by Lou Adler

Time is Your Most Valuable Asset. Use it Wisely.

Is working at a troubled company advisable? Troubled meaning heading into bankruptcy, having a deserved bad reputation, struggling to survive, or going through a turnaround. The answer: it all depends.

If you want something safe and secure, it’s probably best to avoid it. On the other hand, if you have a high tolerance for risk, can deal with ambiguity, and want to jumpstart or accelerate your career growth, it might be the perfect choice.

I’ve been thinking about this issue for many years. It started about 40 years ago when I first became a manager. I was with Rockwell Automotive in Troy, Michigan (Manager of Capital Budgeting), and my boss, Chuck Jacob, the Controller, and I were interviewing MBA students for financial analyst positions. We were going head-to-head with IBM, Ford, and P&G – the “hot” companies of the day.

We were making truck axles and brakes, and while we didn’t make the hot or cool company list, Chuck had a great recruiting technique. Since the interview schedule was overbooked, and I had never interviewed anyone before, Chuck suggested we conduct the first interview together. After about 10 minutes Chuck said something to the candidate like: Time is your most valuable asset. What you do during the next 2-3 years will affect what happens to you over the next 5-10 years.

He then drew a chart similar to the one shown, saying that if you go to a big, secure, and safe organization like Ford, IBM or P&G, it will take you 2-3 years before you get a promotion. While the first year or so will consist of rapid learning, the next few will be doing the same things over again. If you spend too much time on the plateaus, after 6-8 years you’ll really only have 3-4 years of equivalent experience.

Since Rockwell Automotive was going through a major restructuring, Chuck said you’d have an opportunity to spend more of your time on the steeper part of the learning curve. Taking on bigger jobs, being successful, and getting promoted more rapidly is how you get twice the experience in half the time. This is how you maximize your use of time. He let this idea sink in.

Chuck then pointed to me and said, Lou has only been with Rockwell a year and has already been promoted. He then described his own experience, saying that he has been with Rockwell three years, started at the Corporate office as Director of Financial Planning, became the senior director over all business functions a year later, and was just named the number two financial executive for a $2 billion business unit for a Fortune 50 company. Chuck was only 29 at the time. The technique worked, and we hired a number of great people who had offers from bigger “names.” None regretted their decision.

I’ve been using this “maximize your use of time” concept ever since, especially when a candidate has a difficult career choice to make. Here’s the collective advice in a nutshell. It might prove helpful if you’re considering working at a troubled organization:

1.    Compare the downside to the upside.  
2.    You’ll be able to jumpstart or reaccelerate your career. 
3.    There is a hidden risk in staying put.  
4.    You don’t need to be fully successful to get some kudos.
5.    It makes greater sense when you have a chance to make a significant impact. 
6.    Your confidence will increase. 
7.    You’ll have a stronger resume. 
8.    Your negotiating power will increase. 
9.    It might be easier to get a job in a different industry. 
10.  Don’t avoid troubled situations, seek them out.

So should you work at a troubled organization? It all depends on whether you want to just spend your time doing something, or invest it wisely building a stronger career.

Click here to read this article in its entirety.

“One of the secrets to advancing in any job is to make yourself more valuable than what your position calls for.” – Idowu Koyenikan