her departure and work through every file personally to see what the status was, the loose ends, etc. April was therefore a stressful month (getting back, sorting ou what I was missing with my clients and at the same time managing this new portfolio of work and sifting through everything).
After Tanya left, Vicky then notified me that she had finally come to her decision and that she would also be leaving. We took a little over a month to iron through the details of the terms of her departure and negotiating a buy-out of her participation in the firm. Needless to say, this was also a stressful month… But, in the end, we managed to reach a deal that I could live with and that she appeared to be happy with. Over time, I guess we will see how happy we both are with the deal that we struck at the time.
So… somehow, I made it through to June. As you can imagine, the months from March to June just flew by. I can’t really tell you where they went. But it was also a time for a lot of reflection and evaluation of what was right and wrong with Gray & Co. What did I like? What would I like to do differently? If I could do it all again, how would I do it?
One of the most difficult parts of the split was analysing “what is this worth?”. We had agreed that we would allow our accountants to analyse the financials and give us numbers, but were not able to reach an agreement once we had this. The principal problem was the capital that I had paid in and Vicky had not. And so everything was skewed in my favour. But, at the same time, I felt that the financials accurately represented my position and what I had contributed. But it was not leading us to an agreement.
So, I sat down and studied the problem from a different perspective: “what is the worst that could happen and where would that leave me?” The worst that could happen: we decide to dissolve the company and liquidate everything because we can’t reach an agreement and decide that we liquidate all the staff, the assets, etc. and once we have paid all of the bills, I get 98% and she receives 2%. Studying the company from this perspective was a huge eye-opener.
It made me look very hard and long at what I had invested and what I received back each year from the firm and what I would get in a “cash out”. It also made me look at if I had to start over, what would I start with? What would I rebuild? what would I leave out? What was the “deadwood” that I carry, because it’s already there? How would I like the company to function if I had to rebuild it?
Looking at this “worst case scenario” was emotionally and professionally overwhelming. It lead me to question everything that I have done so far and what I would do if I could redo everything. With what I know now, I would do things differently. There are people that I would not “rehire” after I liquidated the company. There are areas of business that I would no longer undertake or dedicate staff to. I would refocus the business towards more corporate and commercial business and less personal matters. It would become more “professional” and “technical” and not handle so many personal clients that do not have commercial and business interests. And I would do much more legal work and much less supervision. The staff that I would keep on would be those that don’t require so much supervision and that I could consider “team players”, rather than those that will require me to give instructions of “do this” rather than “take care of this”.
And so now, I am back to being “on my own” in the firm, with a smaller group of employees and a vision of what I would like to change. I am clear that I want to make some major changes in the firm, so that I can become more like what I would like and less what it has grown into. This has been harsh. I have made some difficult choices and decisions, aimed at focusing my business towards what that ideal is. I have let some staff members go, who I know are nice people, who are hard workers when properly supervised, but who do not give me the autonomy that I need to make the firm grow into what I want it to become.
Since getting that started, I have dedicated more time to reflection (and action), including finally getting my A into G and hammering out (with staff) the company vision, mission and values. I now have the challenge of establishing new “rules of the game” in the firm that actually are aligned with these statements. There is nothing like crisis to create opportunities!
So… does that explain my lack of communication over the last 6 months?