With Nigel Dessau, CMO at Stratus Technologies, Author of Become a 21st Century Executive: Breaking Away from the Pack
Nigel Dessau is the author of Become a 21st Century Executive: Breaking Away from the Pack and the driving force behind the website The 3 Minute Mentor which provides simple to follow career guidance in easily digestible three-minute videos.
Background On Nigel
The website is followed by thousands of subscribers from all over the world, including millennials who have recently entered the workforce and want to develop their career skills for success. We were delighted to host Nigel on the show this week, where we got into all manner of career-related topics.
Nigel has a pretty impressive résumé. In his role as Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of AMD, he was responsible for the company’s global marketing, image, and campaign strategies. Earlier, he spent 19 years at IBM and led the marketing strategy behind e-business and the transition to On Demand Business.
Become a 21st Century Executive provides a guide directed towards both new (think millennials that make up the largest percentage of today’s workforce) and experienced middle managers and offers advice to help these workers survive in the modern workplace. More than just a review of office or corporate practices, the book is a program designed to help executives assess strengths and weaknesses and determine whether they have the opportunity to succeed in an existing corporate structure or whether it’s time to look for a better business match.
Achievement Game Plan
The individual chapters address the specifics of managing for better effectiveness, understanding what typically goes wrong in business interactions, how to better approach budgeting, and other topics ranging from locating mentors to understanding the power of value propositions. The result is a game plan for achievement and advancement, recommended for young millennials, but also for older managers who want to move onward as well as upward in their careers.
Nigel spoke to us about the importance of taking chances. This is a prerequisite to breaking through to the higher levels of management in your career. He addressed three key foundations to ascending the ranks of organization: Content, Approach, and Network. What you know that is of value, doing something with what you know in order to achieve your business objectives, and leveraging your network to get ahead.
Steve and Nigel also discussed the Roberto de Niro movie The Intern and how it relates to demographic issues in the real workforce. By 2030, millennials will form 75% of the workforce, and being able to communicate and cooperate with different generations is going to be key to workplace success.
We had a really interesting chat with Nigel, and it’s one that anyone looking to get ahead at work won’t want to miss.
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Steve Pomeranz: Nigel Dessau is the Chief Marketing Officer at Stratus Technologies and author of the book Become a 21st Century Executive. After working at IBM, AMD, and Sun Microsystems, Nigel turned his attention to helping others succeed in a corporate environment. He’s also the driving force behind the website The Three Minute Mentor, which provides simple, easy to follow career guidance and easy to follow three-minute videos. Welcome to the show, Nigel.
Nigel Dessau: Well, thanks very much.
Steve Pomeranz: When you say in your book, Become a 21st Century Executive, that much is written about how to become a CEO. But most of us will not be CEOs and many of us don’t really want to be. So who’s training the middle or senior manager to be successful?
Nigel Dessau: So I think years ago, at least, when I started working 30 years ago, I went to work for IBM, and they spent the first 18 months training me. And they did a pretty good job over the next 20 years of giving me a great education. But most people don’t get that. Most people entering management in their first management job without anybody training them. And so we really noticed that there was this chance that people were getting stuck in the middle, stuck in middle management because nobody was really giving them simple, useful advice on how to do basic management and leadership skills. So that’s why we created the website, now the book, to really try and fill that gap.
Steve Pomeranz: So is it a case of that old Peter Principle that you’re promoted to your level of incompetence? Is that what you’re talking about as well?
Nigel Dessau: Yeah, and I think, I always thought that was a bit unfair because you’re promoted to your level of incompetence unless somebody gives you some advice and guide to mentoring and coaching. And with that, maybe you can break through. The subtitle of the book is “Breaking Away from the Pack” because what I found is if you find people who you think are the top and spend some time and mentor them and coach them, that they really can get new life. And I think that’s what we should look to do to ever increase the quality of our management teams.
