Careers are not linear. We might feel societal pressure to make every move based on real or perceived progress, but is that realistic or even rational? In this episode, we look at multiple scenarios where taking a step back or down is the best move for your long-term career. Frank and Ian discuss the times when they made non-obvious decisions that set up much bigger moves down the road.
In this episode:
- What if your industry is changing/shrinking?
- How to spot a rocket ship and when to jump on one
- What it means to take a job to get “close to the sun”
- Choosing pay over fancy titles
- How a step back could restore your career
- Do you work in a department with upside?
- The role of ego in career decisions
- A 10-year decision looks very different than a 10-month decision
- What’s your driver?
Watch the episode here:
Listen to the podcast here:
How Stepping Back (Or Even Down) Can Be Good For Your Career
What is up to the thousands of good-looking subscribers and our three ugly ones? This is the Let Me Speak to a Manager Podcast. We are brought to you by Outback Steakhouse, Frank Cava’s favorite place of employment. In this episode, we are talking about when it might be appropriate to take a step back in your career. We outline seven distinct situations in a career where it wouldn’t make sense to take a step back. I hope you enjoy it. We hope you’re subscribed and you’ve given us that five-star review.
We’re talking about going backward in our careers. What the hell is going on? Is this show going backward? Are we freaking out?
We’re freaking out. We’ve changed platforms and done a few things a little bit differently. Ian has some new art. We need to celebrate it. He’s brought Ron Burgundy, front and center, with what looks like a Miller High Life. Don’t be fooled by that drill and tape measure behind Ian. I’ve used that thing for him more times than he’s used it himself. He’s like, “Should I move the drill?” I’m like, “No.” You’re hanging up a Canvas Culture that weighs at least eight-tenths of a pound and you’ve got a screw gun. You’ve got to keep that in the shop.
I bought a power drill because you were coming over to help me hang a bunch of stuff and you were like, “You’ve got a drill and tools, right?” I’m like, “Yes.”
You went and took a leak and Jenny is like, “He bought all that four hours ago.”
I went and got the best power drill I could find and tried to put some dirt on it to make it look like I had used it before. Jenny called me out hardcore at it, for sure. It’s been a wild year, 2020, for all the obvious reasons. What’s different about in 2020 is the crazy divergence of businesses. Some businesses skyrocketed and others collapsed. There was the biggest recession ever. Others continued to roar along. You’ve got highs in a lot of companies in the stock market and you’ve got others that are still 50% off.
There are a lot of people that had jobs and had positions before in industries that are not coming back anytime soon. They might’ve been in a higher position, management level, a director level, or highly paid. Now, they find themselves out of work or working in something that they would consider themselves overqualified for. We’ve had numerous people reach out to us on LinkedIn asking questions around this, “How long should I do it? Should I be looking for something else? How do I handle it?” This whole episode is about when taking a step back or even a step down can be good for your career. Talking about this, we both think there are plenty of opportunities to do this even when it’s a good economy if you’re ready for a change.
We usually let Ian handle the intro and get right into the agenda. On this one, I want to do it a little differently and it’s for this reason. Ian and I have different lives. We have different influences. We have different things. We’ve got a lot of overlap but there are also a few things that we feel differently about. With this one, for me, I’m going to go back to 2020 Corona. We had an economist speak at our annual event for Collective Genius and he said, “Coronavirus has caused two classes. The haves and the have-nots. It’s exacerbated it.” What I say is the Coronavirus has done the following, it’s gone after weakness. If you’re physically weak, it kills people. Half a million people have died. It’s not an insignificant number.
On the business side, which we talk more about here, it killed a lot of small businesses that weren’t healthy. They have bad debt. There are a lot of good employees that work for companies that weren’t great. Those companies have gone away and fallen apart or closed. What has happened is big businesses have done great. Ian talked about the stock market. Tesla’s stock is 8X. If you look at it from this perspective, there’s this weird thing happening. There are these talented people that work for bad companies that are on the market and there are a lot of smart, talented college kids on the market that are having a hard time breaking in. Good companies never lost anybody because they’re good companies and they’re well run. They might’ve used it as an excuse to trim the fat a little bit but they don’t have a lot of great openings.COVID drastically killed a lot of small businesses that weren't healthy. Click To Tweet
I’ve been asked multiple times like, “How do I get a job? How do I get looked at?” What I have said over and over again is you may need to take a job that’s slightly below where you want to be to get in. Once you get in and you knock that door down, then you can excel. When Ian and I started talking about this, that became a bullet point in an agenda that talks about working in a career where you might be overqualified or taking a step back. We got excited about the agenda because we were coming at it from two different perspectives.
