For those of you who know me, I was an Insurance executive for much of my life. I spent 14 years at AIA and another 4 year at HSBC Insurance. My last corporate role was that of Chief Agency Office. Alas, while at HSBC, I was retrenched. That was about 8 years ago, in 2012. Then, no one reached out to me or offered tips on how to cope with a retrenchment. I went through that journey alone and with sheer determination, managed to carve out another exciting career for myself.

Today, I’m no longer in the insurance industry. I’m into digital marketing and with a partner, run a firm teaching students WordPress web design as well as eCommerce Marketing and SEO. I’ve never shared publicly about this transition in my career largely because I never felt the need to. Things are different now; with Covid-19 severely impacting our economy, some among us may face the axe and feel at a loss. And if you are in such a situation, I hope my sharing will inspire and motivate you to go on and achieve more greatness.

Put A Positive Spin To Your Retrenchment

Retrenchment is not a death sentence. Sure the feeling that you are made redundant is never pleasant but positively looking, it’s also an opportunity to write a new chapter in your life. How this chapter will pen out pretty much is lies your own hands. If you approach it positively, carefully weighing all your options, more likely than not, there will be a beautiful ending to this new chapter.

My Immediate Thoughts On Retrenchment Day

I needed to survive. I was and still am the only breadwinner in my family. My spouse and 1 have 3 school going daughters plus 3 dogs including a Golden Retriever that ate a lot. Needless to say, expense in our household was high and I didn’t want my job loss to effect our standard of living in any way or distract our children from their studies.

It was thus very clear in my mind that I needed a new career that pays equally well if not better. The problem then was that other than myself, none of the other Chief Agency Officers in the other insurance companies were out of job. There clearly was no vacancy for me.

The day I was retrenched, the head hunters immediately sprang into action. They asked if I would consider positions in Malaysia, China or Australia but these positions were off the cards for me because my children where at school going age then and I did not wish to uproot or disrupt their education.

I knew there and then that whatever is to become of my new chapter, I’ll have to carve it out myself.

Evaluating My Options

I remembered then looking at my skillsets, hobbies and interest and from there narrowed downed my options. Among my hobbies were magic and dog training. I was reasonably good in both these disciplines and have even won the Singapore Kennel Club’s title of Reserve Obedience Dog of the Year with my dog, Rufus CDX. But I concluded that those disciplines will not allow me to earn the income I’m accustomed to and I quickly put those thoughts to rest.

I then looked into Search Engine Optimisation, the skill of optimising websites to attain higher organic rankings in Search Engines. I felt this area offers the most potential because business owners needed the service. For a small business owner, often having a website on page 1 of Google is enough to give them the leads and customers to propel their business to the next level. Compared to traditional marketing, SEO is affordable and I felt that if I could do it well, I would have no problems maintaining my income and lifestyle.

In fact, SEO was an area I explored while still with HSBC. I felt back then that if our agency leaders can have websites ranking for recruitment related keywords, it will help in their recruitment efforts. I never got down to implementing any SEO related recruitment strategies for HSBC because I was axed just before I could do my first talk to the agency force on that subject. Looking back, things could not have worked out any better because with the retrenchment, I didn’t have to share the valuable secrets I picked up on SEO; I’ve already ranked 1 website on Google page 1 at that point in time.

My SEO Learning Journey

Once it was decided that my way forward was by learning SEO, I spared on expense trying to master the subject. I took up courses and read lots of books by published authors. Many of these books were as thick, if not thicker than my university textbooks but it did not deter me because I was naturally intrigue by the subject. I’ve always been a very curious person and that’s perhaps what drew me towards learning close up magic. This same curiosity drove me to want to acquire as much knowledge as I can, in the field of SEO. Needless to say, I put whatever I learned to practice. I started building one website after another and realised that I could rank them all within the 6 months deadline I gave myself to become economically viable again.

I knew there and then I’ve chosen the right field. For me, there was no turning back.

