The Delights And Pitfalls Of A Portfolio Career

Written by EO Executives on Sep 28, 2015

A few years ago I met a chap who, when I asked what he did for a living, replied that he had a “Portfolio Career”. Initially he was somewhat evasive so I pressed further and eventually found out that he had been “let go” from a sales role with a drinks Company and, unable to regain full-time employment, now had a series of part-time roles. 

Digging deeper again, there also appeared to be no common ground between his various occupations which spanned sales (commission only), inventory management (stock-taking) and working in a call centre. Lots of time invested but for very little reward and apparently little satisfaction.

The dictionary definition of Portfolio Career is to have a number of part-time roles replacing a full-time single career. I was at the time looking for a career change, however having met my Portfolio example it confirmed that a Portfolio Career was not for me.

Rolling the clock forward, I have now long- departed the corporate mantle and have developed several career interests – but, since the stigma attached to my first encounter remained, I have been reluctant to describe them as a Portfolio.

But There Are Advantages To A Portfolio Career

Then yesterday I met a most interesting lady called Valerie. Valerie described a superb portfolio of jobs that had changed with the seasons and refocused dependent on the requirements of each. She had huge enthusiasm and apparently was well rewarded with both financially and in terms of job satisfaction. The key difference to my previous exponent was a tangible thread running through all the elements of her portfolio, which not only gave her a superb work-life balance but a substantial income.

In her words, the two pillars of success are “transparency” (all your employers trust you and understand the part you play in your different roles) and “a common thread” (not trying to be all things to all people but having a recognised focus, essential for internal and external credibility). She is also delighted that her work is not bound by any traditional restrictions of retirement age or a rigid 9-5 which meant that Valerie has no desire to stop any time soon.

I was intrigued and asked when she started had she planned to optimise her freedom, maximise her income and increase the longevity of her working life? 

Valerie’s response had five parts to it:

1 – Yes, plan 
Plan to live to a long age and work as long for as long as you are enjoying it. 

2 – Intangible assets are crucial

The best way to prepare for a longer working life is to focus on aspects of personality, relationships and outlook that will enable us to be more productive for longer. Health and wellbeing, long-term friendships, a positive outlook and a well-served network will ultimately become more important than education levels and physical assets.

3 – Prepare for change

If you’re going to have a long life and a long career, the idea of three consecutive stages – study, work, retirement – just doesn’t work. Essential is the capacity to constantly transform yourself, because what you study at the beginning of your working life might not be relevant 40 years later. Take the opportunity to retrain and to explore different options but always remember the two pillars – don’t diversify too much. Wear many hats but only have one head.

4 – Develop up-to-date, current-thinking “hard” skills 

Make sure you don’t get replaced by a robot. In the same way that mechanisation replaced routine physical activity in the 20th century, artificial intelligence will undoubtedly replace routine activity in the 21st century. Manual, non-routine jobs, like plumbing, will continue to be performed by humans. In the office machines will complete environmental routine analytical roles. Therefore look towards the jobs that are going to stay – work that is analytical but non-routine. Humans will always be required for the non-routine work.

5 – Work-life balance, is the key to long-term success

Go to work feeling authentic, resilient and supported (family, friends, colleagues). Leave work feeling networked, inspired and knowledgeable. And when that stops, it’s probably time to move-on.

What is a robust portfolio - it set me wondering... how does mine stack up?

I appreciated the conversation with Valerie. It allowed me to think more positively about my own “portfolio” which, I must admit, has evolved through chance rather than any designed grand-plan. So rather than duck the “Portfolio Career” mantle I guess I’m now ready to embrace it, so here goes – and very open to suggestions, comments, advice etc. 

The Three Pillars Of My Portfolio Career

Taking Trust as a given, the first common thread is Supply-Chain or the end-to-end process that connects your suppliers to your customers.

Supporting Valerie’s third point, Supply Chain is nothing like the career I studied and trained for (not a lot of rewarding  opportunities these days for an aging, slightly deaf, Diesel-Submarine Weapons Engineer with failing eye-sight) but I've learnt different  skills through further study and experience. Supply-chain Optimisation is strategically and operationally fast changing and will always require a human touch (I hope).

The second common thread is the structure of Business. I have long held the belief that there are only four genuine aspects of Business – People, Processes, Infrastructure and Technology.

The third thread is Network, which I use LinkedIn for to track and keep abreast of my professional connections.

So In Light Of My "Three Pillars”, How Does My Portfolio Hang Together?

People

Working as a Senior Consultant with Executives Online, my focus is in Supply Chain Executive Recruitment. Solving Business issues by the timely placement of Permanent and Interim management resource. www.executivesonline.co.uk

Processes

FERCO Ltd is a Supply chain optimisation Consultancy. Either through the Executives Online talent bank or the network of FERCO Associate Consultants I identify the optimum Consultant(s) to put in place to resolve process optimisation issues on a strategic or operational level, such as S&OP, forecasting, order-to-cash, procure-to-pay, MRP, Inventory optimisation etc.

Ensuring the Consultant (s) are aligned completely with the culture and style of the employing organisation and that the solution stays long after the Consultants have departed, my own role is often in an advisory or project management capacity. www.ferco-ltd.co.uk

Infrastructure

A huge personal interest. Modelling of infrastructure allows the right decisions to be made and optimum strategies to be formed in a safe environment, eliminating guesswork and emotion. Not only do I run my own distribution optimisation tool and have close contacts with established strategic infrastructure modelling Consultancies such as Barloworld (CAST), with an intimate knowledge of the UK 3pl marketplace, it is often possible to short-circuit lengthy and costly tender processes whilst retaining a robust comparison and competitiveness.

Technology

Reliant fully on a network of suitably qualified IT expertise, I would not be confident in claiming Technology to be a particular skill. As systems become more specialist and bespoke I have found that only the true “expert” can add value.

However, for this aspect it’s definitely not what I know but who. I have met a full range of exceptional “gurus” in the past few years who are operating across a wide systems and industrial applications spectrum. Always delighted to pass on appropriate contact details to potential Clients.

So, that brings us nicely back to…

Network

I would be delighted to receive feedback and even more delighted if any of the above is of interest from outside my current network. If you would like to connect with me on LinkedIn (perhaps meet-up and chew the fat over a coffee at some point), it would be superb to hear from you either as a colleague or potential Client at some point.

Fraser Geekie is a Senior Consultant with Executives Online, Principal Consultant for FERCO Ltd and holds NED roles for two SME Logistics Companies in the NW and South of England. 

 

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