Have you noticed how the pandemic has changed people’s connections and relationships? Do you think that people who now work remotely feel isolated and are concerned about their careers? My book, Focus on Now: Keys to a Wildly Successful Career (publication forthcoming), is a collection of stories that address these current issues through lessons learned over the course of my career. My goal is to help others become financially more successful in their jobs and careers—and live a happier and more meaningful life in a post-pandemic world.
I was a lawyer and then stopped practicing to become a national business leader who spent over thirty years successfully growing and improving many companies, ranging from some of the largest companies in the United States to small privately held companies. I share hundreds of practical lessons from my legal career and unique experiences from the years I spent leading and turning around companies so that readers can apply them to their own careers. Each chapter contains keys to career success and helpful, thought-provoking questions that everyone can easily relate to and use. These past lessons may provide insight into the issues people will face tomorrow. I wish someone would have taught me these lessons when I was younger.
I discuss many problems I encountered when working with different companies, including what I did to lead the successful bankruptcy reorganization of one of the world’s largest airlines, Continental Airlines (now United Airlines). I share the inside story of advising my company’s CEO and senior management about managing their second-largest customer’s bankruptcy, as well as the story of the defining moment in the bankruptcy—and the most challenging experience of my career!—when the Unsecured Creditors Committee, which I chaired, considered whether to shut down the airline, affecting tens of thousands of employees.
Interpersonal skills and connecting with others were critical keys to my success. I describe how virtues and character traits such as trust, dependability, patience, humility, and transparency have a positive effect regardless of the kind of work or employer—and how I believe that being likable, a skill that anyone can learn, may be more important than a person’s level of intelligence or experience in a career. “Soft skills,” genuinely caring, and being curious about others are the cornerstones for a successful career and becoming financially secure. I share many relatable lessons about the soft skills that I learned in my fourteen years as the assistant general counsel in a multibillion-dollar company, Ryder System, such as how I continuously developed my conversational skills and avoided being a “know-it-all” person. Career success is a team effort, and I discuss ways I tried to become a great team player. And I explore my actions as a member of the board of directors in various companies and how I dealt with difficult members of those boards. In terms of connecting with others, I describe how having a caring mentor was one of the best professional experiences in my life and how it is essential for everyone to have a champion or sponsor at work.
I share the thought process in which I engaged before changing jobs and choosing to stop practicing law. I went through a process of self-reflection and tried to identify what would make me happier and allow me to live a more meaningful life. If I continued practicing law, I reasoned, I would remain unhappy for at least the next year or two, regardless of the type of law or where I practiced. If I changed roles, there was an equal chance that I would be unhappy in any subsequent position, and there might be some truth to the famous saying that “the grass is not greener on the other side—it is just more grass.” But I reasoned that there was at least an opportunity or a better chance to be happy in the next job, which would not happen if I stayed in my current role. I set career goals with intermediate steps along the way as I needed a plan or direction to follow, including a plan for the role of money in my decisions. Developing specific expertise and being good at something I enjoyed doing was, I felt, vital to my career. The past, including any outstanding student loans, was a sunk cost—and I decided that the past should not define my future or what I could do. I was willing to take career risks, bet on myself, and develop a new plan (and a backup in case my plan failed). I describe the ways that I continuously invested in myself.
I left Ryder to become the national partner-in-charge of corporate restructuring in an international accounting and consulting firm, Coopers & Lybrand (now PricewaterhouseCoopers). I explain how I learned to bring in new clients and business and how I handled challenges and trade-offs similar to those people face today when working remotely, such as whether networking with co-workers and new people was a major reason to return to the office. I also share what I learned from being fired from a job and address the current trend of quiet quitting, or remaining in place while not trying your hardest. I describe how I tried to pick the right company that aligned with my values because my employer’s reputation and culture affected my success and happiness.
A critical component of my career success was staying in touch with former coworkers and colleagues. Staying connected built my future net worth and resulted in new opportunities, relationships, and connections, such as becoming the chief investment officer for the Minnesota Twins Major League Baseball team owner, who referred me to the Colorado Rockies Major League Baseball team owner, who became my client. I describe the compassion and charity I saw while serving as his adviser.
Through my experiences with a multitude of organizations, I honed successful leadership traits. One example is the ability to persevere through difficult times: I explain what I did as the chief restructuring officer for an international restaurant chain, COSI, trying to save over 2,500 jobs. And I explain how my tenure as president of a construction company highlighted the importance of taking responsibility and admitting mistakes. Another key to success is always being prepared, trying your best, and remembering that “good enough is not good enough.”
The backbone of my career, though, was the love and support from my family, and I share heartwarming personal stories and how I refused to change my ingrained moral compass.
Overall, Focus on Now: Keys to a Wildly Successful Career encapsulates two general principles that I believe are critical for a successful career. First, be laser-focused on achieving a goal or plan. Second, and equally important, have a sense of urgency for every task and believe that “there is no time like the present.” In other words, focus on now—a philosophy that I have always embraced and the reason for the title of my book.