Episode 166: Passion vs problem solving: which is more important for your career? – with Christopher Volk

We all want to be passionate about the work we do, but how do we find out what we’re passionate about? 

Christopher Volk is an entrepreneur, business leader, and accredited writer. 

He explains how following opportunities can lead to discovering new passions, the different ways companies create value for people, and the importance of being deliberate about your career.

Today’s guest

Christopher Volk

Website: The Value Equation

LinkedIn: Christopher Volk

Chris began his career in commercial banking, later moving to Arizona where he joined a financial services customer, eventually guiding its 1994 public offering and serving as President.  It was the first of three companies he would guide and take public across three decades.  The most recent of these was STORE Capital, the second company he conceived, founded and led and which made its debut on the New York Stock Exchange in 2014.  STORE’s strong business model would attract prominent shareholders, foremost among them Berkshire Hathaway, which became the company’s largest institutional investor.  All three companies led by Chris were engaged in providing real estate lease and mortgage solutions to middle market businesses.  Combined, they invested more than $20 billion in thousands of properties across the United States, with each company outperforming peer benchmarks.

Chris is a frequent writer having authored numerous articles on real estate, financial statement analysis, business models, leadership, public equities and wealth creation.  In 1999, he devised the Value, or V-Formula, a simplified equation to determine business equity returns and wealth creation potential.  His inaugural article would go on to win the Lybrand Gold Medal, bestowed for the best article of the year by the Institute of Management Accountants.  The article inspired follow-on pieces, a video series and eventually a 2022 book, The Value Equation: A Business Guide to Wealth Creation for Entrepreneurs, Leaders and Investors.  He was a 2019 regional winner of Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of The Year® award and was recognized in 2022 as a distinguished alumnus by Georgia State University.  He has served as a visiting professor to Cornell University, lectures at many colleges and serves on multiple charity boards.  He resides with his wife in Paradise Valley Arizona and Huntsville, Alabama.

What you’ll learn in this episode

  • [1:32] How to get the motivation to write a book and the reasons to write a book. 
  • [2:36] Why Chris wrote a book about business and wealth creation. 
  • [4:02] The six variables of businesses. 
  • [5:45] The value of people in business. 
  • [7:30] What young people want in business and what companies need to work. 
  • [9:25] The key priorities companies have. 
  • [10:58] Using staff satisfaction as a measurement of company success.
  • [11:55] Why most financially successful people aren’t following their childhood passion. 
  • [15:02] How to find out what you’re good at. 
  • [16:06] The motivation to become a commercial banker. 
  • [16:55] The benefits of learning about business at a young age. 
  • [18:36] How to be deliberate with your career choices. 
  • [20:40] Why sales skills are so critical. 
  • [22:20] How employers respond to people who have worked in multiple different career fields. 
  • [25:41] The benefits of getting a new role in the same business rather than changing companies. 
  • [28:18] The impact AI will have on people at the beginning of their careers. 
  • [30:28] Why all business owners need to have leadership skills. 
  • [33:45] Different forms of leadership. 
  • [37:00] The rise of the gig economy and the opportunities this brings. 
  • [38:56] How to get out of a career rut. 
  • [41:00] The one trait all leaders share

Resources mentioned in this episode

Please note that some of these are affiliate links and we may get a commission in the event that you make a purchase.  This helps us to cover our expenses and is at no additional cost to you.

Episode 166: Passion vs problem solving: which is more important for your career? - with Christopher Volk

Jeremy Cline 0:00
Which is more important, being passionate about what you do, or figuring out what you're good at and how you can solve other people's problems? Well, that's something we're going to talk about in this week's episode. I'm Jeremy Cline, and this is Change Work Life.

Jeremy Cline 0:29
Hello, and welcome to Change Work Life, the show that's all about beating the Sunday evening blues and enjoying Mondays again. If you want to know how you can enjoy a more satisfying and fulfilling working life, you're in the right place. Passion is not a prerequisite for starting a business or career; figure out what you're good at and passion will follow. Not my words, but the words of this week's guest who I'm delighted to have on the show to dive into this in a bit more detail. Christopher Volk is an entrepreneur who has taken three companies public, two of which he co-founded. He was a 2019 regional winner of Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year award. And in his book, The Value Equation, Chris explores how companies are conceived and work to generate personal and collective wealth. Chris, welcome to the podcast.

