How being let go from a large pharmaceutical company changed my life forever
I share this story from a place of recovery from what was one of the most upsetting things to happen to me to date. Life does not always involve the glitz and glamour, but there will be times when you encounter significant setbacks. The question is, will you have a major comeback?
It was 2011; I was 23 and optimistic about my future. There was so much excitement in the air due to the upcoming Olympics. I had enrolled on to a Masters in Real Estate after receiving a gift from someone dear to me. Even though I am no longer in contact with this person, my heart and prayers go out to them all the time for their kindness.
Before starting my masters, I went through a business to business selection process through a sales recruitment agency. The selection process was similar to that of an X-factor audition. On the 7th of July 2011, I was presented to a large pharmaceutical company but was unsuccessful at that point. The hiring manager at the time said he would keep in touch and let me know if something else comes up.
I started my Masters in Real Estate in September 2011, and things were going well at that point. I was also working part-time as a Lettings Negotiator for an estate agency in South London. In October 2011, I received a phone call in from the hiring manager at the pharmaceutical company who wanted to interview me again.
I remember that in preparation for the interview, I spoke to six pharmacies across London. I asked the following questions:
What sort of information do representatives need from you?
What makes you recommend a product over another?
What makes you purchase a brand?
"I knew that to win; I had to be willing to do the things that other candidates were not willing to do".
I typed their responses in preparation for presenting the data to the interview panel. I thought this would be ground-breaking insight ahead of my interview as I was confident that no one else would do that. I knew that to win; I had to be willing to do the things that other candidates were not willing to do. (Side note: my brother took a step ladder to his first interview, and I guess he has been climbing up the ranks ever since.)
The beginning of an amazing dream come true
It was the 4th of January 2012. I started my new job at a team conference in Holborn, London, that lasted three days, and I stayed at what was called the Kingsway Hotel.
My Godson was born on the 27th of December 2011. After the first day of the conference, I slipped out in the evening to attend his baby naming ceremony. As far as I was concerned, I was on top of the world. I was a Territory Manager; I was the man; I was a Godfather. What else could a 23-year-old want?
First few months
I was doing well in my sales; however, the role also involved persuading dentists to recommend toothpaste which I found challenging. My background was in property and sales and explaining complex science like hydroxyapatite like layers, enamel, and the active ingredients in toothpaste went way over my head. My apparent shortcoming became clear as my trainer saw I wasn't doing too well in explaining the science behind their products. With that said, I kept trying to learn but couldn't seem to satisfy my trainer or hit my visit rate for seeing dentists. I was under so much pressure (Strike one).
My thoughts were, at the time, as long as I smash my sales to the pharmacies, I would be safe and sound. But my thinking was wrong. I have now learnt to view work as a relationship with your spouse. If you do what you want, it will only end in heartbreak, if you do the things your spouse likes, it will likely end in more smiles and kisses. My advice to my younger self would be to spend more time trying to understand what is essential to the employer. For my employer at the time, their products would sell themselves but educating health care professionals on the key benefits was king.
As the role involved a lot of travelling, I had to plan my journeys each day which at the time was also not to my trainer's satisfaction. I was new to this type of work but still pushed on. (Strike two)
With all the dissatisfaction received from my trainer, I was under pressure and was determined to improve.
The high life
The role was terrific; I built good relationships with numerous independent pharmacies who ordered a lot of stock through me. I travelled to some of the most amazing places in the South-east of the UK, spent a few nights at the Belfry in Birmingham all courtesy of my employer. I also had the privilege of experiencing an accompanied work holiday with my older brother to Ascot, and we stayed a few nights at the Penny Hill in Surrey. By the way, that hotel is the best hotel I've visited. If you have a few spare quid, take your other half there for a weekend. I thought "the boy has done well". I was delighted to have shared this experience with my brother.
My trainer kept on highlighting my shortcomings in educating the dentists and the issues with my journey planning which I thought I could compensate for in my sales to pharmacies. I mean, I was influential in building relationships and getting clients to buy large quantities of products.
My manager at the time went for a promotion, and a new person replaced him. This is what I now consider to have been the beginning of the end. (Strike three, four)
One dreaded evening, I was involved in a car crash where the vehicle sustained extensive damage. In the back of my mind, I thought this event would come back to bite me. We all make mistakes, and though they should not define us, some will use it as a measure to judge you. Learn from your mistakes but do not let it bring you down. (Strike five, six and seven)
I thought well, I'm 5-6 months in, my sales are decent and it was only a matter of time before I am made permanent. After a few meetings and conferences, I got the opportunity to meet the new manager. Still, I did not suspect that my departure was imminent.
The new manager requested that he wanted to spend a few hours with me one morning. I was nervous and made several mistakes due to the pressure. It almost felt as if he was only with me to come to his final judgement (Strike eight). After a diabolical meeting with a dentist, we had a brief chat. He asked "what are you interested in", and I said, I invest in stocks and shares with my brother. He then went on to ask why I did not pursue a career in property, and I said it was a recession, and there were not many routes into the property profession at that point. I guess after that short conversation; it was evident in his mind that I was getting the boot. (Final strike)
The life changing call
I was seven months in, and it was now July 2012, and I received a call from HR to attend a meeting, and the optimist in me thought this was it, I will be made permanent, and the rest will be history.
