A number of years ago, a book called Do One Thing Different hit the market, extolling the virtues of changing up one thing in order to cultivate a new result.
Its premise is very much alive and well today. With a growing number of executives in job transition, with the economy continuing to be in flux, and with individuals seeking work more aligned with their values,
many consider “doing something different” in their professional lives.
My father, Bud Hockenberg, is an exemplar of trying something new professionally—and helping others take a new approach in the process. After running a successful corporate law practice for the past several decades, he recently launched a unique new service, CEO Independent Advisor, LLC, to provide confidential business advice to chief executives on the cusp of critical business decisions and challenges. Not only is he doing something different, but he’s advising executives to resist “doing business as usual” to achieve better outcomes.
Whether you are a CEO facing challenges—or whether you are simply considering starting a new venture of your own—you will find Bud’s story of “doing one thing differently” inspiring.
Q: Bud, how did you come up with this unique service?
Bud: I have been involved in the business and political world for many years. As a “sponge” that receives but never returns information (always maintaining the strictest confidentiality), I find that business people are willing to tell me things, knowing I’ll never repeat them. And a major complaint I was hearing from CEOs is that they are only hearing what their team of professionals thinks they want to hear. Yet, we are in turbulent economic times, with great pressures and a public growing weary of corporate America’s missteps. So, CEOs also face added challenges in business because “the buck stops with the CEO.” This has become a key issue on the retention of his job. (In fact, recent reports show that there is ever-increasing turnover of CEOs in Fortune 500 companies.)
Q: How can you help a CEO?
Bud: Sometimes a CEO wants to tell me about a confidential problem s/he is experiencing, seeks an outside perspective or wants help identifying competitive factors s/he may not be considering. Some come to me with specific questions: “Do I have the right folks advising me?” or “How can I do a better job?”
Other times, a CEO comes to me with what I call “Danger Early Warning.” Perhaps s/he sees danger ahead, possibly relating to job retention. Who’s he going to turn to? He probably can’t talk to his insider people and show any kind of weakness. He may not yet be prepared to start considering other job opportunities.
No matter what the situation, the CEO and I sign a mutual confidentiality agreement. The most important thing is that the CEO has the trust and confidence to fully confide in someone who has the experience dealing in this world and can offer independent advice to identify how to respond to some of the challenges so s/he keeps his job.
Q: Marni, in your role as an executive recruiter, you work with CEOs and other executives on a regular basis. How did your dad’s idea match up with some of the concerns or themes you are hearing from some of your executive clients?
Marni: I talk confidentially with executives on a daily basis, many of whom are in employment transition. For some, there was a shake-up or fall-out at their company. For others, they are out of a job because of a bad business decision—one they made or one made by the CEO or board that affected the entire company.
The consequences are severe. These decisions affect an executive’s livelihood and his or her family life—and it’s difficult to find a job in this market right now. People are scared. Everyone wants to avoid dangerous missteps.
Q: Bud, you have been advising clients for several decades as a business lawyer and a political advisor. Was there a moment when you watched a CEO “fall apart” and thought, ‘I could have helped prevent that’?
Bud: Yes, I am watching that happen right now. I see a business that is in trouble and a CEO who is making absolutely the wrong choices about how to respond to the problem. Instead of seeking independent advice in a troubled financial situation, he is turning to someone with a vested interest, which is only going to cause the company’s creditors to stiffen, rather than to relax and negotiate.
Q: What would surprise people about this service?
Bud: I offer a different approach. When I sit down with a CEO client, I say to him or her: “I want you to define those who are helping you solve this problem and those who are interfering, and let me give you an objective opinion. Much of your judgment is based on what certain people are telling you or not telling you. In a confrontational matter, you might not fully understand the opposition.”
The CEO often has a fictional view of how he got into the problem, and in my experience, there is also significant denial by many CEOs and especially by those who advise them.
Q: Bud, what has been the most surprising part about reinventing yourself professionally?
Bud: The most surprising has been the daily events in our economy that absolutely require my service as a necessity for any CEO. I didn’t anticipate this economy when this seed of an idea was generated some time ago. The uncertainty of this economy has been surprising—and it also has prompted a certain number of CEOs to speak to me, in confidence, about the need for independent counsel through such turbulent times.
Q: Marni, you’ve cheered your dad on from the sidelines through this whole process. What did you think when he initially mentioned his new business idea to you?
Marni: I thought it was brilliant idea and a natural progression of his many years of business and political experience. He is perceived as wise, as a confidante, and I’ve seen that through the years. So to finally put a name on it and a service that meets this need is the “crowning jewel” on his great career. I was excited for him because it was something unique in the market and I am not aware that anyone has this type of service.
Q: What advice would you have for others who are considering launching a new professional venture?
Bud: Sit down and find out about yourself. That may seem smart-alecky, but it’s true. There’s a tendency to be fanciful and dreamy, and if you sit down with a legal pad for a day and write down who you
are and who you want to be–and why—you may decide you don’t want to do what you are dreaming about. But if you do, you will be tough enough because you’ve asked yourself the difficult questions.
Marni: I frequently hear this. People want to do something different or more rewarding. First of all, you have to have total clarity about what is your passion, what are you really good at and make sure there a market for it. Then you need a game plan. Are you developing or making something new? (My dad is introducing something new – but it’s based on his years of experience working with CEOs. And he was brave and courageous enough to go after it.) Then you need a marketing plan; supporters to help you; the energy to be a mini-marketing machine. You have to have a lot of information before you even go out into the marketing phase.
Q: What has been most rewarding about working together and collaborating on this new venture?
Bud: Marni had the confidence to invite me to speak to a group of Executives in her network on June 22. She had an opportunity to observe what I am doing and help “test drive” this with a potential group of clients or referrals – This was a new market opportunity. I felt very gratified that she would take the trouble to arrange event.
Marni: It’s exciting to give back to my dad, who has given me so much over the years. To help a parent professionally like this only comes around once in a lifetime, if ever. It’s very gratifying. I’m also really impressed with dad’s ability to embrace change – to become active on LinkedIn and Facebook, and create a blog. Social media is here to stay and it’s another way of doing business and reaching an audience. Dad is a real visionary – He understands human nature, particularly in business and decision-making.
Q: After a lucrative legal career—one that still keeps you very busy—some in your shoes would be glad to retire. What keeps you going with such energy?
Bud: I have a very deep faith that one needs to do what he can to help people live a better life–and that means that service-type activities are my great passion. Since I’ve been developing this CEO Independent Advisor service, I feel a special motivation to positively impact CEOs, who have a great deal to do with the economy of our country, particularly in this time.