Losing his corporate job leads man down new path

December 22, 1991|By Michael K. Burns

After 19 years of working for a large corporation, Larry Russell is finding new life as a self-employed businessman, selling environmental and educational products directly to consumers in their homes.

"I'm freed up, and I know it's up to me to succeed with that freedom," said Mr. Russell, 53, who lost his job as a finance manager with Commercial Credit Corp. two years ago.

The challenging career switch has its risks, he admitted, but the change reflects his new outlook on the future of work.

"I had to change my paradigm, to find something that would meet the business needs of today and tomorrow, not stick to the old rules," Mr. Russell said.

The future will demand self-reliance and individual flexibility, rather than dogged loyalty to a large corporation, he believes. Managing his own sales operation, responsible only to himself, is the way to success.

Not that he didn't try to find another corporate job, spending nine months with hundreds of resumes, interviews and personal contacts for job leads.

"The problem was, the job I was looking for no longer existed," he said. "Or if it did, the competition was incredible because so many people like me were trying to get it."

A five-month stint as a consultant to a food processing firm encouraged him to try consulting as a new enterprise. But companies didn't want their shrinking client base to be eroded by referrals to an outside consultant, Mr. Russell learned.

Business publications, meanwhile, were emphasizing self-employment opportunities and strategies as the way out of the white-collar jobless ranks.

Still, it was happenstance that led Mr. Russell in a new direction, into sales. A friend showed him a videotape about a Tennessee (( company, National Safety Associates, that was recruiting distributors for its products -- air and water filters and custom-designed learning games for children.

"I was impressed by the products. I tried them, and they worked," he said. "I was also struck by the fact that the market for these products had a great potential to grow . . . that the company was committed to bringing on new products to keep on the leading edge of consumer needs."

That opportunity, which required little capital outlay, also fit his vision of what he should be doing to earn a living.

The company's soft-sell of the products also appealed to Mr. Russell's marketing instincts. A brief experience as an insurance salesman years ago made him uncomfortable with hard-sell tactics; the NSA method, on the other hand, is based on in-home working trials of the products.

"You try them, you see whether they make a difference, and we're friends afterward no matter what you decide," he said. "I like the personal, low-key relationship."

So far, Mr. Russell says, response to the products has been excellent. He is now trying to recruit a few salespeople of his own to handle the demand; he will share in their success through discounts on the products he buys from the company.

"I can't say if I will be ultimately successful with this, but I'm committed to it as a full-time job. I have faith in the company and its products. It's not a stopgap employment but a new direction for me," the Phoenix resident said.

Over the past two years of searching for employment, Mr. Russell said he has learned more about the business world and (( about his own abilities than during his school days earning a master's degree in business administration at Northwestern University.

And he thinks of the lessons he should have learned earlier, but didn't.

A decade ago, he was hearing about the travails of laid-off auto parts plant employees in the Midwest who couldn't make their loan payments. "The [loan office] branch managers knew those plants would never reopen, that waiting for the old times to return was hopeless."

That was for blue-collar workers, he thought, but the same change is now being forced upon the white-collar work force, he said.

When he lost his job at Commercial Credit, cleaning out his downtown office an hour after the abrupt notice, Mr. Russell sadly recognized the firm's rationale.

"I wasn't angry. It came as more of a relief," he said. "Others had gone before me, I was just hoping it would stop short of my desk."

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