YOU PIVOT™: A Man With A Plan

Listen to my recent appearance on the ‘On The Brink’ podcast here.

You 3.0 has become a monthly feature of this blog. While most of us continue to shelter in place, I asked myself if I should pause these stories and decided they are as relevant now as ever. And, perhaps hearing others’ stories may inspire you to create your own transition story when the virus is behind us. 

This month, I interviewed Corey, what follows is his story. 

Corey began his career as an actor. He fell into what ultimately led to founding a business while working as a temp at a management consulting firm to support his acting career. As luck would have it, Corey made friends with John, one of the Managing Partners of the firm where he worked his temp job.  

One day, John offered, “if you are ever interested in making a career move and joining us full-time, I can help.” Not too long afterward, Corey took him up on his offer, which led to a nearly ten-year career at the firm. 

“Frankly, I thought I would be a lifer,” Corey told me. “I was making great money, with great benefits, and I loved my work.”

“But then things started to change, the company was heading down a different path, and I no longer felt I fit. Yet, I stayed. The last 1 1/2 years, I was so incredibly unhappy. I think I stayed because it was so good in the beginning. I think people tend to stay longer in dysfunctional relationships because of the early days.

When I finally decided it was time to leave, I didn’t know what I was going to do next. What I did know was I was 34 years old, I had been smart with my earnings, I was single, and I could leave.

Up until this point, I hadn’t had a plan, things just happened for me, and I took advantage of opportunities that came my way. 

I spent four months interviewing and received several offers. When I asked my dad for his opinion as to which one to take, he asked me a question that simplified things for me and changed my life “which option will put you in the best position to be where you want to be when you are 40?”  

For me, I have an easier time with five years from now than the next month. I was able to fast forward in my mind and see what I wanted my career and my life to look like at 40. 

The choice was easy. I wasn’t going to work for another company; I was going to start my own business. I am proud to say that my first four hires are still with the firm, folks who reported to me, as well as peers and even people who I had previously reported to, joined as well.” 

Today the firm has fifty-six employees and $14M in annual revenue. Ever since his father’s question “what do you want it to look like when you are 40?”, Corey and his company plan in five-year increments.

The 2020 plan was focused on succession planning and taking the company to market. Corey’s successor shadowed him in 2018, and by 2019 was running the company. 

The 2025 plan called for geographic expansion. Everyone agreed we should be pragmatic about where and when to do it. Either a significant client wants us to have a presence and/or a senior trusted employee wants to be in a location. 

It turned out that Corey and his wife wanted to move to Arizona. And, they have a significant client with a presence in Arizona. The who and the where were answered.

Meanwhile, they sold the company and formalized the succession plan.

The acquiring company liked Corey’s successor for CEO, Corey joined the board and took charge of Business Development in Arizona. 

By 2025, Corey, at age 55, will likely be retired; this was part of the rationale for the transaction. His successor will be creating his own succession plan (he is four years younger) and may follow the same path as Corey.

When I asked him what retirement holds for him, “I had a clear vision at 34 for what my company would be at 40. I am not as clear this time, and I have a lot of ideas percolating. Being a project manager by trade, I will be pretty mindful and intentional as my time at the company will decrease as the next will increase. I want to do something more contributory to society. I also want to speak French fluently. I play guitar and would love to get back to gigging with it – back to performing where I started; I am passionate about food – maybe a food truck.”

I asked Corey to share what he learned from his transitions; below are his top three:

  1. Separate the decision to leave from the choice of what to do next. I used to think of a job change as a singular event. First, you find a new job, then you give notice and go to the next job. When I left my job at 34, I learned how important it is to make this separation. 
  2. Don’t wait to enjoy your life and do the things you want to do. My dad owned his own business; it never got big, $2mm in revenue, 30 employees. He was a child of two Great Depression parents. He took two weeks off every year. His mindset was you work your butt off until 65, then retire and enjoy life. Within a year of my dad turning 65, my mom starting showing symptoms of Alzheimer’s, and his dream of traveling with his wife and enjoying life turned into becoming her primary caregiver for 11 years. 
  3. Prepare for a transaction before you are ready to move on. Do it now, so the company is ready when you are. If you wait until you are emotionally done, the company’s value isn’t where it should be – you are old and exhausted. Not one of our prospective buyers requested I stay because I had a strong leadership team poised to succeed without me. I stayed because I wanted to, not because I had to.

