Why does a corporate executive with a long successful tenure at a giant like Amazon leave?
That’s what Ian Freed did. He had led Amazon’s Kindle and Fire phone teams, but he walked away at the end of 2017 to work at a nonprofit, according to Jason Del Rey, senior editor for Recode. The nonprofit, TAF, finds mentors from the tech industry to mentor STEM students of color.
Freed is not alone. It’s not uncommon for executives with a strong track record at one employer to leave and reinvent themselves. Joann Lublin notes in an article for the Wall Street Journal that in addition to Freed, executives at major U.S. companies including CSX, Intel, GE, Nike, and Starbucks have recently changed employers after more than 12 years.
They all had their own reasons. You may also be contemplating a move, and you would have your own motivations. Here are four possible reasons leaders reposition themselves.
Why long-tenured executives repackage themselves
Vision for strategic goals. Ian Freed knew that “most companies have really struggled to have engineering teams that have racial, ethnic, and socio-economic diversity. One of the huge issues is just creating access — creating an opportunity for students of color to be exposed not only to the curriculum, but also to real-world examples of how it’s relevant.” In his new role, he contributes to creating an equitable pipeline of talent and opportunity, for the benefit of the industry, as well as those who would enter it.
Desire for meaning. High level, high tenure executives are hitting their middle years or beyond. Humans at that age feel the need to make sure they’re creating a life of significance. New opportunities can offer ways to pass on knowledge to future leaders and contribute to the greater good to a greater degree than one can experience in an established role. Freed’s choice of a next career demonstrates this priority.
Quest for new challenges. Just as muscles are developed when they are challenged, our mental agility and depth of skills grow when we stretch beyond our safe spots. Trying new things, solving new problems, and working with new people all ramp up already strong leadership skills and reawaken creativity.
Coping with corporate changes. For various reasons, executives sometimes have little to no control over their roles being changed or eliminated. Alternatively, an acquisition might result in a change in corporate culture that makes the work environment less aligned with an individual’s personal priorities.
The effect of all these reasons is the same: It’s time to reposition yourself, refresh your vision of what you want to accomplish, repurpose your considerable strengths, and retake the reins of your life.
How to reposition yourself for the best outcome
Embrace change as an opportunity. How long has it been since your last formal job interview? For Deirdre Latour, who resigned as GE’s chief communications officer in 2018, it had been years, says Lublin. Yet because Latour knew she wanted to recast herself in a different role, she hired a job coach who helped her reassess her skills and who even did mock interviews with her. Latour began her new position as chief corporate affairs officer at Pearson PLC in January.
Don’t underestimate your communication skills. All forms of communication skills top the list of strengths that employers are seeking. Written, spoken, interpersonal, negotiation: They are all honed by experience.
Flex your adaptability muscles. This is how you stay sharp and demonstrate that you can meet a new challenge. Lublin tells of an executive who spoke directly to the unspoken question of his adaptability in his initial interview. “I know I will fit in because I have done the homework on your company and myself,” the executive told his eventual employer. Also, be open to learning from those with less seniority. Mutual mentoring will make any intergenerational team stronger.
Treasure your network. You’ve grown it deep and wide, and it’s a high-value asset to you and, secondarily, a new employer.
Staying in a long-term successful executive position may or may not be wise. Just remember that stagnation doesn’t breed anything healthy. Ian Freed and many other leaders with long tenure at high-profile organizations have successfully repackaged themselves, moved into something new, and experienced life-giving results.
What might you gain by looking at new opportunities? Our corporate clients need seasoned leadership talent. When you’re ready for a new challenge, give us a call.