may be required to take the plunge from corporate employee to freelancer?
It was a dark and stormy night…
certainly did not begin like that for me and did not end like it either. But
between 1 January and 31 December, there were moments, chunks actually, of
needing to take a deep breath and reassess my reality.
hit us squarely between the eyes. Thankfully, I was able to take the kids
skiing in Japan before doing so became irresponsible. The flight from Taiwan to
Japan was packed, but the Singapore-Taiwan leg of our journey was possibly only
15 per cent occupied (a bad omen), so all four of us had our own three-seater
row on the plane. That was back in February 2020 before the virus embraced the
world in its infectious hug.
of a brewing epidemic had us all stand at attention, scanning the media more
fervently than before to keep up-to-date with the latest strategies to keep
ourselves safe. Opinions differed: Mask, no mask. Test, don’t test, contact
trace, or not.
In a parallel development, work-life balance as we knew
it was getting impacted. Work from home became standard. Amazon, Netflix, and
Zoom became staple services and boomed, while many other businesses suffered.
of layoffs and redundancies filled the corporate news ether. Recession, missed
financial targets, and cost-cutting measures followed in the footsteps of the COVID-19 outbreak turning into a full-blown
I was not spared. After 13 years with GE, I got a tap on
the shoulder. All very civil. No drama. Just a new reality. I received the
heads up in June 2020 and turned my badge in on 11/11 at 11:11 am.
first time I was given a “tap” was in Sweden when I worked at Citibank in the
back-office to FX dealers after finishing high school and national service. The
entire department was moved to Denmark, and 40 per cent of the staff were laid
off. Three weeks of work rendered me four months’ pay, and I got to keep my
meal vouchers (Rikskuponger), so I could overeat on pizza even after I left the
That extra cash, paired with a decent sales commission
earned from subsequently taking a gig at the prestigious (well, back then at
least) department store “Nordiska Kompaniet” selling toys at Christmas time,
made me enough to go travelling. To Asia.
That’s perhaps where my non-linear career story had its
origin. Not to mention the influence from my Hungarian born medical doctor
mother, who fled the communist regime in 1957 for some peace and love in
Sweden. My likewise globetrotting government administrator Swedish father
volunteered in the ambulance service under the Swedish Red Cross flag during
the “Winter War” between the Soviet Union and Finland in 1939. He later joined
the Swedish field hospital in Pusan during the Korean war 1950-53.
with wanderlust, some of it arguably via DNA, I set a target to get a Master’s
degree in East Asian Studies, Korean, and International marketing. Midway
through the programme, I did a language exchange in South Korea. Turned out to
be a good choice.
Upon graduation, equipped with access to a corporate
office, I announced my intention to travel to China. As one did back then, I
faxed my resume and travel itinerary to numerous Swedish companies in Beijing
and Shanghai to start my job hunt.
not surprisingly, being the global nomad that I am, I ended up with a job in
the mobility industry, working for Crown Relocations. One day I was having
lunch with my mates in Shanghai, and the next, I was on a plane to Australia
for the first part of my onboarding. The second phase took me to London before
running an office start-up in Korea. The rest is history.
second time I was “tapped”, it was an absolute cold shower and a wake-up call.
I had left Korea, moved through Singapore, and was working in Hong Kong. It forced
me to determine what I wanted to do. I went for an in-house HR role as a Talent
is opportunity in adversity.
a consultant with Goldman Sachs in Hong Kong, I loved every minute of my time
there. The people were great, the work was fantastic, and the pay even better.
I was on a roll.
General Electric popped up on the radar.
“home” in Singapore.
My journey of 13 years commenced and took me right across
the world regularly. APAC, of course, but also Sub-Saharan Africa, which I came
to manage, interspersed with regular trips to US HQ, and the occasional
excursion to Europe. The businesses were diverse. My team of co-workers,
colleagues, and stakeholders down to earth, approachable, and professional. I
grew in so many ways by the opportunities that GE presented to me.
a sudden 8am MS Team call. Two-on-one with management and HR. A conference call
not fitting the norm: “We have identified your role to become redundant, and
your employment is at risk.”
have never been one to dwell on what I could have and should have done. A
situation arises, and we choose what action to take: yes or no.
short order, I did the following:
like a man possessed;
- Get my
CV in shape;
for a half marathon, get me in shape;
meaningful conversations with people I find interesting;
a business plan;
take me too seriously;
- Look at investment opportunities and actually
the first business plan and write a new one…repeat;
out speaking engagements;
topics to blog about;
off Netflix; and
loads of coffee and electrolytes.
at 11:11–New beginnings. When “your employment is at risk” became a reality, I
celebrated with a final cup of GE sponsored Nespresso before turning in my
badge and took my team out for a buffet lunch at The Orchard Country Club.
is intriguing about the proverbial “blank sheet of paper” that we are
privileged to have set in front of us occasionally by some serendipitous power.
gives you the freedom to fill it with what you want, only limited by your
imagination, drive, and determination. Redefine what is possible. We owe that
to ourselves. It is an attitude.
new year, 2021, began, and I secured my first clients under my firm GROW HR Consulting. It is a
humble set-up aspiring to help organisations navigate International HR
Operations, Talent Mobility, and Relocation challenges globally.
also commenced an entrepreneurial venture with Antler, a global early-stage VC firm, investing in
the world’s most exceptions people and the defining companies of tomorrow. I
joined the Singapore “SG7” cohort of 60 co-founders selected from a pool of
1500 candidates, and it became a great learning experience.
does one move from being a corporate cog in the machinery to become a driving
force and self-sufficient engine in the gig market? For that added discomfort
and sense of instability, perhaps even an entrepreneur, just to satisfy one’s
on a report published by Kapronasia, the current trends indicate that “the
digital gig economy generated ~USD 204 billion in revenue in 2018 or just over
half (56 per cent) of Malaysia’s economy in 2019. The size of gig-economy
transactions is projected to grow by a 17 per cent compound annual growth rate
with a Gross Volume of ~USD 455 billion by
2023, or just over four-fifths (86 per cent) of Thailand’s GDP in 2019.” You
can download the report published in September 2020 here.
What bravery and preparedness are needed to unlock the
inner courage to take a deliberate plunge to go freelance?
Well, for one, you need to have a willingness to embrace
the unknown because there will be a lot of it. Gig type work will undoubtedly
offer equal measures of flexibility and uncertainty, excitement, and despair.
You are your own boss, but will it be financially sustainable?
you have built up sufficient courage and identified a good enough idea and
market opportunity, spend an obsessive amount of time identifying the problem
you are hoping to solve. That is my sincere advice to wannabe gig actors and
often, what we perceive as a problem is nothing that the market cares about. Do
not fall into the trap of providing a solution to a problem that does not exist
outside your head.
With corporate cost control measures arguably far from
over, we should expect shifts in how workforce talent will and want to be
engaged in the aftermath of COVID-19. The gig market is one such sourcing route
where talent and opportunity can meet on new, perhaps more flexible, terms.
and our pursuit of happiness take us down paths we cannot plan. All we can do
is be honest, active, and brave. The rest will fall in place, God willing.
I return to the corporate world? Perhaps.
In the meantime, I look forward to sharing, learning, and
collaborating as the gig economy keeps on going up, up, up, presenting new
opportunities in the symbiotic relationship between corporations, freelancers,
Alf Carlesater is a globally experienced Talent Mobility leader, strategic business partner, and senior-level consultant turned entrepreneur. He applies intellectual curiosity and management acumen, combined with diplomacy and emotional intelligence, to achieve assertive business impact.
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