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Five business leaders share their career pivot stories

It is not uncommon to have a career pivot, and while the path may vary, almost every business leader shifts focus at some point in their careers.

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career pivot

Have you ever experienced a career pivot?

Sometimes we graduate college with a Geology degree, but we end up practicing real estate. We launch a tech startup but end up at an ad agency. Life is funny that way in that every day we are faced with choices, some of which are not only career changing, but put us on a completely different path. It can be because of life changes or choice, but not all business leaders were born in the role they are presently in.

We asked six respected business leaders if they have ever experienced a career pivot, and all six had gone through the transformation. Here are their tales:

Saying adios to a cushy corporate job

Scott Lerner, Founder of Solixir said, “If you call leaving a comfortable job in corporate America to the start-up world pivoting I would say yes. Before 2008 I was working for large CPG firms like ConAgra, Kimberly-Clark, and Pepsi. I decided to leave that all behind and launch Solixir by myself in Sept. of 2008. It was a scary yet exciting time for me and I haven’t looked back.”

I realized I was in the wrong place

Sanjay Sathe, Founder and CEO of RiseSmart said, “I have pivoted across several industries, from information management to telecom, from banking to travel, and now HR. At the beginning of my career I was on the accounting side, and within a few months I realized I was in the wrong place. I quickly switched to sales, where I established my early career. I then moved into marketing.”

Sathe succinctly calls it “more of a career lattice than ladder,” adding that it “seems to be the name of the game in the corporate world today.”

Life after startup success

Donna Horton Novitsky is the CEO of Yiftee and is proof of a unique path in her career pivots. “Sure – from big company to start-up. From start-up to Venture Capital. From Venture Capital back to start-up. From all that to professor of marketing and entrepreneurship at Stanford.”

From volunteer to CEO

Nancy A. Aossey, President & CEO of International Medical Corps offers a very inspiring tale. After graduating from college, she worked as a sales executive at AT&T and dreamed of running her own business some day, but knew she wanted it to be meaningful. She moved to L.A. and learned about International Medical corps, a humanitarian relief organization that had gotten its start training Afghan medical professionals during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

“I met International Medical Corps’ volunteers and its founder, hoping I might volunteer in some way,” Aossey said. “They told me they were looking for a C.E.O. I was only in my mid-20’s at the time, but I loved the organization’s mission and never doubted that I could do the job. I told them that I would be committed to the organization, work hard and do whatever it took to get the job done. So they hired me as their CEO in 1986, two years after its founding. I later asked them why they hired me for the role, given that I had no experience in humanitarian relief, and they told me that they were looking for a deep commitment to the mission of the organization and for qualities that could not be found in a C.V.”

“When I started, International Medical Corps was comprised of a handful of volunteer doctors and nurses,” Aossey added. “I had to be very hands-on in war-torn countries like Angola, Somalia, Bosnia, Rwanda and more to reach those most in need with lifesaving medical care. But as we’ve grown—International Medical Corps now has 4,500 global staff and a network of thousands of volunteers—my role has shifted and I now focus on bringing in the right people to lead those programs, and continuing to foster our entrepreneurial culture.”

Ditching corporate life

Paul Aitken, CEO of borro spent eight years working for large corporations, but in 2004, he and a friend decided to start their own company. Aitken said, “Movota provided interactive mobile solutions to Europe’s leading TV and Radio broadcasters. It was financed by private investors, and the company was sold to Bertelsmann in 2005. After this, I founded borro in 2008.”

The American Genius is news, insights, tools, and inspiration for business owners and professionals. AG condenses information on technology, business, social media, startups, economics and more, so you don’t have to.

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Business Entrepreneur

What to consider before you pivot your business model

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Many businesses have had to pivot during the global pandemic but maybe yours isn’t one of them. Consider these questions first!

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Two women working at a laptop, no need to pivot business.

When Ross asked Rachel and Chandler (Friends TV show 1994-2004) to move a couch, many of us will never forget his voice inflection and how many times he yelled “PIVOT”! It’s actually a really funny scene and if you’ve never seen it, it might be worth 3.5 minutes of your time. Ross had the best of intentions by starting with a sketch and enlisting help from friends but even that ends up in hilarity as getting his couch in to his apartment doesn’t work and he ends up being offered $4 when he tries to return it (stay for the end of the clip).

The best plans and intentions for your business are often met with what the market and customers demand, where technology grows, and where your ROI is the best. You often know that your original plans will grow and evolve, even in uncertainty and now… a global pandemic.

Many entrepreneurs and small businesses have had to lean on technology to add virtual services (or expand their offerings) to meet our current norm where people are just not out and about like they used to be. Some have seen this work well and others have had to completely re-design their offerings to maintain safe and socially distanced considerations.

The thing is, businesses that have pivoted are being highlighted. But it is also worth looking at what has worked for some businesses that didn’t have to completely shift their strategies in 2020. It is likely that they had to adapt but maybe not a ridiculous Ross-type “pivot” that resulted in a complete failure of the mission.

Harvard Business Review (HBR) shared an incredible article, “You Don’t Have to Pivot in a Crisis” with great insights about what to consider if you think you need to make changes or if you want reassurance you are still on the right track.

HBR shares a powerful thought:

“The lesson here is that when a crisis hits, it pays to resist knee-jerk reactions on how to handle external shocks and ask what is going to work best for your company, based on the particular realities of its business. Ignoring the playbook of rapid cuts plus strategic pivoting can be the smart move… However, staying the course doesn’t mean inaction.”

Here are three thought starters you may want to consider for your business:

  1. What product line or service is best serving your customers right now? Is that one of your strongest and/or could it use some attention?
  2. What product line or service is not quite meeting your needs or customer demands at the moment that had seemingly always worked (not forever! Just right now)? For example, in person gatherings and promotions like events, conferences, trade shows.
  3. Is there something you’ve always wanted to explore? And could now be a great time since people want things more virtually? Examples: Selling branded swag, workbooks, content subscriptions, educational webinars.

