Ever since starting this blog I have been doing some deep introspection with regards to my career and my interests. I have spent the majority of my career since graduating college in Corporate Finance. Being the good corporate monkey that I was taught to be, I have done everything to continue and progress my career in Finance. When you pursue the Corporate Finance career path, the ultimate destination is the CFO role.
In my current role I report to the CFO. We have even had discussions about succession planning and how I fit into the plan as his successor when he eventually left the company. These conversations eventually led to his path for me:
- He wanted me to pursue my MBA and take classes that would strengthen my accounting (which is his background).
- He wanted me to join some of the same professional networks that he is a part of.
- He wanted me to work on getting the certifications he had.
- He wanted me to spend 12-16 hours a day in the office like he does.
At first I was excited to even be having this conversation and laying out the path to the CFO role. I even went as far as convincing the company to make an exception for me and pay for my entire MBA if I went back to my Alma Mater at CSUF, where the total cost would only be about $30K. Typically the company only pays up to $5,000/year for employee’s pursuing their MBA’s.
BUT THEN I REALIZED THAT HE WANTED ME TO BE EXACTLY LIKE HIM.
I also realized that he was sending me down a path that only interested me because of the big potential pay day that comes with an executive level role. But I would be sacrificing a lot just for some money. I would be going down a path that really didn’t interest me. I don’t want to be his clone. He is a nice guy, but I like my life, he doesn’t really have one outside of work.
Instead of Studying and Applying for My MBA I…
- Started thinking about what I really wanted with my career.
- What really interested me.
- Whether I even wanted to stay in Finance.
- Whether I had a future at the company if I didn’t want to stay in Finance.
- Which led to me thinking about opportunities outside of the company.
This has all been taking place over the last 6 months. In that time a vendor that I worked with while implementing a new Corporate Performance Management (CPM) system reached out and asked if I would be interested in hearing about an opportunity to consult with their company.
This got me thinking!
I have always loved working on projects that have a start and end date. If I got into consulting it would allow me to be project based moving from one client to the next every 6 to 8 weeks. Talking through the details I would not have to move, even though the company was headquartered in Canada. I would have to travel 50% of the time, but the other 50% of the time I would be based out of my home.
At this point I was really starting to seriously consider making a move, even though I have only been with my current employer for 16 months and there was a serious career path in place for me. And I would potentially be giving up a huge windfall in the way of options that I am supposed to get in about 6 months. We hadn’t even talked money yet with respect to this potential consulting gig, but I realized I wanted a change and a pivot out of Corporate Finance.
Then Another Opportunity Presented Itself (with my current employer)
In the 16 months I have worked at the company I have developed a great relationship with the CEO. I became his “go to” for special projects and he always encouraged me to speak my mind. He even went as far to say that he needed someone with my analytical mind in operations. And about 8 months ago he even tried to take my temperature on making a move from Finance to Operations. At the time I didn’t know if that was a good idea, and I didn’t want to make any waves with my boss of only 8 months that had just brought me in to be “His Guy.”
We have had lots of communication via email and phone over the last 8 months. With that came a decent amount of praise that sometimes felt over the top, and to be honest I wasn’t sure how to take it. Was he just stoking my ego? Or did he really believe it?
Then I recently got this email from him after sending him a project I was working on (slightly edited):
As always you come through.
I am trying to change the dynamics of the company and you have proved yourself a facilitator of change and someone I depend upon. Think about your career and aspirations, I know your long goal is CFO, but I think you have value beyond that sooner for you.
I do believe a Director position is more reflective of your contribution to our business and I do follow through. Think about where you can add value and where it fits in the organization. By the way, I think the world of [CFO], so not trying to separate you. Want to know where you fit best.
GYFG, you are the best, wish I had you on team years ago. My deal is finding, developing and keeping smart people.
I replaced names in [brackets] to protect anonymity to some degree.
The timing of this email came right after I had started talking to the mentioned vendor about a change into the consulting company, implementing CPM software. This also came after a few incidences that I shared here on the blog about the office time keeper and how my boss really mis-managed both incidents.
This email was received on July 1st and I realized I had an opportunity to be bold and potentially ask for a career changing role. I wanted to be strategic about my response, so I sat on the email over-night and thought about how I wanted to respond. Besides the desire to pivot out of Finance, there were a few things I wanted to bring up, without coming across as a whiner.
I also wanted to be sure to use a lot of verbiage and examples from our previous conversations so that he could really resonate with the message I was about to send him. And lastly, I wanted to be firm about the uncertainty of my future with the company without a major change, while not feeling like an ultimatum.
That next morning I took an hour to respond with the following email (773 word response):
Thanks for the recognition. It means a lot.
Ever since you and I started having more frequent dialogue (since November of last year) I have really been giving my career a lot of thought. I was only ever interested in the CFO role because it was the logical and normal career path (and the one [CFO] wants to see me follow). He is really looking for a clone of himself and that just doesn’t fit my skillset, personality, or desire. Don’t get me wrong I would love to achieve an executive level position, I just don’t know that the CFO role is the right fit for me.
