The life of a turnaround and transformation executive can be an interesting and highly lucrative path. In many ways, we are like the Special Ops of the corporate world, using an eclectic combination of soft and hard skills to shift an organization from dysfunction to high performance. There are few career paths that can bring the potential of an asymmetrical positive impact, legacy, and wealth accumulation in a relatively short amount of time compared to a typical career path.
However, this path is riskier than a traditional, quiet career. Your success rate (i.e., batting percentage) is what you will be rated on and how you will get further opportunities. The demonstrable levels of transformation, growth, and business outcomes are what will guide your future opportunities. In my case, I developed a proprietary methodology over time and was able to successfully demonstrate its success across industry verticals, geographies, and in both industry and government. My versatility and success rate are what I have used to differentiate myself against the small pool of qualified transformation/turnaround executives.
Similar to a trading and investing system, successfully pulling off a transformation and/or a turnaround not only requires successful strategy, tactics, and execution, but also unemotionally adhering to a set of rules to simultaneously increase the probabilities for success and decrease the probabilities for failure. My six personal rules are as follows:
- Operate honestly, ethically, and transparently at all times!
- Ensure the success rate and the key business outcomes you deliver are tracked, encapsulated, and communicated as part of your CV and executive brand.
- Know thy exit! Upon accepting a turnaround or transformation, define your exit criteria. In the case of private equity, it is easy as you are fixing the company to sell it for a targeted profit over the cost basis. For other situations, the exit may be more difficult, so define that before accepting the engagement.
- Get agreement on what clear, objective parameters you are expected to transform from the CEO, owner(s), or board that is bringing you in. These parameters can be implementation of a full digital transformation strategy, increasing revenue and improving margins by XX%, reduce operating expenses by XX%, etc.
- Don’t base your acceptance of an engagement solely on the proposed compensation. If it is a likely a losing scenario no matter what you can do, do not risk your success rate just to chase a dollar.
- Your network is your net worth. Build trust and relationships, maintain a great reputation, and get testimonials throughout a transformation, but especially at the end. This will help with further your legacy, brand, and establish a powerful history in words other than your own.
In the coming years, I will retire early and cherish life with my growing family and leave an impressive legacy of what I built, grew, and established. I am proud of not only my accomplishments, but those of the teams I had the privilege of leading for each of these transformations. When I walk away, I will impart my methodology to the next generation so they can take this forward and evolve it!