What’s the redundancy opportunity?

Being ‘let go’ from a job is frightening. But often, it’s the start of bigger and better things.

Plenty of people have bounced back from humiliating sackings to create mighty business empires. Walt Disney lost a cartooning job because he “lacked ideas”, Oprah Winfrey was once boned from a news reading gig, and Steve Jobs was famously booted from Apple before making a spectacular comeback.

We asked four somewhat less famous former wage slaves to explain how being “let go” went from being one of the worst to one of the best things to happen to them and how the experience affected how they run their business.

The foreign firing

In 2010 Jen Saunders move to China with her partner to teach English. After she’d completed the requisite training, she was fired without explanation.

“I had to stay because my boyfriend did have a job and within the community of English teachers gossip spread about what had happened; I felt it followed me everywhere,” Saunders says.

“I was shattered and convinced I was destined for a life of failure and misery. However, that was oddly liberating because it removed the fear that had been holding me back from launching my own business. I was at rock bottom and figured I could only go up. When we got back to Australia, I launched Wild Sister, an online women’s magazine.”

Saunders says she’s kinder both to herself and others as a result of what happened and that is reflected in the way she runs her business. “It would be hard for me to let an employee go but if it was absolutely necessary I’d make sure it was as kind a process as possible,” she says.

The corporate canning

Damian Cerini had been in a senior marketing role for seven years when he found himself increasingly sidelined. “The company’s MD turned on me. Long story short, after an ill-advised attempt to get HR to help out, I was made redundant. No one wants to be moved on and there’s no denying I was hurt,” Cerini says.

“I took some time to think and decided I didn’t want to ever again be in that type of toxic work environment. I’d already been running cellar-door cycling tours as a hobby, so I used my payout to turn that into a full-time business called Tour de Vines.”

Cerini read a lot about managing organisations after he was let go, trying to make sense of what had occurred. Nowadays, he’s a big believer in communication. “Leaders need to have the courage to have honest discussions with staff. I’d never let anyone go without any real explanation of why I’d come to that decision, as happened to me,” he says.

Class dismissed

After three decades as a teacher, Dianne Ferrara found herself “let go” alongside a group of similarly aged colleagues. “We were all on contracts and at the start of one year they weren’t renewed. We were replaced with first-year-out teachers who were a lot cheaper and presumably more compliant,” says Ferrara.

While disgusted at the manner which she had been “unceremoniously dumped”, Ferrara simultaneously felt a “sense of freedom” at being released from a career she’d become increasingly disillusioned with.

“I was taking steps to start my own business even before my contract wasn’t renewed but that certainly accelerated everything,” says Ferrara, who now runs a business which assists first home buyers secure a property.

“What happened demonstrated how dehumanised modern workplaces have become,” she says. “Employees are coldly dispensed with, there’s no gratitude or respect shown. In contrast, I believe if you invest in your employees it reaps big dividends in terms of both their performance and creating a pleasant place to work.”

The insider’s ouster

With a background in HR, Jacquie Tewes was no stranger to the human consequences of contracting job markets. Nonetheless, she “went through the typical rollercoaster of emotions” when she was forced to take redundancy after the global recruitment firm she worked for downsized.

“I didn’t panic but I was conscious of being in my late forties and wondered how attractive a proposition I would be to employers,” Tewes says. “I had a great job that I never would have voluntarily left but seeing as it was gone I did decide to start my own career-coaching business.”

“I’d estimate around half the people I see who’ve lost a full-time job look at alternatives to going back to their former situation,” notes Tewes. “For a few that’s retirement, for some it’s contract or part-time work and for others it’s self-employment.”

While relatively unscarred by her own forced redundancy, Tewes says she’d think carefully about doing it to someone else. “Redundancies are necessary and inescapable part of business. But I’d certainly look for alternatives and, if there weren’t any, provide the staff member with plenty of support to assist them transition to their next job as quickly and easily as possible.”