One of the first things that Frank started to get into here is, number one, your industry is changing or it’s shrinking. You sense that this is more than a temporary situation. If you’re a dispatcher for a taxi cab company, Uber and Lyft are not going away. There’s a permanent change. Think about the iceman that used to come around and bring ice to your house and the milkman. Who moved my cheese? That’s not coming back. We’re not going to ever have anyone delivering ice to our house again. You need to understand and get over yourself when you see some of those major shifts happening. The hard part for most people is, “It’ll be back,” because it bounces that come in the market but it doesn’t necessarily mean it will be back.
We’ve had a series of ice storms in Richmond. I get the physical paper delivered to my house on Sunday and I get two papers. I get the local one and I get a national paper that has a good Sunday section. I walked out with Max and we got the newspaper. As we brought it into the kitchen, it’s covered in ice water. It’s soaking wet. It’s in three plastic bags. When you’re 85 years old, you’re going to tell your grandkids like, “Back when my dad was still alive, they used to deliver the news in a bag. They’ll throw it in your front yard and let it sit in the grass.” That will be gone. There is no doubt in my mind.
Some dude in an old van flipped it out on your yard. It used to be kids on bikes but we were too old for that. Now, it’s some dude in an old, beat-up van that brings my newspaper. Most people reading this are probably thinking we’re old losers that still read papers. Screw you. We like our papers.
Not as much as a buffet but we love our papers. I was having a conversation with my mom. My mom has got the biggest heart in the world. She’s someone who always sees the good in things. She’s not a business person. She’s a school teacher. She’s an educator. I was having a conversation with my mom and I was like, “It’s like being in a steamship business, Mom.” She was like, “I love steamships.” I’m like, “I know, but who’s your audience? Disney World? They’ve already got a couple of them.” A steamship has gone extinct. You need to constantly evolve. The steamship has been replaced by much better technology. If you work for the company that either delivers the newspaper or they produce the steamship or the equivalent of this, you can be hard-headed and you can say, “I never saw that coming.” We’re not progressive. We’re not evolving. We’re not in an industry that allows growth and further growth. You’re going to go extinct like the dinosaur, like realtors in my business.
My grandpa worked in a steel mill for 40 years in Detroit and my dad followed in his footsteps right out of high school. My grandpa got him a job. It was good for a few years and it declined every decade my dad was there. My dad barely got out before it collapsed that steel industry. Every four years, when there’s a presidential cycle, every presidential candidate gets up there and says, “We’re going to get American jobs, steel back, and auto.” No, you’re not. You can’t protect your way to jobs like that. Those jobs are commodity jobs now. If someone can get their steel for half the cost out of Russia or China, that’s where they’re going to get their steel because that’s how they stay in business. Holding on and hoping someone’s going to protect you is not going to happen and it’s certainly not going to grow. Those are long, slow deaths. Working for those companies is not profitable.
I’m in real estate. I had an overpriced house and I lowered the price. I lowered the price three times. It started at $625,000. We were a bit aggressive. The market is telling me that it’s not a good house at this price. I lowered it to $599,000, it was crickets. I left it at $599,000 for almost 30 days. I was like, “Screw it.” I took it to $550,000, which was low. I thought the right number is probably in the $580,000, $585,000 range. I thought someone would be smart and put in an offer. They didn’t. I lowered it to $550,000. I ended up getting seven offers.
What happens in real estate if it gets into a competitive bid situation, you want to be the bid people choose. I lowered the price because I know what I’m doing and I thought I created a bidding war. I created a bidding war and what happened is I landed at $580,000. They waived the appraisal. They waived inspection. They did these terms that were incredibly in my favor because I got ahead of the deal and changed the narrative around it. I was talking to my wife and my son and I said, “These realtors are going to go to the way of the dinosaur. They’re going to go extinct.” They should have looked at this house in an incredibly hot market that isn’t selling and they should’ve put it in an offer for $575,000 with terms in their favor. They would have got the house because I hadn’t changed the narrative.
To me, you have to look at this stuff. You have to look at your business and say, “Can I be ahead of it? Can I be in front of things? Can I act in a proactive way?” The realtors who are incredibly proactive and smart, the realtors that I work with a lot, they’re not going to go extinct. They’re going to be the best of breed and they’re going to be around when tech disrupts. Most of these other people that allow things to happen to them, they’re going to get disrupted. I bring this up because I saw Gary Vaynerchuk speak in 2009. He completely predicted the way that information was going to get controlled because content was going to be king. Nobody had ever heard the word content. What he talked about is like, “If you write for Sports Illustrated and you’re incredible, you’ll leave Sports Illustrated and you’ll write and people will find you.”
