Monday, 2 May 2016

Crisis and retrenchment – How sentiment change in one year and how I am staying resilient to weather any storms ahead.

The oil & gas (O&G), marine & offshore industry that I worked in is experiencing one of the worst headwinds in decades. Perhaps it is not just this sector per se that is affected adversely, many private sectors are also experiencing anaemic growth or falling earnings.

Colleagues being layoff, even MD has left. Everyone can be made redundant!

For me, “layoffs” not just headlined the news. It struck people I know in the industry as well as colleagues who were sharing the same office.

The latest addition to the expulsion list is our Singaporean MD.

Officially he resigned. However chances are either he was asked to leave or there are difficult circumstances forcing him to resign. My MD’s departure means that I have a new boss and he is sitting in the head office in Europe. My colleagues and I have strange feelings about this new boss so far. Hence sentiments are not favourable. Well, although I am use to all these corporate bullshit of frequent changes, this time it is quite different because of the lack of jobs in the industry.  

Undoubtedly, the current oil crisis unfolds to be much more severe and long lasting compares to the 2008/09 GFC. During the GFC, while it was terribly bad initially, but the Singapore economy and oil price recovered quickly to mitigate any real damage. Morale is rock bottom now. Uncertainty is looming as anytime, anyone (me included) can be made redundant, if the lack of jobs persist.

Nobody takes me seriously last year. But now…..

Today everywhere I go, I hear people saying “The economy is not good lar!”

This is huge contrast to last year where sentiments are less pessimistic. Even when oil price was already depressed in the beginning of last year, most people were still oblivious and busy with existing projects and optimism of an oil rebound was still elevated.

Back then, as nuisance and sceptical as I could be, I was constantly preaching to colleagues, friends and relatives about the “What if downside” that is going to affect us badly. I drew attention that it could well be NOT just an oil crisis, but possible double whammy hits of bad general economic conditions as well.

I also highlighted that “it is not as if we are going to do nothing and cry about the imminent bad times ahead. On the contrary, we should be well-prepared both mentally and financially for the worst. Be prudent and conserve enough so that we can brace ourselves and weather the nastiest storms ahead and eventually still turn out just fine, when the tides subside!”

It may surprise you. In fact, NONE of the people I spoke to actually taken me seriously, EXCEPT for my wife and few very close friends. Most lament about me plaguing with angst and over-pessimism. Some also changed new cars thereafter or contemplate buying new cars and properties. I will then cease my “warning topics” and changed subject if I sensed any unappreciation from the recipients. End of the day, I do not want to be a spoil spot in a friendly conversation.

Today the same group of people that resisted my ideology about the possible dire forward situation back then, is NOW pressing the “Emergency Button” bemoaning how bad the oil sector and economy is. None of them approach me to show acknowledgements or appreciations of what I shared back then. Call this behaviour human nature? *Smiles*

As for me after all, I did already feel good to share what I somehow anticipates in advance. Through sharing, it depicts my very own way of showing concern to the people around me without any personal hidden agenda.


Financially prepared

Perhaps the biggest blessing of my relentless effort to share my concern is not the appreciation I get from the people. It is the blessing of the actions I take after sharing, which often turns out to be positive.

Do more in work when you still can
For instance, sensing the bad times ahead last year, I took on more work despite no increment.
This possibly explains why I am still keeping my job intact up till today.

Conserve cash
Last year I had sold a big part of my equity portfolio to conserve cash. I was flushed with more good news as equity prices are actually lower now. Many were unconvinced on my actions then.

Hedged home loan interest
In view of the rising interest rates, I initiated refinancing of my home loan end last year. This month, I completed hedging my home loan with fixed 2 years rate at 1.88% p.a. Notwithstanding any actions the Fed may take, at least I feel safe to be able to quantify what I have to pay in the next two years for my home loan installments.  