My Income Sources These Days

Today, I earn my income from 2 sources:

  1. I help clients generate leads for their business via SEO services I provide.
  2. From teaching WordPress Web Design as well as eCommence SEO and marketing

The hours I put in is just a fraction of the time I spent managing the agency force at AIA or HSBC Insurance. Income wise, I’m not any worse off.

Age Is Not A Factor

I was in my mid forties when I was laid off. Not too old, but certainly not of the age group you will associate with those who excel in digital market. When I studied Business Administration in NUS, we were still learning about the 4 Ps of marketing. We didn’t have emails, let alone online webinars or e-learning modules students enjoy these days. When I first joined AIA in the 90s, much of the correspondence between the various departments were via snail mail. Computers were using monochrome monitors, floppy disk drive and dot matrix printers.

For me to excel in SEO, I had to re-learn everything from scratch. It was like going back to school all over again. Was the journey easy? Perhaps not. But then again, nothing in live that is worth pursuing, is easy. More importantly, if I can re-learn and re-skill myself at 40 plus, so can you.

Retrenchment A Blessing In Disguise

Would I have chosen this path if I weren’t retrenched? Probably not. It made no sense for me to give up the cushy job I had.

But today, despite my retrenchment, I still have a lucrative career. The main difference is that I now have lots more time for my family and can be around during the important milestones of their lives. When my oldest daughter participated in her JC debates, I was there. When my second daughter sang on stage in school concerts plus acted in her many stage plays, I was there. When my youngest, a national bowler won her U12, U15 and U18 bowling titles, I was there as well. This to me is my biggest joy. And all these, I would not have enjoyed, had I not been retrenched.

Final Thoughts

It is important to remember that retrenchment is not a death sentence. What ever the reason for your layoff, you will need to accept it with a positive mindset. Avoid dwelling on the negatives, blaming others or feeling bitter about company politics. Right or wrong, such feelings will only drag you down further. Instead weigh your options, decide on one and take concrete steps to succeed in your new field of choice. This can mean re-skilling yourself, if necessary. Never let age deter you from achieving your true potential. That was my approach toward my own retrenchment. I hope by penning them down and sharing it here, I can help encourage and motivate others.

Have you been retrenched before as well? If yes, why not share your experience as well by commenting below so that others can benefit from your experience as well. I look forward to hearing from you.

10 thoughts on “From Chief Agency Officer to Top SEO Coach – My Journey”

  1. Dear Andrew,
    I read your Story, indeed very Inspiring.
    Very Natural since it’s Real Experience.
    I’m Sure Your Article Will Helps Others.
    Keep Up the Good Work My Friend.
    Stay Healthy and Productive.
    Best Personal Regards,
    Rusli Chan

    1. Hey Pak Rusli bro, thanks. I been very blessed. Can see from your social media post you are doing very well too. Happy for you. Always remember the time we spent in HK, during our agency executive trg.

  2. Faced with retrenchment one still have a sum of money to allow some time to rethink and plan for their future. As a business owner faced with business failure and driven by heavy debts I totally can feel what you had been through and it is with the same mindset that pull me through till today without having to go through bankruptcy. Though I have not much of a success to mention as compared to yours, the experience you had shared will inspires me to work hard towards the clear path ahead that I had laid and identified for my future. Thank you.

    1. Yes you are right, Ryan. I did have some retrenchment benefits and it definitely helped. But I can see you are a very determined person too and that will go a long way in helping you find your own success. Keep pressing on bro.

  3. Andrew,

    I believe all of us are now in the same situation as U in this pandemic situation
    I too really need to learn and master

    1. Yes, Lucy, it’s important to have skillsets that are relevant to avoid being made redundant. This is especially given the economic downturn brought about by this pandemic.

  4. Hi Andrew, I don’t know if you remembered me from AIA days and yes, I never knew. It’s interesting that you had a journey out of retrenchment that is similar to what what the government is asking those faced with an uncertain future to venture into nowadays, which is the digital marketing space.

    1. Of course I remember you Mag. I used to consult you on legal matters. You were the in house lawyer at AIA together with Karen.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *