Lybi Ma


Careers That Last

How to survive and thrive in the new career reality.

Posted Sep 06, 2016

Brian Fetherstonhaugh, the chairman and CEO of OgilvyOne Worldwide, wants you to be prepared for what's coming—a new world where more machines will be replacing workers, and not just one by one. Plus, don't forget that we will be living longer lives, so we have to think about careers that will last. In his new book, The Long View: Career Strategies to Start Strong, Reach High, and Go Far, he explains how to bolster your skills and be ready. Read on for a little primer.

PT: In light of the marketplace's accelerated change, building a career that lasts seems like a hard task. Are skills really that transportable?

BF: With so much disruption and uncertainty in the career marketplace, it is true that many skills—especially ones that depend upon technology or technical jargon—can have a short shelf life. But many skills are highly transportable from job to job, company to company, and industry to industry. These tend to be the more fundamental skills such as problem-solving, trust-building, persuasive communication, and intelligent risk-taking. These skills can be developed throughout a career, and pay dividends over the full career spectrum.

PT: A skill like intelligent risk-taking might be hard for risk-averse personality types.

Courtesy Brian Fetherstonhaugh
Source: Courtesy Brian Fetherstonhaugh

BF: Everyone needs a little exposure to risk, like how to place a bet without risking the company. It’s a muscle, and you need to get practice with risk. There are ways to do that, like surrounding yourself with people who are good at it, and observing them, learning from them.

PT: Young people seem wholly impatient in respect to careers, give me a kernel of advice that might help them learn some patience.

BF: Most people, especially those in their 20s, vastly underestimate the duration of a career. I use an exercise called "career math" to get people in the right frame of mind to appreciate the longer view. It includes questions like how many years or hours of work they have left until early retirement. The average career today lasts over 40 years, and we expect that this number could rise to 50 years and beyond as human longevity continues to increase. So, if you are 25 years old today, you probably have a minimum of 37 years of career still ahead of you. Career math also points out that the vast majority of our personal wealth (almost 90 percent) is accumulated after age 40. Most young people believe that careers are over by age 40, when in fact it is not even the half-way point. Action and change and discovery can be extremely beneficial early in a career, but it needs to be done in the context of the big picture. Ask: Will this move today make me more or less equipped to thrive over the long haul?

PT: How would a young person know whether a certain move would make him more or less equipped to thrive over time?

BF: I would make a career inventory then choose the job that will give you more transportable skills, meaningful experiences, and enduring relationships. For example, how many transportable skills, like problem-solving and persuasive communication, would I gain from this move?

PT: You write about self-confidence, but young people hardly feel confident. With little experience, what can they do about it?

BF: The best well to feel self-confident is to feel well-prepared. Everyone—including very new employees—can become experts on specific topics. You cannot become a master of a whole domain in a short period of time (this tends to take thousands of hours), but with intensive effort you can become an expert in something concrete and manageable. Talented young people in my company often ask me how they can get "more exposure and visibility." I tell them the best way is to volunteer to take on a specific project—it could be an event, a piece of research, or a customer request that needs following up. It doesn't have to be huge, but it needs to be something that is of value to the organization (not just your pet project). Then spend several weeks becoming a world-class expert on that specific topic. Do your homework, and don't just list your opinions, compile facts from multiple sources and footnote them. Find out what has been done before, and what works and what doesn't. Package it into a three- to five-minute presentation, then rehearse and polish it. Work with your boss to find a good moment to present your project. You will not always score an immediate hit, but keep applying this method and both you and your organization will gain confidence in your expertise and potential.

PT: How can our future leaders become more psychologically astute?

BF: After more than three decades in business and 10 years as a CEO, it is clear to me that future leaders need high emotional intelligence and deep psychological skills more than ever before. These are the skills that differentiate the top leaders from the mediocre ones, and will prevent us from being replaced by machines. The best way to build these skills is through a rich diversity of meaningful experiences that force us out of our comfort zones and enable us to be more robust and adaptable to changing conditions. Travel, international work experiences, intensive community involvement, being accountable for high-profile events and launches, creating "start-ups" inside or outside the company are all good examples of meaningful experiences that equip us to withstand uncertainty and adversity. They help leaders to develop some of the most profound and competitive careers skills: the ability to invent, the ability to judge, the ability to tech, and the ability to build human trust.

PT: People have said "now more than ever” throughout time, but is there something about NOW that makes this more urgent?

BF: More and more, the white-collar worker will be competing with machines. Developing your emotional intelligence skill set is essential to be ready for that world. The human component must shine through.

PT: You tap into the work of researchers like Kahneman and Grant, are there any social psychology ideas that seem misguided to you? And what are some wrong-headed notions about leadership that bug you most?

BF: Many theories of leadership encourage reptilian "win-lose" attitudes that seem to belong to another era. We live in a world of instantaneous information and rampant collaboration. In this world, no one can have all the data and know all the answers. We need to create active and responsive collaborations across disciplines, borders, and time zones. From my own experience, I am a big believer in Adam Grant's theory that leaders who know how to give and take are both happier and more successful.

PT: Where do women fit in future leadership, seeing that CEOs are mostly men?

BF: One of the biggest challenges (and opportunities) for global business is the persistent low percentage of women in senior leadership positions. Women represent over half of the world's talent, creativity, and innovation and we simply cannot allow this vast talent pool to be overlooked or under-leveraged. There are signs of progress, but more work and more leadership is required. Some of the more promising initiatives include active mentorships by leading men and women, collaborative career sisterhood organizations, and returnships—structured programs to get women successfully back into workplace after taking time away for family.

PT: Is there something Ogilvy is doing that helps promote women in its workplace?

BF: Ogilvy has a number of initiatives devoted to women. The 30 for 30 Program identifies and pairs 30 talented young women with senior leaders. I myself am coaching such an individual.

PT: What were you like as a kid? The leader, the diplomat, both, something else?

BF: As a kid growing up in Canada, I loved my sports, but I also always liked to work. I have done some kind of paid work at least 20 hours a week since I was 13 years old. I think I was attracted by how it made me feel independent. I did a ton of different things before I was 21—gardener, snow shoveling contractor, baseball umpire, caddie, and statistics tutor. As a 19-year-old at McGill University, I led a student-run company that sold an eccentric blend of travel packages, calculators, market research, bartending courses, and recycled whisky barrels.

PT: Tell us about this student-run company and the recycled whisky barrels.

BF: The student-run company was fashioned after a similar one at Harvard; it gave students a chance to try entrepreneurship. I remember waking up one morning in a flop-sweat thinking about the 1,500 donated whisky barrels arriving in Montreal. I had to sell all of them.

PT: Did you know early on what you had to do in life?

BF: Not at first. I registered for accounting in my first year of college because that's what my older brother did. But after one year I fell in love with marketing. I have spent the last 30 years exploring all different aspects of marketing from brand management to advertising to direct marketing to digital marketing to e-commerce. About halfway through my career I discovered the joys of operating globally. Over the years, I discovered my sweet spot as a global advisor and connector. My job today is to lead a global team of 5,200 to advise clients on how the build their brands through digital marketing.

For more on Brian Fetherstonhaugh, see The Long View. @BrianOgilvy