Expensive car sold
Last month, I sold my beloved car after many years. I am driving a borrowed car right now which is almost wholly financed by the car allowance I received from my company. If I were to buy a car later, it will also be a used car with no loan and minimal commitment.

A plan for the downturn in the financial market
To prepare for any unforeseen stock crash (i.e. if it happens), I had also devised a stock plan. It may not be perfect but at least a Rolf’s plan. I reckon the plan will be useful if I am still able to stay employed and have sufficient cash warchest.

Read:

For tomorrow or days ahead, I am uncertain if my rice bowl will be broken?

What I am certain is even if I were to lose my main source of income, I still have sufficient to last me for a couple of years. And at the very least, my wife is still working and not in the O&G industry. This is called work diversification between couples. Haha.

Mentally prepared

For all that matters, mental preparation is even more important than financial preparation. Due to all my sharing and writing about any impending crisis, I am now in the right frame of mind even if I lose my job. You know sometimes, the ego in man hurts more than the money!  

If the darkest hour does not come, I am happy. If it comes, I am ready.

Rolf's final thoughts

This article is definitely not a brag for my spot-on prediction. By the way, I did not make any prediction!

Counterintuitive to that, it is a compassionate reminder to people I care, that situation can turn much worse than we first anticipated. And if we are NOT prudent and NOT well-prepared, we may end up in an undesirable situation. Sometimes not just hurting ourself but also people around us.

Unlike some people I know who put the blame on their “bad luck” working in the sector, I actually think that this is a blessing in disguise, a test of my resilience. Mind you… I have a big family to feed with heavy expenses, so this crisis is really no joke. In any case, we did enjoy a good last decade in the O&G industry.

Read:

The only consolation for me now is I am well-prepared both mentally and financially to tackle any drastic situation ahead.

In fact, I had already panned out the several options of what I am going to do, in case the big axed is waved at me. In my next article, I hope to share my plans ahead.





35 comments:

  1. Thanks for the reminder. Good to have you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Anoymous,

      Thanks for the encouragement.

      Delete
  2. Replies
    1. Hi EH,

      Something I hate, bcos I frankly I also do not know how long he will be my boss as the organization I working in is ever changing just like most MNC.

      In my previous career, I had 5-6 yrs in one company reporting to 5-6 different bosses!

      Delete
    2. yah lor... corporate bullshit no choice. Better "Por" wrong person than not "Por" and get "pock!"

      Delete
  3. perhaps you are in a bleak industry. no body take my words at heart because they think its iron rice bowl!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Kyith,

      That is true. Most of my friends in civil service already forgotten about what is crisis and only thinking about upgrading houses and cars because they reckon their salary will only go up and not down.

      Ah... so you have a iron rice bowl! :-)

      Delete
  4. Hard to come by honest sharing like what you did. Good read for me, and hope for better times for all!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Kevin,

      Thanks. I think I can be very honest and very dishonest (if needed). haha.

      I have my fair share of good ten years in the industry, so no regrets for the downturn now.

      Better times is great, bad times also cannot be too bad for me, since I still have my house and family with me and also all the bloggers here in the blogosphere that I will never be lonely.

      Thanks. :-)

      Delete
  5. Rolf,

    I've survived 2 retrenchment rounds at Montgomery Ward - I was the merchandiser for hardlines.

    Talk about taking on additional responsibilities, I became the acting Transport Manager and the Office Receptionist all-in-one!

    From headcount of 20+ to 3 :(

    Only 2 HK colleagues - MD, Quality Manager, and Singaporean me survived...

    1 year after I jumped ship to IKEA, the Montgomery Ward Singapore office finally closed completely.

    You think why I was the over-the-top cheerleader when you shared you sold your car?


    Same as you, I also rang my little bell in 2015 with this post:

    Here's A Question To Value Investors

    Only difference I write to "有缘人".

    You can't force the horse to drink; can only show them the direction to the watering-hole. And I only do so when they asked ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Jared,

      Montgomery ward retailer does not really ring a bell for me. Emporium and Yaohan, I am more familiar.