Christopher Volk 1:19
Jeremy, I'm pleased to be here and excited to talk today.

Jeremy Cline 1:23
I am often curious to understand what motivates someone to put themselves through the agony of writing a book? What was the driver in your case?

Christopher Volk 1:32
Well, I think that, if you have something, you can say it a book, it becomes kind of a bucket list item, and you're willing to sit down and put yourself through that gruelling process of writing. The book was also written to help people, so I was writing the book to talk about how business wealth is created. And as strange as it might sound, I couldn't find any other books on the process. So, I walked through the process from a corporate structure and math perspective, because business models matter. And you can have the best ideas for serving customers, but then you have to take those ideas and wrap them around a really potent business model. And that's how wealth gets created, both for companies and shareholders and founders and stakeholders. And if you look at the wealthiest people in the world today, virtually all of them made their money in business, and virtually all of them figured out how to harness a really potent business model.

Jeremy Cline 2:27
And when you looked around and saw that there wasn't anything quite like this, what was it that made you go, 'Chris, you've got to fill in this gap'?

Christopher Volk 2:35
Well, I mean, it's the gap that needed to be filled in. And I've been interested in the subject ever since I started my career, I started my career in banking. And one of the earlier observations I made, which doesn't sound like a big deal, is that some companies are just better than other companies. I mean, you look at lots of businesses, and you think there's going to be some equality in terms of what the returns are and whatnot. But that's not true at all. Some businesses are just flat better. And over the years, I just tried to figure out what made those businesses and those ideas better. And then, right around 2000, I wrote an article on this, and I basically broke it down into six variables. So, if you're trying to create a corporate financial model, you just reduce it to the smallest number of pieces you can, and I figured the smallest number of pieces was six. And that's really what management needs to focus on, are those six. And of course, that's a super simplification, because behind those six are many more, but nonetheless, you start off with the six. And that's where things get interesting. And I think businesspeople really need to understand all of this stuff, as they're embarking on creating or managing a company.

Jeremy Cline 3:44
So, this podcast, the subject is more about the individual people and their careers, which clearly is related to businesses, because businesses can't exist without the people. But I'd be grateful if you'd first just briefly summarise what those six principles are that you mentioned.

Christopher Volk 4:02
I'll just lay out the six variables, but we won't go through the math right now. Because I think that would distract us. But number one is sales, of course, every company can't exist without sales or customers, and that's important. The second is the operating profit margin of a business, which is the profitability of a company before they pay for interest and debt and stuff. The third is going to be business investment, how much money does it take to actually put a business together, and a lot of people don't really understand that. The fourth is trying to control what you have to spend every year to maintain that business investment, all that capital expenditure. And then, in the case of some companies, they're buying other companies all the time, so you want to control what you pay for those businesses, so you don't lose a lot of money. And then, the last two variables are just related to the capital side of the business. How much money are you borrowing, or other people's money, I used to lease real estate to people, so leases are basically another for other people's money, and what's the cost of that money. And when you do that, you can figure out what your mix of equity is needed, versus the other people's money piece. And those six variables, just put them all together, and they'll give you a return on equity. And the goal is to make it as high as you can.

Jeremy Cline 5:17
So, it sounds quite sort of mathematical, almost like you could plug the numbers into a spreadsheet, and it would spit out a result. And I know that you're interested in people, because that's come through on the writings and from our previous conversations. And so, I'm kind of curious to know, from your perspective, how the people element fits into the model, apart from the obvious that you need people to do this stuff. I mean, a company can't operate without having people. But when you're looking at this very, I'm not going to say cold, but very logical, very analytical approach, what happens when you get the messiness of people involved?

