You’re out

As anyone who has lost a treasured position knows, the loss can be devastating. Call it let go, replaced, shuffled out, downsized, laid off, whatever … it hurts. However, in today’s world of restless change, it happens. All of the time.

We called some of the bright lights in B.C. spanning politics, government, corporations, high tech, health, sports and education to find out what happened to them, what they’re doing now and how they got back in the game. In many cases these execs drew upon their skills and launched themselves in a new direction. They spoke candidly on their career change, what it was like to leave their previous jobs.

Here’s what they had to say …
Brian Burke

After six years as the Vancouver Canucks President and General Manager, Brian Burke lost his job when the team failed to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.

BCB: What are you doing now?

Brian Burke: Just doing what every unemployed executive says he’s
doing. I’m consulting. I’ve been doing some public speaking and I did some media work at the draft.

Have you had any job offers?

I’ve been approached. It’s been flattering because I’ve been offered some opportunities on the pure business side where people have watched my performance, respected the businessman in me and I’ve received some offers that way. I’ve received one offer to practice law, but I’m trying to sort through those things.

If you want to become a GM, you’ve got to wait. There are no vacancies. I don’t think anyone is going to hire a GM until they start playing again and no one knows when that’s going to be. So on that one, you just got to wait it out.

Do you miss your old job?

I don’t miss the spotlight that comes with the job. It’s not something I ever craved. It’s part of the job and you have to handle it, but that’s not why I got into this business. As I’ve told people, if they said you’ve got to be anonymous and invisible so your team can win the championship, I’d be “O.K. Where can I sign up?” So that part I don’t miss.

People have been wonderful in Vancouver. People you meet on the street: “Geez. We’re sorry to hear the news and we wish you luck,” and, “This is wrong.”

What’s next?

I’m just trying to sort that out. It’ll be some time before a GM job opens up, and then you hope you’re the top candidate. In the meantime I’ve been approached about doing some media work. I did some work for TSN – which I enjoyed – and by some other media outlets in Canada. So I’m trying to sort through that. I might do something in the media between jobs.

Was it a surprise to be fired?

It was no surprise to Jennifer, my wife, and I. We feel the decision was made back in October. So despite what anyone at Orca Bay says to the contrary, we believe that this
decision was made a long time ago and we expected this.

But it doesn’t matter how prepared you are, it’s still a kick in the ass. I’d never been fired before. Well, technically, I still haven’t been fired. They just announced they weren’t renewing my contract. No matter how prepared you are, no matter how much you expect it, it’s still a big-league kick in the ass, and it was for us too.

Burke’s Advice:
The key is to hope that what you ¬accomplished in your prior life and your reputation will buy you ¬another opportunity. That’s what you hope, and then you have to wait and see if that’s true.

Glen Clark

Glen Clark resigned as B.C. premier in August 1999, a day after the release of a court document alleging he used his influence to help a friend get a lucrative casino license. Clark is now president of Jim Pattison’s The News Group Canada, a
magazine wholesaler.

BCB: How did you get your new job?

Glen Clark: Mr. Pattison offered the job to me. You may recall he hired me initially as the British Columbia manager of the Pattison Sign Group, which makes illuminated signs. About a year and a half later I became VP of the Pattison Sign Group, responsible for Western Canada. And then a little more than a year after that, he asked me if I would move to another company which was The News Group, and take on the presidency. So I did that. I’ve been with Jimmy for about three years and this is, I guess, my third position.

Was it difficult to leave your job as premier?

In some ways there are similarities between all these positions, including the premiership of the province. It might sound funny, but it’s all about teamwork, leadership and working with people and relationships. The difference is, of course, in the public sector and the government, you’re operating in a fish bowl with a very difficult media environment in British Columbia. People are looking through your garbage, literally.

I had a very difficult year or so there so it wasn’t as hard to leave as it might have been otherwise. But each move you make, I won’t say is difficult, but it comes with its own challenge. I’ve been very privileged to be able to move around between jobs.

