Steering your career

The fantasy of start-ups after a global career - is it for you?

 Career in global corporates to start-ups…early lessons.

One way to re-design your career is to move into a start-up. But is it right for you?

One way to re-design your career is to move into a start-up. But is it right for you?

Anil was one of the first successful career changers I ever formally interviewed after I launched Midlife Unstuck.

He had spent 20ish years in what could only be described as “a very successful career” by most standards. 

Economics degree.  Summer internships. Investment banking.  MBA from Wharton.  McKinsey.  Fortune 500.  FTSE 100.  London, New York, Paris, Geneva and Stockholm.

He was headed directly towards a country leadership position.  

But…

He wanted “more”.  And figured out that he could find his style of “more” in a start-up.   You can read how he made his move from global corporation role to start up HERE.

I caught up with him again 18 months after he had entered his world of start-ups to see what he had learned about career change along the way. 

Some of you, considering working in start-up might find his takeaways useful….

 Discoveries from my first 18months in a start-up after a 20-year career in global corporations

Anil Saggi

Anil Saggi

Anil Saggi

·        “I thought I’d understood the start-up mentality, having helped shape a start-up within a giant corporation.  But I couldn’t possibly have known until I was on the inside.  I’d researched enough to get chosen for the role but not enough to really know.  That can only be learned by actually doing, by being on the inside and living the start-up ways.

·         Being “all-in” with an early stage business had a much bigger impact on my life than any other role in my career.   It is all-encompassing. There was a huge impact on my partner and my family that I had not fully anticipated.  It infiltrates every moment and deeply changes your mindset.  For instance, I had done lots of travelling during my working life in big corporations but that didn’t compare to the amount of travelling I did in this start-up company, in a bid to make that company successful.  

 ·         Getting used to the high levels of volatility and ambiguity takes time but once it clicks it really clicks.

 ·         The freedom to work in the way that works best for each individual is something that early stage businesses do very well.   It seems more…human.  Large corporations often assume that you are a different person when you are in work as opposed to outside of work - that you require waking from your life’s slumber when you come into work and that you will disappear back into your facebook-scrolling life when you leave!   Early stage businesses get that it’s all one and the same.  That life and work are completely fluid.

 ·         If you are interested in self-development, then a start-up is you.  It challenges almost everything you’ve ever learned from working in major corporates.  There are simply no limits.

 ·         But, if learning fast and holding responsibility for making things fail or succeed isn’t something you enjoy, the stress will hit big time.  Start-ups allow you to learn with someone else’s money to experiment, test and fail.  It’s been absolutely invaluable learning…but not without its own stresses.

 ·         One of the major differences is you are expected to take practical actions to make things happen. I was always an ideas person but never really took the practical steps to make those ideas real.  Now, I have so many ideas for investments and businesses that when I combine those with the practical confidence I feel, I feel the world is my oyster

·         You need to have your eyes wide open financially speaking and decide what you would accept as a “success” if you were to leave 12 or 18mths later e.g. equity.  So many young businesses fail or change investors in the early years, nothing is long-term.  

 ·         Making contacts and expanding networks is always valuable. It’s worth keeping one eye on where you could go after this role.  It usually means out – not up in young businesses.  But the true relationships made along the way will help you create next opportunities.

 ·         You need resilience.  When you exit a start-up, there is no long-term plan and no soft exit.  You just leave.  It’s very direct.  You often retain equity and wish the company well in the future but without you.


More personal observations

 ·         The start-up mind-shift has had an influence in all areas of my life.  For example, I’ve been able to very practically help my wife’s business to find suppliers and help with sales meetings etc that I simply didn’t have the close-to-the-ground skills to help with 2 years ago.

 ·         We underestimate how much we can do in work…and generally in life.  When we are given the freedom and can tap into the necessary focus, great things are possible.  I know people who, in hindsight think they could have been Olympic athletes if they had not spent so much time in the bar, sleeping or on their phone!  I was amazed by how much a small group of individuals can achieve when given an enormous amount of freedom.  

 ·         Career goals should always be evolving – either in reaction to the market or to personal goals.   Leaving your career on auto-pilot doesn’t serve anyone well.

 ·         I feel changed as a business person, but also as a human by my start-up experience. I’m like night and day given how much I’ve learned over the last 18 months.

 ·         I’m a lot less afraid of failure now that I have confidence that I can take an idea and just get on with making it happen.

 ·         After just 18 months start-up experience my whole future career options have been magnified.  Even though the time-frames in start-ups are so much shorter than in any corporate I have worked within, the same cycle plays out.   I’ve got so many more options than I had with my career history 2 years ago. “

If you are wondering what “More” looks for you, you might want to read this article on the Number 1 trigger for career change in our 40s, 50s or 60s which includes a couple of ideas on how you can start figuring it out for yourself.

 

 

Considering a career change after 40? Worked in big company all your life? Are you self-driving your career or are you possibly snoozing at the wheel?