It was a warm summers morning on the 22nd of July 2012, the Olympics was in full swing (I think), and I was making my way to the offices. The traffic was horrendous due to an accident, and I was so annoyed that I was running late. Whilst lamenting in traffic, a motorcyclist rode past screaming profanities at me as he was weaving in and out of the busy lanes. I yelled back at him as I was under so much pressure. Maybe this was a sign that this was not to be a good day for me.
The road started to clear, and the building was in sight. I parked the car and promptly entered the building.
What happened at the meeting?
I walked in, and there I saw, the manager, HR and another person in the room. I apologised for my lateness, and they said it was ok. I sat down, and the manager delivered the blow, "We are terminating your contract with immediate effect".
My world stopped like the moment a bullet exits a gun, and the victim waits in anticipation of getting shot. I was the victim, and the round was the manager's words. (It was like a scene of the Matrix or John Wick)
I took a deep breath in what felt like my short life flashed before my eyes. I thought this couldn't be happening to me. I must be dreaming, what will my friends think, what about my next client meeting that I had scheduled and what about my relationships with colleagues. All these questions flowed into my mind and much more in the space of seconds. I thought, why is he doing this to me.
I then snapped back to my senses, and I responded, saying "I understand that a decision was made and would like to thank you for the opportunity to work in such an amazing company. I wish you all the success moving forward, and please send my regards to the team". The manager's response was, "thank you for your kind words; you are likely to do well in a business development role".
I had so many thoughts racing through my head, the manager then said, please go to the car, bring your work phone and laptop now. He also said you would need to drop back your company car the next week and drop everything else in your storage.
I went to my car, took a seat for a moment and took what felt like the deepest breathe of my life. One would argue that I was drowning in that meeting room and going to get my stuff from the car was my last chance at getting oxygen into my lungs before I passed out.
I handed my things over to my manager, and he just left. No emotion. Nothing.
I went from being the mighty Thor flying around the universe with all the confidence in the world to being stripped of everything I thought was important to me at the time. I was practically naked. On the below video, skip to 2:51 and watch until the end. This is how it felt.
The drive home
With all the above activity, I remember the drive home was calm and tranquil. In my head, I am sure I was singing the "I'll be missing you" song by sting and puff daddy. I called my mum to tell her the news, and she was upset, and I somberly made my way home.
When I entered the house, I thought I would just burst into tears, but just before I approached home, my Aunty T and Uncle N were standing outside. They all hugged me. It was as if they were attempting to catch me from falling into a bottomless pit.
I came into the house, and after the hugs that saved my life, I sat down. My uncle then shared a story with me of when he went through a similar experience. He explained that senior management at the time drew a line and said anyone below this line is getting laid off. Unfortunately for him, he was below that line. He said he had children, a family, and school fees. What was he to do? He told me that he made it through. There was a phrase that he said that I couldn't remember, but that phrase picked me up and kept me going. If not for that intervening conversation with my uncle, it would have been so much more difficult to bear. But his speech kept me thinking positively. To my Uncle N, I love and appreciate you because that talk changed my life forever.
I was confused, angry at times, thinking how and why did this happen to me. During the days after being let go, I applied for new roles but received no answer or calls for interviews. I was left alone with my thoughts with no escape. I even thought, maybe they will call me and offer me my job back. You can now see why this blog is called A'lake dreaming because I was undoubtedly dreaming at that point.
My older brother sent me a scripture from the bible, which was about Jesus fasting for 40 days and 40 nights. I took that scripture literally and decided to go into 40-days of isolation at my mum's and brothers house. This time enabled me to retreat and take stock; it began the process to my recovery from what had just happened to me. Whilst I was hibernating, the world was in a frenzy over what was one of the best Olympics for Great Britain.
Where my uncle saved me from immediate collapse, my older brother encouraged me to seek God. I believe God helped me recover from the perceived loss. So, between six in the morning and six at night, I didn't eat. I spent all the time praying, meditating and soul searching. I learned so much about myself and was able to recharge. I switched off my phone and did not communicate with 99.9% of people I knew. As the 40 days were coming to an end, it was clear in my head that I was going back to resume my master's degree.
If your head is down, you are likely to drown.
There are synergies between my experience and that of the many people currently facing uncertainty due to redundancy or job loss as a result of Covid-19. I implore you to please try and focus on the positives. Every redundancy notification I see on LinkedIn touches my heart because it brings me back to how I felt all those years ago. I want those facing difficult times to know that there is purpose in everything; we need to keep living and ensure that our heads are held high. If your head is down, you are likely to drown.
The experience was a hard lesson, but there was so much light at the end of the tunnel. I sometimes wonder what will I have become if this did not happen.
"I would not be doing what I love today in property development if I didn't experience what I hated yesterday".
I would not be doing what I love today in property development if I didn't experience what I hated yesterday. What gives me peace is that it took that event to focus my attention on getting into property development by any means necessary. This is the bittersweet nature of life.
The motto of this painful story is that there is a time to go forward, and there is a time to take stock. But in everything, keep learning and growing.
Stay tuned as next week I will be sharing how I was able to dust myself off and make some life-changing moves.