5 Wisdom Nuggets To Accelerate Your Career from Richard Kirby, Founder of Executive Impact
I had the pleasure of sitting down with my friend Richard Kirby of Executive Impact, Inc. Richard consults with corporate executives to help them advance their careers, and with entrepreneurial small business owners to help them improve their business results. As examples, he recently helped a CFO negotiate his annual income up $200K by assessing his negotiating position and developing a strategic plan for negotiating his compensation package. He also helped a small business ($2.5MM) owner accomplish a goal for $80K vs. $800K, a savings of $720K.
Keep reading for Richard’s tips for executives, rising stars, founders, small business owners, and team members that keep businesses growing. Having known Richard for years, I know you’ll find a wisdom nugget that will have an impact on your life.
We’ve known each other for a while now, and while we know each other pretty well, can you share a little of your backstory?
Thanks for asking, Kurt. I have self-directed my career my entire life and believe that everything I have done up to this point has empowered me to be successful at what I do today. I have an engineering degree and started my career in engineering. After a few steps up that ladder, I decided to hop off and moved into human resources, then marketing, then sales… and finally consulting/coaching in my own company.
That breadth of professional experience, which involved small businesses, a pre-IPO startup, and a Fortune 100 employer, has given me a rare perspective that is helpful during client consultations.
Tell me a bit more about your professional practice.
We all see the world through the lens of our unique set of personal beliefs. When it comes to helping corporate executives, I believe that most employees are underutilized and underpaid. Since many launch their careers with little strategic knowledge or direction… and then tend to traverse their careers giving them less attention than planning for their vacations … my mission is to fill their knowledge and strategy gaps so that they produce better career results for themselves. The net is more opportunities and income.
Regarding small business owners, and I don’t mean any disrespect, they are like the rest of us. They don’t know what they don’t know. More specifically, they tend to suffer from has been termed in Corporate America “The Peter Principle”. An owner tends to have strengths and knowledge in one or two aspects of business, but as owners/leaders, they find themselves in the challenging position of having to “manage” all aspects. Additionally, their leadership and strategic planning skills are many times underdeveloped. Such owners tend to immerse themselves in daily operations, business development, or wherever hottest fire is blazing. I help them segregate and then shed less desirable responsibilities by empowering their employees. Then, they can spend more time developing their business strategies and personal leadership capabilities. The net is a better, more profitable business.
Can you tell me a story about a person that you helped?
Let me give you two.
As mentioned earlier, I assisted an aspiring CFO who had been deployed for several years by a private equity company. He frequently found himself in interim executive roles such as CFO or COO, but he had never held a permanent position as a CFO. He really wanted to join a team and have more long-term career stability in a specific discipline (finance) as he was moving toward the age of 50. I helped him define target roles, uncover opportunities, and ultimately land a job offer. The offer wasn’t what he wanted, so we developed a negotiating strategy that allowed him to make a couple of phone calls and increase his compensation package by $200K.
Regarding the small business owner mentioned earlier, his company was growing steadily and had lots of potential. But, he had a non-performing equity partner. The longer he waited to buy out the partner, the more expensive it could get. Once he decided that he needed to act, I facilitated a “virtual board of directors” session in which a group of colleagues strategized and generated options. By avoiding the classic approach most would have taken in this situation, he was able to complete the buyout for $80K rather than an estimated $800K.
This obviously is not easy work. What motivates you?
My personal mission statement is to “love everyone I can and help everyone I meet.” I fall short many times, but I keep that perspective in my mind and am constantly motivated by it. More specifically, I am motivated by (a) the belief that most people are underutilized and underpaid in Corporate America and (b) a sincere empathy for small business owners who, for the most part, face considerable challenge and stress.
None of us are able to find success without some significant help along the way. Is there a particular person you are grateful for that helped you get to where you are?
I am most grateful to my late wife, who supported me and our family for over 30 years.
What are your “5 things I wish I knew when I was just starting out”?
- When I was just starting out in college I wish I knew that engineering was not the best fit for my long-term happiness and what the better choices would have been. I was following my “strengths” in math and science rather than following my heart into something I could be more passionate about. I didn’t know there were people who could help me assess my situation and point me in a better direction. I spent four years in college, became a registered professional engineer, and worked for seven years in engineering organizations before I figured out it was not the right long-term career path for me. That’s 11 years of my life!
- When I was just starting out in business I wish I knew that there were many professional directions I could have chosen. I felt “trapped” by conventional thinking and thought I had no choice but to get a job in engineering and try to make the best of it. Limited knowledge equaled limited thinking.
- As an addition to number two, when I was just starting out in business I wish I knew it was important in an organization to have a mentor and a sponsor. Mentors give you advice and perspective. Sponsors have the power to make good things happen for you in your career. I never had either one of these during my career. It’s far more difficult to get ahead and advance in your career when you are going it alone.
- When I was just starting out as a young parent I wish I knew how important those parenting years would be and had given more priority to work/life balance. A famous saying is that when people are nearing the end of their life they never look back and wish they has spent more time at the office. Millenials have discovered that life is not just about a teeter-totter work/life balancing act. I’m not saying they have all the answers (Who does?), but I believe they are an evolutionary reaction to “workaholic” Baby Boomers.
- When I left Corporate America and was just starting out in my own consulting/coaching practice I wish I knew a repeatable process for marketing products and services is critical for a new business… or any business, for that matter. Better yet, I wish I had tripped over a repeatable process and implemented it! Even with 12 years of prior sales and sales management experience, I didn’t realize how important a marketing prospect generation methodology would be. Salespeople like to complain about marketing and many of their complaints may be justified, but when sales is hanging out there all alone and having to generate most/all of their prospects, it’s much slower and tougher going than with a strong marketing strategy.
We’ve seen a monumental shift in the American economy over the past 30 years from manufacturing to a technology focus (both hardware-based technology and pure software.) Do think the Made in USA label has the same potential to stand for quality in technology, as it does for more consumer goods?
Yes, I do. We have great brainpower and motivation, especially among younger technology workers. We design great products. So, the conceptual work with many industry-leading companies IS “made” in America. But, manufacturing moved away to reduce costs and hence the perception is that we make very little. I believe we can make products competitive on the world market. We just need to bring manufacturing back in a way that is reasonably cost competitive. I hope the rumblings from Washington indicate this possibility, because if we bring manufacturing back then I’m sure Made in America products will be successful.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Regarding my career, the best advice I’ve ever received was to take control of my career rather than wait for things to happen to me. When I was in my early 30’s someone said “You should always have your resume updated and in your back pocket. As long as you are happy and satisfied, leave it there. When things aren’t going the way you want, decide when the timing is right and use it to get you to the next step you desire.” Sounds a lot like the mindset we attribute to Millenials today, huh?
They say there are three kinds of people in the world. Those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who don’t pay attention and one day wake up to wonder “What happened?”. I believe it’s good advice to be a person who makes things happen!
Note to our readers: If you enjoyed this interview, please click on one of the share buttons to post to your twitter, facebook or pinterest.