In a sense he had been caught with his pants down in that he had never expected it. He later admitted that he had fallen asleep. Although he loved every moment of what they had, there had been changes in her behaviour toward him. She wanted something different and he couldn’t reinvent himself. He had gotten so comfortable that he had forgotten what would happen if she needed more – things that he didn’t have anymore, or maybe it was that she didn’t need him anymore.
She called him into her office, told him that it wasn’t working. She was cool and calculating in the way she delivered the message. So calculating that she gave him a cheque and made him sign a document. She admitted that she was going in a new direction and would probably need to go overseas to find someone she could afford to be with. “I gave you everything” he had whimpered as he digested her words. As he left her room he wondered how he could ever tell his wife what happened. She would understand most things but this would be hard to explain.
She, the corporation, and my friend were not on their own. This great southern land has changed. Many seasoned professionals are being forced to finish their affairs with corporations that are either moving labour overseas or just closing down. Like my friend, many are looking for similar roles with twenty to fifty percent less salary levels. The falling iron ore price and soft international economy are not the only underlying factors making life hard for the fifty plus executives who have been forced to finish their affairs with the corporation. A refusal of our social and economic administrators to drive policy and thinking away from institutionalised employment to a more active entrepreneurial model never ceases to amaze me. There seems to have been a gap in thinking. Predictions of a population of close to 40 million by 2050 should have been fuelling a revolution to encourage a higher level of national economic self sustainability. By that I mean encouraging talented people to start and work in businesses designed to support a new Australia.
Just as challenging seems to be changing the expectations of individuals and institutions. Getting those professionals who have been encouraged toward institutional environments, to want to create and participate in agile small and medium businesses that take time to succeed, is a major challenge. Dare I say that the $300K salary becomes possible after years of toil. Our educational institutions, associations and unions as well as governments will all need to support the deeply needed entrepreneurial revolution. An insistence to retain what are now unrealistic benefits at both the executive and worker levels will lead to massive unemployment or under-employment across numerous sectors. The recent review and renegotiation of penalty rates in South Australia’s hospitality sector is welcome but must be just the start of things to come. And, as my friend experienced, the redesign of jobs and subsequent reduction in the salary levels of executives across many sectors is well and truly underway. Wages and salaries need to be at levels that people starting businesses can actually afford labour. It’s just not that way right now unless the entreprenuer wishes to take a potentially life crippling risk. Not all entrepreneurs have the heritage and privilege of a Packer or Murdoch.
If a revolution in thinking does not occur, my friend’s experience will be repeated and there will be no long-term alternatives for the likes of him. It’s time to stop placing all the pressure on the corporation. As important as large organisations are in providing employment, opportunity and international competitiveness, they can no longer be the central consideration of macro economics in Australia. We need to start a new and energetic affair with the SME sector in order that we may grow, prosper and create jobs.