These are three simple things but could help point you in the right direction of where to focus your time and energy – at least for now. You may not need a complete re-design or to take a new road, it might be some tweaks and adjustments to hang on to what you’ve worked so hard to build.

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Business Entrepreneur

How to choose the right software for your business

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) What are the best software products for your up-and-coming company? Use these questions to decide which kind is best for you.

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It’s almost impossible to run a successful modern business without some kind of software to help you stay productive and operate efficiently. There are millions of companies and even more independent developers working hard to produce new software products and services for the businesses of the world, so to say that choosing the right software is intimidating is putting it lightly.

Fortunately, your decisions will become much easier with a handful of decision-making rubrics.

Determining Your Core Needs

First, you need to decide which types of software you really need. For most businesses, these are the most fundamental categories:

  • Proposal software. Customer acquisition starts and ends with effective proposals, which is why you need proposal software that helps you create, send, and track the status of your sales documents.
  • Lead generation and sales. You’ll also want the support of lead generation and sales software, including customer relationship management (CRM) platforms. These help you identify and track prospects throughout the sales process.
  • Marketing and advertising. Marketing and advertising platforms help you plan and implement your campaigns, but even more importantly—they help you track your results.
  • Finance and accounting. With finance and accounting software, you’ll track accounts payable and receivable, and countless variables influencing the financial health of your company.
  • Supply chain and logistics. Certain types of businesses require support when it comes to supply chain management and logistics—and software can help.
  • Productivity and tracking. Some software products, including time trackers and project management platforms, focus on improving productivity and tracking employee actions.
  • Comprehensive analytics. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and other “big picture” software products attempt to provide you with comprehensive analytics related to your business’s performance.

Key Factors to Consider

From there, you’ll need to choose a software product in each necessary category—or try to find one that covers all categories simultaneously. When reviewing the thousands (if not millions) of viable options, keep these factors in mind:

    • Core features/functionality. Similar products in a given niche can have radically different sets of features. It’s tempting to go with the most robust product in all cases, but superfluous features and functionality can present their own kind of problem.
    • Integrations. If you use a number of different software products, you’ll need some way to get them to work together. Prioritize products that make it easy to integrate with others—especially ones you’re already using.
    • Intuitiveness/learnability. Software should be intuitive and easy to learn. Not only will this cut down on the amount of training and education you have to provide employees, but it will also reduce the possibilities of platform misuse in the future.
    • Customizability/flexibility. Out-of-the-box software products work well for many customers, but they may not suit your current or future needs precisely. Platforms with greater customizability and flexibility are favorable.
    • Security. If you’re handling sensitive data (and most businesses will be), it’s vital to have a software developed with security in mind. There should be multiple layers of security in place, and ample settings for you to tightly control accessibility.
    • Ongoing developer support. Your chosen software might be impressive today, but how is it going to look in three years? It’s ideal to choose a product that features ongoing developer support, with the potential for more features and better functionality in the near and distant future.
    • Customer support. If you have an issue with the app, will someone be available to help you? Good customer service can elevate the value of otherwise average apps.
    • Price. Finally, you’ll need to consider price. The best apps will often have a price that matches their quality; it’s up to you to decide whether the extra expense is worth it.

Read about each product as you conduct your research, and pay close attention to reviews and testimonials from past customers. Additionally, most software companies are happy to offer free demos and trials, so you can get some firsthand experience before finalizing your decision. Take them up on the offer.

Finding the Balance

It may seem like purchasing or subscribing to new software products will always improve your business fundamentals, but this isn’t always the case. If you become bogged down with too many apps and services, it’s going to make operations more confusing for your staff, decrease consistency, and drain your budget dry at the same time. Instead, try to keep your systems as simplified and straightforward as possible, while still getting all the services you need.

You won’t find or implement the perfect suite of software products for your business overnight. It’s going to take weeks, if not months of research, free trials, and in-house experiments. Remain patient, and don’t be afraid to cut your losses on products that aren’t working the way you originally intended.

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Business Entrepreneur

Simple ways to keep your company’s operations lean

(BUSINESS) Keeping your operations lean means more than saving money, it means accomplishing more in less time.

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The past year and a half has been challenging, not just economically but politically, and socially as well. While it would be nice to think that things are looking up, in reality, the problems never end. Taking a minimalist approach to your business, AKA keeping it lean, can help you weather the future to be more successful.

Here are some tips to help you trim the fat without putting profits above people.

Automate processes

Artificial intelligence frees up human resources. AI can manage many routine elements of your business, giving your team time to focus on important tasks that can’t be delegated to machines. This challenges your top performers to function at higher levels, which can only benefit your business.

Consider remote working

Whether you rent or own your property, it’s expensive to keep an office open. As we learned in the pandemic, many jobs can be done just as effectively from home as the workplace. Going remote can save you money, even if you help your team outfit their home office for safety and efficiency.

In today’s world, many are opting to completely shutter office doors, but you may be able to save money by using less space or renting out some of your office space.

Review your systems to find the fat

As your business grows (or downsizes), your systems need to change to fit how you work. Are there places where you can save money? If you’re ordering more, you may be able to ask vendors for discounts. Look for ways to bring down costs.

Talk to your team about where their workflow suffers and find solutions. An annual review through your budget with an eye on saving money can help you find those wasted dollars.

Find the balance

Operating lean doesn’t mean just saving money. It can also mean that you look at your time when deciding to pay for services. The point is to be as efficient as possible with your resources and systems, while maintaining customer service and safety. When you operate in a lean way, it sets your business up for success.

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