Let’s work together. You can learn more about my leadership and transition coaching as well as my peer advisory boards here.

YOU PIVOT™: Leaving Ownership, For Now

Listen to my recent appearance on the ‘On The Brink’ podcast here.

As part of my continuing YOU PIVOT™ Series, I interviewed Ray to hear his story. 

 Ray started his career in the large-corporate world, added a couple of gigs with smaller companies, and after a dozen years of working for others, he founded a company which he led for 11 years. Ray sold his business eight years ago, at the age of 45, and today is the sales and business development leader for a company where he has no ownership interest. 

Much like Jake, who I wrote about last month, here, Ray was burned-out after the sale. 

“The guys who acquired my company were hardcore, high motor people. Because I had an earn-out, I was spending all my time protecting my customers and my employees. It was exhausting. I managed to stay twelve of the fifteen months of my agreement.

I had a two-year non-compete, which at the time seemed onerous and, in retrospect, was a gift. 

I remember reading a lot and reacquainting myself with what was going on in the world. It turned out to be a sabbatical year. I had already decided I was not ready to start another business. I planned to work for someone else for a while and figure it out. I didn’t realize how hard it would be to find something because of where I was in my life and wellbeing.”

Ray hired a life coach shortly before he exited the acquiring company. The coach told him he was “suffering from PTSD and should see a therapist.” Ray chose not to go the therapy route, but he committed to coaching and learned a ton from it. 

With the help of assessments, coaching helped Ray understand his style and his strengths. He learned to use this knowledge to choose what would be next and develop a life plan.  

“I spent time re-establishing my health, my brand, and discovering what I enjoyed. I starting blogging, got more into music, joined a band, doing things I hadn’t done in a long time. I had some repair work to do with my family, and I got busy doing it. While I had been there for all the ball games, etc., I was rarely mentally present. I was fortunate to have this second chance to be there for real.”

On the business side, Ray began consulting with startups. Consulting enabled Ray to stay in the game, but he soon realized it wasn’t for him. He missed going to an office and having colleagues.

His work with the coach helped him see that starting a business wasn’t for him, at least not right away. Together they looked at various paths along several dimensions, and entrepreneurship had too many red lights. Ray was fearful of the toll it might take on his family, again, and didn’t want that or the financial risk.

He ultimately settled on sales management. His first gig was a practice run, not the best fit, but it got him accustomed to working for someone else again. 

When I asked him if he still had the itch to start another business, he responded, 

“Entrepreneurship is in my blood. I’ve always been around it. I aspired to it because of my dad, who was an inventor and a successful business owner. I also had grandparents and an uncle who were successful entrepreneurs.

I’ve learned so much from the first time and working with others. I am torn, I don’t want the stress of running my own business and the risk to my relationships with my wife and kids. Maybe a side hustle? I feel as though my entrepreneurial journey went unfinished.”

Here are the learnings Ray shared: 

#1 on selling your business

  • Be prepared for the huge distraction the sale will be and the fallout afterward, the aftermath, even in the best of circumstances it is going to be a life change. 
  • Hire a coach 
  • Take time off, allow yourself time to get your perspective back – The further away I get from my company, the more I see how I made small things matter to my psyche. I had to relearn the philosophy I wanted to live by, “when something maddening happens – ask yourself if this is going to matter in an hour, in a day, in a week, in a month in a year.”

If you decide to work for someone else:

  • Be prepared for how your perspective needs to change from being an employer to an employee
  • Get a first gig. I got better at being an employee the second time. 
  • Be selective about your manager and the corporate culture. The first time I focused solely on choosing an interesting business model. The second time I focused on culture as my number one requirement, and I was lucky to find a manager that valued my contribution.
  • Recognize that when you are an employee, managing up is at least as, if not more important, than managing down. 

Let’s work together. You can learn more about my leadership coaching and peer advisory boards here. 

AND If you have a story you are willing to share in this blog or know someone who does, please contact me. 

YOU PIVOT™: A Tale of Two Transitions

Listen to my recent appearance on the ‘On The Brink’ podcast here.

As part of my continuing YOU PIVOT™ series, I interviewed Jake to hear his story of two life transitions and what he learned from each.

The process of selling the business absorbed his full attention, but the afternoon after the close, Jake went home ill-prepared for how he felt and with no idea what was next. 

