This week I celebrated a milestone: 8 years in a company. Why does that matter? It is not unusual, but from age 25 to 45, I have only had 4 employers and, until now, moved company on the 5th Anniversary every time. So, as I often do, I started thinking about my thinking and the reasons that people leave jobs and companies and that prompted me to think of my favourite film “Jerry Maguire”, which came out just over 20 years ago. I decided to revisit the movie to see if what was so profound, impacting and meaningful then, still holds true now.

This is the back story… 20 years ago in December 1996 “Jerry Maguire” was another big hit movie for Tom Cruise. As a young 25 year old executive who had just landed a new job, it was hugely insightful and still is. In my opinion it was ahead of its time in defining what is all-important in life, career and business: Personal Relationships.

Being in the ‘people’ or ‘human capital’ business arena the past twenty years, you spend most of your days, like “Jerry”, focusing on the lives, career, progression and personal development of others. In over 20 years I have interviewed over 10,000 people for 500 senior roles across the globe. As a business-to-business sector we are commonly accused of being client first and candidate second in our handling of the hiring process. It is fair to say that this is how the recruitment and executive search industries make their money; the client creates the demand and pays the bills. It would also be fair to say that the candidate, or talent, as in the movie, has somewhat become a commodity to be traded and exchanged in order to make a profit for companies. Since the mid 1990’s we have seen a huge shift in the impact of technology, the internet, online hiring, LinkedIn, connectivity and unrivalled access to all the talent in the World. We were warned of the ‘war for talent’, people voting with their feet, the backlash against corporate culture, ‘Millennials’ and whatever the next trend maybe including artificial intelligence and the impact of robots on the workforce. Very little has changed, in my opinion, in the way that human beings want to be treated. Ultimately, for the 500 senior roles that I have hired for leading companies across the globe, those that got the job were largely happy, they were the lucky ones! For each successful hire there may have been 50-500 people in the process that were either reject or disappointed So we actually only managed to please and deliver for maybe 1% of candidates. The other 99% were left largely dissatisfied. In the movie Tom compromised his job, his future and ultimately focus on people and the 1% of relationships he valued.

Wind the clock on 20 years and with over 40,000 hours of experience ‘observing’ people, and behaviour I firmly believe that in your career and life there are three distinct phases and it is only at the end of each do you get the chance to stop, look back, reflect and move forward to the next. During each of those critical periods of reflection, specific elements and people influence you and form the basis of your decisions. Very often it is the leaders, managers and influence’s in your circle that determine your outlook and your future. Those are you guiding lights, your mirror, your point of reference and reality.

Phase 1: 5-25 years old: The Education Phase

In this phase you know nothing – you learn from the people around you: parents, relatives, friends and teachers. You develop yourself and your education fairly randomly with influence pulled from a relatively narrow sphere of influence. You are told what to do, what to study and where to focus, or not focus. Essentially, you are not in control of your decisions or your life. You make choices and embark on a higher education and job, which becomes a career.

Phase 2: 25-45 years old: The “Jerry Maguire” Years or the “Show me the Money” Years

Based on phase 1, you will have chosen, or stumbled, on a role and career. Then, if you had any ambition at all, you spend 20 years working to be better than the next guy, beat the competition and be recognised within the organisation or industry as being at the ‘top of your game’ or ‘top of the tree’. You probably had mentors, even coaches and leaders to inspire you and you looked to emulate them. You were constantly comparing yourself with your friends and colleagues and judging your success relative to theirs. You were constantly climbing, focusing on the next ‘rung on the ladder’ and chasing the money and dream, or illusion, all focused around an aim or goal you ultimately did not choose in Phase 1!

Phase 3: 45+ years old: The Wonder Years

I often call them the ‘wonder years’ as, during the pe moast 20 years, I have watched so many people I have met or interviewed ‘wake up’ in their mid-40’s and wrestle with this and WONDER “what the heck have I been doing for the past 20 years?”. Maybe because you have only done 20 years of education in Phase 1 and 20 years of work in Phase 2, do you even then only vaguely know what, life, work and relationships are all about! Very often people arrive at this point wondering what their aim in life is, their value, their legacy and how they contribute to society. Scientifically, it has now been proven that the most unfulfilling and unhappy life stage is between 45 and 54 years old. It is at this stage that many people have some form of ‘midlife identify crisis’, buy a motorcycle, convertible car, boat, or have an affair and things starts to unravel. There is a general lack of direction, uncertainty about the future and this shows up all of the time in the work I do as an executive coach. For more information in this respect see:

I think shortly we will be able to define a 4th phase due to longer life expectancy and medical advancement we are living longer to 80-100+ and therefore retirement at 60-65 may not be an option for many financially or mentally. We see more and more executives, wanting to and having to work beyond 70 years old. I will reveal more in my next article “ The Death of Retirement”.

