Tony Samson-125


NOW AND THEN, executives who have left (or been asked to leave) a company may find their way back some years later. Maybe they’ve recovered from an illness or come back from working abroad, perhaps just got frustrated in the company that pirated them earlier. Or, they have been asked to return and help their former organization or country… just like expats coming home and setting up tech companies here after doing well (or even not so well) in Silicon Valley.

Why does this happen?

Maybe, there’s a new management or ownership that has taken over a company? And the returnee is considered a veteran who knows where the skeletons are buried, maybe even how to run the business better. The details of a previous exit may have already been given some new twist — the other executives were jealous of his quick rise. Was he perhaps ahead of his time in pursuing a digital pivot? His value to the company may have increased since he left.

It’s possible that the newly designated CEO may have fond memories of the previous association with the returnee and decided to call back this “veteran” to help untangle the political gridlock with too many direct reports. The re-hiring may even have been quietly resisted at the top. But, hey — who’s in charge?

Re-entries, especially near the top, pose special challenges.

There are old informal structures of friendships and rivalries, as well as past failures and shouting matches in the corridors. All these are conveniently set aside. Still, all these marginal issues somehow get into the whispered conversations, even with masks on.

Except for those new in the organization and therefore not having any biases on a returnee’s capability, or lack thereof, there are the unasked questions on why this person has come back? What does he bring to the table?

When news of “the return” seeps through the grapevine, there may even be frantic meetings with the boss. The resistance will not be direct, just an inquiry into the “role” that this comeback kid will be playing. Is he just a consultant? Or, is he part of a succession plan? Is he just passing through and sharing words of wisdom with the new head? The answers to such questions will not be satisfactory to anyone — let’s see how it shapes up.

Still, it is possible that a returnee can be considered just a new hire. Maybe, he even lost a few pounds and looks different from the Christmas party pictures of five years ago.

And to pave the way for a warmer welcome, press releases in social media (from the sponsor of the comeback) sing the returnee’s praises. The superlatives describe a returning hero trying to give back to the organization “where he learned a lot.” The work gap of five years is characterized as an entrepreneurial foray into fintech and venture capital efforts. If these were not especially noteworthy, they at least gave a few lessons in taking risks with some skin in the game.

The re-entry needs to be properly choreographed.

There is no big meeting to introduce someone already well known in the organization and whose re-entry had been hanging over the rivals like a lantern after Christmas. So, it’s best to have a quiet, almost unceremonious entrance. The familiar face just pops in at a management meeting. He sits quietly at the right of the CEO with no fanfare — he needs no introduction. (Who’s presenting the new organizational chart?)

Even for the returnee, there will be no shortage of awkward moments. Does he make a short speech? (I am happy to be back here among familiar faces.) Does he even raise questions in the presentation? (Why are there so many dangling earrings in the chart?)

The Bible warns of diminished expectations from those coming back to familiar surroundings. “No prophet is without honor, except in his own country.” (Mark 6:4) This convoluted triple negative statement says that even a prophet is not given much respect by his old neighbors — he used to be a carpenter’s apprentice.

Coming back is fraught with risks of rejection.

In politics, trying again for an even higher position after losing in a previous election, contested though it was, can seem to be welcomed at the start. Only time will tell if the resurrection of a reputation is possible after six years… or even 50.


Tony Samson is chairman and CEO of TOUCH xda