I met Mitchell 30 years ago. Little did I know that we would spend our careers working together and become great friends. When we first met I was 27 years old and overseeing operations in a transportation company. Mitchell was 39 and had recently relocated to Toronto after a successful career in the banking industry. Looking for a change, he began networking and met one of the senior managers in our business. One conversation led to another and soon I was interviewing Mitchell for a potential position.
We had an opening in our Accounts Receivable department, and while Mitchell was vastly overqualified and had no transport industry experience, he interviewed very well and eagerly campaigned for the position. He understood that a career shift might well include taking a step backwards in order to move ahead in the long term. At the time, I thought we were taking a calculated risk hiring him. Today, looking back, I can see it was the right move for our business as well as the right move for Mitchell. In fact, we’ve spent the last 30 years working together in various companies.
As I think about it, there were clearly a few things that Mitchell knew would be important as he contemplated a career shift. Since a large percentage of us in today’s economy will go through some kind of career shift, it’s worthwhile to consider what it takes.
First and foremost, a willingness to learn is extremely important. While many skills are transferable from one industry to another, each company requires its best people to master certain specific skills. My friend Mitchell dug in deep when it came to understanding transportation. He didn’t have a clue what an “LTL crossdock operation” was, he couldn’t identify a “fifth wheel,” and “load factor” wasn’t in his vocabulary. As it turns out, it didn’t matter because he asked every question he could think of, listened carefully to the explanations, and dove into the details, continuing his questions as he climbed the steep learning curve.
Equally as important is the extra effort required with a change of career direction. There is simply no substitute for putting in the additional time and energy needed to get up to speed with the new business. It means extra hours, and in many cases in a 24/7 business, it entails dedicating nights and weekends to fully comprehending the organization. Understanding the essence of the business and its very reason for existence is critical, and when it came to transportation, my friend Mitchell jumped in with both feet and quickly discovered the nitty-gritty of the operation, even though his first few positions were clearly more on the administrative side of the business.
Mitchell quickly moved from a clerical position to a management role within the administration of the business. Along with this came his full acceptance of total responsibility for success as well as issues that had to be corrected. You can go a long way in your career if you accept responsibility for mistakes along the way and do everything possible to fix them quickly and learn to prevent them in the future. The blame game simply won’t work if you want to move forward in your career. Own your decisions and accept responsibility. This moves you forward.
Key to learning a new industry quickly and efficiently is to build bridges and relationships with as many people as possible within the business; ultimately your coworkers are your lifelines to success. Once again Mitchell knew how to nurture relationships that not only helped him build his career but also helped those upon whom he relied. Relying upon others in the organization requires an aptitude for relationship building and the ongoing give-and-take that simply cannot be taken for granted.
A few months ago my friend Mitchell officially retired from Reimer Associates and has set his sights on the next chapter. After so many years of productive, honest and diligent effort, he’s earned every ounce of my respect and admiration. Clearly his decision to embark on a career shift some 30 years ago was successful in every way. He’s taught us all a lot and kept us entertained along the way too. Those of us who have worked with him over the years will attest to his incredible sense of humor and his ability to keep us laughing when we needed comic relief.
Although our working relationship has come to an end, thankfully we still have our friendship, which I hope lasts for decades to come. Thanks, Mitchell, for 30 wonderful years!