Steve Pomeranz: Did you experience this yourself with regards to finding yourself at some point in your career to be not that important, ineffective at your job and perhaps the first on the firing line?
Nigel Dessau: Yeah, I did, it was actually the role at IBM where I thought I was doing really well and I suddenly hit a brick wall. And another job came along, and talking to people as well that job looks like a step back. You’ve done that before. And what one of my mentors said to me is you’re at a point where you need to rebuild your base, rebuild your foundation. Now if this job will give you that opportunity, you should go back and do it. Now, I think it was one of the best pieces of advice I ever had been given, but you’ve got to be open to receiving the advice, too.
Steve Pomeranz: Well, I mean, it could be a blow to your ego for someone to say, you’ve reached a level, it’s time for you to go back a little bit and reestablish your base.
Nigel Dessau: Yeah, that’s actually one of the episodes and there should be over two episodes on the website where we talk about derailment factors, and ego is a derailment, I said. If you let your ego get in the way and start making decisions for you, then that’s a great way to start derailing your career.
Steve Pomeranz: All right, so say I’m millennial and I’m starting my career and I’ve got myself a good entry-level position or maybe I’ve been working for a number of years and I can see a career path. What advice would you give to me in terms of getting to my goals quicker? Or perhaps I don’t even have any goals, I’m just going along for the ride, what would you tell me?
Nigel Dessau: So actually, you got to the first and second, which is have an objective, have some goals. It’s the old Alice in Wonderland mind—if you don’t know where you’re going, it doesn’t matter what direction you actually take. So you’ve got to have a sense of what you’re trying to do, and have a sense of where you want to get to.
Now, you can change that later, but if we don’t know, then you just muddle through. Having got a sense of where you want to get to, the next thing to do is to do an audit of the skills you have and the skills you don’t think you have but you might need to achieve that. And then go look for coaches and mentors and places where you can get those skills and acquire those skills. And skills are knowledge plus experience of doing it. So you’ve got to really get both of those.
Steve Pomeranz: I imagine fear plays a part, especially in those early years, as in some ways, you’re faking it to make it. You don’t really have the skills, but you got to pretend you do. And then by doing so, you put yourself in a position of some responsibility. And perhaps you succeed, that gives you the skills, and so on. So how do you get over the initial fear?
Nigel Dessau: So don’t think of it as fear, think of it as hunger. So I think of it as being hungry to succeed. Most of us who have done quite well have got what we’ve got because somebody took a chance on us probably before they should have done.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah.
Nigel Dessau: So don’t worry about actually stepping up to the plate and taking the swing whether you think you’re ready or not. Your job isn’t to make sure your company is comfortable you can do the job. Your job is to build the best career time for yourself. And that means taking some of those chances and taking some of those risks. And that invariably means putting yourself in a situation where you’re not always comfortable, where you are testing yourself. And those are things that, if you want to succeed, if you want to get on, you’re going to have to break through.
Steve Pomeranz: You can see these videos online at the 3minutementor.com. It’s the word the and the number 3, and then minutementor.com. And also the book Becoming a 21st Century Executive. My guest is Nigel Dessau. Now, Nigel I’m looking at your book and looking at the chapter heading. So the first section is really planning your career, getting your content clear, getting known for your approach. Just add to that for us a little bit, summarizing this first section of the book. What are you trying to say there?
Nigel Dessau: So I think the three foundation things that make up a 21st-century career, I call content, approach, and network. So content’s what you know. We live, at least in America, in a knowledge-based economy, where it’s what you know that is a value and increasingly becoming a value.
So you can build content, which takes time and learning, but it’s just not enough to know stuff. You’ve also got to be able to do stuff with the stuff you know. So that’s building your approach. How do you get the skills to manage, to lead, write better presentations, to do better emails?
Get the skills, that means you can use the content to achieve business objectives. And then, finally, you’ve got to have a network. So people have got to know that you can do this stuff. And your network needs to be both within your current employer and within the wide ecosystem of whatever industry or profession you’re in.