I have always considered myself to be more entrepreneurial and strategic, with the innate inclination towards numbers (in that I am data driven like you). And if I am being completely transparent I would love to one day run a business.
Working with you has been very eye opening. I like your direct, no BS approach to running the business. The guys that you are mentoring and working closely with in the East are lucky to have you as a resource. It’s impressive to see how you have built a company from nothing to approaching $100M in revenue very soon.
I feel like I can be transparent with you so I am going to share a few things with you that I hope you’re okay with.
Like you mentioned, [CFO] is a great guy, but I really feel like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole on his team. As you know I have had a history of making myself available 24/7 to get the job done (you even shared as much with our private equity investment group). With that I expected a bit of flexibility, but there have been several occasions where I have not been treated with professional courtesy. It’s actually been something I have had a hard time getting over these past few months.
Over the past few months I have even contemplated whether staying with the Company in my current career path was the right move. I am at a point in my career where I want to make a pivot out of Finance. And until your email today I thought that meant I may have to consider leaving the Company. But you reaching out makes me think that we may be able to find a better fit and use of my skill set. However, I think that means that I would need to move out of [CFO’s] group and report directly to you (as you have actually suggested several times during our email conversations). The majority of my job is reporting, which is not very stimulating or challenging for me.
I have been promised a lot of stuff throughout my career, and most of the time it is all stick and no carrot. I’ve gotten screwed and taken advantage of a lot over my career. So I have to admit that I am a little jaded when I am told of all the potential and upside I have. When I work my ass off I expect to be rewarded and not teased along. Like you, I believe in a culture based on a meritocracy. Where it’s impact and not length of service that determines the trajectory of a career and compensation is commensurate for the value added.
I hope this doesn’t come across as arrogant. But I do think that I bring a lot of value to the table with my skill set (which you have reinforced in many of our conversations). However, I don’t necessarily see that reflected in my compensation. Again like you, I totally subscribe to the philosophy of do the work and then get the reward.
But I feel like I have put in a lot of work over the past 16 months and was a bit bummed that my reward was minimal. Especially when you consider the fact that I was teased along with extra bonus money during the budget season by [CFO] for all the extra work only to realize that I didn’t even get the full bonus in my employment offer.
All of this to say that I think we should seriously discuss my fit within the organization and career path. I think we could come up with something that could work to benefit both parties. I have been patient, but I can’t afford to wait around forever. Like you I am a very ambitious, driven, and I am motivated by action!
Sorry for the length, but I felt like you were giving me the opportunity to be transparent and let you know where my head is at.
This is the infamous email that I tweeted about during the week of the 4th of July. This email then led to a phone call that lasted 15 minutes and during that phone call the CEO said that “it took balls to write that email” and that “[I] was a better fit than he realized.” We then proceeded to discuss where I fit in the organization and finally he asked me what I thought I was worth.
I had a millisecond of panic flood my brain with that question. But I had already mapped out my worth on paper while preparing to progress my discussions forward with the potential consulting role.
So, without missing a beat I told him what my current base was and then gave him a new base that was $30,000 higher. I then proceeded to tell him that my bonus was only $10K and that I wanted a bonus structure that was more in-line with the financial performance of the company in that I wanted a range that would allow me to participate in the upside when we out performed our goals. He offered a new bonus of $20K to $40K (that’s the max and it’s based on financial performance).
Between the increase in my salary base and the increase in my bonus, it should amount to a $60,000 raise. Based on my experience with bonus payouts for the entire company, I don’t see any reason why I won’t receive the entire bonus (as long as I perform).
Oh, and I almost forgot. Remember that part I put in the email above about not receiving the full bonus from my offer letter and the additional bonus that was dangled in front of me last year? Well he promised to fix that by giving me an additional bonus for 2014 of $10K.
Sometimes when the cards line up in your favor you have to go all in and just play the high probability hand. You’re not guaranteed to win, but if the risk is minimal, what do you have to lose? If you don’t like something, you need to do something in order to change it. Someone once told me that “fortune favors the bold.”
If there is one thing I have witnessed over my career it is that people don’t get ahead waiting around to be picked. They pick themselves. In order to be great you only need to have two things:
- Be GREAT at something the market is willing to pay for
- Be GREAT at promoting that skill
Self-promotion is not easy.
It’s not comfortable.
The beauty of all this is that the magic happens the moment you step out of your comfort zone. It was not easy pressing send on the email. It was a risk. But without risk there is no reward in any endeavor.
The trick is evaluating whether the reward is worth the risk.
Choose to be the Victor and not the Victim. As they say “to the Victor belong the spoils.”
Are you an email way from the compensation you deserve? The job you really want to be doing? The change you have wanted to ask for but have been scared to move forward with? Have you ever drafted up an email like this and never sent it (I know I have)?
– Gen Y Finance Guy
p.s. Today I start my new role as Director of Operations and my new compensation goes into effect starting 8/1/15.
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