Ian and I have talked about our favorite guy on the radio. My favorite guy on the radio, Colin Cowherd, has started his own podcast. He’s got his own content. They got ahead of these things. If you’re an entrepreneur, you always have to do this. What happens is people get lazy when they work and they’re like, “My company will take care of me. The steel industry will come back.” No. You have to have some level of control over where you put yourself or you’re going to be on the wrong side of this.
There are significantly fewer realtors and loan officers than there were years ago in this country. You go look at what Quicken has done with a loan application versus what it was years ago. You’ve taken out the need to even have a person there. Those are not positions that are going to bounce back. People don’t like talking to a realtor for hours or a loan officer. If they could walk up and look around the house without doing it, they would do it.
You constantly have to sharpen your skillset because if you don’t, things go away. Tech is doing it. I’ll give two good examples. When you used to go to the grocery store before Corona, there were 16 aisles with 16 people standing there and checking you out. Now there are 3 aisles and 13 aisles with a computer. The last time I flew in and out of Tampa, they had a computer screen where two people used to stand. You hold your iPhone up, it looks at your ticket, and you go through. There used to be two people standing there. Right there, with two examples, those are fifteen jobs that no longer exist. Tech is disrupting the number of humans it needs. To Ian’s point with Quicken, you’ve got to constantly be at a company or making sure your skillset isn’t going extinct.
Interestingly, you brought up Gary Vee. Gary Vee was the keynote speaker at the biggest realtor conference in the country. It’s their annual conference and they hired Gary Vee. There’s a lot of backlash on this. Gary Vee is known for social media, marketing, how to get yourself out there. They hired him because they’re like, “This guy knows how to get attention. That’s what realtors need to do, get more attention and do all that.” Gary Vee is also incredibly real, raw, and he never lies. Somewhere during his keynote, he pretty much told everyone that realtor is a dying position and there won’t be many left in a few years.
Everyone lost their minds at this conference. It’s like, “How could you say that?” You heard them all and they all sounded like all the steel guys. They were like, “We’re going to get those jobs back from China and Japan.” It’s like, “No, you’re not.” Gary Vee slipped. He probably wishes he wouldn’t have said it at that conference because they were paying him. I don’t know what he makes, probably $500,000 to show up there. He pretty much said, “You’re all going to lose your job.” A lot of egg on some faces but that was him being honest. That guy knows what the hell he’s talking about. You can sit back and say, “No, that’s not right,” or you can be honest about what technology does to disrupt.
When we built this agenda, we also talked about how we were going to end it. A lot of this has to do with ego. Realtors have a lot of egos. I meet a bunch of realtors that think they’re incredible. You stick a sign in the yard and the technology does the work for you. What Gary Vee does is he doesn’t give a shit about ego. He cuts right through it. Because he does that, he doesn’t care where he is, he tells you the truth. If you are in a position where you’re going to go backward in a job, and Ian and I have both done this and we’re going to talk about it, that requires a lack of ego. That is a smart way to put your ego on the shelf and say, “I’m in a dying business. I’m at the wrong place. If I take a step back, I might be able to leap forward.” That’s a lot of what this comes down to with ego.
I’ll use myself as an example to segue into number two. I worked at a company that was a dream company to work for out of college. At the time when I graduated, General Electric was on a lot of magazines, was the most admired company, and had Jack Welch. People assumed that the managers in GE knew magic that no one else knew. The brand was incredible. What I saw in the business I was in, in particular, we sold the steel mills. We sold to paper companies.
Think about an industry that has been getting squeezed for 20 years, 1 million cuts, paper. Paper has not 100% gone away but every year, it’s a little less getting produced. More things keep moving there. I saw this. I saw that the only way to sell things that GE sold was going to be spending more of my time in China, Vietnam, Mexico, and places I didn’t want to go because the industry was shrinking. The industrial industry was shrinking and so were our margins. I knew that a shrinking business with shrinking margins is not a good place to make a lot of money.
When I left, I went to NVR. NVR was the opposite of GE. GE was a huge company that had peaked and I felt that it peaked and it was going to shrink for a long time. NVR was maybe 1/100 of the market cap of GE but it was a rocket ship. Its margins were better than all of its competitors. They were growing and everything was up. I knew that maybe even there’s a little bit of a bubble but this is a company that’s performed better than everyone else throughout this. When I left GE to go to NVR, NVR paid me significantly more money but they had to because I was giving up a vice-president executive position at GE to be a regional manager of a mortgage company. That was hard. They had to pay me a lot of money to put mortgage manager on my resume.