And so throughout your career, every time you go for a new job, every time I go for a new job, even today, I ask myself, am I adding new content? Am I going to be able to use and extend my approach? And am I building my network? And if you keep focused on those three things, that’s a great way to build a career.
Steve Pomeranz: Well, this word network, it’s bandied about a bit. So how do you actually nurture or build a network?
Nigel Dessau: So the most important thing about networking is, remember, there’s both internal and external network. And the hardest thing to do, which is implied at earlier, you’re going to have to go and talk to people. We’re very lucky today, we have things like LinkedIn. And we have other social media sites that help us connect. But the reality is they’re just electronic rolodexes that exist.
They’re just references of the connections we have. But what you’ve got to do, and this is particularly hard sometimes for the millennials, is put the gadget down and put the shoes on and actually go out and meet people. And there are so many organizations and societies and industry groups and community groups and other places where you can go meet people and really get to know them and find mentors and get engaged. And those networks pay you back.
As you move higher up in an organization that if I’m hiring a VP today, not only am I going to ask what content and approach they’ve got. I’m going to ask, who in the industry knows this person? Who in the analyst or the press or the other communities that we intersect with as a company knows this person? So building those networks will become essential to achieving a high-level job.
Steve Pomeranz: So it’s a step away from surpassing the college roommate connections, and so on, and being in the right club, and so on. This is more of a 21st-century approach to this, right?
Nigel Dessau: Yeah, so look, I work in the high-tech industry. So when I’m looking for the job and going for an interview, they’re going to say to me, so look, there are a bunch of industry analysts who knows you. If I picked up the phone to the head of IDC or the head of Gartner or somewhere, Forrester, would they know who you were?
Steve Pomeranz: Got you.
Nigel Dessau: Because if I’m going to hire you to be my Chief Marketing Officer, I want to know that these people know who you are so you can influence them. And so whatever industry you’re in, whatever profession you’re in, that network becomes increasingly important to your effectiveness.
Steve Pomeranz: There was a new movie that came out with Robert De Niro, The Intern. And he plays a retired widower in the 70s who takes part in a senior citizen intern program in a tech startup in New York. And it’s filled with the challenges that come with him learning new technology and millenials trying to work with him. So how do baby boomers and millennials, how can they learn from each other as these generations merge in today’s workplace?
Nigel Dessau: So I thought it was a really good movie. And I think it brought up at the right time the issues around age diversity. By 2020, 50% of the workforce are going to be millennials. By 2030, that will be 75% of the workforce. So millennials are not a new fad, they are our future employees and leaders.
So the baby boomers and the Gen-Xs learning to work with them is really important. And I thought what the movie did pretty well was really articulate the ability, or the need at least, for both generations to learn from each other. And then the baby boomers have the opportunity to help the millennials really use their experience to make better decisions.
One of the hardest things when you’re a junior leader is that you get absolutely swamped with the urgent and you forget to focus on the important. And I thought it was really good in the movie you can see Robert De Niro mentoring the Anne Hathaway character in learning the difference between the important and the urgent.
On the flip side of that, it was fun to watch Robert De Niro coming to terms with some of the technology and the business models in the way of thinking, which is second nature to the millennials, which are new if you’ve not been in that space. They just proved that both sides can learn if you can find the model in which they can work together.
Steve Pomeranz: This is important stuff. My guest, Nigel Dessau, CMO at Stratus Technologies. The website is the3minutementor.com, and it’s the number 3, the3minutementor.com. The book is Becoming a 21st Century Executive. So if you’re coming up in the world as a millennial or you’re aging in place, so to speak, and you want to be noticed and stand out from the crowd, this is a book to get. Thank you so much for joining us, Nigel.
Nigel Dessau: Thanks very much.
Steve Pomeranz: To find out more about Nigel and to hear this interview again, don’t forget to join the conversation at stevepomeranz.com. [MUSIC]