1. Once I’ve conquered the corporate game, I’m all set. Right?
Yes! Once you reach the top of the corporate game as a partner, C-level executive, or Grand Poobah, you can now coast. You don’t need to work another day in your life. Just sit back while the paychecks and accolades roll in. And if you believe what I just said then there is a plot of land I’d like to sell you…
Conquering the corporate game is a lifelong pursuit. Life doesn’t get any easier once you’ve risen to the top; you just get better at being able to handle it. So don’t get complacent; this place of prestige isn’t exactly Easy Street. You can’t just sit on your laurels and take everything for granted.
Spoiler alert: You need to keep producing every day or, in this world, someone will eat your lunch.
I’m sure you must be thinking it must get easier somehow? Sure. You have leverage over the people below you. You command a lot more respect and, hopefully, compensation. You don’t have to do junior work anymore.
But how do you take the next step and go from being just another hamster to ultimately controlling more of your destiny? By creating and enhancing your own brand.
2. How do I start building my personal brand?
Creating a personal brand starts one person at a time and chances are good that if you’ve made it this far, you already have a good brand but perhaps didn’t know it.
If you are in the service business, key clients know you. Heck, maybe they even ask for you by first name only! Powerful people in your company value your contributions otherwise they wouldn’t have given you the keys to the kingdom. But bear in mind that all this time, the firm has been building its own brand on the backs of people like you.
In fact, your company is conflicted because as your individual brand grows, their power over you (and ability to underpay you) begins to dwindle as you turn from being just another replaceable cog to potentially an irreplaceable piece of the franchise. So now’s the time to amplify your own brand lest you get replaced by an up and coming whippersnapper!
To do this, you need an exclusive network of stakeholders who will recite your great deeds. These could be clients or colleagues who, when prompted, will validate your unique value to your company (and perhaps even the world)! These references are your brand currency and will increase your leverage over your company if you ever get into disagreement over your just rewards. (I’m sure this will never happen).
Brand building can be an exercise in careful project selection. Afterall, projects are the opportunity for you to shine and demonstrate your value. On Wall Street this could be a deal, in Silicon Valley a product launch, and in Hollywood a film. Just remember the sage words of the Grail Knight in the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: “…choose wisely.”
As you become more senior, you’ll have more control over where you focus your energy. When this happens, you’ll need to learn when to fish or cut bait. Volunteer for high-profile assignments and schedule a colonoscopy during the dodgy ones.
Venture capitalists are pretty good at this. They know that some of their companies are potentially superstars, but that others will die no matter what they do. Given that Return on Time Invested (ROTI) is the only thing that matters, some of the best investors learn how to focus only on the potential winners and broadcast their successes when the time comes.
3. As I get more senior, should I be known as a specialist or a generalist?
Wrong question! The right question is not whether you should specialize or generalize your way to superstardom but rather what is the best way to be known?
In some industries, being a generalist can be the right path. You can develop a reputation as someone who has the pulse of the environment and can be a pundit among others who are too buried in the weeds. You can be known as a Jack or Jill of All Trades. A utility player who can be useful in multiple situations.
However, I have found that in most industries, until you are the CEO or where the Buck Stops, specialization is the path to fame and fortune. Developing ninth-degree black belt skills in hypercompetitive industries is the key to becoming known and wanted.
For example, on Wall Street, you can’t just be another Brooks Brothers wearing good person. They’re a dime a dozen and clients don’t need more friends, they need results. They hire people who stand out and are known to be the very best at something they need.
In my case, when I worked on Wall Street, for a time I was known as “Mr. Adtech.” Another time, I privatized public companies and re-IPOed them on other exchanges. I coined a term called “re-potting” and was given the moniker “Mr. Repotter” by the media. I welcomed the fame, albeit fleeting, because it helped me stand out and win more business.
To build your brand as a world class specialist, you need to soul search and determine your true calling and how to be most valuable to your company. We all have A, B, and C skills, but the key is to make yourself an A+ expert on your A− and B+ skills and not waste time trying to turn Cs into As. It’s better to have several A+ capabilities and compensate for your B or C skills by working with others who are A+ in those areas.
Once you’re known for something, bear in mind that despite what you see in LinkedIn, no one likes a braggart (especially a humble braggart) but only you can talk eloquently about your achievements. So if you’ve achieved something good, make it known.
About the Author
Dave is a seasoned executive and entrepreneur who founded several companies in entertainment, investments, and technology, and worked on Wall Street for almost 25 years. He started his career by joining a fledgling investment bank, Jefferies, when it had less than 200 employees.
Today, Jefferies is a multi-billion dollar diversified public company (NYSE:JEF). He rose from the entry level position of Analyst to Group Head of Internet and Digital Media and was one of the youngest Managing Directors in firm history. As one of the only managing directors of color in the firm, he successfully broke through the Bamboo Ceiling. He not only worked hard but also played the corporate game. Hundreds of bankers have worked for Dave during his career. He has mentored many of them who have gone on to some of the best business schools and companies in America.
He is eager to share his knowledge with Asian Americans and other disadvantaged groups seeking to maximize their potential and achieve their career goals.
If you want some great career tips and insights check out Dave’s book, The Way of the Wall Street Warrior.