Many times, I thought, “You are killing your career for money because you can say you are the youngest executive band manager in your business unit at GE and you left to go be a regional manager of a mortgage company.” I don’t even think you need a college degree to do that. That was hard for me. The money was way up. The perception I had was I’m taking a step back. I had an international business. I had people in twenty countries that report to me, salespeople all over the world. They weren’t paying me as well at GE because they were big and I was young. If you took the money out and you looked at my resume, you’d think, “What happened? Did he lose his job? He had to take a step back to be a mortgage regional at NVR.” There’s no way on a resume you can look at that and say, “That makes sense,” unless you knew the money.
We did an interview with a twelve-year-old kid. It was fun for us. He was our first guest on our podcast. Do you remember what you told him as the advice when he asked for advice from us? I remember exactly what you said.
I gave him multiple pieces of advice. Which one stuck out to you?
The one I’m talking about here is nobody cares. You care a lot more about yourself than anybody else. What you’re talking about is getting on a rocket ship. You had to do it in an egoless way. The only thing that you were thinking about here is, “What are people going to think?” It doesn’t matter what people think because most people only care about themselves. If you ever go into an interview and you have a curious move on your resume, the move means way less than what you say about the move. You’d say, “I went from a place that was dying. I thought I was ahead. I went to this other place. These were the reasons why I did it.” If you are sitting across the table from me and you give me a good set of answers on why you made a decision, I’d care much less about the decision than I care about the decision-making process. You can unpack that, which is important to talk about.
I want to talk about something else too. What we titled this bullet point is you have a chance to jump on a rocket ship. NVR, if you know them, is not a rocket ship. It’s a steady business. They’re not technologically savvy. It was a rocket ship for Ian because of what it gave him the opportunity to do. NVR was a rocket ship for me. It was an egoless trip. I left college and instead of going to these incredible jobs that a bunch of my friends had, I was unloading trim shops and pushing a broom. I knew that if I did the grunt work, I was going to distinguish myself because of my background. It was a personal rocket ship for me even though it seemed like a humble way to get on a rocket ship. You take a perceived step back to give yourself a distinct advantage.You care a lot more about yourself than anybody else. Click To Tweet
Ian and I have talked about this a lot but I’ll talk about it again. Ian and I are the same age and we had the same job but because he came in from the outside and I came from the bottom up, his stock option package was worth millions more than mine in comparable roles because he had changed his narrative. It’s the same way that I was able to change my narrative and my trajectory earlier in my career by taking the ego away from it and positioning myself on a personal rocket ship.
At GE, I was an executive. Why you would grind and spend 60, 70 hours as an executive is because you could make a lot of money and that is based on the stock doing well. That pay comes from stock equity. I had a sense that GE stock was going to go nowhere for years and it did. It went down 80%. When I say rocket ship, NVR, at that time when I looked at it, it had gone up 700% in three years.
I was there for that. It went from $33 to $700.
That was not happening at GE and it hadn’t happened in a while. I thought, “Even if it doesn’t happen right away, if this company can do 700% again in a decade, I have retirement money.” That happened. When I came in, it was around $600. When I left, it was $3,500. To me, that was the rocket ship. When you worked there, it felt like a slow, boring, plotting place but it was run well by a smart CEO financially. I thought the package they’re giving me could change my life completely.
I wanted to find a rocket ship. From GE to NVR, the rocket ship was exactly what you talked about. It’s the stock. I’m going to give another example. I have a roughly 30-person company. I took my wife away for her birthday. We were there for Friday night and Saturday night and we came back Sunday. We had a waitress on Friday night, she was incredible. She sold my wife shrimp and my wife doesn’t like shrimp and she didn’t need the shrimp. The waitress walked away and my wife goes, “She sold me shrimp for $16 and I don’t even care to eat shrimp.” It was incredible. We had an incredible night. I gave her a great tip. It was awesome.
The next night, we’re sitting out underneath the tree about dinner time and we didn’t have a reservation at the restaurant. We called ahead and they said, “We’re fully booked for tonight. You’ve got to go somewhere else.” I go, “Okay.” We didn’t want to leave the hotel grounds. We’re sitting under a tree and chilling out, having a cocktail, watching the sunset. The waitress from the night before came by and she’s like, “Hey.” She waved to us and we’re like, “Hi.” She came over and she talked to us for a little bit. She’s like, “Are you eating here tonight?” I’m like, “No, we’re not because we couldn’t get a reservation.” She’s like, “I’m working the patio. Would you want to sit there? I’ll get you next to a fire and a heater.” I’m like, “Yes, we don’t want to leave. We’ll cancel the other reservation if you can make that happen.” She’s like, “I got it.”
