After conducting these interviews and writing these YOU PIVOT™ stories for nearly a year now, a common theme for the men I’ve interviewed is a choice to follow Dad’s career path. This choice has worked well for some, reference Flunking Retirement: Marsh’s story of following his dad into the military And for others, like Darnell, not so much.

Darnell’s dad was an engineer at the same company for 43 years. So… Darnell became an engineer.

He realized even before he graduated, that wasn’t what he wanted to do. Darnell knew he was a natural leader and a people person, so he pivoted toward an MBA.

That said, the traditional corporate path was what he knew from his dad, so off he went to a big company. The plan was to “work my way up the ladder, punching the tickets – moving up to responsible positions. My stated goal then was to become president of a company within a company in my 40s”.

Along the way, he realized he is less of a rule follower and that he had his mother’s family genes. She came from a family of entrepreneurs – grandpa started a business in the boom times – followed by a bust. And then another boom. 

“As I reflect on my career, there must have been something about the turnaround, from bust to boom, that caught my attention because everything I’ve ever done has been a turnaround. And, I don’t fit the turnaround stereotype. In my first company turnaround, I was more of a consultant/project manager and observer. From this experience, I learned that if a company is going to survive independently after the turnaround, it has to be about the people, not just the financials. 

One thing that was consistent with the stereotype, every time I got it turned around, I moved on to another adventure. While I was accustomed to moving, having grown up moving every three years, part of me regretted moving on. I wanted to stay around to be part of the growth.”

Darnell got his chance to pivot to a growth company and accepted a position with a German conglomerate. At age 39, he was on a path toward becoming President of a company within a company by age 40. 

It was not to be. 

While moving all the time seemed normal to him, his wife’s experience was the opposite. She lived in the same town all her life and wasn’t keen on raising a family so far from their extended family. They stayed in Germany for a while, but he knew she wasn’t happy being so far from family, and he committed to returning to the U.S. 

While he sometimes wonders what would have been if he had stayed, this spurred his pivot out of corporate and into privately held.  Who Knows What is Good and What is Bad.

He came back to run a failing company. He learned from this position that his knack for turnarounds worked best in a privately held company. His training, combined with his independent nature and leadership abilities, fit best in a private company where politics was not primary. He went on to do three more turnarounds after this one.

Darnell is sixty now and has come full circle. His wife was diagnosed with heart disease two years ago, so time with her is his number one priority. Time to pivot again. His vision is to create a three-legged stool:

  1. Family time
  2. Investor/advisor in stuck companies, i.e., turnarounds
  3. Active philanthropy at the board level with his passion projects 

And, as is often the case, we plan, and life happens. Darnell invested in four small companies, one stalled, one is still trying, one is on-hold, and one… took off.  

Darnell moved from advisor to CEO and is having fun with this role. “I can apply all my experience, all I have learned, without recovering some of the baggage, i.e., the rat race, the emotional need to work more, ego engagement, etc. I still care, but I am not emotionally invested like I once was.”

So what happened to the pivot vision? 

“On the surface, it looks like I just changed jobs. And, my intention is for this to be temporary. I’ve organized my role, my contract, and my compensation to still treat this company as an investment, albeit with a larger role than an advisor. I am giving myself a B on having an exit plan – truth be told, I don’t have a clear path out with a timeline. That said, my 3-legged stool vision is front and center. Every day I am focused on taking actions toward the vision, e.g., hiring key leaders to reach my goal. 

Advice for others

  • Have a vision – Always be looking out a year or two ahead of yourself. Life isn’t always going to happen the way you think it will, so at least be thinking about what is next before exiting. It’s essential to think forward, to wrestle with that map continually –write it down and wrestle with it.
  • Align your actions with your vision – I’ve designed my three-legged stool such that I can spend as much time as possible with my wife and have other things to keep me distracted. While I am having fun building the team at my current company, I am building ahead for the first time in my careerI am doing this intentionally so I can go when the time is right.
  • Make choices that give you the moral high ground – Decide what is important to you and choose accordingly. I am not taking a full salary in my current role to ensure I am treated as, and think like, an investor. This choice gives me the comfort to chose my exit on my terms. 
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