18 Jul 2023

When the Suit Fits

by John O’Brien

I never wanted to ‘work for the man’. The thought of spending a lifetime shuffling from home to office, slowly grinding up the ranks until hitting a ceiling of mediocrity filled me with dread.

The upsides of regular, stable income; of benefits like super, WorkCover and sick days are a great thing. But the fear of endless repetitious commuting, of soulless corporate workwear, and just ‘being a number’ in a faceless, uncaring setting led me to trying all other options possible. The prospect of watching the clock all day, every day, filling in the blanks of time until knockoff seemed like such a waste of potential.

Draw Your Own Line in the Sand


Maybe decades climbing the ladder to the ultimate boardroom is your thing. Cool, go for it, Mr Roy. Let your children squabble over your ashes. But maybe you have ethical or social concerns about the company that’s dangling a fat carrot. Should I, shouldn’t I? It’s entirely up to you to balance life needs and choices.

I chose to work in concerts, starting with dingy pubs and scungy trucks. At that level in the industry, two of the great attractions were the lack of dress code and the seat-of-the-pants nature of the work. Moving up the ranks to better gigs saw conditions and pay improve markedly, but the insecure road life ultimately wore me out.

Next move from dirty rock ’n’ roll to a more sanitised business life was also a choice. I liked the people in the company but didn’t like that their main client was spending over a billion dollars building a burden on society – Crown Casino. I sucked it up by reasoning that A: I desperately needed the money, and B: most of my career to date was involved in entertaining and distracting punters from the mundanity of their own corporate existences. What was so different about this?


The gig turned out to be a major vocational stepping stone for me. Successfully project managing a multi-million-dollar AV install was an awesome feather in the cap. I had a great boss who has become a lifelong friend.

Karmically, that same venue bit me on the arse not long after when my housemate repeatedly lost his rent to their sparkly bandits and nearly got us evicted. Said boss was then shafted by sharks in suits and lost his company. Pros and cons folks.

The next gig trawled near the bottom of my career. AV hire technician is an okay job, but I felt like societal flotsam in this company. Forced to wear a tie for the only time in my adult life, I chose the ugliest one I could find. Forced to wear cheap (company supplied) nylon trousers and shirts, I felt uncomfortable before even walking in the door. Above all, I hated this company’s culture. Why did I stay for 12 miserable months?

Because I was out of good options, in debt and seeking some normality after years on the road. I gave it a good crack, but it got me so down that another major life change emerged.

Going back to university for two years aged 35 was a poverty-stricken roll of the dice on my future. It didn’t exactly go to plan, but it did bear professional fruit. The next seven years working in AV control and integration paid for a major dream goal.

Do it on Your Own Terms

Some things, like branded uniforms and neat hairdos, are a requirement for a ticket to this ball. Unless you’re the CEO, you may have to conform to required conditions or stay wedded to Centrelink. A broke martyr might hold the moral high ground, but they’re still broke. Tattoos are increasingly acceptable but FTW across your forehead might limit the options a bit. Your call on both.

Alternatively, become the CEO of your own corporation. Start a business and grow it big enough to employ an army of suits. Even cooler, build a whole battalion of inked, dreaded, dyed, and pierced characters of all backgrounds and persuasions. Make that into a sustainably profitable venture and I will salute you.

Or you could get in on the ground floor with a savvy entrepreneur and become a key player as their business expands. One of my brothers did this and recently retired at 55, the beneficiary of several generous bonus payments. Yeh, he worked hard for decades but deserves every bit of the spoils. He also had the good luck of backing the right business horse.

Get in, Get What You Want and Get Out

This is one example of corporate life not being a ‘forever’ thing. Personally, I used it just enough to achieve long-held goals of buying a bit of dirt and building a house with my own hands. As soon as the numbers added up, I was out of the office quicker than Usain Bolt and off to re-construct my life outside of branded-suit-world. Jeans and T-shirts forever, baby!

For the 0.1% who end up in the C-suite like my brother, well done. Even more kudos if you did it without compromising your ideals too much or shafting too many people in the process. There is some luck involved but it’s mostly hard work, graft, and a heap of air travel.

Like me, many see the whole corporate process as predatory, shallow, and self- serving. It tends to enable white, cis alpha males to the disadvantage of all others. Many organisations encourage a competitive hard- headedness and can have a ‘join the wolf pack or get eaten by it’ environment. Some are more inclusive and supportive; these can be a joy to work at.

It’s worth remembering that corporate entities do not exist in isolation from humanity. If anything, they rely on it. Robots and A.I. do not staff boardrooms, nor perform the bulk of tasks involved in business life. Each entrant into the game-of-suits is human.

There are reams written about corporate climbers and their empire-building skulduggery. To mitigate that tendency, it’s up to all of us to bring some humanity to our roles, with whatever influence we can muster. If you can do so with flair, personality, and integrity, I reckon you’ve won. With luck, you made your workplace fun and productive for others too.

Hopefully, you also got the big bucks along the way. That was the point of the exercise, wasn’t it?


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