I watched this woman work the entire grounds. It was October and Virginia is relatively cold. She got people who had reservations elsewhere or didn’t know what they were going to do to dinner sit on a patio and she filled the entire patio up. She waited on us again and it was an incredible service. At the end of the dinner, I gave her my business card and I’m like, “I’ve never seen someone work like you and sell like you.” She was making good money. I was like, “You’re going to come to a different industry and you’re going to take a step back in pay. If you’re willing to suck it up for 6 to 12 months, I guarantee you, in a year or two, you’re going to be making a ton more money and have more runway than you have now.” She’s worked for us for a little over 90 days and she’s incredible. She’s in a tough entry-level job but she’s getting her skills. The rocket ship is leaving the restaurant and coming to a small business where you can get a new skillset and project yourself forward.
You take a restaurant and you take a position like that, not a lot of room for advancement. Restaurants are one of those industries. It’s not killing it right now and it’s not going to kill it anytime soon. There’s a chunk of people that have gotten used to ordering food to their house. It’ll come back a little bit but much smarter move to go to a growing company where there are about twenty avenues that she can go. Even a good time, she knows exactly where she’s capping out on the money she’s making as a waitress.
At the restaurant, you can’t get leveraged. The only thing you can do is work more hours or pick up more shifts, that’s it. There are only seven days a week. The hour sucks. You’re working until 2:00 in the morning and by the time you get home, you take a shower, and you go to bed. It’s harder. It’s a different life. We’ve all made that trade-off at some point if we’ve got any more.
Number three, to take a step backward or maybe down, is you want to get close to the sun. Warren Buffett, as a young man, wanted to be a fund manager and great at investing. He had read some books by Ben Graham who was about as close to a leading authority on investing in stocks as there was at the time and pretty much offered to be an intern and had peanuts, nothing, to be near Ben Graham. He even did this knowing Ben Graham didn’t hire anyone who wasn’t Jewish. He only hired Jewish people. You wouldn’t get through now having hiring practices like that. Warren Buffett didn’t care. He wanted an internship.
Most people took an internship where you would get a job at the end of the summer. He knew it going in. He wanted to be close to Ben Graham as long as he could. It paid off handsomely. Even though he was paid nothing, he was around Ben Graham all the time and got to pick his brain on how he chose stocks, why he acquired the way he did, and why he invested the way he did. Warren Buffett took a step back to get knowledge, to get close to someone, to learn from them.
I’ll tell another story. A friend of Frank and mine, a successful guy, started a restaurant chain that’s a winery. It’s unique in its industry. Before he could do it, he needed to understand how a brewery was run. The brewery is more established. If you can’t make your own beer, you’re certainly not going to make your own wine, which is a lot harder to do. He left a good company. He was an executive at Caremark, one of the big management companies that run hotels and golf courses. He was one of their stars. He had won a big annual award. I remember going golf with him right before he left. He was killing it.
He left to pretty much go work at this brewery and hang around. It’s a huge step back from where he was but he was gleaning from a successful owner. How do you run this place? What are the triggers? What matters? What are your secrets? He took a step back for a while, calm down, and then started his business with all of that new knowledge in his head. It was strategic for him to take that step back and get close to success.
We’ve covered this one well. I’m going to say something quick and wrapping up. Everyone thinks of the entrepreneur’s journey and they look at the private plane and the vacations and the time. There something happens that requires almost no ego and a lot of humility to leap forward. Ian’s friend that we’re talking about, we did an incredible trip with him and had all this fun. That’s the fun stuff and that’s the headlines but there’s usually a smart, strategic move where you work for well below what you’re worth because you have a long-term vision and you forsake the short-term for the long-term.
I walked away from a lucrative job and I didn’t pay myself for more than half a decade because I wanted to start something small, invest in it, grow, and it starts to build. These are things that, in many instances, people with huge responsibilities can’t go and work for free. I get that. If you can position yourself or you make a little bit less and you can live on it but it gives you the projection forward, that’s what we’re talking about.
Number four, the most obvious one but you’re taking a step backward perceived because it pays better and that doesn’t even make sense to someone who is reading this at first, but I’ve seen this a lot. I’ll use the mortgage industry, which is interesting. You probably saw this, too, on the construction side. There are two sides to the business. There are operations and mortgage, and there are sales. The sales and the loan officers are the ones out getting business.
Often the people processing the loans are every bit as important as the loan officer. In fact, in some cases, they make the loan officer and they’re more important to the whole process because they’re the ones making the sausage. They’re the ones getting the deal done, getting it approved, and getting it through. Usually, people pick two tracks. They come up on the processing side or the underwriting side. They are a processor, they become a processing supervisor, and they become an operations manager.
