Dealing with career dilemmas

Vinay Kamath | Updated on January 24, 2021

Corporate honcho Shiv Shivakumar’s book sheds fresh light

Shiv Shivakumar, Group Executive President, Corporate Strategy and Business Development, Aditya Birla group, was the Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo India for four years. Earlier, he was the CEO for Nokia in India and emerging markets for a decade.

In his first book, The Right Choice: Resolving 10 Career Dilemmas for Extraordinary Success, Shiv discusses 10 commonly faced dilemmas, providing a perspective based on his experience and observations of CEOs and colleagues.

The 10 dilemmas he discusses are: Is money the most important variable in a career? Should I do an MBA; should I do a second MBA?

Should couples live separately to advance two careers? Is it okay to rejoin an organisation that I quit some time ago? Should I take a sabbatical? Do I switch industries to advance my career? Should I take an overseas job? Should I turn entrepreneur? To join or not join a Board? And, lastly, dilemma of being a CEO. Here he talks about why he chose this theme for his book:

Why did you choose this theme of dilemmas?

The world is changing very fast. The average life of a company in 1960 was 60 years. Now, it’s less than 20 years. If you take the career span of a person, it’s 30 years. So, today we have a situation where the average individual’s career span is more than the average corporate’s life span . So the question to ask is how am I managing my career, which industries, which companies, which functions, which roles?

The truth about a career is that you go through it forwards but only understand it looking backwards. You look back on your career when you are, say, 40 or 50 and then you understand the twists and turns you had.

So, this book is about how to manage a career through the dilemmas. This topic of careers is on top of everyone’s mind today.

Has the theme of the book been reshaped because of Covid and the unprecedented developments of the past year?

I have added a post script, which is about the pandemic and the leadership needed in these times, which is about horizontal collectivism; it needs speed, and also new methods of work, some times from home, some times from office or from anywhere. All of us, after the pandemic, are grateful to our organisation to have a job.

Then in the last chapter, the dilemma of being a CEO, I asked 20-25 CEOs, in August 2020, what their dilemmas were in a non-Covid year. I got so many different responses which is right because the context of the organisation matters. I go on to say that the context matters, as in a normal year, no two CEOs will have the same dilemmas.

Do you arrive at definitive conclusions about how to tackle each dilemma?

One can never prescribe definite conclusions about a dilemma, as it’s individual specific. Because each indvidual’s context is different and his/her ability to take risk to advance his /her career is also different.

Based on my experience, in each dilemma, I have written around 2,000 to 3000 words, on what I think of each dilemma and then talked to 2-3 people who have faced this particular dilemma and then I have given five tips to handle these dilemmas.

For example, on money, I have said that if an organisation’s culture is good, and you are learning, you don’t need to worry about money. If you are good, money will follow you.

Personally, what have been the biggest dilemmas in your career?

I have experienced five of the ten dilemmas listed here in the book — about living apart, switching industries, taking an overseas job, joining boards and, of course, the dilemma of being a CEO.

I had my own way of resolving them and I am happy the way they played out. In the dilemma of being a CEO, I talk about the issue of whom do you trust, who will tell you the truth, how long should you be in the job, what should be your relationship with the media, the board.

Published on January 24, 2021

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