Christopher Volk 6:01
Right. Well, you know, the thing about business is that you have to meld the people piece of the business with the business aspect of the business. And so, the six variables are clinical, I mean, they're set out in terms of what it takes to run a business. But behind that, the importance for your audience is that, if they're working for a company that does it right and has a really great business model, then they're likely to have a better career opportunity, they're likely to get paid more, they're likely to advance and have better prospects. If they're working for a company that doesn't have as good of a business model, it will detract from those opportunities. So, if you're an employee, and you're thinking about where do I want to work, or if I'm an employee, I'm working for a company, how do I want to make this company better, in terms of giving more opportunities to people, and of course, the business model becomes part of it. If you're an entrepreneur, if you're thinking about wanting to be an entrepreneur, then putting together a team of people to create a good business model and sit around a table and say, 'How can we run this better', is important. And if you're in a company, and you're ever trying to re-engineer the company, let's say things aren't going right, and you're trying to figure out how to make things a little bit better, invariably, it comes around to the six variables. And so, it's important to know that. So, really, in everybody's daily life, it becomes important. And by the way, if you're an investor, it sure helps to understand what you're investing in, and how the business models work for the companies you're investing in.

Jeremy Cline 7:27
So when you're looking at these models from quite an analytical and mathematical perspective, are they always congruent with the people element and the fact that, particularly, it's come out more recently, but as younger people come into the workforce, they're looking for slightly different things, they're looking more for work-life balance, they're looking more for growth, pay is perhaps not the be all and end all, they want to be supported, they want to feel that they're working for a company that's got a purpose, all that kind of thing, I mean, all this sorts of stuff that I could probably go on, is that always congruent with the idea of the business model and the six variables?

Christopher Volk 8:14
Well, I think the virtue of the free enterprise system is that, for a company to work, it has to create value for everybody. I mean, the best businesses out there find ways of servicing their customers, that's number one, servicing their investors, they wouldn't exist without those either, and then making sure that their employees, foremost amongst their other stakeholders, are well taken care of. And you really want to have a business be a win-win-win proposition. I always found that one of my joys in being an entrepreneur was putting together a company that was able to deliver value for so many different people, I mean, to really affect the lives positively for so many different people. And one of the great things about free enterprise is that notion that you can create a win-win system, and the best companies do that, and it shows

Jeremy Cline 9:07
Do you the feel like there is any one of those, we'll call them stakeholders, that could or should take priority? Or is it always being as equally good for all of those stakeholders as you can and balancing between them?

Christopher Volk 9:25
There is a priority of stakeholders. So, when you're creating a company, all companies solve problems, and you're creating a business that's going to solve a problem for a customer. And that problem could be very simple, where to eat lunch, you're doing a restaurant. It could be sending a satellite into orbit, but you're solving a problem for a customer, and you're designing a product around what you think the customer wants. So, the customer invariably is the first person that you're thinking of when you're starting a business. And the solution for that customer is the first thing you're thinking about when you're starting a business as well. And then, the second thing you're thinking about is the investor. Because now that you've got the solution provided for a customer, you might need investors to be able to create a company. And certainly, companies that solve the biggest problems tend to need the most money to start those problems. So, you're going to need shareholders, and those shareholders will be perhaps helping you start the business, but also, helping that business grow as you need to expand to perhaps raise more money to grow. So, the investor invariably comes number two, and makes the company possible. And then, you end up with the other stakeholders, which are your staff and your suppliers and your creditors, your communities that you serve. So, there are a whole host of them. But foremost among those are going to be the staff that you hire. And then, those are the people that I really thought a lot about, and I wanted to make them as successful as they could possibly be.

Jeremy Cline 10:56
I recently heard about one company, I think it was Gore-Tex, if they are successful, and they measure that as being a by-product of how happy they keep their staff, I think it was something like that. And I was curious as to whether that's something that resonates with you.

Christopher Volk 11:13
Well, every year, we've always done employee satisfaction surveys to measure what people are thinking about. And I think it's really important to be mindful of what your staff wants. It's a generalisation, but I think that making sure that your staff is happy is going to reduce turnover, and turnover is very expensive. And so, you can actually effectuate a better business model. So, if you want to get clinical again, you can affect a better company and a better outcome with happy employees, and you're going to produce a better product. So, I agree with that.

Jeremy Cline 11:48
I promised that I would bring this round to the individual levels. Let's talk about this question of passion, which is something that I'm quite interested in. And for Episode 150, I did a Q&A where someone asked me about what I think they called the passion hypothesis. And I went into some detail why I thought that following your passion was terrible advice, which I know is something that you've written about. And first of all, is that something that you agree with?