Operations manager is an important job. Sometimes, they get stagnant and they say, “What’s next for me?” If branch manager is not in their cards, they’ll say, “What’s next?” You say, “Have you ever thought about being a loan officer?” It’s hilarious. People that have been ops managers forever would be like, “That’s a huge step down.” I’d always be like, “I don’t mean to offend you here but you make $80,000. Our top loan officer made $225,000 and you’re calling that a step down. They make triple what you made and you’re calling it a step down.”
In their mind, they had created this title. Frank, I’m talking about putting $150,000 of value on a title. That ops manager or underwriting manager meant more to them, that title, than having to drop down to loan officer and make a lot more. That’s what I did. I went from an executive with GE to a mortgage manager at a company no one had ever heard of but I made triple and I didn’t give a shit that anyone thought that I was crazy for leaving GE. I don’t care, mom and dad, that you think this is a dumb idea. I’m going to make triple what I’m making. To me, that’s not a step backward to take a perceived lesser title for more money.
I’m going to do it this way. I remember being quite young in my high 20s and low 30s. I remember thinking there were a bunch of people in regional jobs. This was the early 2000s. They were making $80,000 to $100,000 but they had access to the regionals and all the people in corporate so they had a lot of information. They had a lot of gossips. They traded the ability and the power to have the gossip for money and actual relevance.
It’s like the folks in DC. It’s government folks. There’s power.
Anybody who works on Capitol Hill makes dick because they’re at the power center and because there’s a lot of people who line up to do the job but I remember being strategic and looking at like, “I don’t care about that. I care about what opportunity it’s given me, what am I learning and what does it pay.”
You’re thinking like one of those analyst roles. There are a lot of times in finance that this is how it works. A president or a senior executive finance person seems powerful or their HR person because they get to talk to that executive every day and they have influence over that executive. Is it a powerful position if you don’t make any money?
Don’t let the perception become your reality. What Ian and I have both done well is we haven’t. The perception is you’re leaving an incredible company like GE that everybody knows about with a rock star CEO and you’re going to a company that no one’s ever heard about in an industry that people are thinking, “You’re going to work for a home builder? Isn’t that risky?” We talked in the beginning of this interview or in a previous interview and the advice we gave a twelve-year-old kid is nobody cares.Sometimes stepping back can give you the freedom to think if your career is really what you’ve been dreaming for. Click To Tweet
If you have a bigger picture, it doesn’t matter. I’ve told the story here before about but I’ll tell it again. Somewhere in my life, I had this huge house which was an investment. I knew that the real estate market was tanking so I sold this huge house at a huge premium. I stuck a bunch of money in the bank and it ultimately became the launch point for my business. I moved into a three-level townhouse but the conversation was this, “Frankie, I heard you sold that mansion and you moved into a condo.” I laughed.
I never get tired of that impression.
It’s good and it’s the truth. The person didn’t know the chess moves. I gave up 1 or 2 pawns to take down a rook, a knight, or a queen. It was a slow-moving decision, but I knew where I was going and I didn’t give a crap if somebody else didn’t like the move or understand it.
It was gloating and making themselves try to feel better because they perceived that you weren’t doing as well.
I nodded and went, “Yes.”
Number five, why you would take a step back or down is to restore your career. You had a setback, fired, laid off, your company went out of business, or any one of those areas. Nick Saban is the most successful college football coach in the history of college football coaches. How much of his staff is usually overqualified for the job they’re in?
I’m going to weigh in on this and you pick one of those other two examples because you know those people better. I’m a University of Florida guy. Everybody knows that and who reads. Florida had a coach named Jim McElwain who got run out of Gainesville. They laugh at Gainesville more or less but he was a head coach of Florida which is a top 10 or top 15 job in college football. He went and worked with Nick Saban for one season as their offensive coordinator. They won a national championship and he’s a head coach again.
What’s fascinating is what Saban does because he’s got such a strong system, he takes these people in who had setbacks but are way overqualified. What you do is restore your image for 12 to 36 months. There was a guy who coached at USC who got fired because he had problems with alcoholism. Saban brought him in. He was the offensive coordinator there for a couple of years and he got another top 10 job. The Patriots do this with Randy Moss and Corey Dillon. They find incredibly talented guys that are disgruntled that need a place to come to flourish again and be reminded of how good they are. They then springboard forward. In sports, it works a lot and they’re popular. Why don’t you talk about a couple of people?
