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.

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