I have to say each move for me personally has actually been wonderful because I’ve had the opportunity to learn a new position and you realize that each of these positions lets you grow as a person, develop and learn.

As a former politician, were there any particular challenges related to finding your new position?

For an NDP politician, I think it’s harder. This is a problem in British Columbia actually. And it applies just as much, or more so, with the current government’s relationships with the trade union movement or environmental movement. Those solitudes are pretty real in B.C. and, I think, a ­problem for it. So, in the case of being an NDP ­premier, it’s more difficult to move into the business sector because you haven’t developed those business relationships. And there’s a certain amount of hostility, rightly or wrongly, built up, so I was extremely fortunate that Mr. Pattison chose to offer me a job.

Clark’s Advice:
My only advice is to never forget that everybody you come into contact with could potentially be your employer. In other words, there’s no relationship you have in your current job that isn’t potentially important, so you’ve got to treat people well and listen carefully to what they say. Work hard because at the end of the day the world is moving very fast and positions move very fast, so there’s tremendous opportunity there. Remember that sometimes today’s competitor is your employer tomorrow.

Elisabeth Riley

Elisabeth Riley lost her position as president of Children’s & Women’s Health Centre of British Columbia in 2002 during an organizational shuffle. After 13 months between jobs, she was hired last year as Dean of Health Sciences at BCIT. She ¬recently launched Navahealth, a company that helps patients navigate through the maze of their medical care.

BCB: How did you get your new job?

Elisabeth Riley: Actually, it was through networking plus seeing the announcement in the paper and contacting the recruitment agency I had previously interviewed with.

Generally the way it works at the executive level is that you approach the search firms specializing in your area of interest. I had contacted Provence Consulting. It was a company I knew from before. [Libby Dybikowski, the founder] had come to me as a recruiter offering to sell her services when I was CEO of Children’s & Women’s. So you know people and you contact them and let them know you’re in the job market.

Was it difficult for you to get another job?

When anyone in a senior position has lost their job it makes it difficult to move around within the same business. It’s unlikely for you to get hired back. I was told this by people in the business sector, not the public sector, but I think it’s the rule of thumb in the public sector as well. If you’re in a senior position it’s difficult to get back with the same employer. Let’s face it, they paid you ¬severance. If they paid you to go away, it’s ¬difficult for them to rehire you later.

What did you do in your year off?

I used it as a ‘sabbatical’. That’s the way I would word it. I haven’t taken any time off in my 30-year career except for normal absences. I’ve never been in between jobs before so I used it as a time to ¬refresh myself and to regenerate and rejuvenate and then to begin my process of thinking about my career.

I really reflected on my career, on what I enjoy doing, and what I’m good at. That process was very helpful and I felt very privileged to have [the services formally] offered as part of the severance package.

What was it like to lose your previous job?

Frankly, with reflection, I don’t care how [the lay-off] is done, it’s going to be hard. It’s hard because it’s not something you choose. When you choose to move on, it’s a totally different thing. You’re in control, you’re in the driver’s seat. And what I did find, it’s extremely different. Because I’ve been in the position, all my life, where every single job I applied for, I got.

Riley’s Advice:
Take the time between jobs. Just about all of my colleagues and many others who have gone through it have all advised me: “Take the time.” It’s easy to just jump in and take the first thing that comes along. Take the time and let the trauma and the impact of the job change settle in before you make a major decision.

Bruce Chambers

Former Vancouver Police Chief Bruce Chambers was fired by the police board in 1999 two years into a three-year contract. Today Chambers is the regional director for the British Columbia Ambulance Service out of Prince George.

BCB: What happened after you got fired?

Bruce Chambers: After I left Vancouver, I was retired for four years. And it just happened one day I was looking on a website and they were looking for someone, and I said, “That’s interesting.” I sent in my resumé and I ended up being successful.

Was finding a new job tough?

I guess the biggest challenge was just for me to convince the new employer that my skills were transferable. [The question was,]“Okay, after many years in police service, how is that relevant to what we’re doing?” So that was the challenge for me.

