By Peter J. Boni
How do career opportunities (both at junior and senior levels) get created?
One factor is an organization’s growth; that’s when a need for new skills and talent emerges.
Another is attrition due to promotions, moves, or perhaps a new boss installing a loyal team.
The third factor—when something (internally or externally) gets messed up—outnumbers all others in frequency by 10 to 1. Opportunity knocks.
Disruption Offers 10 Times the Opportunity to Advance
When a ship runs aground, the captain has to get the ship moving, to “kedge off”—a sailing term for getting it off the mud, sand, or rocks.
Like ships, organizations run aground, too, and competition for the captain’s role thins out. Why? It takes both knowledge of how to kedge off and the guts to do it. Those with a pedigree or an inside track tend to stick with less dramatic roles.
Yet if you’re up to the challenge, consider this “grounded” situation a chance to advance your organization—and your career. That’s exactly the track I took. With the knowledge and guts required, your story of career advancement can follow mine.
How? That’s what’s addressed in “All Hands on Deck: Navigating Your Team Through Crises, Getting Your Organization Unstuck, and Emerging Victorious”. While explaining my success as a repositioning artist, it provides the strategies and tactics for you to kedge off fast. Its principles apply no matter your age, your level on the totem pole, or your field: business, education, government, military, medical, non-profit, or athletics. Following them, you not only learn to anticipate and overcome obstacles, you’ll avoid needlessly running aground altogether—both in work and in life.
From Stalled to Fast-Track by Kedging Off
I admit, I had an edge. A lifelong calculated risk taker, I’d always had an entrepreneur’s mentality.
Even more important, I had earned a “Rice Paddy MBA in leadership through adversity” on a full scholarship courtesy of Uncle Sam. After 15 months in combat as a U. S. Army Special Operations Infantry Officer, I took leadership lessons learned from my life-altering military experience into the corporate world. There, I advanced by taking on situations that had run aground. Doing so enabled me to realize my goal—to become the VP of a Fortune 500 firm—within a decade of returning from Vietnam. It took me eight years to attain that coveted goal and another two to deem it a lousy job for me. Although I’d succeeded in the VP slot, I craved more.
Could I kedge off as a CEO? I got my first chance at age 36.
A 12-Step Process Refined
In college, I had taken a shine to studying group dynamics so I could combine the right ingredients and lead high performance teams. My combat experience taught me how to lead a team through extreme adversity—my Rice Paddy MBA (Part 1 in Advance). To reposition organizations that had run aground, I developed a 12-step “kedge off” process—The ABCs of Repositioning (Part 2 in Advance).
My first CEO assignment led to heading several technology companies (public, private, IPO) in various stages of growth, maturity, trouble, and renewal. These firms were recognized among the Inc. 500 five times, the Software 100 three times, and the Fast 50 and the Fortune 1000 twice. To that, I’ve added management consulting, board of director and venture capital/private equity assignments.
Along the way, I suffered setbacks that humbled me and taxed my ability to rebound from momentary defeats. Yet each time I came up on top, I refined my 12-step process. The result? Over three decades, I played an active role at creating nearly $5 billion of incremental value.
Transforming Safeguard Scientifics
In late 2005, I was recruited as CEO of Safeguard Scientifics, a 60-year-old NYSE holding company positioned as a high-flying internet incubator during the heady days of the high-tech bubble. After the bubble burst, Safeguard nearly “lost the farm,” joining what the press labeled “the 90% club” by dropping more than 90% of its market value. It actually lost 99% and risked losing its public listing.
To avoid a shipwreck, I used my ability to lead high performance teams, my Rice Paddy MBA, and the ABCs of Repositioning to kedge off from this serious grounding. My team transformed Safeguard.
In seven years, Safeguard has (so far) realized ~$1 billion of cash proceeds, three IPOs, and top-tier returns from the acquisition of companies within its portfolio by big guns like Oracle, McKesson, Eli Lilly, Shire, Parametric Technology Corporation, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Beckton Dickenson and GE. Cash from these sales enabled Safeguard to repay its choking debt. Its stock hit a decade high and its trading volume increased six times. Covering analysts grew from 1 to 7. Net cash achieved record levels, while its debt to equity ratio moved from 1:1 to 1:8. Its institutional shareholder base grew from 25% to 75%, while its stock far and away outperformed the Russell 2000 and S&P 500. A good run.
After retiring from Safeguard in May, 2013, I formed Kedgeway as a platform to write, consult, speak, teach, invest, direct my philanthropy, and sit on a board or two. Like my upcoming book, it exists to help a whole new generation of gutsy organizational risk-takers advance.
Look for future blog posts exploring the Kedgeway principles.