      If at Royal rumble, u probably be last few in the ring.

      But imagine hearing your voice as the receptionist... is that the reason why they finally closed??? LOL!

      Yes, I am slowly learning not to even show the horse the watering hole if they do not ask.

      Although that is very NOT me as I enjoy sharing...Maybe as time passes, I will change like I did already change a lot now compared to the past.

      Poking, I leave it to u and ur 有缘人.

      When u take leave, I can stand in to poke! haha..

      Delete
    2. Me as receptionist:

      Allo? What you want?

      Who?

      Tan Ah Gao no longer working here.

      You look for him simi sai?

      Never mind?

      Then don't call lah! Waste my time!

      LOL!


      Yah hor! I've noticed you and Frugal Daddy not very mainstream. I'll leave the pokings to you both. I go play with 红颜 ;)

      Delete
    3. Some receptionist voice very beautiful but....

      I am in upstream oil and gas. :-)

      Delete
  6. Hi Rolf,

    I am sorry to hear that your company is facing difficulties and your job might be at risk. I have faith you will ride through this current crisis.

    Sometimes, I also doubt whether the economy is really bad when I kept seeing fully-packed Starbucks stores at the malls.....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Starbucks are packed due to hot weather and more people doing their works or homework's there. Why some people are thinking of starbucks as luxury coffee drinking and not as renting a spot for working.

      Delete
    2. Hi DK,

      Thanks for the encouragement.

      In fact my company is not facing difficulties as they are also diversified into another sector. Furthermore we had been doing extremely well in the last few years resulting in very strong balance sheet now. A lot of the cash was conserved as we are not a public company.

      The problem is the dept I am in is not doing well as we had been focused in O&G in the past. :-(

      In fact, like Jared mentioned about multiple jobs, I should be able to last a bit longer as I am requiring to additional hats after our MD depart.

      Still, there is no guarantee if there are simply no projects in the market.

      Nonetheless, while I m not sure if our office will survive, I am very sure I will turn out even better after this.

      Delete
  7. Yes... agree with CW that Starbucks while packed does not mean they are earning high margins.

    People buy 1 cup of coffee and sit while day.

    I remember I read an article from BigFatPurse about Starbucks mediocre margins.


    ReplyDelete
  8. Rolf,

    always like to read your post, coz it resonates well with me, since we are in the same industry.

    so how did you survive the previous oil downturn, somwhere in '07/08?

    i guess, what the world needs now to bring up the oil price, is a ME crisis or a madcap leader to invade some other country. (just kidding - make love, not war)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi FC,

      Thanks for the compliment. Good to see someone in the same industry. :-)

      To clarify, the last downturn for O&G was only in 2009. In 07/08, things were never before so Rosy. Oil price peaked in mid 08 up to $147 and everyone was busy grabbing orders and firms hitting record high revenue/order intake.

      Nobody in our industry bothered about what happen in the early part of 2008 until Lehman's brother crash and banks tightened. So co went into financial problems, projects stopped and later oil plunged to lowest in the early 2009.

      But bear in mind that financial crisis is not oil crisis. The demand and supply mechanics of oil at that time was sound.

      And because of the backlog orders built up, many companies in the industry were still not doing so badly in 2009 living on backlog orders to survive despite order intake is low.

      Yes, the company I worked for implemented retrenchments but being in the frontline, I was unaffected and in fact I was busy traveling all around the world negotiating for postponement/cancellation deals that is favorable to the company.

      Perhaps also maybe my salary was also in a more reasonable range to render me a redundant target.

      After 1Q09, very quickly oil price started to rise and rise and never look back and went pass $100 in later part of 2011. You know the rest...

      As of now and looking ahead, if there is war to cause oil price to rise, then I rather I got retrenched and oil price stay low without war! Not that I am noble, but imagine people are going to get killed in war.

