Monday, April 06, 2009

My Career - Part IV - Getting on the Right Track

This is part IV in a series of posts describing the many twists and turns that my career has taken over the years. You can find the previous posts in my career story here.

My previous post in the series ended somewhere in August 2004. At the time I realized that my career was headed in the wrong direction - I was running my own consulting business, working alone from home and slowly gaining customers. Revenue was increasing every month but was still MUCH lower than I could be making by taking a full time job. More importantly, I realized that working on my own, as a business owner, simply wasn't working. This was not the right kind of life for me. So, in the summer of 2004 I decided to find a full time job.

It took me very little time to find a job. In less than three weeks I accepted a full time, junior business development position with a promising enterprise software company, with some big name investors and what seemed like a very strong management team. I started this job with a heavy heart. Going to work that first day felt humiliating. I felt that I had failed in my career decisions, that my shutting down my business was a black mark against me and that I had accepted a job which was too junior for me. It was difficult for me to remember that this was all my decision and that going down the previous path made me unhappy. It was probably the hardest period in my career, but it didn't last.

The thing about taking a job that's too junior for you is that you can blow the doors off everyone's expectations. Given that the job was junior, I negotiated hard for performance based compensation. My targets were set pretty aggressively - or so my management thought. My goal was to get our company engaged with some of the biggest companies in the country - revenues of $1B or more - and to do so at the VP level or above. I could do this in my sleep. By the end of 2004 I had discussions going with 17 different companies with those specifications, beating out my target by several hundred percent, and generating substantial bonuses in the process. My management was impressed. What do you think was their response to this impressive performance? When the year ended they restructured my compensation package and re-set the bar so high, that there would be no way for me to repeat my performance from the previous year. Gee, thanks. Here's a way to reward your star performers: pay them less...

That stunt so enraged me that I immediately started looking for another job. However, this time I was determined to make the right move. I started networking aggressively - mostly with old colleagues and friends from business school. In February 2005 an old friend called me up and offered to introduce me to the President of a telecommunications company that just acquired a competitor in the Bay Area and decided to relocate its headquarters there. My chemistry with this executive was superb, and within weeks I had a job offer - a position created especially for me. In negotiating this job offer I pressed hard on one main point: the title. Maybe this was an overreaction to my previous negotiations strategy of focusing on compensation only to have my compensation essentially reduced because I performed too well. At this new company I focused on clearly defining my responsibilities and on ensuring that I received a Director title. This proved to be a very good decision and it opened the door to a series of compensation increases in the years that followed, and ultimately to my current executive position.

I worked in that company for three years. I enjoyed my work tremendously and found an industry that I loved. I did well in my position and was given more and more responsibility. Not everything was golden. At one point my group was assigned to a new and wholly unqualified boss, who made my work day a little less fun. However, there is no doubt that this was finally a position and a company that took my career in the direction that I wanted it to go. 

After three years of service, it became clear that my opportunities for advancement in this company were limited. My company was an international, publicly traded company whose HQ was abroad. The US organization was a relatively small and unimportant one and to advance my career I would have to move to another country. This is not something that I wanted to do and it was time to move on. I started discretely pinging my network about opportunities - without sending a single resume to anyone - and within a month or two I got an offer to join my current company as an executive.

My current job is challenging, exciting and fun. I have a great deal of responsibility, I am still in the same industry where I spent the previous three years, and I think the company’s prospects are good ones. My current company is a 35 person start-up. It is financed by venture capital funds and is just about to bring its first product to market. I think we have a decent shot at making it, although in this economic climate, nothing is certain.

In my next and final post in the series, I will share some of my career plans and some of my hopes for the road ahead. However, if history is any indication, my career five years down the road will be dramatically different from what I envision. I guess that's all part of the fun.

Enjoyed this post? Please consider subscribing to Money and Such by free RSS Feed or by email. You can also follow me on Twitter.


Dana said...

It's been fun following your career trajectory. Thanks for sharing :)

Anonymous said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.