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I am a young executive...

Time to Quit the C-Suite?

I am a young executive

No cuffs than mine are cleaner

I have a slimline briefcase

And I use the firm’s Cortina

Many of you will recognise the opening lines of John Betjeman’s poem, Executive. It’s wonderfully dated now, but plenty of us will remember our days as thrusting young executives.

Of course, if you’re a thrusting young executive in the US you only have one goal – the C-Suite. The top floor, the reserved parking space, a key to the apocryphal executive washroom…

The ‘C-Suite’ is the widely-used shorthand term for the head honchos: a corporation’s most important executives. The Chief Executive Officer and his attendant abbreviations: the CFO, COO, CIO.

I say ‘his’ because, as Investopedia points out and as we all know, historically there have been – and continue to be – far more men in C-suite positions than women.

What else does Investopedia tell us? ‘C-Suite executives often work long hours and have high-stress jobs, although these jobs usually come with extremely lucrative compensation packages.’ And now we come to the nub of it – because according to an article I recently read, the majority of C-Suite executives are thinking of quitting, with 40% reporting that they feel ‘overwhelmed’ at work.

And it doesn’t stop there: one in three admitted to struggling with poor mental health. Forty-one per cent ‘always’ or ‘often’ felt stressed: 36% were exhausted, 30% felt lonely and 26% were depressed.

Those are frightening figures – and with the numbers thinking of quitting, very clearly those ‘extremely lucrative compensation packages’ are not adequate compensation.

The figures I’ve quoted are based on a study of executives in the US, UK, Canada and Australia carried out by Deloittes. Nearly 70% of C-suite executives have had enough. But let me play Devil’s Advocate for a minute. C-Suite execs might be thinking of quitting in such numbers – the equivalent figure for employees is 57% – because they can afford to think of quitting. And they may not be heading for the golf course: it’s entirely possible that some of them – as so many reading this blog did – have decided that the only way to be really happy is to build something yourself.

I suspect, though, that the overwhelming majority will go from Corporation X to Corporation Y – and 12 months down the line find that they’re equally exhausted, lonely and depressed. As Thoreau’s quotation – which I never tire of repeating – has it:

Most men lead lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with the song still in them.

‘A lucrative compensation package?’ If you go to your grave with ‘your song still in you’ no amount of money is enough.

No-one – but no-one – in TAB UK will do that.

But, at least in the short term, there may be a price to pay.

Starting your own business almost always means an immediate drop in your income. Quite possibly that short-term drop extends into the medium term. It means your wife/husband/partner is going to be worried. It means that you’ll have some explaining to your kids to do. It means friends, family and neighbours are going to suck their breath in, shake their heads and say, ‘Are you sure you’ve made the right decision?’

They’ll look at the car that’s replaced ‘the firm’s Cortina’ and say ‘are you sure?’ a second time. They’ll cast a sympathetic glance at your wife/husband/partner.

But you’ll know you’ve made the right decision. Yes, it’s tough. Yes, there are challenges. And you’re big enough to admit there are moments of doubt as well. But you’re finally doing what you were put on this earth to do. Not for someone else. But for yourself.

And yes, you will sometimes feel stressed – and there’ll be days when you’re just flat out exhausted.

But there’s a huge difference between stress and tiredness when you’re the one in control, as opposed to when you’re being controlled – whether that’s by the CEO, or by answering to outside shareholders.

What you won’t be though, is lonely. I’ve written about loneliness many times on this blog. The buck does stop with you – and you’ll have to take some tough decisions. And there’s no-one else who understands…

Except your colleagues in TAB UK. Except six or seven of the best and brightest people you’ve ever met. The friends you see every month. That you can discuss anything with – at any time. Six or seven people who, like you, wouldn’t go back to the corporate C-suite however lucrative that compensation package was…


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