Steering wheel

One of my old clients SAB Miller (then owners of beer brands Peroni & Fosters) would openly inform interviewees that under no circumstances did they manage the careers of their employees.  They were only interested in individuals who would take charge of their own career progression. 

This candour scared off many individuals who had grown up in an era where career progression was offered by companies, not owned by individuals.  The degree of career progression offered by a company would define its level of attraction in the market.

How antiquated does this appear today?   

Historically, this outsourcing of career progression was totally acceptable if you were in the baby years of your career when you didn’t know your bottom from your elbow.   Upon entry into your teen career years (early management), the responsibility would begin to shift slowly towards more of a 50:50 split between company and you.  When you reached midlife and the heady heights of senior management, you were very firmly on your own.

I specifically remember not being able to keep up with the influx of phone calls around 2008 when big companies began to eject senior leaders by the hundreds.  So many of these talented leaders had not spent any time in the preceding 5 years of their career doing the dreaded “networking” to ensure that competitors/suppliers/strategic alliances/head hunters knew them as 3D humans with personalities as opposed to business people.  

Those who had participated in real networking (often through personality style rather than tactical design) were positioned firmly on short-lists for the ever-decreasing supply of senior leadership positions which actually made it to the market.  Many positions never actually were announced to the open market as the perfect individual was offered the position after a couple of informal "meetings".   The realisation that individuals who were being selected for new positions had been STEERING THEIR OWN CAREERS FOR YEARS (if not potentially since their career was a baby) came as a shock to many.  Despite very successful careers, these individuals were left feeling behind the curve.         

SAB Miller at the time were leagues ahead of the average “blue chip” company in demonstrating its total lack of interest in steering the careers of employees from the get-go.  They didn’t appear to care a jot whether you were in the infancy or the midlife of your career. 

Admit it, many of us whose careers matured in big companies, joined cultures where we expected the company to at least help our career, if not perhaps engineer our personal career plans.  

Even as senior leaders in big businesses in the networking enlightened age of today, are we still in danger of "outsourcing" our career planning by not making it a major personal focus? 

I am embarrassed to say that as a senior leader in my final few years in my last corporate job, it was made clear to me by my MD that if I wanted training of any sort all I had to do was to ask, tell him why and the cost would be covered.   Nothing embarrassing about that I hear you say?  

EXCEPT that I couldn’t think of ONE area of training that I wanted or needed.    Looking back, I think that should have been the very obvious sign that I was in a career rut.   

 

warning sign career rut

I failed to recognise that I had steered my own career into a mid-career rut.

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You see, one of my superpowers in my home life is that I LOVE the process of trying to learn something new - it makes my brain feel awake.   I feel energised when I am learning new stuff that I am, even on the surface, interested in.  I am constantly planning what I might learn next.  Here are the first 8 items on my current list: 

  •       public speaking for natural introverts;
  •       unicycle riding;
  •       cartoon drawing;
  •       tumble turns in the pool;
  •       20 second hand stands;
  •       high-diving;   
  •       clever iphone photography;
  •       how to work twitter – Claim to fame: I’ve never tweeted – my social media experts' (www.socialthyme.co.uk) eyebrows reached her hairline as I mentioned this to her.  What can I say?  I am “midlife stuck” on this one at the moment!   

My “things-I’d-like-to-know-how-to-do” list usually contains about 20 weird and wonderful items.  Depending on life, available funds and time I will pick one, research it and then crack on with it.

BUT during those last two years of my corporate life, I honestly didn't learn a thing.  Not because my company were unsupportive or wouldn’t pay for training - they clearly wanted to.   BECAUSE I HAD ZERO IDEA IN WHAT DIRECTION I WANTED TAKE MY CAREER.  No surprise, then, that I didn’t know what skills or knowledge I needed to get there.

This was an odd period of my life, one that doesn't fill me with pride.  That said, I feel sure I won’t be repeating it any time soon.   But, even if a career rut rears its ugly head again, I now know how to recognise it (https://www.midlifeunstuck.com/new-blog-1/2017/4/25/career-rut-or-just-a-bad-month-your-reaction-to-these-numbers-will-tell-you-for-sure) and understand what I’d do to escape it.  

I would re-trace the searching and transformation process which I led myself through a few years ago. 

I spent two years interviewing people with successful AND happy careers, interviewing people with successful and unhappy careers, completing a masters in Psychology, researching work & life happiness across the globe, learning how to support individuals in grief, training in solutions-focussed coaching, listening to 100s of podcasts and ted talks from people with very “successful” parts of their lives and listening to a couple of ancient recordings of my secret guilty pleasure (Desert Island Discs) every week. 

This intensive learning process culminated in the design the transformation projects (which can be found at www.midlifeunstuck.com) so that others might find changing careers an easier and speedier process.  

If you’d like to hear about my short-cuts to designing fulfilling work feel free to drop me an email to lucia@midlifeunstuck to tee up a time to speak confidentially.  

If you are not quite ready or feel up to leading yourself through the processes, sign up to my newsletter for free resources, articles and career transformation stories at www.midlifeunstuck.com.