Once you become a head coach, you don’t see yourself as an offensive coordinator anymore. You don’t start off as a defensive special team’s coach. You don’t see yourself as the quarterback’s coach. We all do this. We see ourselves at our pinnacle. We don’t ever look a step down from our pinnacle. We see ourselves at the highest level we ever got to. All of those folks see themselves as a head coach, but Nick Saban is the head coach there. They’ve lost their job and normally when you lose your job in football is because you’re perceived as not a great head coach or not someone who can win. The smart move for them is to say, “I’ll put my ego aside here. I’m going to be a coordinator again. I’m going to be a quarterback coach. I’m going to do it in a place that will look great on my resume or I’m going to win and I’m going to change the perception again to show people that before I had that rough spot where I fell down in Florida or wherever, I was a damn good coach. I was good and I’m going to show people that I’m still a good coach. I’m willing to grind in a little bit lower.”
I’ll use one example here. An individual super talented kid who interviewed with me. This was years ago. It’s a sad story. She had worked her way up in a startup company. She was employee seven and they grew to over 100 people. They were growing crazy. She was a right-hand man to the CEO. She did the hiring, she was the office manager, she managed the staff. One day, they all came in and the doors were all locked. It was all based on debt. It went away.
It’s similar to what you were talking about with COVID. It’s exposing companies that aren’t real. They all lost their jobs but she had direct reports, dozens of people were reporting to her hiring, and all gone. In her brain, she was still that manager that could do bigger things but she was now scared of smaller companies that were in that space that this could happen again. What she wanted now was stability more than anything.
She wanted a stable company that she knew wasn’t going to show up one day and the doors would be locked. She couldn’t have that. She took a job with us entry-level, making much less than she was making with a title that was nothing compared to what our title had been before. What did she do? She was talented. She killed it in that job. Pretty quickly, we made her a supervisor, manager, then even bigger manager.
She parlayed that from doing well at a big and stable company to now she’s an executive with a smaller company that’s growing faster than that one. She took a step back after a setback in her career that could have ruined her but she was humble enough to say, “I’ll come in on the front line. I’m going to kick ass.” She didn’t sit in front of me and say, “I don’t know anything about your business, but make me a manager because that’s what I am.”
It makes sense to say this too. We talked about it from the perspective of the employee. Ian and I love sports. We think the two greatest coaches that we’ve been alive for. If we said three, it’s Coach K and Phil Jackson are up there, but the two guys doing it now are Saban and Belichick. They’re both good enough to do as managers and leaders to see people’s talents even though they’ve had setbacks. If you’re a hiring manager and you see someone who is overqualified, there are two things you can do. You can be scared of that person who’s coming from my job or what you could do is look at it and say, “How incredible would my department do if I had this person who’s clearly over quantified?”
What I do is I sell. It’s like, “You’ve applied for this job. Why do you want it?” Immediately, I started getting into that because my team is going to get better. That person is going to be a star but I’m going to be looked at as an incredible person for identifying, cultivating, and growing this talent and exceeding. That’s what Saban and Belichick have done. They have tons of rings because of it but in Corporate America, you don’t get a Super Bowl trophy and Jim Nantz doesn’t come up to you. That is what good managers do.
I wish Jim Nantz would come up to me from what I’m doing. Do you think Jim Nantz will ever call us about this show and say, “Great job. Do you want to interview me?”
Number six is knowing what departments are valued most in your company. If you’re in accounting, you’re an accounting manager, you’ve worked your way up, and you’ve got managers. They’re important to you but you’re stagnant and you’re not moving higher. You’re in a company that the CEO started and grew up in sales and marketing, value sales and marketing, and you know it that’s who paid the most, that’s a position where it might make sense for you to go switch departments. Don’t be a manager anymore. Learn a new discipline and work your way up because you know it’s similar to the waitress coming to Cava, you know the upside, even within departments of your company.
Everyone has different departments that made more. Interestingly enough, I’m using accounting to sales because that’s normally how it is in most companies. Salespeople are normally paid the highest, but at GE it was different. If you wanted to be an officer at GE, you had to spend time in something called the Audit Staff. It was like the Navy SEALs of finance in GE. These people literally worked around the clock. They worked seven days a week, 80-hour weeks. They would come into businesses and they were consultants. They would have to find the problem, fix the problem, and they grinded those people.
If you got through it like Navy SEALs, you looked at most of the business unit heads of GE that reported to Jack Welch, they all spent some time in audit staff. To go to the audit staff, it was filled with a lot of people who had been promoted into multiple layers of management. Now, you went to the audit staff, there was a lot of cachet around that but your title was Auditor. It wasn’t a good title and you got paid a lot less than you were getting paid before, but it was, “Put your time in, and you’re going to move fast in this company.”
