The rack and the ruin
Evening Standard | 19 Jun 1991
ONE day senior ad man Alistair Treves was earning more than £100,000 – and the next he was on the dole. ‘I get paid £50 a week from social security because I have a wife and children.’ He had worked for leading London advertising agency Young and Rubicon for 21 years.View transcript
ONE day senior ad man Alistair Treves was earning more than £100,000 – and the next he was on the dole. ‘I get paid £50 a week from social security because I have a wife and children.’ He had worked for leading London advertising agency Young and Rubicon for 21 years.
He used to have a chauffeur-driven car, his own fancy motor and holidays in Florida. Now he’s recognised on the number three bus where he sits on the top deck and practises Chinese breathing techniques and relaxation exercises.
He’s a rare breed: a senior professional who has been made redundant and will talk about it. ‘There’s nothing to be ashamed of. These things occur in modern life.’
We’re sitting in the garden of his four-bedroom Victorian house in Dulwich – a better class of sun streaming onto our faces, mugs of Lapsang Souchong in our hands.
Alistair, 44, has a boyish haircut atop a long oval face with expansive pink cheeks and facial expressions that look as if he is mimicking himself. And he’s wearing Saturday-lunch-in-Bibendum kind of garb: pink polo shirt, grey cords and navy blazer.
Until he left his job on 10 January, he wore three hats: assistant managing director; director of client services, running a department of 80 people; and group director, handling £35 million worth of business. In the Eighties the agency had been making money, money, money. But then the recession hit and by 1989 it was biting with rottweiler teeth. Costs and overheads were out of control, they had too many senior people, and the budget for 1991 was looking dire.
‘I was called back from a day’s leave at 5.30 one Friday (30 November). I didn’t realise I was the third senior person to go in there. I was like a marked man.’
A white collar redundancy! The Gaultier fabric of his life threatened! Would he not lose his status and everything he had worked for? Would he have to reschedule his mortgage? Lose the respect of his wife? Tell the kids they couldn’t have mountain bikes?
He looks at his light and spacious residence: freshly painted, immaculately tidy, with a guinea pig in a pen in the kitchen, a wife planting in the garden and the sort of vehicles that a three and six-year-old leave strewn around the place. Owing to management upheavals, he no longer felt he fitted in at Y and R; and he’d long wanted to get the hell out but couldn’t think of a way.
His pay-off after 21 years was hardly guinea-pig feed. (He won’t reveal the sum. ‘There’s loyalty among thieves,’ he says. But it would be enough to keep the show on the road for about a year if he didn’t earn a penny. He can’t or won’t imagine the show coming to an end.) He had neither savings nor credit card debts. He has a pension. Y and R is still paying for his private health care. And homes like his £300,000ish one weren’t selling. So he worried, briefly, whether he might end up on a caravan site in North Wales or have to move to New Zealand.
Instead he went to Peckham Social Security and queued for three hours. Then he was told he had been misdirected and should really be at the Department of Employment. So he queued there – and was then told he was meant to be in Peckham. ‘It was a real eye-opener. I realised for the first time how lucky I am.’
Now he’s not exactly sitting around at home. He still gets up at 6.45. ‘No reason to stay in bed, there’s too much going on,’ says the man who has decided he wants to do ‘anything and everything’ in the communications business. He’s approached 90 headhunters and spends his time ‘meeting terribly interesting people’. He’s been doing a little consultancy work too.
But what of his ‘over £100,000’ mortgage? He howls with defensive laughter on being asked whether he will manage to pay it. It’s a forced laugh and his fists tense up noticeably. But he hasn’t reduced it. And will he keep his children at private school? ‘I’d clean the bloody streets to make sure they stayed.’ A lot of streets, I say; ha, ha, he says.
They’ve slashed their outgoings by a third. ‘We went into siege mentality.’ They’ve stopped buying spirits, reduced their wine intake and cut out new clothes and eating out. ‘It was strange coming from an industry of largesse – where I was eating out breakfast three days a week, lunch four days and dinner a couple of times. Now if anybody kindly buys me lunch, for a change I appreciate it.’
He’s become less arrogant. And he’s realised the fragility of life. ‘When you’re made redundant, it’s a bit like a death. You wake up to life and think if there are things you want to do, just get on and do them.’ But what of the chance that he might never be in full-term employment again? Pause. ‘Good question. I don’t know. I’ve got another 30 years of working (he’s 44). If I’m not in full-time employment again, it’ll be out of choice.’
So what of his loss of status? ‘I’ve never been hung up on that. I didn’t make advertising my life. I have a supportive wife, a young family, other interests.
‘My wife told the children that Daddy hasn’t got a job at the moment. Andrew occasionally worries about Daddy getting a job.’ And are his kid’s worries justified? Daddy hoots with laughter. ‘I’m laid-back. I know we’ll make it.’