Miquel Colet started his journey in the business and management world during his BBA & MBA at one of the most prestigious business schools in Europe: ESADE, located in Barcelona. Later in life, he continued his business education in the United States at Columbia Business School and IESE, two of the best business schools worldwide. Throughout now a career that spans 30 years, Miquel has had the opportunity to work especially with privately owned SMEs in different industries (consumer goods, garment, lighting…) and in different capacities (CFO, Financial Controller, CEO), as well as in different countries. This has allowed him to develop a great capacity for understanding different businesses and adapting to different realities. The capacity to lead and work with teams, both remote and office-based, has been key to his success, even before remote work became a major topic of discussion.
This is a topic that I get asked about numerous times and comes often in conversations I have, and for many has an obvious answer: You should stay in the industry that you have built your expertise on. You already know the products/services, you know the customers and have the relationships, you know the vendors, the competitors, the industry media, you know how the sales process and the sales channel work, etc. Plus, nowadays industries, and headhunters, are less willing to take a risk and want a more guaranteed and immediate ROI on a new hire, somebody who has proven they can do the job and can hit the ground running. You will probably be approached with offers from within your same industry. You will also generally have an easier time to land a position in a similar organization to that you come from. This tendency to stay within a safe pool of candidates is stronger in some countries and markets than others, of course. The US is one of them, for example.
I would agree that this option (staying in the same industry) might be appropriate in certain circumstances: Maybe you possess a non-transferable skillset that is very specific to one sector or role that makes you very valuable for the organizations in that industry and you want to continue benefiting from that position you are in (neurosurgeon, biolab researcher, M&A attorney…). Maybe you really love your industry and wouldn’t change it for anything else. Or maybe you are in a role that although less specific than some of the examples previously mentioned, still has some stickiness to your industry (VP of Sales… where your knowledge of the customers, sales channels, and products is not always easily transferable).
But the point I want us to consider is that there are reasons and advantages to sometimes not staying within the same industry if/when you are going to make a change. I think this is especially relevant for the C-Suite which implies and requires skills that are more transferable, contrary to some of the examples that we just saw in the previous point. I want to offer my point of view on the scenarios that in my opinion would benefit from an industry change:
- Stay motivated: If your concern is lack of motivation in your current role, maybe a change of industry would shake you up and change things up to make work exciting and interesting again. After all, if you are demotivated and make a change to, let’s say, a direct competitor, wouldn’t it be almost like “more of the same”? Why make the change then?
- Learn new things: So, you’ve been in your role/industry for a long time. You know everything and everybody (or at least that’s what you think or feel like). Wouldn’t it be nice to start fresh in a new world, a new sector, where you could learn a new way of doing business, a new way of going to market with a whole new product or service? Wouldn’t that make you a better professional, manager, or executive overall? I believe this is a powerful way to force you to grow as an executive and as a leader.
- Contribute new things: Imagine this… you arrive at a new industry where everybody has been immersed in a certain way of doing things for years and years. But you come from other industries, and you have seen different approaches, strategies, and policies that you’ve seen succeed across companies and sectors. Wouldn’t you be able to contribute and provide a lot of value to your new organization by bringing those strategies and practices that are unknown to them but that can unlock some quick wins if you implement them? Things that seem obvious to you, but that haven’t been discovered or used yet in your new industry. If you want, think of it as a way to leverage and monetize all the knowledge and experience that you have gained and accumulated in your past roles and companies.
- Bigger pool of opportunities: I think this point is self-explanatory. Why limit yourself to your current industry? Sure, we have already established that depending on your role/industry there’s a better probability of landing a position in your current industry, but having additional options would be beneficial and potentially more interesting, wouldn’t you agree? Within certain limits, more options are better than less. Especially when trying to find a new role.
- Stay loyal to your team: You, your team, your boss… all of you have been working together for years to accomplish what you have accomplished. Maybe even working closely with the owners or founders of the company if it’s a family-owned company. For sure, you have developed some friendships… Do you want to take all that work, all that knowledge, and take it to a direct competitor and now try to make your colleagues, and friends, fail in the market and take business away from them? Doesn’t it feel a little strange? Sure, if there are no other options and you are desperate you have to do what you have to do but stay loyal if you can. It goes a long way. It’s a small world. Plus, surely you are a great C-Suite executive and don’t need to take the easy way out and go to a competitor, you have resources and can manage to change industries and reap the benefits of doing so that I just laid out, don’t you think?
I realize that this is not a black-or-white situation. There are many other factors that come into play: if you feel like you’ve been treated unfairly by your organization you will probably care less about staying loyal. If you are young, probably you’ll be more excited and more in need of learning new ways of doing things in a new industry than if you are just three years out of retirement… My intention is just to bring awareness to the fact that maybe the next time you need to make a change you might want to keep your options open to other industries. I believe there are benefits to doing so. And I believe it not just from an intellectual or logical perspective, but also from a practical one: All the career moves I have made in my professional career have always been to a new industry. And that was done by design. I can tell you that it did work for me and I’m happy I followed that philosophy. You should give it some consideration too.