Rob Young - Army Career to Business Career

"I had a strong feeling that if I left at 50 or 55 that I would then be unemployable as I’d appear institutionalised and perhaps even weary.”
"If you are anywhere near 50, you really need to put your back into finding a new job or a new career.  It’s definitely not easy.  You need to attack the situation like you’re climbing a mountain." 

Overview of earlier career.

Left school at 18.  Spent 24 years in the Army as both a solider and an officer.  Resigned his commission at 45.

Trigger for change:

There appeared to be two clear triggers for Rob’s desire for change:

“I felt that I’d had the best from the Army and wanted to give civvy street a crack.  As my daughter was also starting university there was an opportunity for my wife and I to settle down in one country after having been moved all over the world for so many years. 

Also, whilst I had lots of confidence that I could actually do anything with my experience, I also had a strong feeling that if I left at 50 or 55 – which was the traditional break-points from the army – that I would then be unemployable as I’d appear institutionalised and perhaps even weary.”

First steps?

“I didn’t know what kind of work I actually wanted to do but I certainly knew what I didn’t want to do i.e. anything to do with the military, defence sectors or logistics which had been my arena.

I felt so optimistic, like I could do almost anything - unless of course it was highly technical or required specific qualifications.   I had a sense that I was likely to end up in a big corporate in some sort of management role.”

Rob decided to access all the support groups which were available to him as an ex-soldier and officer to help him get settled in civilian life.  One of those was The Officers Association which advertised (for a nominal fee) jobs for companies who were interested in attracting ex-army personnel. 

“I accepted the first job offer I received and worked for a very small company in a logistics position which I hadn’t really wanted but my wife/mentor/coach gave me some great advice that ‘it’d be much easier to find a great job from a position of having a job’.  She was, of course, right.’

A year later, having done some good work and recruited his replacement, Rob moved on to bigger things and kept moving onwards and upwards in a variety of positions.   In different industries, in different roles, in companies with different problems until he found his niche in leadership roles within transforming businesses.   Over the next decade Rob had a whole range of “fantastic”, “interesting”, “challenging” , “angst-filled” and “fun” career moves.  At its height – he had a spell of travelling around Europe with a European billionaire in his private jet acquiring businesses and at its lowest point doing some seasonal work over Christmas at M&S – "and every type of experience in between!" 

What Rob learned?

 Networking is important.”  Rob didn’t expressly recommend networking until I prompted him but our conversation was peppered with references to friends gained through business, connections made through playing sport and connections through old careers and previous jobs.  Networking appears to be something Rob does very naturally.

"Everyone I know who was in the army for a long-time and left accepted the first job they were offered – I think we all knew how important it was to get started.

Be wary of who to take advice from.  Taking advice from too many different perspectives just leaves you confused. Don’t ask friends what they think of your CV. Find experienced hiring managers who know what good looks like and experienced CV designers.  It’s the hardest thing in the world to put together on the easiest subject in the world – you.  At one point, I totally and utterly wasted £5000 employing a company to slightly enhance my CV and tell me some average advice that we all know – get out there and network.  They did it over some very nice lunches in nice restaurants but that was a total waste of cash and time.  

Know thyself.  Self-awareness is a key factor in career change.   For instance, I was fired once from a job and was so surprised that I hadn’t seen it coming.  I took from that that I needed to brush up on my self-awareness.  How you see yourself and how you view your world have an impact on the work you do and the work you could do.

If you are anywhere near 50, you really need to put your back into finding a new job or a new career.  It’s definitely not easy.  You need to attack the situation like you’re climbing a mountain.

Don’t dumb down even if you are desperate.  At one low point, I just couldn’t get a job but really needed a job to pay the mortgage.  I dumbed down my CV, not really lying but certainly not telling the full truth about my previous leadership positions.  I secured a seasonal job at M&S which helped me pay the mortgage.   But, ultimately, I could see nothing but opportunities to improve their operations and logistics and it was difficult not to tell someone.   I knew my expertise would help the business but they didn’t want to know.  I would never have fit in the long-term and would have been seen as a trouble-maker.  The last thing companies need is some over-qualified smart ass when all they actually wanted was someone to do the job the way they wanted it done.  But that was never going to be me.

There are good people in the world who just need a break and it pays to use your talents to help them.  If I have a client who’s in a bit of a fix and can’t pay me my fee for helping them re-design their CV and linkedin profile and coaching them on interviews, I just ask them to pay when they get a role and only if they agree it’s been helpful.  I enjoy helping them because I’ve been there and would have appreciated someone doing the same for me back then.  And have never once not been paid.  Win win."

What Rob would do differently if he had to do it all again?                   

“I wouldn’t have touched the 3rd sector (Not-for-profit organisations including charities).  I wouldn’t ever recommend becoming a trustee of a charity unless there is a deep, deep connection with their goals.   I would have saved myself a great deal of angst.”   Enough said.

How it feels on the days when he knows he has made the right decision?

“Even though I don’t need to work, I love to work.  I love the buzz of winning new business.  I love the thrill of finding the right person for one of my clients.  I love convincing my clients to choose beyond the right person for one job but to choose the person who can help the company grow in the future.   I love choosing to work with a small number of clients who work mostly exclusively with me.  

I do know myself and I know that I love being in charge.  The leadership bit throughout my career has been the most enjoyable parts but I know it’s not for everyone.   It was a real privilege to command in the Army and it has also been a real privilege to lead in the civilian sector.   People rely on you to do what’s right and in most cases they enjoy having someone decisive in charge.   Very few things get done well in a committee.  I always like a committee with an odd number…and the best odd number for me is 1!  I’ve always enjoyed the pain-pleasure experience where the buck stops with me.”

Any regrets?

"Sure there are regrets about investments around the financial crisis that listening to my wife/mentor/coach Mrs Young might have avoided.   But apart from the charity sector experience (see above), I have spent my life looking forward not back – that’s where the opportunity and danger lie."

If you'd like to learn more about Rob and his current business...


Email:  rob@armstrongdenby.com

Web:  www.armstrongdenby.com 

Linkedin:   https://www.linkedin.com/in/justrobyoung/ 

Twitter: @justrobyoung