July 25, 2013

1997: Career Inflection Point

Five popular songs from 1997:
  • "Candle in the Wind" - Elton John
  • "Foolish Games" - Jewel
  • "I'll Be Missing You" - Puff Daddy & Faith Evans
  • "Un-Break My Heart" - Toni Braxton
  • "Can't Nobody Hold Me Down" - Puff Daddy
Let's skip methodology for a day, and talk about the inflection points that impact a career.

It's been my experience that a series of circumstances arise, at a point in time ... and if you capitalize on the circumstances at that specific point in time, your career moves in a positive direction.

Here's the org structure at Eddie Bauer, in January 1997.
  • CEO
  • EVP of Global Brand Development, and a President of Catalog reporting to the CEO ... 2 important individuals, no doubt.
  • SVP of Marketing reporting to the EVP of Global Brand Development.
  • DVP of Research, DVP of Retail Marketing, Director of Catalog Circulation reporting to the SVP of Marketing.
  • Then me ... Manager of Analytical Services.
That's when a series of circumstances presented themselves to me, the humble little Manager of Analytical Services at a $1.5 billion dollar apparel monster.

Event:  In late January 1997, the DVP of Retail Marketing was fired (or so claimed the prevailing gossip of the time ... and here's a tip, and I know it is hard ... try to stay above the gossip, folks).

Event:  In February 1997, during my performance review, I told my boss that I wanted to become the next Director of Catalog Circulation.  To this day, I have no idea why I put this down on paper.  It wasn't the logical career path for somebody like me ... in fact, the logical career path was to move to the vendor side of the industry.  The current Director of Catalog Circulation was generally well liked, knowledgeable beyond reason, and certainly not going anywhere.  So maybe I didn't think there was a risk involved in proposing my future career path.

Event:  In December 1997, the incumbent Director of Catalog Circulation decided to scale back work hours.

Event:  In December 1997, I was named the next Director of Catalog Circulation.  Sixteen perfectly qualified catalog circulation experts were passed over, some with excellent training and comparable career goals.

Event:  In January 1998, the President of Catalog either quit or was fired.

Event:  In January 1998, a team of six folks, called the "Catalog Business Team", was put in place to fix catalog performance, replacing the President of Catalog.  This team had a matrixed org structure, reporting to the CEO and individual department heads.

In other words, in twelve months, I went from being a lowly Analytics Manager at a $1.5 billion dollar business to having a matrixed org relationship with the CEO of a $1.5 billion dollar business.  Accountability was about to become the theme of 1998 ... real accountability ... it was no longer acceptable to call out problems, I had to actually DO something about problems!

Three years later, I'd be Vice President of Direct Marketing at Nordstrom, a $7 billion dollar retail giant.  In just 36 months, I went from being a lowly Analytics Manager to a Vice President.

There are a handful of inflection points in any career.  You have to sense when a career inflection point presents itself, and you have to RUN through the door when it is opened.

And you have to be really, really LUCKY ... I was lucky.  Luck plays an enormous role, folks. Career paths are like a tournament bracket ... too few championship spots for too many people.  Take advantage of luck / serendipity ... be ready when it graces you.