by Julia Salem
May 28 2015
BlueSteps chats with Suzanne Garber, founder and chairwoman of Gauze, an international healthcare technology firm dedicated to connecting patients with hospitals around the world, and author of the recently published book, SAFETY NETwork: A Tale of Ten Truths of Executive Networking.
First of all, thank you for taking the time to speak with BlueSteps about executive networking and your new book, Safety NETwork. Can you tell us a little about your background?
I’m a global baby, for sure. My father was an expat for General Electric, and so, at the age of five, I moved to Algeria with my family followed by stints in Spain, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Mexico, the UK, and seven US states. I grew up with a massive appreciation for all things international, earned dual US-EU citizenship, learned several languages, and knew I wanted to follow in my dad’s footsteps. I did, and took expat stints with FedEx, rising to the role of Managing Director, South America. I never thought I’d leave FedEx, but I had the opportunity to lead the world’s leading medical assistance company based out of Singapore, International SOS (ISOS). There, I was the highest-ranking female as COO and a member of the board of directors for several of their entities. I left ISOS last year to write this book, film a documentary and start up my own healthcare technology firm. In fact, in 2014 alone I visited 24 countries. I’ve now been to 80 countries and all seven continents. It’s been quite a ride!
What is the number one mistake senior-level executives make when networking?
If NOT networking is considered a mistake when networking, I would say that’s it! Sometimes executives—particularly those who have spent the majority of their careers with one organization—become insular and myopic with respect to their careers and don’t feel the need to look outwards—not just for career opportunities but also for inspiration, guidance, and advice. However, for those who actually DO network, one of the top mistakes is not saying “thank you,” or giving back when you have the opportunity to do so.
In your book, you say: "In short, no one is safe. But, everyone can be prepared." Why do you think so many executives end up unprepared when a transition occurs?
Part of it is lack of awareness, part of it is apathy, and part of it is arrogance. You mix the three and you have a dangerous cocktail for career crash-and-burn. Sometimes executives become so cocooned in their positions that they become comfortable to the point of complacency. Also, when you have such a comfortable position and your phone rings all the time—from internal or external sources—then you think you don’t need to make the extra effort to network. Why should you? Arrogance like that lands hard. Networking is also one of those skills that we are not taught in school and often times, natural networkers are seen as political. Those without this innate skill have to work at it—just like anyone else would if they wanted to excel in something that they weren’t naturally gifted at like sports, analytics, or patience.
"Sometimes executives become so cocooned in their positions that they become comfortable to the point of complacency."
Safety NETwork follows the story of the character Ralph Pibbs, a former international executive. What made you decide to write this book in a narrative format?
I didn’t intend it to be narrative. In fact, I didn’t necessarily intend to write a book. In conducting these interviews, I hoped to draw encouragement to help my unemployed colleague who had become homeless after being terminated from her lofty position a few years earlier. She couldn’t get back on her feet professionally and I thought hearing from others in similar situations would be motivating to her. It wasn’t until I started transcribing all of the interviews from over one hundred hours of taped conversation and color-coding them on the screen that I began to see trends. Hence, that’s how the ten truths came to be. And, since I learn lessons better through storytelling than dross theory, I thought I’d make it fun while weaving in key themes and information that every executive needs to know. Books in similar format that have impacted to me are The One Minute Manager, Who Moved My Cheese, Fish!, and Our Iceberg is Melting. I’m now working with a Temple University business school professor to put together a SAFETY NETwork book that has exercises and practical applications that individuals can use to map out their own career plan. It’s planned be released in early to mid 2016.
Towards the beginning of your book, Ralph is unaware of the benefits that were offered to him in his separation package. Do you think it's important that executives negotiate these before accepting the offer? What components should they make sure are included in this package?
Termination conversations are not easy for either side of the table yet the best ones are those that are fully transparent, inclusive, and compassionate. Whether a separation occurs for cause or chance or choice, it is imperative that the employee fully understand all that is being offered to him as well as what are the options that COULD be offered. Just as the executive came on board and negotiated a salary with benefits, stock, LTIP, bonuses, travel and other compensation or perks, so is the severance package an option to utilize one’s negotiation skills.
Some key areas that should be priority discussion during severance—aside from the actual amount are:
- Lump sum versus monthly allotment (for all types of compensation);
- healthcare extension or payment of COBRA during the severance term;
- outplacement services;
- executive/professional coaching services;
- payment for the upcoming year for all professional associations that had previously been covered;
- continuation of life insurance (as many life insurance companies will not convert you from a group policy to individual);
- ability to hold stock versus immediate cash-out;
- electronics gifting (ie: keeping your company issued phones, laptops, home office set ups);
- payment of all outstanding expense reports (you’d be surprised how many people are left holding the bag from their last business trip!);
- fully paid return home for you, your family, and your belongings if you were on an expat assignment plus all the fees associated with leaving your post such as rental cancellations and cleaning expenses;
- first right to consulting opportunities in your function (ie: instead of the company hiring an outside HR consultant, if you were head of HR, they would come to you first).
You also want to ensure that you are paid for all unused time off/holidays for the remainder of the year and onward, if you had not completed the full terms of your inbound employment contract. And, if possible, getting a letter of recommendation from the owner or chairman ensures an amicable send-off for both sides.
