As an executive career coach, I have had conversations with a number of executives over the last few weeks, and many have expressed the same concerns: After 20 plus years of being on the fast track and moving up the corporate ladder, their careers have stalled and they are not sure what to do.
I always find these conversations interesting, because I am reminded of how my career has stalled a couple of times over my 30-year career, and some great advice I have received from my mentor network about executive development. What follows are two examples of the advice I have received and how I used it in my own career path.
1. Look for opportunities in new or emerging industries
When I experienced my first career stall, I had been in the computer software industry for 15 years and had moved up the ranks to run the Sales and Customer Service departments for a couple of successful ,publicly traded companies. After 4 years of doing this for 2 different companies, I wanted to do more. I spent a number of months reaching out to my network and doing research on emerging trends in the technology sector.
It was 1999 and the dotcom boom was in full swing. I set my sites on internet startups that needed someone with executive skills to work with young entrepreneurs. I landed a great job as an SVP of WW Field Operations for a company that was sold in 18 months for $800 Million. I learned a lot along the way, and provided a lot of value to the organization through the skills and discipline that I had learned in my prior 15 years.
2. Be willing to take a job that pays less but offers more opportunity to reinvent yourself.
In 2006 my career stalled again. While still enjoying the internet, I needed to do something different and felt that I needed to be a CEO to truly fulfill my professional career. I began networking again to see if someone was willing to take a chance on an executive who had a lot of the experiences, qualifications, and skills for a job as CEO, but had not actually held the title. I was missing a few things like running HR and Finance organizations, but I believed that my strong revenue generation skills and customer service experience would outweigh my lack of experience in those other areas.
After 6 months, I found an opportunity that seemed like a great fit. It was the CEO of an automotive startup that needed a focus on generating revenue, partner relationships and customer service while outsourcing HR and Finance functions. However, there was one catch: the salary was ¼ of what I had been making.
While there was an upside in the form of stock options, if you know anything about the startup world, the failure rate is very high so these options could be worth nothing after a few years of hard work while I earned ¼ of my usual compensation. I had a young family at the time, but I had been saving money over the years and decided to take the risk.
I learned a lot, had a great time building the company, and worked with a lot of very talented people while learning some new skills, including raising money and managing a Board of Directors. After 3 years of many ups and downs, the company was successfully sold and my options were worth a lot more than my old salary prior to taking the job.
If you are an executive stuck in your career and not sure what to do next, think about applying these two strategies to your own career to get back into high gear.
John is a highly successful internet and software industry veteran. He has hired, interviewed and coached 1000's of people during his career resulting in award winning organizations that have the most talented people in positions that are rewarding to them and the customers they serve. His efforts have influenced how leading companies turn ideas and strategies into results. His accomplishments include the launch, management, and sale of several software technology and services companies along with key management and consulting positions in established companies. He has created over 1 Billion Dollars in shareholder value during his 35 year career.