Creating a Portfolio Career

08/03/2010
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A portfolio career is not a new concept. Charles Handy introduced the idea back in the 1980’s, when he could see that the corporate world was moving from great monolithic and paternalistic organisations (cradle to grave) to the leaner and meaner businesses of the 1990s and beyond. I remember that when I joined Midland Bank in 1976 everyone (family, friends, and fellow employees) assumed I would be there until I retired. As one-company loyalty (in either direction) became less of a norm, the possibility began to arise for people to undertake their own career planning, and in particular to contemplate several careers at the same time, with the possibility of different rewards for each. A new working model was born.

Can a portfolio career offer a better quality of life – yes it can. It could throw in to the pot something intensive (and well paid) driven by existing experience, something less well paid but very rewarding, and possibly something voluntary or “pro bono”. All of these components could create a different work-life balance, which could potentially feed in to family and leisure time.

So, in my case, what does this portfolio look like? It really has 4 main components:
• Education – Cass Business School (City University). I am involved in lecturing, business development and mentoring across the range from undergraduate, through postgraduate and on to executive education. My work involves programming structuring, running facilitated sessions, and lecturing on entrepreneurship, strategic planning/implementation, and bank management/strategy.

• HR Consultancy – Savile Group plc. I am retained as an associate to mentor people who have left full-time employment and as part of their outplacement package are looking for advice and support on how to set up their own business. The range of ideas has been fascinating!

• Business Mentoring – David Mellor Mentoring Limited. I am the director, working on business improvement with boards, partnerships and individual board members/partners.

• NED work. I hold non-executive director positions with Azure Partners Limited (business strategy consultancy) and Lysis Financial Limited (IT Strategy Consultancy).

How is it possible to move from being a senior investment banker to running a portfolio like this? The one dominant factor is careful networking. I still believe this is a misunderstood activity by the business community at large (CADIA members excepted!) , and I never cease to be amazed how many people perceive it to be a forum for asking for jobs, selling, or looking prematurely for leads to job vacancies or sales opportunities. If the focus is on building relationships and seeking information, it can produce over time extraordinary results. CADIA understands this approach, and what’s more puts it into practice, and so it is no coincidence that as the portfolio has evolved it has become the only network to which I remain committed. But, no one said that building a portfolio career was easy! Like most things in life it complies with the good old rule of “10% inspiration, 90% perspiration”, and it has taken over 6 years for me to mould the portfolio mix with which I am really comfortable. One of the challenges is that the
journey you go on takes you through a range of emotions. If you picture a typical bell curve, you can imagine 3 phases:

• Phase 1, when satisfaction is relatively low as the portfolio takes a frustratingly long period to take shape.
• Phase 2, when satisfaction begins to grow rapidly as all the constituent parts fall in to place (perhaps even ones you hadn’t thought about but which fit in quite nicely).
• Phase 3, when satisfaction begins to wane as the different parts begin to compete for your time. This is where having a good mentor plays an important part, and I am really fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Fiona Shafer of Omega Blue, who has done a great job with me on time management, and helped me make some difficult choices when necessary.

Once you have the balance (and dare I say it again, the support of a quality mentor), it is much easier to change balance, focus, pace and portfolio composition than it is in a conventional career.

What has a portfolio career given me? So many things, but most importantly variety, interest, challenge, recognition, freedom from politics, appropriate financial reward, personal development, a sense of fulfilment, greater autonomy and flexibility. Perhaps most important of all it has enabled me to work with people I like and for people I like.

I have tried to make this account a balanced and controlled appraisal of what a portfolio career means to me, and could mean to you. It is not easy; it has challenges like any other role, but if you get it right the rewards are enormous….oh, by the way, you can have some fun as well.

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