Thursday, August 30, 2012

Life in the Shadow

I was watching this TV show the other day. In one of the scenes a singer — the son of an extremely well known (and still active) singer — was talking about life in his dad's shadow, and I couldn't help but feel sorry for him... To me it seemed as if he too was in a "family business" of sorts. And following in his father's footsteps, he was living in the shadow...

It's a very tough place, living in the shadow. No matter how hard you try to move out of the shadow, it always seems to prevail over the warm glow of the light. I remember the feeling all too well. That feeling of unattainability, of never being able to outshine the shadow, of always being eclipsed.

It's an impossible situation. As a son, you aspire to make your father proud. You imagine him jabbing a friend with his elbow, saying something like "that there is my son!"; a big smile and look of pride on his face. But that never seems to happen. The glass ceiling — the ceiling that is the family business and working for your father — blocks your ascent, preventing you from attaining your wishes. And you are left with the growing feeling of disappointment.

I've long stepped out of that shadow, but the look on that singer's face made me think of it, and it reminded me once again just how good it feels out in the light.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

An exercise in points of view

Did Samsung win or loose the trial against Apple?

Point of view 1: Lost! Samsung was ordered to pay $1.05B in damages! That is one big loss, if you ask me...

That is pretty much what I thought. Until Robert Scoble gave me point view 2:
They won. Big time! Why? Because copying Apple allowed them to become the #2 smartphone manufacturer in the world, and all that copying cost them was $1.05B (which is chump change for Samsung).

Every cloud has a silver lining. Just depends on your point of view...

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Career planning

In the context of a family business, this is a moot point. You don't plan; the planning is done for you. All you do is go with the flow: As needs arise, you get moved up to more senior positions and take on more responsibilities. But it's not something you consciously give thought to. It just happens.

Now that you are out of the business you need to give your career some thought. An it's-just-gonna-happen attitude won't fly in the "real world". And you need to have a clear picture in your mind of where you want to be so that you can form a plan on how to get there.

The best way to do this is to work backwards. First, ask yourself where you want to be in the long run, what do you see yourself doing? Once you have that clearly visualized, map the steps you need to take in order to get there, working backwards. List the positions/jobs you need to fill, and the skills you need to develop, and presto! You have yourself a career plan! As with all plans, you should also build-in a few worst-case-scenarios and have fallbacks just in case. Then, you keep to it!

Being communicative and clear can go a long way. I recently sat down with my manager to discuss my career — an open, candid conversation. It was actually the first time I had voiced my career plans out loud to a person besides my wife! Just talking about them like that made them become real and tangible.

Lastly, you need to maintain a long-term-thinking attitude. Remember that there is a lesson to be learnt behind each and every experience. So even if your plans get "delayed", for whatever reason, stay focused on the long-term and learn from the short-term. Eventually you will realize that it all served the purpose of getting you to your goal more equipped and better prepared.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Leaving day

Will be one of the toughest days of your life. Mine was a hell of mixed emotions: Happiness, sadness, guilt... A reader who wrote me the other day subtly put it: "It is a lot like witnessing your own memorial."

The time leading up to the leaving day was really stressful. My dad, who refused to accept my leaving, left the workload handover for the last minute. I remember handing over all my responsibilities and how possessive I became of them. They were mine to carry for so long, and now I had to let them go. On one hand there was this feeling of relief, but on the other there was this great big hole...

The toughest part, though, was saying goodbye to all the people I had spent most of the hours of my day with for the past 13 years. Walking by each office to say farewell was a guilt-trip if there ever was one. I felt like I was abandoning them. I felt like a looser for not sticking it out. I had managed to muster a fake smile, but it didn't really help much.

My dad had left early that day. I didn't even say goodbye to him. I took my last box, scanned my memory-filled, empty office and walked home.

But, as I always say, I have never looked back. Leaving day was just another step on the road to following my heart...

It'll be two year in October. My wife and I actually celebrate the day. The day we finally became free.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The best of luck to a fellow leaver

I'd like to take the opportunity and wish a reader — and now fellow leaver — the best of luck in his new adventure. After 15 years in the family business, he's off to a new start and I'd like to wish him all the best.

His blog, telling the story of his adventure, can be found here.

Good luck, my friend!

Saturday, August 11, 2012


Comparing my work today with work in the family business, one of the things that was missing for me was ownership of projects. Ownership in the sense that I was never really given control. Responsibility — yes; control — no.

Being responsible but not in control (as in: "lead the team, but I'll tell them what to do") is not an easy place, and it adds to the already inharmonious setting that is a family business. When control is at the level of day-to-day decision making, it voids you of any real authority. And with no authority and no control (but plenty of responsibility), commitment to the end-goal becomes an issue. Commitment issues? Add another discord to the list...

I found out after leaving the business just how important that feeling of ownership actually is. It fosters commitment which is at the heart of good management and leadership. It drives you to do the best you can and deliver results.

I also learnt that it applies to life. I was responsible for mine, but not really in control. I didn't really own my life, instead I was living someone else's dream. When I left, I took ownership. My life finally became my own.