Our Secrets to Success series focuses on bringing the secrets of career and personal success from leaders in the tech, finance and consulting industries to the Expert360 community. We spoke to Richard Fleming, a Partner in Bain & Company's New York office to hear his thoughts on what makes a successful career.
How important is it to be passionate about what you do?
I think it's really important! I feel really fortunate that over the last 20 years. I've always managed to have a job that has been really fun, challenging and that I'm passionate about. So to me, it's a bit of a North star. I don't think the passion developed overnight. There have been a couple of times in my career where I thought I wasn't having any fun and so I made various changes. For example, going to business school was an opportunity for me to broaden up my career and change what I was doing. I’ve also changed countries (moving from the UK to Australia, Africa, Japan, United States) and in doing so it allowed me to not only change the focus of my job but each time I've been able to really stretch myself and take on very different roles. So I think along with the whole idea of passion and having fun, it’s important to enjoy yourself to continue with the energy that you need for a job.
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What would you say success means to you?
I don't separate success from passion. Success for me is that I am enjoying what I do, that I get a lot of energy from creating value for my clients and making them successful, making businesses successful and making individuals successful. That feels like success in itself for me. I don't have particular goals about where I'm going to get to, I don't really define success like that. The influence I can have on my clients businesses and on my clients careers is success in itself.
Do you think it's important to care what others think or do you think that can be destructive?
We all look at the world through our own personal lens and we have all sorts of distortions that get in the way of how we see things. And that means it's really useful to get advice from lots of people because they see the world differently, they see problems differently and they will recognise things in you that you don't recognise yourself. However, you should be really careful about taking advice from any one person because they may have similar distortions and they don't know you as well as you know yourself. I've always thought that you need to take advice from lots of people. Some of that advice you'll want to ignore and some of it is really helpful, but you have to use a filter
Do you think that you've made any mistakes on your path to success?
I've made mistakes all over the place. In hindsight, I'm sure there were better approaches to get to where I am today, but I suppose your question is more about your career as a path to a destination and I just don't see it like that. I think the journey is more important that the destination and if I'm enjoying myself and feeling rewarded along the way, that is what motivates me and that is sufficient for me.
Do you think there was a time where you took a risk and you were afraid to fail?
Moving from Australia to the US was a bit of a risk, as I questioned whether it was at the right time in my career. Similarly, I moved to Japan for a while and that was a huge risk because of where I was in my role, and the fact that I didn't speak the language. I had a bunch of people who said, “don't go to Japan, it's not the right time in your career” but I look back on that time and I think it was one of the best things I ever did. It was just so different and allowed me to learn and develop myself, to question how I did things, to try new ways of working, to experiment and to work with new and different types of clients. It was a fantastic 2 years! It gave me so much energy that I'm so glad that I did it.
What would you tell your 20-year-old self?
That your 20's are a wonderful time for experimentation and you shouldn't be too serious about it. Your career will take shape.
Do you think the idea of a career ladder is becoming irrelevant?
Is it irrelevant? No. I think one needs to think about taking on bigger roles. Whether you do that in a formal stance within one company, I don't know that that’s true anymore. When I was down in Silicon Valley recently I was intrigued to hear how most people were spending 2-3 years doing something and then moving onto the next thing. Many of those that I met were on their 6th or 7th job and they saw that as a sign of strength rather than a sign of weakness and that really struck me as a powerful thought
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