Food for Thought

By March 5, 2014Innovation

eggs-1I recently had breakfast with a friend of mine, a financial advisor at one of the country’s biggest banks. He told me he was tired of the corporate slog and wanted to know what I’d learned in the year after I parted ways from the big bank where I’d spent the last decade.

“About myself?” I asked.

Yes, he said. He confessed he was thinking of opening an advisory shop where he could focus foremost on his clients’ needs, rather than those of employer.

Over scrambled eggs, I gave him my thoughts:

  1. Position yourself to others in terms of what you want to be. Don’t default to what you’ve been or how your past employer may have defined you. If you want to deepen your knowledge or become a thought leader in a new or related field, the information is there. You just need to do the research.
  2. Reach for the top shelf. Or as my friend Cecilia Rose puts it: order the lobster; if it’s not available, you may get a redfish instead. Think highly enough of yourself to aspire for the best while providing the same to your colleagues and clients. They are lucky to have you!
  3. Engage your connections. Help often comes from surprising places. The colleague whom you haven’t spoken to in years may turn out to be your fiercest advocate. A new colleague may provide a life-changing introduction. Above all, don’t be disappointed if some former colleagues don’t come through like you expect. They may want to be helpful but not know how! It’s your job to provide them with as much guidance as possible.

My friend had his own, personal reasons for wanting to leave his financial institution of 20 years, but on a surface level, I could see in his eyes the fatigue and frustration built up over the last few years. The world where he’d grown up had changed.

He understood that the traditional bank distribution model is crumbling, and that only the largest and smallest institutions are likely to survive the current industry ‘hollowing out.’ Thin spreads, high costs and the incursions of non-bank competitors are simply too strong headwinds for a business that would rather ignore change than embrace it.

Speaking of which, I knew my time in the big bank world was ending when my boss, a 35-year industry veteran, told me his goal was to “execute, not innovate.” The problem is, it’s hard to deliver on a broken business model. I credit my friend for not waiting for a similar cue and instead leaving to shape his own future.

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