There are only 4 jobs in business: which are you pursuing?

Here’s a quick post to summarize a conversation I had a few weeks ago about my own career path (thanks, Michael Schreck). Hopefully, this framework will be useful for other people exploring career development options.

At some point in our careers, we must choose to specialize. For some people this occurs very early, for example entering an apprenticeship at age 16 to learn a skilled trade. Others make this decision after working in the same functional role across industries, or in different functional roles in the same industry, or after a stint in consulting.

So what are you going to specialize in? Let’s simplify by stating that all business roles follow one of four tracks:

  • Fund raisers: These people raise funds to support transactions and investments, typically through private equity funds, hedge funds, exchange traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, or debt/equity offerings. You will succeed in this job if you love building pitch books, are already a famous and massively wealthy investor, and/or are such a fantastic salesperson that you can convince people to part with millions of dollars for the chance to own a sliver of something that won’t exist for years.
  • Deal makers: Once the funds have been raised, it’s time to put the dry powder to use by buying something. While many corporate development teams, venture capital & private equity groups manage deal flow and close transactions on their own, the deal makers that grab the largest share of the spotlight are investment bankers. Spending an unsustainable percentage of your life revising pitch decks is also a hallmark of this career path. but for those who succeed in riding the M&A waves, countless bespoke suits and limited edition watches await.
  • Profit takers: Once the fireworks around the deal have faded, someone’s got to execute the strategy. The owners of any business, ranging from a sole proprietorship to a limited liability company to a corporation, bear the risk of the ongoing operation, and also have the first cut of the retained earnings. [Updated thanks to a helpful comment by Pete Bondi] The owner’s role is to create: new products, services, and content that attract customers and retain competitive advantage. Recent studies show that most CEOs of large corporations have finance backgrounds, and all have had to climb the ladder by succeeding in operational and sales roles, in addition to any functional experience. US tax return data shows that higher earners are more likely to be self-employed, so the appeal of “owning something” can also be quite lucrative.
  • Advisors: After some feedback and discussion about this post, I’ve added a fourth category to include career consultants. Now anyone who has run a consulting business would put themselves in the third category above, but there are plenty of talented people who can lead long, fulfilling careers as non-partner, subject matter experts on the consulting track, without ever participating in the execution of their analyses.

Which path are you on? Why? Are you at an inflection point in your professional development? Sometimes eliminating an alternate path can help increase dedication to the path you’re on – so take a good hard look at the grass on the other side of the fence and make your decision.


Jury Lesson #1: Know Your Customer’s Buying Process

Justice is blind. And apparently not very modest

Jury Lesson #1 is: know your customer’s buying process, not just what content matters to them. We, the jury, were the customers of the two lawyers (maybe they were attorneys…sorry I don’t know the difference) arguing a civil case regarding personal injury damages. The plaintiff’s lawyer spent his opening statement, and the rest of the first day’s testimony, detailing the amount of pain and suffering this poor old lady endured after she fell off the sidewalk one sunny July day at an estate sale. Sure, there was some uncertainty about the exact cause of the fall, but there was no disputing how miserable her life was afterwards and how she deserved compensation. It was very moving content, communicated in a persuasive style.

The defendant’s lawyer (representing the property management company), stated in a firm yet heartfelt manner that sometimes terrible accidents happen to good people. She reminded us that our role as jurors was not to assess the magnitude of her suffering without first deciding whether the evidence established both negligence and cause. Her evidence trivialized both the magnitude of the defect in a suspect sidewalk seam, and the likelihood that a 200lb elderly woman could have flown 14 feet from tripping on that seam to landing on the asphalt.

When the judge handed us the verdict sheet to fill in and instructed us on the relevant laws, our decision making process was clear: step 1, negligence (requires five points in the affirmative); step 2, cause; step 3, damages. In deliberations, we all felt terribly for the woman and her family. We also never got a “yes” past step 1b and the case was decided before our pizza got cold.

So to bring that lesson back to the world I normally play in–marriage, parenting, and business leadership–I am paying much more attention to the process by which  my customers (and wife and kids and colleagues) make their decisions, in addition to the content. What sort of vendor certification do they need to cut a purchase order? How many other parents do we need to meet from the new pre-school for my wife to feel comfortable? Which pajamas do I want my 3 year old to wear (because once she knows, she will choose a different set)?

I hope you find success by making the same shift in emphasis, especially by lifting the burden and asking the customer about his or her buying process directly. Whether you are in or out of the courtroom, a lot is riding on that decision.

What tips do you have about understanding your customer’s buying process? What crazy jury stories do you have? Looking forward to your comments!

photo: shutterstock