You talked about the departments. In the world of home building, the way it works in sales is you get taken out to good dinners, cool trips, all kinds of expensive wine, and awesome stuff. In construction, what you get is warm beer and cold chicken wings. If you’re willing to suck it up there, you can pull yourself. What Ian is talking about is picking the right department, but the other thing is picking the right industry based upon your skillset or where things are going. Someone who’s relatively intelligent could have got in Amazon but negotiated stocks and rode the wave. Even if they weren’t C-Suite level, that could have been an incredible ride. That’s the rocket ship ride. If you fit fine like, “Where does my skillset fit? How do I distinguish myself? How am I unique?” That’s a big part of it.COVID exposed companies that aren't real. Click To Tweet
We’ll get into the wrap-up and not all lead off by saying when you do this and you make moves like we both made. I went from Florida where everybody in my department was going into exciting construction, I always perceived to be the dog do home building. What you did going from GE to NVR, both of us made decisions that were without ego. There are a lot of things we get trapped into, “This is what people are going to think of me.” We have to get to a point where you realize if ego is driving your decision-making, you’re most likely going to make a bad decision.
Two things that I’ll leave to wrap this up is a ten-year decision looks different than a ten-month decision. The average person makes decisions based on ten months. They made decisions based on, “What should I be doing now to get my end-of-year bonus? What should I be doing now so I can get the next car payment so I can keep making my mortgage payments?” A ten-year decision in my career, there has been a lot of, “I’ll step back a little here because I need some knowledge or I need something else.” The last thing is at any given point in your career, and there’s a primary driver of what you’re doing. To me, it’s either pay, power, knowledge, or purpose. Pay is the obvious one. We all care about pay but at some point in your life, it’s more important than others.
At any point of your career, especially important early on your career, knowledge will equate to pay and power at some point. If you don’t have the knowledge, forget about pay, power, and purpose. I would prioritize knowledge over everything until you have it. You have to put it in. Power is important to people. It’s important. The title and where they work. We’ve talked about folks in DC and in the government. They’re not paid a lot but they are powerful. They influence decisions and that matters to some people.
All of us aspire to a place where we work for a purpose. I certainly do. It’s not fun to come in and do a job no matter how much you paid. You want to feel excited about what you’re doing or at least the people you’re working with, with purpose. You’ve got to be honest about it. If any one of those four things are more important to you now, sometimes it makes sense to take a step backward, take a step down, and realize, “What do I want to get to in my life that in 5 to 10 years, I have those things?” That’s not always a straight-up trajectory in your career where you always feel like you’re qualified for your job. There will be a lot of points where you are dramatically overqualified for what you’re doing but there’s a reason behind it.
I’m a new dad. There’s nothing more humbling than being a dad because you talk about things that are beneath your pay grade like waking up in the middle of the night and giving them something like a bottle and changing a diaper. Those are way below your pay grade, but it’s one of those things where it changes your perspective, your goals, and what you think about. Fitness to me used to be about achieving a weightlifting goal, a running goal, or finishing a triathlon. What ends up happening is you start to look at longevity. I want to be around for my kids. You’re going to take some backward moves or some things in parenting. You want to be healthy and fit. You want to be a part of it but it has huge payoffs later. I’ll summarize it and I’ll do it quickly.
If you pick the perfect trajectory for yourself, in your twenties, you’re going to learn how to do tasks. You might learn how to build a house, write a mortgage, sell a house, or whatever. In whatever industry you’re in, you’re going to learn tasks. If you do it right somewhere between your 30s, you’re going to learn how to manage the tasks. If you built the skills in your twenties and you understand the skills, and these can be transferable, you can change industries. If you learn how to manage the skills, what starts to happen is there are success clues that line up. Later in life, you get to make big decisions based upon those foundational skills that you built in your 20s and 30s.
Your 20s and 30s might be off. You might be in your 40s or 50s, whatever, you have to build it. What Ian and I want to talk about here is if you start getting off askew and it’s not going in the right direction, you have to look at it as maybe, “I take a step back so I can build those foundational things and I can launch forward.” That was the entire part of this. If you’re a college kid in COVID or if you’re someone in the wrong job and it’s a tight job market, we’ve both done it and we think it was relevant to talk about because they can put you on the right path.
I certainly hope that you are finding purpose from this show because we are not getting paid. We are zero power at this point. I can honestly say I’ve gained no knowledge whatsoever from doing this because we don’t seem to be getting better. I hope you find purpose in this because something’s got to keep us going. Great work.
You too, Ian. Not bad.
I’ll see you then.
It’s good seeing you.
- Interview – Past episode