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I’m going to be blunt.

When faced with your worst fears or worst case scenario, you still have the choice as to how you handle the situation. Life is divided into 2 camps … one group of people choose that life happens for them and the other choose that life happens to them. Neither camp is right. Neither camp is wrong. But the perspective that you CHOOSE to take greatly impacts how successful and fulfilled you are and can become.

I’ve written before about the end of my business in the Middle East, but not the detail of the event. It was quite possibly one of the worst periods of my life and I have been lucky … some people have to handle situations far worse than mine, so I truly see this as a blessing. After all, if you’re willing to play the game you have to be willing to lose and running your own business is one of the ultimate games that exists.

When we realised that the business was done and dusted the first thing to do was look at the staff and decide what we were going to do. For those who haven’t travelled to the Middle East, the pay differential between Westerners and those from the Indian subcontinent is exponential … a UK / US developer might be $4,000 pm whereas your administration staff are probably all on sub $1k. With a limited amount of money left in the bank we had to decide how this was to be distributed and there was definitely not enough in the pot to pay everyone what they were due … even with the directors agreeing to take 0.

I decided to let the Westerners go without any money at all and employ the lower salaried employees for a few more months. My logic was that there was literally no right answer and however I split up the remainder someone would be out of pocket. Therefore, I wanted the money to go where it would do the most good and go the furthest. By not paying my top 5 earners, I could afford to employ my bottom 15 for 3 months.

Compounding this was the fact that I knew that the 5 top earners would be okay. Their worst case scenario was that they would go back to the UK / US and sleep on a friend’s couch whereas the bottom 15 were sending almost all their money home to pay for university fees for their families or rice and food for the village that they came from.

The guy who sent all of his money home to his village was called Vinnie. He worked around the office as a cleaner and errand boy and had no education to speak of. I regularly told him to go home at 8 at night at which he would say “yes Mr Swain” and then not move! Whenever I asked him why he was still here, he said “I go when you go”. Literally for 3 years, I never persuaded him to leave the office if I was there. Even if he had nothing to do … he would stay. I remember once insisting he left, so he sat OUTSIDE the office in case I needed him.

So, right or wrong, I wanted the remainder of the money to help Vinnie and 14 others like him. The 5 Westerners did not agree and why should they? I don’t want anyone reading this to think badly of them, they were effectively getting screwed out of money they had earned because I had arrogantly decided that others needed it more.

I standby the decision … and honestly, as a leader I stand behind every decision I have ever made. I still can’t think of a better way I could have handled it as there was no right answer and it was the best bad idea I had.

I still think of Vinnie from time to time, and I can’t even remember the name of the 5 top earners who felt spurned.

“Please remember life decides the cards you get dealt, you decide how you play them.”

Author

With a tech career that started before internet explorer was launched, I’m a technology focussed strategist with over 25 years at the forefront of technology disruption. Historically I’ve owned and managed agencies centred around Web and Mobile transformation helping B2B and B2C companies across the globe, from SME’s to Fortune 50.

Across the years I have been through 3 mass recessions and am putting the knowledge and experience of more difficult times to use to help businesses see what they have, what they need to succeed and how to bridge the two.