Friday, November 16, 2007

The Zig Zag Networking Trail

We have a special feature in our CareerSmart Advisor newsletter which we call Learnings From Landings. As you can probably guess, it is an opportunity for us to share those things that various members tell us which they feel would be helpful to others who are interested in making a career change.

When I first started to share these stories almost twenty years ago now, I didn't realize just how valuable these "learnings" were. It did not take too long, however, to recognize that most of us (if we're lucky) don't go through changing jobs all that often, and given the pace of change in today's world, most of us, if we go through that door again, it is hard to recognize what we find on the other side.

Recently, I got a note from Patrick Cotter. I recognized his name instantly because some months before he had written to me to let me know that he had accepted a senior level executive position in China about which he was understandably excited. Just over a year later, this is what he had to say:

My message is basically one of not giving up even when nothing is coming to a close and there is nothing promising on the horizon.

Last year through ExecuNet I had secured a senior management position in China. However this job became short lived when the Chinese Chairman took off with about $ 100 million at XMas. The company went into receivership and I came back to CT to mull things over. I am 57, overeducated and overqualified in a dozen fields and scare most directors, so my prospects were dim as to whether or not I would ever find that "last Big Job".

I reactivated my contacts and did a few networking meetings with not much happening. I picked up on the side however some occasional consulting jobs where due to the complexity of the issues surrounding global logistics and related support systems, I could charge $1000 a day with nobody complaining. So that covered the bills but still no Big Job.

Last month while networking ( i.e shooting the breeze) with an investment banker about buying a small company in Fairfield, he asked me if I could recommend a prep school with a high degree of security for the Chinese son of one of his clients. I told him I knew just such a school in Vermont which handled kids from very high profile parents. For example in May President Putin's son had graduated from there ( under an assumed name until G-day). I followed up that request for lack of anything better to do that day and got the boy admitted after a few calls and promises of (hopefully) much endowment funds.

Lo and behold two weeks later Chairman A. and son plus retinue show up on my doorstep on the way to Vermont to give thanks. We start talking a bit about my Chinese retail experience as I know he has about 650 stores covering over 100 million SF of space and growing at about 30% per annum. All I'm hoping for is maybe a consulting job out of it.

A week later I get an email from China asking me when I could come over to visit some operations in Shenzhen and Shanghai with the Chairman. So off I went 10 days ago with a consulting deal in mind. I ended up spending 6 days (and nights) with the Chairman and his retinue at the conclusion of which I gave him a short list of priorities needed for his organization to survive its growth rate. He stared 30 seconds at the list turned to the translator to make sure I had not misunderstood that he wanted me as his COO, not as a consultant. I accepted on the spot.

So far I had run a faultless course bypassing 4 killer issues but had one final one where no US business rules would apply and that was: How much do you want?? My mind froze for a minute as I knew the going US rate, but this guy was a Buddhist who thought radically differently about values than I did. After all he could buy anything in the world, yet all he had brought back from the States was a small(tree)plant for his garden....So I low balled a base and waited.

I knew that was the right answer because he then immediately came back with a 7 figure bonus and stock package plus car, driver and housing. If I had gone full market rate (like in the US) I probably would not have benefited year one from the Chairman's discretionary bonus pool money. When the dust settled later that evening and I was ruminating why I had low-balled. It came to mind that the salary question had been the final test and what the old man wanted to see was passion and a deep understanding of the business more so than the ol' MOB. He knew I had low balled him . That had pleased him and in return it amused him to throw lots of money at me...and I wasn't complaining.

I'll be moving back to China in 2 weeks. I just need to find my my book on "Mandarin for Dummies" in 10 easy lessons !!.

Bottom line, even when you think you've hit the end of the road professionally it pays to keep networking. You just never know what can pop up.
When I finished reading Patrick's email, it served to remind me of a couple of things:

1. Given the business world in which we all find ourselves, it is very understandable why the biggest change I have seen in our membership since we began way back in 1988 is that 70%+ of our membership is made up of senior executives who are currently employed and who consider their membership a form of career insurance, and

2. At the end of the day, effective career management is about perserverence and linkages (aka networking). You just never know where the links will begin or where they will eventually lead.

1 comment:

TheBigTurkey said...

A very inspirational story for all of fat old turkeys at the end of our career hoping for one more chance to hit the ball out of the park. (Steroids don't help us old guys.) It's not the paycheck, but the personal validation. We want to be "valued"; and not "road kill". This tells us if "we" focus on "helping", then one can only hope that the Universe will send us some as well. :-) Now excuse me, I have ring up a thousand of my closest friends, and see what they need today!