      Ideally oil price rise to a reasonable rate and world peace. :-)

      Delete
    2. that was comment meant in jest. world peace of course..

      thanks for refreshing my history lesson. seems only yesterday that i have just entered the workforce.

      since we are on the topic of jobs and such.. as you are welll aware, exploration jobs have just came to a complete stand still. Our field jobs have just been totally decimated and my team havent been called out since the start of this year. with this prolong down time, i am kinda contemplating going back to school for a masters. so that when things pick up next year, i may have the option to remain where i am or move from field to the office. (not getting younger anymore too) still reviewing at all options. Maybe i can pick your brain a lil, since you are my qian bei in our industry =)
      if say, i want to continue to remain in the O&G, but switch to a more BD/finance type of role. basically, more on the commercial side of the biz. other than an MBA, what type of masters will be relevant? (maybe for the sake of argument, if i want to follow a similar career path as yourself. what would i need to "upgrade" myself?)

      Delete
    3. Hi FC,

      I understand u r joking. World peace. ;-)
      I am no Qian bei lar, can be just a friend maybe.

      Frankly, I am afraid to provide any concrete advices as I know little about u, and this lack of understanding may give wrong signals.

      However I think you have some good suggestions of taking a step back n upgrade.
      You can also refer to my comments to Chewyc.

      Ultimately, I reckon the path a person choose should always be associated to what kind of character and strengths he/she have, and ultimately what is truly suitable for him/her to make him /her really love the job and be happy.

      Of course, u never try u never know! So no harm trial and error to see if u like or not. "Better Late Than Never!"

      Eventually my "so-call" stupid answer is really the title of my blog! First you truly have to know urself (note that Rolf Suey when re-arranged means Yourself)!

      Maybe you can read the following two articles as some kind of reference.

      http://www.rolfsuey.com/2014/12/reasons-why-you-should-stay-in-your.html?m=1

      http://www.rolfsuey.com/2014/12/reasons-why-you-should-resign-your.html?m=1

      Delete
  9. Hi Rolf
    It seems like your colleagues have forgotten that the commodity Industries are cyclical. With the prep work that you’ve done, you will be the last few standing in the royal rumble.

    In the meantime, count your blessings, do more for less/do less for more, nobody is getting a pay rise and make hay when the sun shines.

    I do have a question. In the event of a redundancy/retrenchment, would you take a nice break/retire or would you go job hunting immediately? Also, would you stay in the same industry or would you jump ship and try something totally different?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Chewyc,

      My answer to ur qn is going to be part two: on what I will do if I am retrenched. Hopefully I have time to write soonest. :-)

      Depending on financial situation of individual, I reckon it will be nice for me to take a well deserved break before my next endeavour.

      If we are retrenched, normally we will not feel good. When emotions are stirred plus if we are eager to rush into another hunt, high chance that it will not be a wise decision. Better to take a step back if situation allows
      to have a quiet and relax mind before making a decision.

      Maybe even do things we have missed out in our life. Crisis to me is a good time to know and invest more in ourself.

      Delete
  10. I was recently retrenched from the oil and gas industry which I worked for the past 7 years. I joined the industry when times were good and this is kinda similar to how a rising stock market will draw in the public. Fortunately, my skillset were quite versatile and I found a job with a pay increase in another industry in less than 3 months.

    I believe if one can, do continue to stay in oil and gas if one can survive the cut. Given the protracted downturn, the rebound is likely to be strong when it comes and personnel with industry experience will be highly valued, not to mention the lack of personnel with the oil and gas industry experience since some would have retire or change industry during this downturn.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. hi there Anonymous,
      nice to see another brother in the same industry.
      sorry to hear about your situation, but i guess it turns out to be a blessing in disguise, since you managed to find another better paying job!

      just curious, what kinda skillset would you say is versatile?
      your new job is in the same industry too?

      i am trying to stay in the same industry as long as long as my company still wants me. as mentioned in my above post. still employed, just havent been called out for a job since the start of the year. so just figuring out the next move during this prolong downtimme.

      sorry for so many question, i am at a crossroad in my career now, and trying to get as much feedback; especially from people in the same industry longer than me..