One last thing I’d like to point out is the criticality for both employee and employer to understand their rights regarding social media accounts. Some employers think they own your accounts, your postings, and your contacts if you gained prominence or acquired contacts and information you might not have otherwise had you not been in your position with said company. If unsure, get it in writing. As with negotiating your severance offer and reviewing any employment contract, I highly suggest engaging a competent employment attorney; an incompetent one can cost you tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars…or more.
A major theme is your book relates to finding your passion and purpose in life. Do you think a transition period is the right time to explore your passion or make a switch between industries/functions?
I admire those who took a gap year between undergrad and either grad school or starting work. It gave them time to explore the world and their passions before plunging into ‘the real world’. I hire a lot of student interns and most of them are so desperate to get a job—any job. I’ll occasionally come across those who want to take the time to explore themselves and the world because they are not sure what they want to do. Being in transition is akin to taking a ‘gap year’. It’s a great time and excuse to uncover what it is that makes you laugh, cry, yell, or move to action.
Since the publication of the book, I’ve gotten to speak with thousands of individuals about their careers and I recall meeting a man who was talking about his golf game. He’d been an athlete his whole life—football, basketball, track—and loved the camaraderie and competitiveness of the game. He enjoyed crushing his opponent and took great pride in his scores against his colleagues.
When I asked him what he was currently looking for professionally, all the energy dropped from his voice and he began to chant what he’s probably told himself a zillion times for the last 25 years: “I’m a senior operations executive with over 25 years of experience. I’m looking for a VP level position where I can use my skills for the betterment of the company.” YAWN. It was clear to me that his passion was in the joy of competition and maybe he was better aligned for sales. He didn’t see it but I could understand why he wasn’t getting any call backs when he’s displaying the enthusiasm of a pet rock toward his stated chosen profession.
"It’s not a one-size fits all, at all! Each person is different but everything starts with prioritization. And, prioritization becomes clearer when passion is defined."
You mention the importance of keeping a routine when unemployed. What do you envision the routine for recently unemployed executives should include?
It’s not a one-size fits all, at all! Each person is different but everything starts with prioritization. And, prioritization becomes clearer when passion is defined. For instance, over 75% of my respondents regretted not spending enough time with their families while they had their lucrative positions. 20% of those then made it a priority to take jobs that did not interfere with the upbringing of their children (ie: no travel) and set their routines according to when they dropped and picked up their kids at school. Their day, and thus their job seeking, was geared toward that effect.
Three of my respondents said that their faith took a more prominent role once they realized their passion was their faith. One became a rabbi, one a universalist minister, and another a Presbyterian pastor. Their schedules look different than someone who is ‘trying to find a job.’
While it’s important to keep networking and staying in front of decision makers, be respectful of their time. If you ask for a 30 minute coffee, bow out at 30 minutes. Don’t take advantage of that person’s goodwill. Or, if you can get your message across in a 15 minute phone conversation, great. Remember, you were busy once too.
If there's one thing I think any executive or professional should get out of this book, it's the importance of networking, both personal (family, friends) and professional (ex-collegues, associations, etc) - a "safety net". How do you recommend executives and even young professionals go about building their Safety Network?
I look at networking as a bush, not a tree. While we all joke about climbing the corporate ladder, it’s not the linear functionality and process that will get you to where you want to go. Instead, look at it as a bush that is bursting with branches and leaves and berries. I actually have participants of my workshops fill in a three pronged bush where the main titles are: Functional, Special Interest, and Individual.
Functional means those groups that pertains to your function in your job. If in finance, get involved with organizations like The FENG (Financial Executives Networking Group) or the American Accounting Association. Each function has them—scores of them! Simply search by typing in the name of your function (marketing, sales, HR, etc) plus “association” and see what pops up. There’s bound to be meetings near you.
For Special Interest, these are the topics that you spend reading about or doing in your free time. It could be gardening, literacy, eldercare, poverty, clean water, farm-to-table, anti-trafficking, or a host of other topics that matters to you. Whatever stirs up any kind of emotion would be a special interest and there are dozens of MeetUp groups in your city. Get involved with something that you’re excited about. You’ll make contacts and do something that gratifies you. And, you never know where those connections might lead.
Finally, under Individual, this is the family and friends branch of the bush but it can also include your childrens’ sphere as well as those of your house of worship, country club, or neighbors. Most respondents were surprised that complete strangers were more willing to help them during their transition period than friends and family. But, you need friends and family as support as well as a conduit to get to others who can help you. You want to cast your net wide while being as specific as you can about what you are after. It’s like going fishing for tarpon; you’ll need a wide net but use a specific hook to land the ‘big one’!
Any final words of advice for our executive readers?
I’m going to quote a character from the book who is a compilation of executives and their most powerful thoughts and conclusions:
“The most important thing to remember is that this is not the end. This is a beginning. A new beginning. One where you can ask yourself new questions as to how you can increase not just your own paycheck but also your career and your life. What will be the value between you and your new organization? What do you want your legacy to be? Only when you have answered these questions to your satisfaction can you find a suitable match that aligns with your skills and values. I’ve seen all too often how many forego core values for the sake of a dollar—which is a value in and of itself. But, money can’t buy you happiness…(Finally,) have faith—good will come from this. There is nothing more powerful to the human spirit than hope. You have to believe that good indeed will come from this.”
--“Charles Davis” from SAFETY NETwork: A Tale of Ten Truths of Executive Networking
To learn more or to purchase SAFETY NETwork: A Tale of Ten Truths of Executive Networking, please click here.
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