As a founder and lead sponsor of the Careers Society at St Peter’s College, University of Oxford I wrote this article for the budding entrepreneurs, and emerging superstars that always ask me what they should do to manage their path.
GO TO THE GYM!
In business it’s not enough to be great at what you do, you have to get lucky! – but the harder you work the luckier you get! When people are right out of school, they tend to prioritize the company first, then the job, and then the industry. In fact I think this is the other way around. The right industry is paramount because while you will likely switch companies several times in your career, it is much harder to switch industries. Think of the industry as the gym and the companies as the equipment you use. To get fit you can change the equipment you use but you still need the gym – and you always want to be in the gym with the latest and best equipment.
If you choose the wrong company or you have bad luck with an aggressive boss who drops in on your first treadmill run, you’ll still have a great experience if you’re in a gym with the latest cross trainers. Conversely, if you choose the wrong industry early in your career, then growth opportunities within your company will be limited. Your boss won’t move, and you’ll be stuck without much leverage as there just will not be that many cross-trainers for you to use.
Fortunately, the forces driving the Tech era mean that a lot of industries are great places to ‘get fit’. It’s not just the Tech companies that have a huge upside, but also energy, pharmaceuticals, high-tech manufacturing, media, and entertainment. The most interesting industries are those where product cycle times are fast, because this creates more chances for disruption and so more opportunities for fresh talent. But even businesses like energy and pharmaceuticals, where product cycle times are long, are ripe for massive transformation and opportunity.
From a compensation standpoint, stock options and other forms of equity are quite limited early in your career, so it’s more lucrative to develop expertise in the right industry than to bet on a particular company. As you get industry experience more companies want you and will be willing to compensate you with more equity.
PICK THE COMPANY THAT “GETS TECH”!
After you pick the industry, then it’s time to pick the company. All companies in the future will have to be technology driven at most levels. So you need to look at companies where the people really have an understanding of how technology will drive their company and their industry. These people will ensure that when their companies are disrupted by technology they will be ahead of the curve. These are the genius-level creatives who see, before the rest of us, where technology is going and how it will transform industries. Bill Gates and Paul Allen saw that chips and computers were getting cheap and that software would be the key to the future of computing, so they started Microsoft. Chad Hurley saw that cheap video cameras, bandwidth, and storage would transform how video entertainment is created and consumed, so he cofounded YouTube. Steve Jobs foresaw computers as consumer accessories and it took over two decades for the technology and market to catch up to him.
PLAN TO DEVELOP!
Career development takes effort and forethought-you need to plan it. This is such an obvious point, yet it’s astonishing how many people who I have helped over time have failed to do it. Here are some simple steps to creating a plan:
Think about your ideal job, not today but five years from now. It may not be a job but your own business. But the questions are the same. Where do you want to be? What do you want to do? How much do you want to make? Write down the job description or a business plan. Now fast forward four or five years and assume you are in that job or business. What is the path you took from now to then to get to your position?
Keep thinking about that ideal job or business, and assess your strengths and weaknesses in light of it. What do you need to improve to get there? This step requires external input, so talk to your manager or peers and get their view on it. Finally, how will you get there? What training do you need? What work experience?
By the way, if your conclusion is that you are ready for your ideal job today, then you aren’t thinking big enough. Start over and make that ideal job a stretch.
DATA IS SEXY!
Data is Sexy! Numbers are Sexy! We are in the era of Big Data, and big data needs statisticians to make sense of it. The democratization of data means that those who can analyze it well will win. Data is the Future!
For those who don’t consider themselves well versed with numbers there is still some hope. Asking the question and interpreting the answers is as important a skill as coming up with the answers themselves. No matter your business, learn how the right data, delivered the right way, will help you make better decisions. Learn which questions to ask the people who are good with numbers and how to make the best use of their replies. Even if you aren’t a numbers person, you can learn how to use the numbers to get smarter.
As you get along the organizational path you will need to start hiring and managing teams. Most people hire those that they let them stay in their comfort zone or don’t challenge their authority. But the only way to move up the career ladder is to ensure that you hire people who are smarter and more knowledgeable than you are. They will challenge you to be a better you. Hire people who will get things done. Don’t hire people who just think about problems as they bring a negative energy to the workplace. Hire people who are well rounded, with unique interests and talents. Don’t hire people who live only to work – frankly they are just dull and also bring a negative energy to the workplace. Finally and most importantly though hire only when you’ve found a great candidate. Don’t settle for anything less!
Businesses are only getting more Global – So GET GLOBAL! Business, regardless of size of scope, is forever, permanently global, while humans are naturally provincial. It may have been said many times but travel really does broaden one’s horizons. And today doing business in many cultures is a necessity not a luxury. Go live and work somewhere else. If you’re at a big company, seek the international assignments. You will be a much more valuable employee as a result and frankly a more interesting person!
If working overseas isn’t an option, then travel for business whenever you can. If that is not possible then take as much of your vacation time to travel. When you are out and about don’t forget to see the world as your customers do. If you’re in retail, walk through a store or two and observe, if you’re in media, pick up a paper or turn on the local TV. It’s amazing how often people come back from business trips to foreign lands with insights gleaned solely from their conversation with the taxi driver who took them from the airport to the hotel. If those drivers only knew how much power they have in shaping global business strategy!
FIND YOUR PASSION!
Finding your passion is a luxury: not that it’s expensive, but just rare. It’s something that many people either can’t work out – how many people truly know their passion at the outset of their careers? That’s why this is my last career point and not my first. Finding your passion isn’t always simple. Perhaps when you were starting out you were just happy to find a job, regardless of your passion. Then as your career progresses you find that it’s not what you expected it to be. You could drop everything and start over – buy that small bed and breakfast in Paris! Or you could take a more deliberate approach. Find Passion in the things that you do. I am in the tyre industry but have a passion for luxury travel and marketing. So as part of my job I decided to focus on building a brand. This was a successful brand because I lived and breathed it. I didn’t leave my industry but found my passion within it. When it came to luxury travel I decided as part of my brand building strategy to be the brand in the industry that provides luxury travel to its customers as part of our B2B Marketing. Even as CEO I personally planned every detail of these trips and my passion for this was enthused in every trip. These trips allowed us to cement our relationships beyond the norm which eventually flowed through to the business. It is this simple act of enthusing passion in what you do that has helped people turn around their careers instead of leaving to start a small bed and breakfast in Paris!