      Delete
    2. Hi Anonymous,

      I am happy that u r doing just fine despite the axe. The ability to recover "mentally" is important.

      The situation you mentioned already happened in the late 80s to 90s where the offshore and marine industry was in doldrums. In 2000 and beyond, those who stayed or entered at the right time benefited.

      Delete
  11. Retrenchment was not an easy experience as I was going through it. Of course things r looking up for me now fortunately. My new job is in another industry. Versatile skillset a are those that can be found across industries such as finance, HR, Legal, IT etc. HSE, sales, commercial and project management are quite versatile too. The least versatile skillset would be technical roles such as engineering or field roles. In good times, it can command high pay due to niche kill set but in bad times like this, it is difficult to transit to other industries as their value lies in their domain knowledge.

    I think you should apply for jobs and just go for interviews as an experience to brush your your interviewing skills and shop around to see what other companies or industries has to offer. In the event that u r retrenched, at least you would have been working on something else.

    This retrenchment have strengthens my resolve to be financially free within the next few years. I may not be so lucky to get a job so soon if I am retrenched in the next downturn 5 to 7 years down the road.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. hi, appreciate the insight.
      yes, i nod with agreement; my current technical skill is too niche, i cant move laterally to other job function too, since i work mostly in the field. and possibly too out of touch with other type of work. hence the reason why i thought of "upgrading" myself, to give myself the extra edge.
      or, perhaps to get another job in another industry, with significant pay adjustment.but that means starting from the bottom again.
      i did send my resume to a few local recruiters, but they cant wrap their head about what i actually do, as they have not come across such type of work.

      Delete
  12. Hi FC,

    Like you, more than 10 yrs ago I was working in the field onboard rigs/vessels with very specific technical skill set and I have many Frds similar situation as us.

    I c it as an advantage rather than a shortfall.
    In fact there r many BD jobs who prefer pple with technical knowledge. Unfortunately now the industry is in doldrums so the problem maybe does not lie with ur resume.

    Most impt questions: self suitability and why do u prefer a BD/Finance job over project or technical job in office?

    MBA is good, but a bit "window dressing" for me. The real business world is not exactly in the textbook. Go google what Jim Rogers said about MBA.

    Starting from bottom is the best way to learn. A right mentor is extremely impt and determine ur future when u stay from bottom, this u can decide during interviews.

    Best of luck. If u need help, u can email me also.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks all sifu, aka Rolf and fellow Anonymous readers , for your valuable inputs.
      you have no idea, how much it means to me.

      rolf, dont be surprise if i drop you an email in the weeks to come =)

      have a good weekend!

      cheers,
      FC

      Delete
    2. Hi FC,

      Best of luck. I will not be confounded by ur email but instead I look forward to share any little help I can in any possible ways.

      Delete
  13. A well written post. I connect with a lot of what you said. I have a good salary but I live so simply. Whatever excess money I have, I use it to create more passive income. If I were to stop working tomorrow, I have enough to see me through several years without working.

    I cannot say the same thing about those around me. They spend and spend excessively even when they make good money. I am not a miser but I do watch my spending. I reward myself reasonably periodically for working hard.

    At the end of the day, I have a peace of mind knowing that I am closer to financial independence and not working if I do not intend to. Take good care my friend.

    RN

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi RN,

      Tks for the compliment.

      Simple is good. If u look back in time, how many things do we really need to be truly happy.

      Sometimes I was really wondering if the evolution of mankind is eventually in the right direction? Or should we eventually go back to basic.

      I am happy that you are close to financial independence and can stop working if u intend to. Take care my friend.

      Delete