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The Compartmentalized Career – A New Way Forward

2016-06-06 | Blog | Bob Swidler

With private sector companies in Canada becoming leaner and meaner to compete globally while ensuring they meet shareholder expectations, the creation of new executive positions is hardly a priority. The positions and Board seats that they do fill are instead what we call upgrades, usually at the behest of Boards or CEOs with the objective of narrowing skill and diversity gaps.

As a result, the supply of executives in Canada exceeds the demand for their services. The reasons are threefold:

* The lack of significant economic growth in recent years means that new openings are not keeping pace with the growth in the executive pool.
* Executives are not retiring as early due to the need to keep generating income combined with 70 being the new 60, etc.
* Mergers to create synergies and cost efficiencies often result in two jobs being combined into one.

New age technology driven companies absorb some of the surplus, but not nearly at a rate to make up the difference.

So Canadian executives, partly out of necessity but also, in many cases, out of desire, have increasingly been stitching together a “position” from a disparate range of activities – what we call the “compartmentalized career”. Such activities tend to include private sector Board seats, community Boards, part-time work through consulting and special projects, investing, teaching, public service and the like – all while leaving time for personal pursuits including travel.

Compensation for this kind of career can be quite attractive and tax effective and additionally can provide people with control over their destiny by not having a “boss” to decide whether their work is appreciated or not.

Notwithstanding the above, the full-time executive position, affording relative security and the sense of belonging to a team that works together to move the ball forward, will generally be the preferred avenue, but the reality is that not everyone is accorded this opportunity late into their careers. So compartmentalization becomes a very real option and many of those who have entered this realm, either willingly or unwillingly, now swear by it.

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