We hear executives talking about “strategy” all the time. Everything we do at work must align with the corporate strategy… and there seems to be a need for strategy when it comes to, well, everything!
Does strategy apply to our personal lives and careers?
Earlier this summer, I sat down with Charles Duncan, who is the Chief Strategy Officer of WestJet. I was interested in exploring strategy management as a career path, but Charles also ended up sharing some great life advice that I’d like to share with you all today.
Strategy as a Career Path
When it comes to pursuing roles that are heavily invested in strategy, experience in many different areas is essential. Obviously, you need to understand your industry and the market landscape very well to come up with an effective game plan. A common path would be to start off in consulting, which has an “up-or-out” model in terms of progression. Consulting gives you good exposure into different aspects of the business and is also great for if you are seeking financial reward and are unsure of what to do.
Pursuing an MBA is another path for those who already have experience and want to pivot into strategy and management roles. MBA’s or similar graduate programs are great opportunities for you to “reset” and figure out what you want to do next. The caveat is that MBA’s are expensive and may not be necessary if you already have good experience and an established reputation (the importance of a degree changes over time). However, MBA’s may also help you stand out among other competitive candidates.
The Value of International Experience
Charles mentions that he is where he is today because of his international experience, which he started after 10 months at an airline company by applying to a smaller office in Guam. Here, he was exposed to many different functions and got to wear many different hats. For the next 13 years, he worked throughout Asia and in this time, he learned more than he could have had he stayed in one place for 20 years.
The time to take risks and international assignments is when you’re young in your career.
It’s much easier for companies to send younger employees abroad because it is cheaper than sending more senior employees who have higher incomes and families that need to be relocated. As mentioned in my previous Leadership Blog, many high potential programs also include international assignments.
It’s important to note that you should not have a plan that is so rigid that you miss out on other opportunities. There is no harm in joining a company and taking 1-2 years to learn about it and yourself. Your reputation and experience are the more important considerations of employers as you progress further in your career.
I’d like to thank Charles for his time and advice. I will leave you all with his 3 key takeaways to remember as you progress in your careers:
- Enjoy what you do
- Give it your all (you can’t avoid hard work)
- Do good work and get rewarded
Thank you for reading my second Leadership Blog. Stay tuned for my next one featuring Rola Dagher, President of Cisco Systems Canada!
P.S. [Disclaimer] I forgot to take a photo with Charles, so I actually photoshopped myself onto a photo that I found on Google. Please note that I do not own the original photo.