Why does a top IBM man give up his job to work for free?

Army of volunteers crosses over from corporations to charities
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The Independent Online
After years of downsizing, rationalisation and old-fashioned redundancy, corporate Britain is facing a new and unlikely phenomenon - voluntary work.

A concept alien to 1980s-style Thatcherism, working for charities and community groups is increasingly popular among a small but significant section of the high-flying classes.

John Martyn, the finance director of multi-national City firm Dalgety, who is quitting his pounds 220,000 job, aged just 53, to work with the homeless, is simply the most striking example of the move towards a life beyond the pin-stripe suits and corporate presentations.

Keith Galpin, development manager of REACH, a charity dedicated to finding voluntary work for professionals and business people, said there were a mixture of motives why more and more ex-execs are headed for the charity sector.

"I think there is an element of people wanting to put something back in to society - and certainly when we did a survey that one was of the reasons people gave."

The other main reason is more prosaic. "People's careers are ending much earlier than they did even 15 years ago - and a lot of people are now going to have more time after work than during it. It's a case of finding something to do, not just for a few years, but for decades."

The flipside is that charities get the use of highly-skilled professionals, who pass on their expertise for free.

REACH, set up in 1979, has 1,000 ex-professionals on its books, seeking 2,000 voluntary jobs, and since its inception has filled 7,500 positions, ranging from posts at Oxfam to small, local voluntary bodies.

One of these is Mervyn Archdall, who spent most of his 25 years with the multinational computer firm, IBM, working in Paris.

As a senior financial manager, he reached a senior position and was earning pounds 45,000 a year until, he decided, at the age of 49, that enough was enough, and he began voluntary work.

Mr Archdall, now 52, who lives in south-west London, admits voluntary redundancy gave him the financial security he needs to indulge his new life.

"To be honest I do not need to work for money again, and I didn't want to work for another company."

Instead he contacted REACH, which has fixed him up with a variety of positions in local charities and voluntary groups where he makes use of his financial expertise.

"I wanted to keep occupied and I also wanted to help other people. I think the altruism comes in choosing which group I want to work for, a cause I feel interested in."

He cites the example of a local charity for the blind. "I look in awe at some of them, how they adapt their lives."

One trait he has had to learn, as someone used to the exacting standards of a multinational, is understanding. "You need a bit of adaptability after coming from a large company like IBM, and have to be very tolerant.

"In the end I would like to think it has made me a better person."

Solicitor John Stedman, 55, who took voluntary redundancy earlier this year, is planning to work or two years for the Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) in the Solomon Islands.

Having been a pounds 50,000-a-year legal services controller for the Chelsea Building Society, Mr Stedman will now take over as a legal adviser to a provincial government on the islands.

He acknowledges he is fortunate enough to be able to afford the move, but says he wants to make good use of the expertise he has acquired. "I still feel I have a lot to offer - there is plenty of life left in the 50-pluses yet."

Solomon Ezobi, accountant, businessman and former finance director of international construction firm Tilbury, is joining another VSO project, this time as a small business adviser in Papua New Guinea.

Now aged 51, he is looking for a new challenge. "I wanted a different direction in my career, and a chance to impart what I have learnt to other people. I think this is something that will catch on - people in successful careers looking for a new challenge. I will probably go back to business afterwards."

Yesterday VSO launched an appeal, headed by actor Richard Wilson, looking for more people to bring their skills to the voluntary sector.

Spokeswoman Lara Date said they were particularly looking for people with business skills to help developing areas "generate their own income".

However, Bernard Casey, senior research fellow for the Policy Studies Institute, cautions against seeing Mr Martyn, who is to work with the Gatehouse drop-in centre for the homeless in Oxford, as a blueprint for the future.

"This kind of example is very unusual." He said the majority of professionals and managers looking to move into voluntary work were effectively forced to by redundancy.

"They may want to think they can do some voluntary work, but they may not have the skills and aptitude necessary to do it."