Huge power towers emerge in front of me, emitting impressive steam clouds. I am driving towards Eschweiler, a German town near the Belgien border, to meet with Frank Wolff. The ambience of the encroaching power plant Sets the perfect scene. Wolff is, after all, an energy man.
These days he is chief operating officer of AWA Disposal Limited. The AWA Group ensures that waste is disposed correctly and material cycles are created. How did he reach this position? Which paths did he pave in his career? What tips can he give to other `career designers´? This article addresses these questions.
Slowed down in the fast lane
Frank Wolff was one of the high flyers in the energy company he worked in since his early career. But as the industry began to undergo dramatic change, Frank Wolff found himself in a situation involving restructuring and downsizing of business areas. He had a flash of insight along the lines of, “I am not cut out for cost-cutting. I am a creative designer at heart“.
It gradually dawned on him that this wasn´t the job for him anymore, and he pondered his next steps. To spend the remainder of his working life speculating around early retirement, with absolutely no joy for the job? No. He opted to take the redundancy payout on offer and to reinvent himself. A brave decision, as he still had no idea what the future might bring, and certainly no job on the horizon.
Wolff was able to deal well with such uncertainty. He was familiar with internal changes within the organisation and accompanying questions and concerns: Will I be ok? Will I land in a new environment? He talks about early feelings of hurt at the thought that he and his team were no longer needed, were ‘redundant’. However his deep dive analysis of the situation helped him to accept the encroaching changes.
His recently graduated coaching training served his own emotional journey well. To this day it offers him opportunities for reflection and fresh perspectives. Wolff describes how tackling his own emotions head-on, opened new doors and even made him a better leader.
Tip: In times of career turmoil it is important to deal with your emotions, rather than cast them to the side.
The new strategy proves to be a dead-end
The separation with his long-term workplace was complete and now the next chapter could begin. Frank Wolff was very optimistic at the start. He felt that as a high performer he would be of great interest to the market. Surely he was on the money?
However his job search strategy didn’t ‘land’ with the market. It had been Frank Wolff’s plan to find a basic ‘9 to 5’ job and establish a yoga school on the side. But prospective employers didn’t buy it. They were concerned that the employment would soon bore him and he’d fly the coop. Wolff confessed, “That really threw me, I simply hadn’t pre-empted these concerns.”
His old employer had provided him with Outplacement services as part of his departure package. The coaching with the career advisor and her knowledge of the secret code of the employment market enriched and extended him.
Even though his initial strategy didn’t come to fruition, he was delighted at the fact that his career advisor nonetheless encouraged him to take time and space to fully explore his ideas. After all, Frank Wolff has extensive experience in yoga acquired over many years and is proficient in his physical yoga practice and meditation. Abidance by his yoga philosophy helps anchor him in life, keep his values in sharp focus and to lead a better life overall. And so he didn’t pursue his plan with any ‘fixed’ ideas.
Nevertheless, Frank Wolff and his advisor eventually moved to rip the chord and take a new course. This meant saying good bye to the dream of a Yoga school.
With the support of his advisor, Wolff managed not to take the rejection of the dream as a rejection of his own person. He said to himself, “It’s not about you and your qualifications, it was simply the wrong strategy…“ And so he proceeded, with renewed focus, this time on Business Leadership positions.
Tip: A career break presents the perfect opportunity to test unusual and creative career ideas. Be prepared though, and sufficeintly agile to steer away from these, where success seems unlikely.
Fate favours the industrious
After all the effort, it was in the end cooincidence that determined success. On his way to an extension course for yoga teachers, Wolff was leafing through a copy of the Stuttgart Newspaper when he stumbled across an advertisment outlining what was to become his next career challenge: a regional town called Kirchheim, which had just bought back the private-run electricity and gas network from EnBW wanted to build municipal city works for the benefit of its citizens. His exact same candidate profile that had fallen through the cracks 60 times before, this time resonated with the decision-makers.
Within three weeks, Frank Wolff – competing at the municipal council against many other highly qualified candidates – was offered the job. In addition to his broad energy-industry profile, the factor that tipped the scale was his long-standing experience as the Vice-chairman of a swimming club, because the municipal also wanted to build a swimming pool. In the end, it was his volunteering that made the difference!
The element of his new role that most enthused him was the opportunity to build new things, to be creative and to work for the the public good. After the strong shareholder orientation in private sector, this felt like a breath of fresh air.
Tip: Keep your eyes and ears open and be open to pure chance. If you know exactly what you want, you can respond swiftly to unexpected possibilities.
The way back to home
Wolff worked for three years in the Swabian region, with great success, he reported with satisfaction. However, a reorientation awaited. Frank Wolff wanted to go back home. So he spoke to a headhunter, whom he had met in the course of his job search. And again a miracle happened. In his hometown of Eschweiler, the AWA Disposal – the operative company of the local disposal entity – was looking for a managing director. This time his experience in the municipal environment helped him. In hindsight his journey with the local Kirchheimer municipal works makes a lot of sense; without this experience, he would never have been eligible for his current job. For two years now he has been the managing director of a renowned two-decade old municipal company and dedicates himself with passion to the task of steering it towards the future. Today I sit opposite a man who is happy in himself and fulfilled with his work.
Tip: Be open to detours in order to enrich your profile and give your career the direction you want.
Careers today are changeable – the only constant in life is change
Frank Wolff says: “I think, as far as my career is concerned, I have learned to think no longer in the long term but rather to plan in intermediate steps. For me, this is now a great opportunity to show what I am am capable of. I am concentrating on doing my job to the best of my ability within the frame of my current five-year contract. With this experience, my profile will be even more valuable, and so I’m not afraid of what will be at the end of my contract. I would however be delighted if I could continue in my current role until retirement. A highlight of his career would be to leave a positive legacy for his home region.
I would like to learn from Frank Wolff, how he would deal with career breaks in the future. He said he would not hold on so much anymore, would not remain in an unsatisfactory situation for a long time, but would become active sooner. He perceives the saying of ‚crisis as an opportunity‘ to be completely true. He left an organisation, survived a long period of job hunting and found opportunities by working himself out of the crisis and securing work that would fulfil him.
Back in the days of his climb career in his first organisation, he had repeatedly asked himself whether there could be a way back to his home region. Frank Wolff has gained an important insight through his professional upheaval: when one appreciates change as an opportunity, accepts it and can make it work for you, life also leads back to a place where happiness and satisfaction can be experienced, in other words a kind of ‘home-coming’. In his case, and as fate would have it, this turned out to be in his own home town.
Tip: Careers are changing today. The best response is to stay alert, open to opportunity and agile.
This text is an approved (translated) reproduction of a blog post that has been published on the blog of von Rundstedt and can be found via the following link .