This is not a piece on retirement. It is, though, borne of the potential for your supreme satisfaction when that milestone is attained.
Sure, everyone knows the “post years” will have much to do with the financial means to retire comfortably (or much better). But the feeling of satisfaction will also result from your “freedom to operate” during your decades of employment, and how you put that freedom to use.
Whether your career is getting underway, mid-stream, or decades along, here’s a look into your potential future, gleaned from our continued conversation with Rick Patterson, former Vice President and General Manager, Alcon Research Ltd., and who also held positions at J&J, and KPMG.
The Freedom To Operate
Freedom in the workplace – particularly in the U.S., but increasing in countries as employment-regimented as Japan – often relates foremost to one’s ability to leave positions and companies, ostensibly for newer ones better suited, better paying … and better overall career-wise.
Some of us formulate general or even specific plans for how this progression might unfold; most of us do not. Either way, just about anyone you ask to look back over successful careers seems equally amazed that what happened actually happened, and in the way it did.
According to Patterson, most of our successful careers – and feelings about them when they are over – also depend on a different form of freedom: the freedom to operate. I’ll define this as the opportunity to pursue one’s ideas, implement one’s methods, and practice one’s leadership in your position and workplace.
Of course exercising this freedom may negate the need to express the other (to leave), but not necessarily. The opportunity to advance our own ideas (or agendas) first in our current workplace can then lead to the desire to extend ourselves well beyond your current employment, to forming the next start-up, for example. The point here is staying or leaving is not the point of the freedom to operate, but both can be its by-product.
As for Patterson, he ended up with a 20-plus-years at Alcon, after some important early stops in other industries. He looks back on a career that included a high degree of operating freedom – and his unabashed practicing of it – which did influence longevity with one company.
But more clearly, how did he – or might you – remain long at a single organization?
“I think if we are honest when we talk about career progression,” answers Patterson, “we should start from the idea that how it all adds up in the end has to do with a big dose of luck, supported by an equally big dose of opportunism. For me, after working in consulting, and pharma and med devices, I came into a company that was on its way to being the premier company in its segment, was on a solid growth trajectory, and had great products. Specifically from the standpoint of my longevity at the company, first and foremost, it was from always taking on opportunities to deliver results, and being able to influence the direction of the company to some point.
“These both fall under my mantra of ‘freedom to operate.’ This is also key to establishing a solid, high-performing, positive culture throughout the company. In other words, this freedom to practice that you are given must be passed on to all those who work for you.”
To be clear, Patterson also stresses that all of your endeavors must be based on solid reasoning, particularly solid financial reasoning, for the organization. He says at times he found himself an outlier, “and if that is going to be the case, you need to be able to back up your argument again and again over time with proven results. There is – as there always is – much responsibility with freedom. You have to continue to earn it in even the most open workplace.”
Adequate Application Of Your Freedom
Therefore, key is where you choose to apply yourself, and whether you obtain results that bring you, your company, colleagues and customers, new successes.
In our first article, Patterson told us he operated on some applied fundamental ideals. He detailed his freedom to choose not to outsource manufacturing, and rather invest internally. “Because I had that freedom to practice, we accomplished what we believed in: We delivered results at home, and invested in ourselves wisely … and the culture that I helped establish in manufacturing became exemplar within the entire organization.”
And when Patterson says “at home,” he means just that. And it is at this juncture where he attains that highest level of supreme satisfaction in retirement mentioned at the beginning of our article.
“I actually was able to move production of some products from overseas into our facilities in the U.S., at a time when other companies were going in the opposite direction and off-shoring from here. I moved work into Southeastern PA,” he says with obvious pride, “a part of the U.S. that has seen many manufacturing operations shuttered or relocated.
He didn’t limit his freedom to operate to his own operations. “I would talk to legislators about manufacturing at home. I hosted U.S. Senator Bob Casey [of Pennsylvania], and former U.S. Congressman Jim Gerlach [Pennsylvania's 6th congressional district]. I attended various meetings and roundtables relating to healthcare regulations and manufacturing, with both state and federal legislators. I would always say, ‘Look, manufacturing can work in southeastern PA. It can work for others. We're helping to support over 800 families here. It takes effort and it takes smart, coordinated attitudes and investments.”
He might also have said it takes the freedom to operate. Advice that all of us can use now for a better future.