Christopher Volk 12:18
Not always. I mean, I think that there are some people that are blessed with passions that end up becoming careers, and they end up being very successful at that. So, they basically first have an interest, and they just take that interest and mould it into a career. But I think that most financially successful businesspeople, when they're looking back at their careers, find themselves having done something for a living that they could never have conceived of when they were in a university or when they were starting off their first jobs. And so, it's hard, therefore, to say it was like a lifelong passion that they did this, because their careers led them to the spot where they took advantage of an opportunity they saw, a customer need, and they created a business around that. And then, ultimately, by the way, they become passionate about serving that customer, they become passionate about their company. So, as I say, passion follows you, in a way. But for the most part, most people in their careers end up doing things that are just far different from what they might have conceived of when they were in grade school or high school or college or postgraduate work.

Jeremy Cline 13:29
I think that's an important point that, certainly, when you're starting out in your career, you can't really know what you're going to be passionate about, because you've had a very limited amount of experience at that point.

Christopher Volk 13:41
Right. I mean, and it's also finding what you're good at. So, there's a notion that you have to spend 10,000 hours or so to be really proficient at something, and that's probably true. And so, the question is, for people to find something that they can really do, and do well, and then devote enough hours to it to be really good at it, and if you can be really good at it, then what you can do is start to solve problems for other people. And when you solve problems for other people, it's gratifying. I mean, you're basically now making a difference for people, and they're coming up to you and saying, 'Can you please solve this problem?' And chances are your daily job tasks start to come much more diverse, because you're not doing the same thing all the time, because you're constantly solving problems for people. And of course, problem solvers tend to be the breeding ground for leadership of any variety. And so, you're more likely to be a leader, and then tangentially, you're more likely to make more money as well. And so, I think that it really starts with just finding out what you're good at. And that is not an easy thing to ask people to do.

Jeremy Cline 14:51
Having said that, it's not an easy thing to ask people to do, what advice do you have for someone who's starting out and who says, 'I don't have a clue what I'm interested in'?

Christopher Volk 15:00
Right. So, you're talking to me from the UK, and I'm in America, but oftentimes what I do with young people is, I make sure they're doing lots of different internships as they're going through university, before they really get their first position. And then, when they get their first position, oftentimes, you want to try to make it so that that position won't preclude you from branching out and doing other things easily. You want to have a position that you can jump off from. In my case, I chose a job in commercial banking, which was a jump-off spot to a lot of things, I could see lots of businesses. And I did it in part because I knew so little about business. And I thought, here's this vehicle that's going to teach me what so many other companies do. And I'm either going to like commercial banking, I'll stay here, or I'm going to end up leaving and going into some business that I'm going to find that I like. And so, I did the latter.

Jeremy Cline 15:59
Just go into a bit more of the motivation when you're at that stage to go into commercial banking.

Christopher Volk 16:07
Right. Well, I mean, I had interest in lots of different careers at the time. And part of why I chose banking was because I realised I knew so little about business that I wanted to be in a place where I could be exposed to lots and lots of different companies. My undergraduate studies were in history and French language. And so, I didn't have a lot of professional background. And my summer internships, by the way, were not exactly vocational. So, I think that I probably could have done better on that front, if I had known what I know today. And so, I intentionally chose banking because I thought it would be a decent launching pad for me to do this. And it ended up being really helpful.

Jeremy Cline 16:48
And what was important for you at that stage about having something which gave you experience of business?

Christopher Volk 16:57
Well, it allowed me to understand two things about myself. The first thing was, I found that I was actually pretty good at finance. I was really good at reading financial statements. I'm a financial and analyst geek. Or at least, I became one when I was working for a bank. And I started to become pretty good at understanding what businesses were good and what businesses weren't good. And so, a customer of mine ended up hiring me. And they were a financial services company, a non-bank financial services company dealing in real estate finance. And they had an extraordinarily solid business model. And I, of course, liked the people that I was going to work with and knew them, and worked with them for some period of time. And so, I picked up my family from Atlanta, Georgia, and I moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where I spent the entirety of my career building businesses.

