After nearly 6 years of working in a large corporate business, I recently resigned to work in my family-owned design and marketing agency. It was a really proud day for me.
Having my father as my boss was daunting and also exciting. I had always wanted to work with him, but he insisted after I graduated from University that I go out and make a name for myself first. Now I had an opportunity to show him all the things I had learned in my time.
As I was leaving my current role after nearly 6 years, my boss agreed, only after my endless insistence, that I could send personal emails to a select number of clients explaining my departure -- rather than the usual -- "Oh they'll find out next time they call up."
One of those select clients was the GM of a large industrial company -- a man who I'd known for a number of years and with whom I'd had an excellent and respectful working relationship. He had worked hard, from starting out as an electrician to many years later taking on his role as GM of an industrial electrical company. I respected him and trusted him and was someone I always enjoyed working with.
We’d often take our quarterly catch-up meetings at a small cafe across from my office, and have coffee and a bite to eat. At these meetings, once we had covered all of our outstanding work items, he would often ask about my aspirations and goals, offering me well-thought-out advice if I asked for it.
About 12 months into my tenure as his account director, he approached me and offered me a job to, encouraging me to leave the organization I worked with. I was flattered by the offer. He told me he thought I was incredible at my job, and that providing I didn’t want an exorbitant salary, I could name my wage and he would agree to it.
I told him I appreciated the opportunity and would talk it over with my partner, but then due to restructuring of their company during that financial year, the new position seemed tenuous.The discussion was put on the backburner and things went back to normal.
Naturally, some months later when I accepted the offer to become Account Director at my family-owned agency, I was eager to share the news with him. I was a little disappointed that I hadn’t been able to work with him, but excited nonetheless.
When I shared the news that I was leaving, he too shared with me that he was also leaving his company and going out to work for himself. His email suggested we meet to discuss working together in future as he would need both marketing and design services.
I agreed -- excited at the opportunity and independence my new role would afford me and proud that I could show my father my skills by bringing a new client along on my first day on the job.
We met a few weeks later, and he seemed excited and thrilled at the prospect of going out into business for himself. He explained that the internal restructuring that had been going on had been a cause of great deal of stress to him. However he had managed to maneuver himself into a redundency package that would set him up quite well financially.
He shared that he and his wife and kids had taken a holiday and also bought an investment property -- he told me all about the sports they played, the things they did together, the perfect family he had.
I told him I was so pleased that things had worked out for the best and that agreed it was a really exciting time for him to be starting a new business and for me to transitioning into my new role.
He asked me how I was finding my role, and probed me about the commute, what my office was like and so on. I told him, proud as punch that the commute wasn’t too far from the new apartment I had just bought.
“That’s great." He shook my hand. "Congratulations. You and your partner must be so pleased.”
He must have read my contemptuous facial expression and he quickly slapped a hand over his mouth.
“I’m sorry, did I say the wrong thing?’ he asked.
“I bought the place on my own.” I explained, embarrassed “I split with my partner more than 6 months ago.”
“Oh I’m sorry -- not to worry,” he said.
The discussion veered back to work and I didn’t think too much about it. He detailed the marketing and design objectives he had and I proudly told my father later that day that I was pretty sure we had a long-term client on our hands.
The next day, he emailed me and said he was concerned that with his limited budget, he’d be putting me in a difficult spot as he knew our agency wasn’t the cheapest. I told him not to stress too much and we would work to find a fixed price that was amenable.
A few weeks later, an email appeared in my inbox proudly announcing that he’d signed a lease for a new office and insisting I come over to see it. He also suggested we could discuss our marketing projects and insisted that he buy me a drink as he wanted my feedback on potential names for his company.
I was already patting myself on the back, thinking "Great I’m closing him!" I hadn’t been crazy about having a drink with him, because who wants to do work stuff on a Friday night? But I was so eager to get a sale that I agreed.
His new office seemed impressive. Modern and airy with people running around importantly carrying furniture and bits and pieces. He introduced me to a few members of staff and told them how great I am.
After we covered work items, he suggested we head around the corner to grab a drink. I meet him at the restaurant and we order and sit outside.
He gulps his drink down and waits until I run out things to say. Then he says to me “I have something to tell you.” I thought he was going to offer me a job and I instantly feel nervous at the prospect of having to give him an answer on the spot.
I’m infatuated with you,” he says to me. “I know you’re recently single, are you seeing someone?” My brain froze. I shook my head, unable to speak.
“I did this once before,” he says. “When I worked abroad. She was a work colleague at a different office.” His words are tumbling out of his mouth and all I can imagine is shoving my fist into his face. Im glowing red with anger and embarrassment.
He continues matter-of-factly, “I can’t be there for you all the time, I can’t offer you love. I love my wife.”
Do you? I think.
He continues on “ What I can offer you is pleasure, and I would love to see you writhing on the floor naked.” I. KID. YOU. NOT.
I shake my head, my eyes burning with tears. “I have to go," I mumble.
He follows me to the carpark.
”Is there something I could buy you that would make you change your mind?" he asks. “It could just be for one night.”
I climb into my car with my hands shaking. I cry as I drive home, ignoring the calls from my father wanting to know how the meeting went.
I see my parents a few days later, telling them the only enough to prevent me further embarrassment and shame. I don’t reply to his texts and emails telling me he’s sorry.
He finishes one apology text by telling me to stop playing with my hair and includes numerous winky face emoji. Clearly this means nothing to him. His life will go on, like nothing ever happened.
I often think about it and wonder where the line was crossed from professional to personal. I analyse and over-analyse every word, every interaction.
I am not the first woman this has happened to and I know I won’t be the last. I wish my desire to be good at my job hadn’t resulted in me compromising my judgement. But most of all, I wish I had spoken out at the time and told him not to disrespect me like that.