Jake and his partner sold their first company in 1996. He was only 41 at the time, and while he wasn’t emotionally ready to move on, the market was starting to turn, and they knew it was the right time to sell. 

“Before this, my biggest transactions were – car, marriage, house. I was an emotional wreck. I turned on the TV, sat down to watch and immediately knew that was not what I was going to do. But I was so exhausted, that I spun out. In retrospect, I was depressed. I’ve never been depressed before or since, so I didn’t understand what was happening. I was aimless for about three months.”

“The kind of coaching you do wasn’t available back then. If it were I would have started to think about actions before the end arrived. Working with you would have given me the confidence to trust myself, that something would happen.”

On the positive side, once Jake got himself moving, he and his previous partner started a new company.  

“Fast forward 20ish years later, when I sold my last company, I knew I had to work not to be blindsided by the ending. While I knew I had to devote my attention to the sale, I also knew I had to start looking around for what would be next. For me the looking around was enough, it gave me the confidence that something would happen, I didn’t have to know what it was.” 

When you get off the treadmill, your heart is racing – you need to walk around, slow it down, not stop and watch TV.

Today at 65, after walking around and exploring options for about a year, Jake has built a life portfolio. He is actively involved with entrepreneurs like himself. He coaches one or two directly, including his son, and he has taken a leadership role in evaluating and selecting candidates for an Angel Fund in which he invests. 

I asked Jake to share what he learned from these two transitions; here are the top 5 he shared:

  1. I was naive not to think about or worry about the future when I sold my first business 
  2. Come to terms with what you want next, think about which option is most appealing; starting or operating another business, helping other companies get where they want to be, learning something new or some combination of options
  3. Think about, when all is said and done, what do I want people to say about me
  4. Along the way, before an exit, make the changes you need to make to give yourself enough distance to objectively see, “your baby will be safe.”
  5. Focus on self-interest – secure my investments – active role – interesting volunteer work or other work that is a fit with my background

Let’s work together. You can learn more about my leadership coaching and peer advisory boards here. 

If you have a story you are willing to share in this blog or know someone who does; please contact me. 

YOU PIVOT™: When and Where Did You Begin?

Last month I wrote a blog entitled Which Career Version Are You In? I shared some of my thoughts about career patterns and a bit of my own story. Since then, I have heard from several of my readers and clients sharing their stories. Each story is a bit different, and yet, there are common themes. As I continue to explore these themes, I will be sharing them in this blog..

It seems the place to start is, of course, at the beginning. Career Version 1.0 is the stage where we are first trying to figure it all out. Some of us chose the traditional route, i.e., we graduated high school, went to college for four years, and then started in the work world.

For others, particularly it seems with entrepreneurs, the route may have been more circuitous. Those of us in this category may have attended college, maybe not right after graduating from high school, or perhaps skipped college, or left to start a business.

Whatever the preparatory part was, or not, we ended up in the work world on a path toward independence. What I am beginning to wonder is the path we choose toward Version 1.0, a predictor of when and what we choose for later versions?

It is this question that I am pursuing as I learn more about choices my clients have made and are making today.

For me, as I shared in my earlier blog on this topic, I chose, or perhaps more accurately, fell into, the circuitous path. As a young woman entering the workforce in the early seventies, there were few female role models. Only two women were in senior roles at my first company. One, who became a mentor, started her career at age 45 after raising her children; and the other was near the end of hers, having never married nor had children. While my mentor was someone, I admired and learned from, at age 16, neither story resonated. So, I watched and attempted to follow the male mentors and role models I had. I pursued a corporate career and went back to correct the education I had missed.

It wasn’t until I hit the early part of Version 2.0, where one begins to accumulate some savings/wealth, that choice became an option. And that led to becoming an entrepreneur. Ironically my father was an entrepreneur and he got there following the circuitous path. He, too, started in a corporate job, briefly joined his family business, and then a few years later founded his company.

When I think about stories of  leaders I know who followed the circuitous path, some founded their business early on, but many followed the traditional “get a large corporate job and work your way up” and then veered left. We may have departed the large-corporate world for a privately held company, started a business or some combination thereof.

I will share some of these stories in coming weeks as I begin to sort out whether there are patterns in our early choices that predict choices when we reach 2.0 and 3.0.

Let’s work together. You can learn more about my leadership coaching and peer advisory boards here.