Ivan Yates said it was akin to a bereavement. He summed up his feelings as "demoralisation, dejection, sadness". In his round of interviews last Tuesday, following the collapse of his Celtic Bookmakers company, Yates may have caught a lot of people off guard.
Here was a story straight from the pawprints of the Celtic Tiger. Thrusting businessman undertakes rapid expansion in search of an empire; banks throw money at him; his shops multiply; he's a paper multi-millionaire; then it all comes crashing down around his ears.
While the story was textbook, Yates' reaction was not one that the public is accustomed to hearing from businessmen for whom things have gone belly-up. He took full responsibility. He wasn't blaming anybody else, including the banks to whom he now owes €6m. He hadn't paid inflated salaries either to himself or his wife and fellow director; they confined themselves to €25,000 a year, and no salary for the past two years. (Although Yates did also have access to a ministerial pension.)
He hadn't squirreled away copious assets or cash so as to blindside creditors. He put everything on the line and thereon it tottered, now at the mercy of creditors.
For a public more accustomed to hearing about developers and bankers transferring assets, setting up offshore companies and fleeing the country, it was a reminder of the fate that is actually being suffered by most former high-flyers who have been laid low.
Last year, over 1,500 companies went into receivership or liquidation in the state. Over half of these operated in construction and the rest largely in retail and services. Almost all included an owner/manager in a similar role to that of Yates in Celtic Bookmakers. While the loss of a job is a traumatic event for anybody, the additional burdens experienced by those who see their businesses fail accentuates the problem.
"In some ways the self-employed are more vulnerable when things fail," according to consultant psychiatrist Justin Brophy. "By nature they are self-reliant and therefore less likely to disclose problems or any distress. They are more likely to be secretive and even to be ashamed.
"The sense of failure is more intense. There is nobody else to blame, except maybe, in some cases, the banks. An employee can blame a whole set of factors for the predicament in which they find themselves. Failure in this country is judged more and risk is appreciated less," he says.
Mark Fielding, director of the small firms group ISME, has seen considerable numbers of owner/managers go under in the past year and has spotted certain recurring characteristics.
"A lot of them whom I've seen would regret not having made the decision [to wind up] earlier," he says. "Entrepreneurs are optimistic by nature and so even when times are bad, they would always be expecting a turnaround."
He says that, for many, their ventures effectively consisted of a small village economy. "They would have been paying Vat, employing people, earning a living themselves, and then it's all gone. It's a very traumatic time."
Apart from the mental trauma, there are practical hurdles to be negotiated. Unlike most employees, the entrepreneur has been eating, sleeping and breathing their job. There is no clocking in or out.
"They go from working 12- or 14-hour days and then suddenly they don't know what to do with themselves," Fielding says.
One high-profile businessman whose venture had a brush with failure was Aer Arann founder and executive chairman Pádraig Ó Céidigh. The airline was put into examinership last August, a process that effectively provides a company with protection from its creditors while its debts are restructured. The company emerged from examinership in November and is now back on a firm footing.
Ó Céidigh says that an entrepreneur has much more than just a job at stake.
"Anybody who has their own business, they put their life and soul into it. It's 24 hours a day. They are passionate about it. They have to give personal guarantees.
"The employee does nine to five or whatever hours to the best of their ability, but they are not in a position where, for example, their home may be mortgaged into a business."
The stakes involved in running a business were brought home to Ó Céidigh earlier this year, but it was an encounter with a bank manager some years ago that, for him, highlighted what the potential costs of business were.
Opening an Aer Arann route from Cork to Southampton, he met a senior manager in an Irish bank who had worked in the south of England for most of his career.
"He told me that he had done business with most of the successful Irish people in business over the in the last 30 years," Ó Céidigh says.
"He said that all of them had lost one of three things during their careers. They had lost either their health, their wealth or their families. Unlike an employee, an entrepreneur puts all of those at risk. But they believe passionately in what they're doing and sometimes achieve success against all the odds."
Despite the high stakes, the Galway businessman believes that how the shock of being out of work affects employees or owner/managers is a subjective matter.
"People take these things in different ways," he says. "There are some employees who when they lose their job they might be more stressed out than the entrepreneur who loses not just his company but even his home."
Then there is the stigma. Anybody who has ever suffered the loss of a job understands the loss of self-esteem associated with not having a place of work to go to each morning. In the case of somebody who was working for themselves, the stigma of failure is felt more acutely, whether it is merited or not.
Mark Fielding says the stigma of failure is still a retarding factor in Irish society.
"We still have that hang-up," he said. "It's not yet like places like the USA where you have to fail two or three times before making a real success."
Ó Céidigh has a different view. During the Aer Arann examinership, he says he was inundated with messages of good will from people, expressing the hope that he would be able to turn a corner.
"People were stopping me in the street wishing me well," he says. "One woman walked into the office one day with a big bouquet of flowers. The support was incredible while I was in that space. If we have turned a corner in terms of people wishing you well, I think it's happened it this recession."
Facing up to life after a business collapses brings unique problems in relation to benefits. There is no redundancy payment. Most who find themselves in the situation are laden with debt. And accessing support from the state can be a minefield.
Former employees are entitled to job-seeker's benefit from the state, on the basis of their employee PRSI contributions. The payment is made available fairly quickly and also opens up access to education and training.
Employers, or sole traders, must apply for job seeker's allowance, which is means tested and can be a long drawn-out process.
According to latest figures from the Department of Social Protection, the average waiting time for job-seeker's allowance is 6.04 weeks, compared to 1.83 weeks for job-seeker's benefit. However, in some social welfare offices the wait can be twice the national average, at up to 14 weeks.
The Irish National Organisation for the Unemployed (INOU) reports an increase of 30% to 35% in inquiries in the past year from people who were self-employed.
"We're hearing from a whole variety and range of people who want to know about their entitlements," says Robert Lynch, the INOU's manager of welfare to work.
"It goes from sole traders to professional people including accountants, architects, engineers and solicitors. There have been people whose companies have had their own sales forces and other staffed areas.
"Anybody who has been self-employed does not have a guarantee that they will receive any allowance from the state."
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