Career Change

This week we tried a new kind of event, a career change workshop for our members. The brainchild of two of our members, Court Assistant Brian Sweeney and Liveryman Bryan Foss, it was their idea that the Company should offer help and advice to members who have experienced a break in their careers or are contemplating a career change. It’s their view that we all deliver greatest value, and get most satisfaction, from the tasks we enjoy which fit our skill set. If you are out of your “sweet spot” it may be time to think of change.

The workshop aimed to bring together those who would like to move now, some who have moved recently, and some who are professionals in the field. As well as the organisers and the presenters 16 members of the Company attended, most of whom were either at a cross roads or thinking seriously whether they needed a change to get more fulfilment from their working life.

Bryan Foss enjoyed a long career with IBM and then branched out on his own to build a portfolio career. He has successfully done that acquiring several Non-Executive Directorships along the way and continually seeking to upgrade his skills as a Chartered Director. He acts as a Risk & Audit Chair and is also a Visiting Professor at Bristol Business School. He is a member of the Audit and Assurance Council of the FRC. Throughout his career he has sought Continuous Professional Development and has gained Chartered Director status.

Bryan told us of the way he networks to strengthen both his own skill set but also that of his boards and clients. He seeks out the networks that offer value and don’t see you as the product from which they earn a fee. Bryan is always looking out for those in need of work and bemoans the tendency of head-hunters to recruit those already in post where it will take time and persuasion to remove them rather than those who are ready, willing and able and can fill the post immediately.

Freeman Quentin Crowe has over 20 years’ experience in the insurance, sports and education sectors. He founded The Marketers’ Forum (TMF). Their purpose is to share marketing best practice to enable individuals and organisations to fulfil their potential. They harness the expertise of their 35 trainers to provide training, events and coaching for ambitious marketers. TMF has handled over 4,000 people through its programmes.

Quentin explained various ways in which individuals should position themselves. He emphasised the need to convert knowledge into skill.

Ciaran Fenton is a leadership and behavioural change consultant. He believes strongly that while businesses are never unique but can be simply better, quoting Paddy Barwise and Sean Meehan[i], all members of the human race are unique. The problem is that most don’t present themselves that way. They label themselves with their job functions and titles, or the companies they’ve worked for.

Those seeking to start a portfolio career often make a number of mistakes. They present themselves as if they were still executive, aggressive rather than avuncular. They rarely lack self-belief but forget they still have to sell themselves. They fail to demonstrate, rather than assert strengths. They fail to develop a purpose of wanting to build an NED career. They need to develop a marketing plan to build a portfolio, believing they tick all the boxes, but no one really ticks all the boxes so it’s important to get across your unique experiences and for a group of marketers his lesson was particularly acute. Some of them become frustrated. They fail to display high emotional intelligence, and the head-hunters won’t tell them what’s wrong.

I chipped in with some of my own experiences. While my father worked for the same firm for nearly 50 years, apart from his wartime service, rising from trainee to Senior Partner, I had eight different employers in my fulltime corporate career. Most of the transitions were smooth, facilitated by head-hunters, but one or two were more bumpy and I needed to get help in taking the next steps.

On one occasion I sought advice from a former boss who had later become a very successful training and recruitment consultant. He gave me the following thoughts:

“Points worth considering when moving jobs”

“Get in a dark room with yourself and truly identify your likes/dislikes/strengths/weaknesses”

“Ask for objective opinions from a small number of people who know you well and whose opinions you value”

“Don’t look back and you are then more likely to realise your true potential”

“Allow yourself a period of enjoyment/time off”

“Reflect and plan for the future”

“What are my commercial/personal goals….what do I want to do?”

“Detail all worthwhile contacts and develop a physical or mental Black Book”

“Talk to as many profile/useful people as possible and always repay the help and support offered”

“Establish who your real friends are and maintain sincere relationships”

“Consider physically employing a PR Agency to promote your reputation”

“Create a European/Global perspective and have a worthwhile considered opinion that is sought by outsiders”

“Attend useful conferences to build knowledge and contacts”

Join and attend Alumni functions and network as appropriate”

“Reflect on how commercial you really are in the world outside of your current job”

Will I get as much freedom in another organisation?”

“Do I want to be managed again?”

“What size of company should I be joining?”

“What does preferred work look like?

“Don’t dwell too much on the past; the future is far more exciting”

“How do I equip myself to maximise the next 5/10 years?”

“How do I impact on my Boss, my Peers and my Team?”

“What do my Major Customers & Suppliers think of me?”

“How much do I need to earn to be financially secure?”

“Upskill where you see a need and benefit and do it whilst you have the time”

“Create a mixture of interests, both commercial and personal”

“Try out new interests and experiences and then have an opinion”


“Experience new commercial and personal trends”

“Talk to Venture Capital Companies/they need good people”

“Consider a few dedicated Non-Executive Director Roles”

“Further develop IT skills to keep ahead of business needs”

“Have a dedicated work space at home and support it with the appropriate level of equipment and stationery to promote a professional image””

“Am I prepared to pay the price of moving to a more challenging role?”

“What does my partner/Family want me to do?”

“Have Fun/Stay Fit/Enjoy yourself”


To those wise thoughts I might add a few of my own:

“Do I want another corporate job, or go for an MBI or a portfolio, or start a business from scratch?”

“Am I willing to sacrifice current salary for greater potential capital gain/stock options/bonus earnings?”

“Am I a manager or an entrepreneur?”

“Am I motivated by power or recognition?”

“Which business sectors do I want to work in?”

“Am I willing to compromise on initial position as a way into the right kind of company?”

“What kind of company can I prosper in? What should I avoid?”

“How far away from my previous experience can I move?”

“What are my personal U.S.P’s or competitive advantages?

If I start a portfolio career how many days do I want to sell?

Create your personal website

Write a regular blog on industry and other relevant topics


And one for the interviews. I developed what I call Vignettes. These are specific examples of where I made a difference. They are concise, just three paragraphs: the Situation I found; the Action I took; and the Yield, or Result. I have over 20 of these covering such situations as:

I can raise money

I can change culture

I can sell at the highest level

I can bring order to chaos

I can cut costs

I can get the best out of people

I can innovate

I can manage Start-ups

I can negotiate with Unions

I can improve Balance Sheets

I can act as an effective Mentor

I can contribute as an effective Non-Executive Director

I can act as an effective Chairman


We have asked for feedback but, depending on that, I think we are likely to make this event a regular feature.


Simply Better, Patrick Barwise and Sean Meehan (2004), Boston: Harvard Business Press

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