Tom Kelley’s Story
Author of The Resiliency Advantage: Master Change, Thrive Under Pressure and Bounce Back From Setbacks (2006 Independent Publisher’s Best Self-Help book), and best seller The Survivor Personality: Why Some People Are Stronger, Smarter, and More Skillful at Handling Life’s Difficulties…and How You Can Be, Too.
In recent years thousands of responsible, hard-working people have been affected by staff reduction, downsizing, merger, acquisition or a mismatch in their position through no fault of their own. The shock of an unexpected layoff can be devastating to someone who has enjoyed strong career progress and expects even more career success.
Many people feel crushed and remain depressed for a long time. Some start drinking. Many people settle for much lower paying jobs and drift into bitterness about how they feel mistreated.
A few, however, fight their way through the distress, reorient to their new reality, and deal with the situation in a way that leads to an even better work situation than they had before. They convert what could have been a major career setback into an exciting new career focus. They have a talent for serendipity that lets them find good luck in circumstances that most others see as bad luck.
Early in 1990, Tom Kelley was enjoying his position with the Benjamin Franklin Savings and Loan. He had eighteen years of service for the Human Resources Department, he owned stock in the corporation, and he felt proud about how well his department had managed assimilating the employees from another savings and loan after it had been acquired.
The acquisition was forced on the Benj. Franklin. The other S & L was floundering. It was close to being shut down. Benj. Franklin had a solid reputation and an excellent balance sheet from decades of conservative management. When the BF directors said they didn’t have the capitalization to acquire the other S & L, the feds said they could capitalize on BF’s name and count "good will" as an asset. With reluctance the directors agreed.
Tom’s department had to work very hard to assess the skills of all the acquired employees and match them with the positions available. At the same time, his department had to reorient the acquired employees to the Benj. Franklin culture, to the values and philosophy that had built the business.
Tom says he remembers Feb. 21, 1990, very well:
"I was sitting in my office when the president’s secretary called. I was told to be in the board room at 2 p.m. for an executive officers meeting. At exactly two o’clock the president walked in followed by seven somber looking men in dark, pin-striped suits. The president announced that the Benjamin Franklin had been placed into receivership by the Resolution Trust Corporation. He said that new administrators at the Treasury had ruled that our ‘good will’ could not be valued as an asset and that the BF was undercapitalized.
"We were stunned. First the treasury pressured us into an acquisition we didn’t want by capitalizing our good will. Then they reverse themselves and close us down because they say good will can’t be capitalized. What was previously an asset in accounting standards was now a liability. The regulations were changed.
"The managing agent of the RTC immediately replaced the president and four top executives with RTC people who were brought in to try to manage a $5.5 million dollar organization. The place was in chaos. Employees didn’t know who would stay or who would go. Our switchboard was flooded with calls from depositors. The branches had crowds of concerned people at their doors. What could our employees tell our customers? We didn’t know ourselves if the BF would be shut down, broken up, sold, or what. The value of BF stock plummeted to zero.
"That first evening I asked myself ‘What information will my new boss need?’ Overnight I put together a plan that included a complete list of all the people in all the departments and branches. I listed their years with the company and their responsibilities.
"It was hard to stay focused. I felt angry about what happened, fearful about the future, and distressed about what was happening to our employees. We had folks who had held their jobs for 20 years. They had no job search skills. They needed major help. I was able to get approval to hire an excellent outplacement firm.
"Our human resources staff worked hard to develop a transition plan for restructuring the organization to be sold, but I could see that my position would be affected in the near future. I felt traumatized. I felt fearful and uncertain about my future, insecure. How could I pay the mortgage? Provide for my family? Where could I work?
"I left BF in May of 1990. The job I’d found as Director of Human Resources for a large insurance company seemed like a good match during the interviews. They were delighted to have someone with my background. I soon learned, however, that they wanted a ‘hands on’, day-to-day, administrator. My skills in human resources were managing personnel and HR managers. It was a mismatch. I stayed with them for 17 months.
"I left the insurance company in September, 1991. They were extremely supportive. They provided me with excellent transition support. I took extensive career placement testing and interviews. I was surprised to learn that I had stronger aptitudes in marketing and sales than in HR. The career counseling led me to look for a position that combined sales and marketing with HR services.
"I set a goal of finding my ideal job by December 1st (60 days). I scheduled five interview appointments a day every day. I made finding my ideal job a full-time job. And I succeeded! I found a small consulting firm that provided human resources services for companies that need HR work but may be too small to afford an HR person or need additional resources through outsourcing. They needed someone with my HR background and they needed someone to market their services to this huge, untapped market.
"I started with them in December, 1991. At that time they had eleven clients in this area. We now have almost 200 and have just merged with another company in the region, bringing our combined client base to 850. I feel such a passion for our products and services that I lay awake at night excited about the work. I’m now on the executive team of a leading Northwest HR management consulting organization and I like knowing I have more control over my future than I did working for large corporations.
"I’m glad I went through it. I always was self-confident, but I feel more self-confident now. I had to test my ability to hold up in crisis, persevere, set goals, and reach them. Now I know I can handle extreme difficulties. Before, I only hoped I could.
"The blessing from the Benjamin Franklin takeover by Resolution Trust is that I now have the ideal job for me. This is much better than before. I now combine HR skills with my marketing talents and receive greater job satisfaction and more financial benefits!
"I believe things happen for a reason. No matter how chaotic and traumatic it may seem at the time, if you stay with it with patience and persistence there is a better opportunity around the corner. You must look for it."
Thomas G. Kelley, SPHR, is now retired as the Pacific Region director with the IEC Group. For information the IEC Group, please visit their website: www.iecgroup.com.