I was [chief of police] on a contract. Part of my contract said that they had to let me know within a year of the end of the contract if they were going to renew, and they told me they weren’t going to, so we parted ways. It was disappointing [not to have my contract extended] because I thought there was work that wasn’t complete. It was disappointing.

Chambers’s Advice:
I think I should have spoken to some professional in the consulting business. I didn’t get any of that [advice] when I left and I didn’t seek any. It might have helped me address that issue of transferable skills. I think many people have a perception of the police as a ‘police officer’ and not the fact that you were a general manager or CEO for those years.

Katy Bindon

In March 2004 UBC President Martha Piper announced that the North Kelowna Campus of Okanagan University College was to become UBC (Okanagan). Despite her many successes OUC president Katy Bindon was summarily dismissed.

BCB: What are you doing now?

Katy Bindon: I am a tenured professor of history. So it’s a little different in the university sector because you usually have your academic position as well as your administrative position. I had administrative leave coming to me, so I’m working on a book now that I haven’t been able to work on for the eight years I’ve been here. And, of course, OUC was 24/7 so I’m learning how to have a life again.

How do you go about getting a new job?

There are three or four headhunters in the university business and they connect with you and are interested to know that you’re there. Every so often they call you and ask you if you’re interested in this, that or the other thing. So that’s pretty standard, right? I’ve let them know I’m no longer president here.

How tough was it to let go of an organization you had grown and shaped?

When you’re working at 150 per cent and it all drops off, it’s quite shocking. It was very tough. But you get on with other stuff.

I think one of the things in university is that you gain a very deep and diverse experience as an administrator. On the other hand, I think it’s hard to cross sectors. A lot of business people don’t hold universities in high regard these days.

What challenges does being a former university president present in your job search?

It’s fair to say that there’s an assumption that public institutions are not as tightly managed as the private sector. I don’t care who you are; if you don’t have the resources, you can’t sustain the programming.

Bindon’s Advice:
It’s like anything in your life. You’ve got to look back at what you’ve accomplished and feel proud of those. I guess it’s a bit like that old aphorism, “God grant me the wisdom.”
Anyone who’s been in an intense institution-building capacity exercise, when it works as well as what we did here works, you’ve got to take the good stuff and say, ‘Wow. Look at what I’ve learned.’ And the other thing is that no one is immune to the fact that we all have many careers these days. There are things really exciting about that. Once you get on with it, it just ends up being the next stage.

Barry Jinks

Barry Jinks is former head of Spectrum Signal Processing, a position he held for 10 years while he grew the company from $1 million to $40 million in annual sales. In July 1999 he and the board of Spectrum agreed to what he calls “a parting of ways.” Jinks is now CEO of Colligo Networks of Vancouver.

BCB: How did you come to leave your old job?

Barry Jinks: It became pretty obvious I was better suited and personally enjoyed the small company in startup phase more than operational phase. It was pretty apparent as well that the company needed to get some new blood in there.

What’s the first thing you did after leaving Spectrum?

I went out and started a new company, Colligo Networks, and started building it up from there. I had learned a lot about different technologies when I was at Spectrum. We had lots of different customers in different markets. The one area that I thought was about to explode was wireless.

How did you start the business?

We raised venture capital from Growth Work Capital and the Business Development Bank of Canada and we had quite a few local relatively high-profile angels involved like Paul Lee from Electronic Arts. Sierra Wireless also made an investment in the company.

What advantage did your background ­provide?

Actually, one of the things we did at Spectrum, and was quite instrumental in the early success of the company, was we spent most of our effort landing customers and bringing in very little venture capital in the process. So by the time the company was on its feet we had a really good understanding of what the market was looking for.

We did the same thing at Colligo. We actually built the company based on our relationship that we had established with PricewaterhouseCoopers and today every auditor at PwC in the top 20 countries of the world uses our software.

