I Blame Kevin Wheeler! A Cautionary Tale…

kevin-wheeler-largeIn April 2008, I attended the Australasian Talent Conference in Sydney and was delighted to meet some amazing people, such as Dave Mendoza, Shally Steckerl, Stan Relihan, and the legendary Kevin Wheeler.

It was a wonderful few days, and I was swept away with enthusiasm to engage deeper into the intricacies of HR strategy and away from day-to-day operations.

In particular, Kevin’s presentation had a life-changing effect on me.

He spoke at some length about Thomas Malone’s “The Future of Work” and the idea of the “Slash Worker.” That is, workers who combine two careers, such as Clergyman/Motor Mechanic or Writer/Geologist.

This idea really resonated with me.

I’d already written one book and really enjoyed the experience. If I could have, I’d have gone into writing full time. The problem is that profits from the sales of my book have been fairly steadily about the cost of a good meal per week since I published.

Since it’s impractical to live on the streets, eating one good meal per week, and have broadband, I decided I needed to become a slash worker. Thanks, Kevin!

Within three months, I quit my job as Operations Manager for a new executive recruitment agency. Why, I hear you ask?

Having occupied a research manager role in a company headed by a local legend, he headhunted me after he sold out to a large multi-national and then decided to start up all over again. But after all the fun of the start-up phase, I more or less had my old job back, though I had a better title and two monitors. And it took up about 70 hours per week.

So I quit.

I had three approaches on the table, plus an opportunity to buy a tea and coffee retail shop/restaurant; all of which would provide me sufficient spare time to do my own thing. I figured I’d quit and then work it out from there.

I quit and made three appointments to discuss the approaches — just as the global financial markets blew up and hiring freezes were instituted.

Seeing it as fate, we bought the hospitality business, a local institution that was 77 years old and needed a bit of TLC.

The plan was that along with my wife/ business partner Anne, we would run the tea and coffee shop and a small boutique HR consultancy. We both know quite a bit about tea and coffee. Our son became our chef and continues to do an excellent job.

The figures and information I had suggested that I could put in about eight hours per day in the hospitality business, then go upstairs to the office we took in the same building and get cracking on writing a blockbuster and solving the world’s HR problems for enormous fees.

“Where’s the problem?” I hear you ask. “Haven’t you made a killing? What are you blaming Kevin for exactly?”

Article Continues Below

Of course, the figures and information were wrong, horribly wrong. I have ended up working over 80 hours most weeks on the hospitality business, attempting to break even. The HR business has been confined to stuff we can squeeze in after hours, whenever that is.

There’s been no marketing of our consultancy — we’ve just picked up a few jobs via word-of-mouth. And the next three books remain largely unwritten.

So we’ve taken the decision to sell the hospitality business at a loss and launch ourselves full-time into the HR consultancy.

So where are we? We’re poorer and in need of a holiday, that’s where!

But yet, there’s an amazing amount of positives.

First, we’ve met a colorful array of people who have become friends, potential colleagues, potential customers, and even characters in future books.

Anne and I have worked together all day, every day, for a very stressful year and are still talking to each other. We’ve proved we can cope with anything.

We now have a much more extensive grasp on how hospitality and retail works.

And finally, without the last year, we would not be launching the business we are now.

So, thank you, Kevin Wheeler. The spark you provided has led us to where we are now.

Robert Godden is CEO of boutique recruitment agency in Australia, but he is basically a sourcer at heart. He enjoys finding people for sparkling new roles that are just being invented in cutting edge industries. When he's not sharing his opinions on recruiting and how we might all do that better, he's obsessed with tea and has a tiny internet TV show about people in social media.