May 15, 2014

Nine Years, Eleven Months and Counting

At 34 years of age, I was faced with a life-changing question.  What will be my next job?  Having just gotten out of nine years in “big consulting,” I had strengths to leverage, bitter tastes to avoid, a network to harvest, weaknesses to improve and sleep needed (not necessarily in that order).  I approached determining what I wanted to do next like a project.  I evaluated risks.  What was the likelihood for advancement?  I evaluated my would-be supervisors.  What would it be like to work for her?  I evaluated my inner voices.  What did I want to be when I grew up?

I pounded pavement and drummed up opportunities.  And narrowed them down to three.  One was a job in “industry” leading an IT Division at a large Insurance provider.  One was a position in a small consulting firm, with a first staffing assignment in Telecommunications.  And lastly, there was a three month contracting opportunity to manage some projects at a Financial Services Institution.  And so began what seemed like an eternity, but amounted to about two days.  Two days I took to make this decision.

I called a lot of colleagues.  I asked for people’s opinions.  Many (about half) were saying, “Take the IT job at the Insurance Company.”  The thought was that I’d be out of consulting (where I wasn’t happy the last couple of years).  Others (about half) were saying, “Take the position in the small consulting firm.”    The thought was that maybe it wasn’t consulting that soured me, but where I consulted.  And maybe going to a small firm would be what I needed.  Not one person said to take the three-month contracting assignment.   It was ruled out immediately.  Too risky.  Too short.  You’ll be back in the same spot three months from now.

So, I did what I had done every other time I had a major decision to make in my life.  I called my Dad.  He heard all the options.  He asked a handful of clarifying questions about them, related to pay, benefits, supervisors, etc.  And said, “Well, do you want my opinion?”  “Yes!” I replied.  And he proceeded to tell me that he thought I should take the IT job at the insurance company.  He thought it was a step up, in responsibility and money, and it was at a large, stable company in which I would likely thrive.  After having talked about this with so many people, half telling me one option, half telling me another, you’d think that calling my Dad was in essence to break the tie.  And prior to calling him, I thought that, too.  But I remained silent, speechless.  And if you know me, you know that is far from normal.  He said, “What’s the matter?”  And I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something didn’t seem right with that, and I told him so.  “So,” he said, “let me ask you this, which of these opportunities best positions you to be where you want to be when you are 40?”

It was at that moment, that thoughts that had been sub-conscious became conscious.  Words that I had not spoken were coming out of me with passion.  “I know so many great people with whom I want to work again.  And I think they would want to work with me again, too.  I know what made my last few years at ‘big consulting’ a tough experience, and I know I’d do things differently.  I know what infuriates clients about many consulting firms.  I know what matters.  I know I could do this.”  I knew at the age of 34, that in order to be where I wanted to be when I was 40, I needed to take the three-month assignment, incorporate and hang the proverbial shingle out for others to see.  On June 3rd, 2004, Kenway Consulting, Inc. was created.  It had one employee, one client and a scheduled end date just three months away.  I was HR, Business Development and Client Delivery combined.  And I loved it!

Today, Kenway Consulting has 34 people operating under our brand, 27 of whom are employees.  We have clients in Financial Services, Retail, Telecommunications, Healthcare, Professional Services, Education, Energy and Non-Profit.  And we will still take the three-month project any day.

Looking back at that time in 2004, I was right about a few things.  I got to work with the people with whom I wanted to work again (and still do).  We are doing things differently, both internally and for our clients.  And I was right that three months can turn into nine years, eleven months and counting, with growth every year in between.

Next month, Kenway Consulting is celebrating its 10th Anniversary.  To everyone who has worked at Kenway, past and present, to every client of Kenway, past and present, and to every company who has said no to our services, from the bottom of my heart I thank you!  Next month, when we blow out the imaginary candle on an imaginary anniversary cake, please know that each of you has taught me a lesson.  And that is the best anniversary gift I could ever get.

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