Jinks’s Advice:
It depends on your skill set. Again, the realization the board and I had was that I was much more comfortable in a startup role. That’s where my talents are. For me it made sense to go out and start another company. Other guys may have different talents. They may be operationally focused.

Obviously what you want to do is assess yourself, decide on your strengths and weaknesses, and play to your strengths. Get into a role where you can
succeed and play to your strengths.

Robert Bakshi

Robert Bakshi was the founder and president of Surrey-based Silent Witness, a leading provider of video-monitoring technology. In November 2001 Honeywell International acquired the company in a friendly takeover. Bakshi was dismissed shortly thereafter and is now pursuing a wrongful dismissal suit against Honeywell.

BCB: What are you up to now?

Robert Bakshi: I’m doing real estate development in Calgary. That’s my new passion. I want to learn a totally different industry. So I’ve bought about three and a half acres of commercial land and I intend to put in retail buildings over the next two or three years.

What happened at Silent Witness?

I started Silent Witness back in 1985. When Honeywell bought it, I was the president, CEO and one of the largest shareholders. They had offered me a position to run the global video business and, of course, after about a month there was a change. They didn’t want me anymore and they sent me home.

How did you feel when Honeywell fired you?

You’re getting into a soft spot now. My initial feeling was disbelief. You feel that your trust has been betrayed. You know they promise one thing and they buy the company and they give me a position and all of a sudden, of course, I don’t have a position. So you feel like you’ve been taken advantage of.

What’s the first thing you did?

I saw my lawyers and initiated a wrongful dismissal lawsuit which is in process now. I’m more concerned about my employees. There were 165 employees in three countries and now they’re down to about 60.

Bakshi’s Advice:
The sun will shine the following morning. At first it seems like the end of the world. You are, of course, depressed and questioning yourself and questioning other people’s motives. But you get over that and find life is still worth living. New opportunities will come. For example, I’m involved in so many things now, and I don’t think I would have the opportunity to do that if [I was] still working nine-to-five.

Nick Geer

The former president of ICBC was abruptly fired this past summer after just two years at the helm. During his term Geer finessed a financial turnaround at the government-owned insurance company, shaping ICBC into a leaner, more efficient company and putting it back into the black. But when he disagreed with his government bosses on the future direction of the company, he was shown the door.

BCB: What are you doing now?

Nick Geer: At the moment, I’m on three or four boards and I’m choosing my options. Various bits and pieces are coming up and I’m taking it easy and seeing what I do next.

What do you like about what you’re doing now?

I’ve not yet gotten used to getting up at eight o’clock, as opposed to six.

How did you come to leave your last job?

That’s a matter for the press. I’m not allowed to say anything about my contract.

What was it like for you to lose your former position?

It was difficult. It came as a complete surprise. We’d turned the company around. Gone from a loss of $200 million to a profit this year for the first six months of over $167 million. Taken about 1,800 people out of the company. Everybody was up and things were going very well. So it came as a complete surprise.

Was it hard to tell your family?

Oh, no, no, no. My wife and I talk about everything. But when you’re involved in ¬effectively what is a quasi-political situation, you expect surprises.

What did you do in the days following your job loss?

The word was dropped at the end of May.

I left ICBC June 30th. So I got myself organized. I’m not troubled by cash. That isn’t an issue.

How goes your current job search?

I’m not on a job search. I’m coming up on 63, although that doesn’t mean anything. I’m on three boards, which I enjoy; I’m on two or three other charity boards, so those keep me partially busy, and I’ve had a couple of offers already of running companies, which I’ve turned down.

Did losing your job as a CEO carry any stigma?

No, not at all. Quite the opposite. Everybody I bump into on the street keeps telling me what a wonderful job I did. So there’s no stigma whatsoever.

Geer’s Advice:
Never look back. What is, is. Understand what you’ve learned. Understand how you’ve grown through it. Because you grow through adversity, you don’t grow through constant success. Understand internally what pleased you and displeased you. You’re only ever good at what you enjoy doing, in my view.