Jeremy Cline 17:52
And when you were fresh out of college making this decision to go into commercial banking, and before you realise that you wanted to be an analyst geek and that kind of thing, what was the driver at that point? I'm just thinking of someone who is out of college, and it's a big wide world there, the sort of thought process that they can go through that kind of makes them think, 'Oh, well, this might be something which could stand me in good stead, or this could be something', rather than what a lot of people do is just go, 'Oh, well, you know, loads of people are going into consulting, I'll go into that, because it's well paid and might be interesting, don't really know anything about it.' I'm just here talking about how you can be a bit more deliberate at that stage, that very early stage.

Christopher Volk 18:37
I wish I could claim credit for being deliberate. I mean, being deliberate was in a way forced on me. So, I graduated from university in 1979. And in 1980, there was a massive recession that was going on in the United States, and probably in the UK as well. It was a very difficult time to find a position, and I had a non-business degree trying to find my way into business and not being forced to go into graduate school right away. And so, I applied to lots and lots of companies. I mean, literally, I sent out about 300 resumes with cover letters. And there's no Internet back then, you're typing this stuff out on manual or electric typewriters and sending all this out. And I got hundreds of rejection letters. I mean, so not everybody replied, but the ones that did, I got hundreds of rejection letters. I had a few interviews, and those didn't go anywhere. And I almost would have probably taken any job that was offered to me, I was in sort of desperate need of getting employed. And in a way, the lucky thing that happened to me was that nobody hired me. And so, it forced me to sit back and say, 'Okay, what do I need to do? And how can I be much more deliberate about this?' And I had a reset moment, where I reset my priorities, and said, 'You know, I think I'll go into commercial banking.' So, you're a history major, and I'm thinking, 'Okay, I'm going to go into commercial banking.' And I knew virtually nothing about commercial banking, but I didn't know that it was going to teach me how to read financial statements and look at companies and lend money to businesses and be exposed to a much broader, wider world. And by the way, the same could be said for consulting, if people want to get into consulting businesses or whatever. I mean, there's lots of businesses that can give you this kind of exposure, and banking is one of those. And so, I did it, and it ended up being a very good platform for me. But it was something that kind of happened to me, it was really fortunate. I mean, I was close to being, for example, a seller of textbooks for universities, at one point in time, for a big publishing house. I don't think I would have stayed there, but nonetheless, my career would have taken a much different turn if I had done that.

Jeremy Cline 20:38
And also, it would have taught you a different skill, which would have been sales, which I'm sure is something which has proved, I'm sure that it's probably something you picked up elsewhere, but it's something that has proved, and I've heard other people describing sales as basically a fundamental skill, almost whatever you do,

Christopher Volk 20:56
Right. Well, I'm personal proof positive that salespeople can be made, not born. So, I think that sales is a critical skill. And because it's not really academic, people don't teach it in universities or graduate schools, but I really believe it would help people getting out of the schools to have some exposure to sales. And whether it's in a seminar or some other vehicle that the universities could arrange for. I learned a lot about selling, and that's really, essentially, especially if you're an entrepreneur, because you're having to raise capital from investors, which is the ultimate sale, and they're parting with their precious capital when they could invest it somewhere else, and choosing to back you and the team that you've assembled to create a company.

Jeremy Cline 21:41
I'd like to pick up on this topic of exploring your options. So, your suggestion of doing almost as many internships as you can and in different areas to see what sticks. So, let's say someone has followed this advice, and there's only a finite number of things that you can do, and nothing has stuck. So, okay, you decide, well, let's try this as a job, and you do something, and maybe you do it for a year or so. And it's kind of still not really sticking. So, let's try something else. Certainly, I know people I've spoken to who are in that position, and they have a fear, they have a fear of what their resume is going to look like. There's going to be this sort of inability to make a decision jumping around, career hopping, when really it's just been early, even mid in your career, it's just been that something hasn't stuck. If you're looking at people from the other end, who have hopped around, and you're looking at resumes, is that something that is a red flag? Is it something that's evidence of someone exploring themselves? I mean, how do you look at that sort of situation?

