By Bridget Quigg
Reggie Case* doesn’t need a regular paycheck to make him feel secure. He’s already decided he can survive this recession. But a stable income and benefits were nice while they lasted.
Reggie, 42, husband, father of two, and a construction project manager with only a high-school degree, left the comforts of a company job behind in May 2008. Reggie saw his layoff coming. In fact, he even helped his boss decide it was time to let him go.
For 16 years Reggie was at the center of a small construction and manufacturing company in a suburb of Cleveland. Reggie’s duties matched those found in a construction project manager description, plus more – from leading construction projects to managing commercial property spaces. “I was deep in the business. I knew all their clients, bankers, everyone,” he explains. So it was easy for him to see a shift was underway. “I knew a year in advance,” he notes. “It wasn’t discussed. But anyone smart enough could see that the business they were getting was getting smaller.”
He responded at the first sign of trouble. “I always have had something on the side. So I would take on more side work. I was preparing for a transition,” he says.
When spring 2008 arrived and no big summer construction gigs were on the docket, Reggie gave himself and his close friends, the owners, a chance to make a smart decision.
“I brought them into my office and said, ‘How long are we going to pretend I have something to do?’” he explains. While they were surprised by his honesty, the owners admitted they had fretted for months over when and how to let him go. Reggie departed soon after their candid conversation.
Reinventing: A Sense of Self
Reggie’s side work quickly turned into a small construction firm of its own. There are pros and cons, he says, of going solo.
“Business is tough, but it’s there,” Reggie says. “A lot of getting a job is just about showing up.” Regarding the state of the construction industry, he says,
“Big business will not be there, like it was, because no one is spending on big construction.” He’s developed an optimistic response to losing his seat on the gravy train. “I call myself the ‘King of the Bottom Feeders.’ The only way to make money is to be out there, using word of mouth and taking the little [jobs],” he says. Reggie will take nearly any job — any time, any size. He makes money from the small projects most construction managers won’t consider and in the process learns the ins and outs of how to run a small construction firm.
But all this hustle carries a cost. Besides not knowing where the next check is coming from, making himself constantly available requires stamina. “Instead of getting home at 5 p.m. and turning the phone off, it’s on all evening. And if you need to look at a job on a weekend or evening, you fit it in. You get it done,” Reggie says.
Why not get a new job in the role of construction project manager with a different company? Reggie is hooked on his new favorite perks: more family time and the freedom to set his own schedule. “I love that I can be with my family more,” he says. “Time with your family? That’s time you can’t get back. Having that handed to me at such a young age is getting a raise.”
Plus, his day is his own. “I decide where I go and what I can do. I don’t have the guilt of the bosses or the company when something else comes up during the day,” he says.
His family, meanwhile, has been very supportive of his small construction firm. Reggie says, “My wife? To say she’s been great would be an understatement. She’s always felt I was someone who needed to be on his own. There was a relief for her, I think.”
Reflecting on his bold decision to approach his former employer about laying him off, he says, “I wasn’t giving up anything, because there wasn’t going to be anything there next May.”
When asked if he was angry about losing his job, Reggie quickly responds, “That’s business. You do that sort of thing in business.” While he admits the situation initially irked him, he’s moved on. In fact, he ended things so well at his old company, his former bosses now send him business.
Reggie offers this advice to all who have recently lost their jobs: “They have to realize that the money that they made and the job that they had is going to be dramatically different for the rest of their lives. You’re going to have to get creative to make money. This isn’t going to change soon, either.”
*The source’s name has been changed for privacy purposes.
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