So, after 20+ years of work and continual study of human performance and leadership in business, in 2014 started looking much deeper into what makes people ‘tick’ and ultimately successful in work and life. Via deep research in the field of neuroscience, I started really studying and understanding the science of human behaviour and started to understand the brain and the thinking behind our decision-making, interactions and relationships.

In the movie, “Jerry Maguire” spent hours thinking about his thinking and subsequently wrote a document “THINGS WE THINK BUT DO NOT SAY” which defined his future by saying what he really thought about his industry. By deep thinking and speaking up, he ultimately got fired! In 2016 I did the same for myself. It didn’t get me fired thankfully, but the point of revisiting the movie was to see if things I believed in then are still as true and important now.

To quote Jerry again is ” in this volatile, cruel and cynical world and that we all need something to cling to and the key to life and business is the same thing – personal relationships”.

If you have never seen the movie, watch it. I promise, you will not be disappointed! If you have seen it before, watch it again! What the movie says to me 20 years on, is that a lot may have changed, but ultimately, the important things will always stay the same. So my take away’s then are the same now as they were then:

· Define for you what is ultimately more important than anything else, whether it be morally, financially, or anything else and live or die by those rules. Pursue those dreams and do not wait until you are 45-55 to choose what you really believe will make you happy in work or life.

· Be happy to fail, comfortable to walk away, stand up for what you believe in. Even with all of the technology and social media advancement, you personally are the other thing that can impact this world and the people around you.

· Finally, if you do nothing else, focus on people and relationships; Friends, Family, Kids, Parents, Colleagues, whoever is important to you. Technology has yet to replicate how powerful the brain is and the impact that honest communication and emotions have on those around you. “People may not always remember what you said or did, but they will always remember how you made them feel”.

In the words of Dicky Fox at the end of the Movie: “Hey, I don’t have all the answers. In life, to be honest, I failed as much as I have succeeded. But I love my wife. I love my life. And I wish you my kind of success”.


  • Matt Lewis

    Headhunter, Executive Leadership and Health Coach, Writer, Brain Changer, Adviser.

    Matthew is a senior executive search, leadership and executive coaching professional with over 24 year’s global expertise in identifying, assessing and coaching talent and senior level executives. He has hired senior executives in 45 countries across the Americas, EMEA and Asia Pacific for the world’s leading companies. Since 2010 he has been Partner for the Middle East and Africa with Boyden, the world’s oldest and largest private executive search firm, founded in 1946 with over 70 offices in 40 countries. Matthew has conducted over 500 Global Searches, interviewed over 6000 global C level senior executives, conducting over 200 hours a year of executive coaching and assessment of executives, boards and their performance. In 2009 he founded Alchemy Executive, an emerging markets focused Executive Coaching business works with leading regional companies and exceptional individuals across MEA. In 2015 he Co-founded N3 Executive Coaching. N3 delivers Neuroscience based, academically accredited coaching to executives, corporates, MBA schools and students across the EMEA region. Matthew is currently conducting his PhD research in the field of Neuroscience and its impact and effectiveness Executive and Health Coaching whilst also writing his first book, focused on the field of Employee Engagement, Motivation, and Corporate and Personal Performance. He is a member of the AESC (Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants), a member of the ICF (International Coaching Federation) and the Capital Club, Dubai. Matthew serves as a Non-Executive Director and Committee Member of the British Business Group, Dubai and Northern Emirates. He is also a volunteer, Coach and Mentor to Reach, the leading Women in Business, Not for Profit mentoring organization in the Middle East. Matthew is a regular speaker at various MBA Schools including INSEAD and London Business School where is he is also an EMBA coach. He is a regular media contributor and commentator in the MEA region on talent, succession planning, leadership, regional dynamics, cultural awareness and nationalization. Matthew graduated with a BSc (Hons) in the UK and has lived and worked in London, UK, Hong Kong and since 2007 in the Middle East and Africa based from Dubai, UAE