Suddenly, I’m Not Half The Man I Used To Be

by Stephen Benzikie

by Stephen Benzikie

IF I had a pound for every middle aged, middle class, overweight man I know who “used to play rugby at quite a high level” then I wouldn’t be wasting my time typing this. I’d be spending my millions having adventures all over the globe, perhaps even catching up with the Lions tour or Rugby World Cup on my travels.

Needless to say, there aren’t even enough Sunday morning teams on the planet to support the exaggerated playing records of these corpulent armchair athletes. Much in the same way that the supply of Frenchmen (or even women) has ever matched the number of apparently French waiters in such restaurants the world over.

Spurious claims aside, the Used to Be is a familiar figure in the business world and the number is growing strongly. This is neither surprising nor unreasonable. The later we are in our careers, the more of a ‘former-this’ or ‘ex-that’ we become. The latter part of our CVs may not necessarily match the perceived quality of some of the earlier parts: household name employers, prizes won, contracts handled, leadership roles, budgets controlled - it really shouldn’t matter.

Work patterns and career paths are changing rapidly, responding to the cost bases of employers and the lack of economic certainty in most major markets. Job security has diminished all over the world. Major corporations offer voluntary redundancy to senior executives with decades of experience, only to hire them back as expensive consultants. Advisory and professional services sectors seem to be fragmenting – from boutique investment banks to specialist law firms and even PR and communications, many of the top operators working on a much smaller scale after years in the bulge bracket or magic circle.

Relationships, points of difference and added value are what’s really important. Those who succeed in the Used to Be world will focus on their current relevance to clients, customers or business partners, not what they used to offer in their illustrious pasts. New enterprises of this sort can afford to be confident, the benefit they bring being underpinned by deep experience of a wide range of business situations and market beating access to seniority and expertise.

The ability to reinvent and adapt is more critical than ever, moving forward with only the pieces of baggage from our earlier ‘big jobs’ that we’re likely to need again. Provenance in business inspires confidence and validates a new promise, but it shouldn’t define a new venture. Few would argue that Paul McCartney was less of an artist after The Beatles, or Sting post-Police.

For the record, I actually enjoy rugby very much. I played a little when I was much younger, but to no great degree.  Rowing was much more my thing, competing at a decent level, but I don’t come over all Steve Redgrave when I see someone abusing the Concept 2 ergo in the gym.  One of my colleagues played cricket for Sri Lanka, while another, away from the sports field, played keyboards in a 1990s band with a record deal.

But only this week did I meet a Used to Be with perhaps the most impressive claim so far: an eminent QC who once acted far outside the law, appearing as an inmate in the 1979 violent crime movie Scum.  That’s very cool. I’m told the rugby-based sequel, Scrum, is looking for extras. Form a queue behind the big guy with the love handles.