Remember you might still be working at 102!

7 April 2022 By Guest writer Ian White

Remember you might still be working at 102! image

You might, of course, think I am joking but that is the age of the oldest Chair of a listed company (in fact, he is Chair of two companies so is clear pretty busy). And Frances Hesselbein, an associate of the late business guru Peter Drucker, is still serving as a Non-Executive Director at 106! So if you are coming to the end of your Executive career and think the bulk of your working life is over you might like to think again.

Drucker is an insightful example to anyone thinking about the next stage of their career and, indeed, life. He started out working in manufacturing, became a journalist, then an economist (picking up a doctorate in international law on the way) and finally a business academic. In his seminal work Managing Oneself (1) Drucker highlighted that “At forty-five most executives have reached the peak of their business career and know it. After twenty years of doing very much the same kind of work, they are good at doing their jobs . But few are learning anything anymore.” We can argue about actual ages   – and Managing Oneself was written some time ago in which time the world has changed but the principle remains the same. Indeed, one of the Chairs for whom I undertake Board Effectiveness Reviews for, has spent nearly as long as a Non-Executive Director as he did as an Executive and he is not yet 70. Do the math as the say!

So I wanted to give you a few insights about moving from an Executive to a second, parallel career:

  • Firstly, as I have outlined above, your second career may last some time – indeed it may be longer than your Executive career. But you will be doing it (hopefully) for different reasons – it is not just about the money. So you need to enjoy it! This came home to me when I worked with some of Next-Up’s clients recently who were embarking on the second stage of their lives. Not unsurprisingly they were daunted by it. They asked about the work I now do as a consultant and one commented to me “You obviously really enjoy what you do now”. I hadn’t really reflected on this but when I did I came to realise how true it is. I spent most of my career as a Chief Legal Office and Company Secretary and while I (generally) enjoyed the work, I was never really happy in corporate life. What I do now is in many ways more challenging (and I work harder and longer than did as a Chief Legal Officer and I worked pretty hard at that) and it is not a certain life but the mix of consulting, coaching, facilitation and training is a fantastic mix. So moving into the second stage of your career, make sure you find something you enjoy. You are swapping certainty for the unknown but that in itself can be exciting but you need to enjoy it.
  • Second, Drucker mentioned a number of important points but for me one stands out – “learning” – “But few are learning anything anymore” he said in respect of Executives.   For me, life is about learning not position or hierarchy. It is perhaps why I don’t miss corporate life. Whatever you decide to do make sure it is something that will challenge you, stretch your thinking and ensure you discover new things and opportunities. You shouldn’t be doing this (solely) for the money but because the things you will do are interesting, are close to your values and are worthwhile. So choose what you do carefully but equally don’t be so cautious that you simply end up repeating what you did in your Executive career.
  • Third, you’ll need to network extensively. You don’t like networking? Get over it! Effective networking is as much as about giving as it is receiving and if you remember that you shouldn’t go far wrong. It is difficult and challenging at times – I am an introvert so I certainly find this to be the case but I have got nearly all my work as a consultant through referral and therefore networking. If you are looking for certain roles then the Executive search community will help you but you would be unwise to rely on this channel alone. If you are working with Next-Up they have a great network and you should utilise that. But you also need to create your own if you are to be truly successful in your second career.
  • Fourth, and to cite Drucker again (last time – promise!) “There is one requirement for managing the second half of one’s life: to begin creating it long before one enters it.” That is absolutely the case particularly when it may be a very long second half. You can never begin this too soon. Many professionals do and leave it until they have “retired” and find no one knocking at the door. Yes they were an expert in their Executive field and were heavily in demand but that expertise will not form part of their second career.   You need to give this careful thought early on and plan your way forward. If you are in contact with Next-Up that will of course help. But plan, talk to as many people as you can who have been through the process and be clear on what you want to do. It will take some time and effort and you would be wise not to underestimate that.
  • Finally, I wanted to briefly touch on being a Non-Executive Director partly because it is a world I know well but also because it is a popular choice for those coming out of an Executive career. It is important not to underestimate the scale of the challenge – there are far more candidates than there are (paid) roles. If you have a professional skill that is useful but it only takes you so far. Lawyers, whom I know well, often complain it is difficult for them to get NED roles (it is!) saying their skills must be very useful for being a NED (they would!). What they are forgetting is that you are not being hired principally for your professional skills but more for your commercial ones or for the knowledge of a particular sector. So if you are a lawyer or accountant who specialised in property you might be attractive to a property company. But you must bring something more to the party than just your profession. And the point above is also relevant – Boards now focus on diversity hopefully in its widest sense of the word. Many people are going on the Board as NEDs in their forties, some even in their thirties. Age is a component of diversity too. So don’t leave it too late.

So I wish you all the best in embarking on your second career and I hope you have as much fun as I have had!

  • Managing Oneself Harvard Business Review Press 2008
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Written by Guest writer Ian White

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