Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Getting From Here to There

ExecuNet is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and as a result, that sort of a milestone event has prompted a number of interview requests from various and sundry media wanting to know how this all happened and the details from ’88 to now.

As I have talked over the past several months with many different reporters and writers of many stripes, it has caused me to reflect frequently about the past 20 years and the transformation that I have experienced in my professional work life. It also got me wondering what the stories might be from others both inside and outside our membership.

In talking with our Executive Editor Lauryn Franzoni about this, she suggested it would probably be both fascinating and fun to learn more about other's “passages” so we thought a blog post would be one place to begin. So, in the interest of the “you go first” custom, here goes:

The short version is that the company I was working for as the VP of International Personnel was bought. For the first time in my life (at age 48), I found myself looking for a job when I didn’t already have one. In about the time it takes one to pull away from touching a hot stove I came to the conclusion that I didn’t like the way this felt at all, and the longer the search went on, the more I felt that the process was broken. What I thought ought to be a relationship based on a win-win outcome was one that felt like win-lose and very adversarial to boot.

After all, it seemed to my (then) naive way of thinking that organizations seeking senior-level talent and executives who were seeking stimulating and rewarding careers had the same goals in mind. Find the right fit for both.

Said differently, I thought that from a job seeker’s perspective, all I was asking for was the opportunity to compete for a real job at a time that was meaningful and to be treated with a reasonable degree of professional courtesy. Didn’t seem too crazy a notion at the time (and still doesn’t.)

Looking at it from the recruiter’s perspective (and having been in HR I thought I had a reasonable understanding of how that world worked), I knew I would want to be able to identify qualified candidates when I needed to, have confidentiality when needed, and not get into a fight with anyone over what “qualified” meant. That too did not seem to be a concept that was too far out of step.

So, how to try and become a Don Quixote lookalike and pick up the pieces of this broken process? The answer over time turned out to be an effort to create a community where both recruiters and senior level executives could come together in a career and business network not only with confidence but when needed, in confidence.

Reflecting on the experience, I keep thinking how very fortunate I was to have stumbled along the happenstance path of career planning and end up being able to make my living from something about which I was and continue to be passionate about to the point of obsession.

There is an old saying that I am sure most of us have often heard: “Luck: where preparation meets opportunity.” As I think about my own experience, that is a fair descriptor. In my case, I know that the 25+ years I spent in the corporate world certainly qualifies as “preparation.” What I didn’t know at the time was the “luck” was that my employer was bought and I was thrown into an uncontrollable situation. I didn’t immediately recognize the event as an opportunity.

So I am wondering what others’ experiences have been as they look back at their career over the past 20 years and what “learnings” or stories they might be willing to share in the comments section of this blog posting.

Where were you professionally 20 years ago?

Was there a pivotal event or person responsible for your leadership track?

Where are you professionally now?
As an incentive, I am willing to do this:

There was an incredibly interesting discussion that went on for several weeks recently in our General Management Roundtable. The discussion came from a member who was about to take on his first role as a CEO. His question to the roundtable was “What advice would you have for me?”

So rich was this discussion that Lauryn and her team created a whitepaper, Lessons from Leaders: Advice for a First-time CEO. Whether you are aspiring to be the CEO or already in the big chair, advice contained in this paper is something that any of us in a leadership position would find of real value.

You can give as many or few details as you feel comfortable, and as long as I have your email address, a copy is yours. If you are too much of an introvert to post it here, you can email it to me at dave.opton@execunet.com


Gregory Bell said...

Twenty years ago, I was running my own information technology business as a hobby (building and selling computer programs). After all, it was fun to play with computers. My 'real' job was working in a bank, and going to school part-time to be an accountant. After five years my wife convinced me to take my hobby seriously (computers were becoming a mainstay). Unfortunately, I didn’t know the first steps I should take. Computers were still new and companies would only hire you if you had a bachelor’s degree. After thinking about it for a little while, I decided to change my major and get my degree in computers.

I plunged in and attended college full-time. In three short years I graduated with a Dual BS degree (computer information services and business administration). The problem was finding the ‘right’ job. I wanted a job with an entrepreneurial environment, flexibility, and solid growth. Unfortunately, I chose a retail company (Heilig-Meyers Furniture) that went bankrupt a couple years later.

I decided to continue my own information technology business. However, this time the competition was tougher. Previously, I only had to mention I worked with computers and people would call me with jobs. Now, I had to actively market my company using the skills I learned from my classes while getting my Business Administration degree. Luckily, I managed to get a contract helping a large retailer (Circuit City) build their website. My task was to design the infrastructure and created the software programs to settle credit card transactions. The contract was for one year, but the retailer somehow found out their competition (Best Buy) was trying to launch their website first. Schedules were escalated, and we launched 5 months early. Was it a huge Success? Yes, but it meant I needed to market my services again.

Fortunately I found a job quickly. I joined an insurance company with a bright outlook. Actually, it was an insurance company with their main product being travel insurance (World Access). I was doing well until 9-11-2001. We all know what happened this date. Soon people were scared and stopped traveling (and they stopped buying travel insurance). The company had to cut back severely, and several good people had to leave (including me).

Out on the street again, but a little more prepared. I resumed the information technology business, but added a new service --- management consulting (Later we added computer auditing, computer forensics and investigations, and computer security).

At the end of twenty years, what did I learn? If I could give you three things to think about, here they are:
1. Do not go to school for education’s sake. Go to learn something and then apply it immediately. Too often I hear people going to school and figuring they’ll get a job after they graduate. This is backwards. Here are the steps you should take:
a. Find a job you want
b. Go to school to get the education you need to land the job
c. Market yourself to the company while in school (let them know you are interested in a career with them and ask if you can work part-time during the summers or perform internships).
2. Believe in yourself.
3. Manage tasks / Never people. People don’t really need to be managed, and they really don’t like to be micro-managed. People dislike the feeling of being controlled (so don’t control them, and get rid of managers that feel the need to control their people).
a. Treat people with respect, dignity, and above all --- trust them.

Dave Opton said...


That is one heck of list! Easier said than done for a lot of us, but one heck of list.

Please email me at dave.opton@execunet.com and I'll send along the copy of Lessons from Leaders: Advice for a First-time CEO. [Not that it sounds like you need any advice; sounds more like you could have written it. :)]

Thanks for sharing.


Kathy O'Reilly said...

Twenty years ago I was 28, living in LA and working as a segment producer for a nationally- syndicated television talkshow called Hour Magazine, hosted by Gary Collins. It was my first real job, right out of grad school, working my way up from an intern in the research dept., to one of the senior segment producers.

Mary Elizabeth Bradford said...

Dave I wanted to wish you a very happy 20th anniversary! Congratulations on all of your success and the successful products and services you have developed to help executives reach their full career-potential.

Dave Opton said...

Mary Elizabeth,

Just saw your post. A bit late on my part, but certainly it doesn't lessen my appreciation for your taking the time to post it.