Christopher Volk 23:00
I think, if you're interviewing people, and they have a resume that's replete with a lot of different positions, it's really going to be up to that person to describe why they've done this and what their path has been. I find that people's careers tend to be progressive. So, they're starting on one thing, and one thing leads to the next, and that leads to the next and leads to the next. And there's some kind of a path there where people make the shifts, and they're being thoughtful about it. And I think that, if you're interviewing a person like that, and they've been thoughtful about this and had a continuum of opportunities that made sense in what they were trying to do, and if they can convince you that you're the next stop on their bus, and they think they're going to stay there for a while, because they've liked what you're doing, then I would be all about giving them an opportunity to do that. But sometimes you have people that, their career progression has not been so thoughtful, and it's been reactive. And there's been short tenure at places, all of which can be red flags for people, because you are thinking that you have an applicant who's either not really thoughtful about where they're going to, or just as bad, they are finding they can't work with people and the businesses they chose to go to and were essentially pushed out the door, either voluntarily or involuntarily, to do something else. And so, that's the thing that you tend to worry about when you see lots of resume things. And again, part of this comes down to sales, and it comes down to a person selling themselves and saying, 'This is why I'm here. This is what I've been doing with my career. And this is why what I've done makes so much sense for you to hire me.'

Jeremy Cline 24:51
I'm just wondering how you can square sort of being thoughtful, but also, if you're still in an experimental period, which could be at the start of your career, or it could be that you've been doing something for ages and want to have a shift, but you're not quite sure what that is, and so, looking to experiment to that point. So, if the situation is that you really are trying things out, but you want to do it in a thoughtful way, how you then square that when it comes to selling yourself to a potential employer? Do they want to be someone who's kind of being tried out, and maybe it'll be for six months or a year, or maybe there's going to be potential there, and it could be for over 10 years.

Christopher Volk 25:38
Right. Well, that's an interesting question. I think that, if you're taking a first job, and you're working for a business, and the business has any sides to it, there'll be lots and lots of career opportunities or career paths inside of that business. That could be in sales, it could be in operations, it could be in accounting, marketing, it could be in IT. So, there are lots of different avenues that people can undertake in businesses, as they get a position. And that could be true, whether you're in consulting, or whether you're in banking, or whether you're in manufacturing. And so, people can actually zig and zag in terms of their interests pretty easily, oftentimes, if they're in a business where there are those kinds of opportunities. And I would sort of advise that, rather than just sort of jumping ship, and then just trying it somewhere else, right? So, one of the persons I worked with would often say, the best customer is the one you already have. And so, if you're an employee, and you're thinking about not liking a certain spot, if there's a way to migrate into something else within the same business, that would be my first choice.

Jeremy Cline 26:46
That sounds like really valuable advice on two levels. One, that there can be, if it's right for you, advantages in going to work for a larger company, particularly if you are in this state of perhaps a little bit of uncertainty as to which direction you might go to, because there might be more opportunities within that. But then also, before, as you say, jumping ship and going to a different company, maybe have a look at what opportunities there might be to shift around where you are, because you might be quite surprised what you find.

Christopher Volk 27:22
Sure, I mean, even in our businesses, they weren't large in terms of people, our companies would have, in the last couple, I did have about 120 people when I left, but those professionals, and they were all professionals, ranged from property management, to credit analysis, to sales, to accounting, to marketing, to IT. So, there were lots of different areas inside of the business. And of course, today, that company will probably be getting into artificial intelligence and other things, too, that are going to be interesting for careers down the road. And so, even a smaller business with not that many employees, there's a chance to migrate to different tasks and different functions.

Jeremy Cline 28:06
You've mentioned it there, and at the risk of asking you to gaze into your crystal ball, what do you think the impact of AI could be on people who are starting their careers now or in the very near future?

Christopher Volk 28:18
I think AI will have a huge impact on many, many industries. And I think that it will also create, probably, as many opportunities. And so, in a way, I find it exciting. And I think that, if people can become comfortable with that, then there'll be more valuable in whatever position they choose to be in. In my area, I was in finance, we were doing a lot of real estate transactions, you're a lawyer, you're an attorney, and if you consider what AI can do to speeding up the production of legal documents, just stock legal documents, or reading existing legal documents and interpreting them, I mean, oftentimes, you'll have people that will look at a lease and hire a lawyer to do what's called a lease abstract, where you're reading a document and lawyers interpreting this is what the lease says. But if you could have a computer essentially do that for you, then you would have, by the way, fewer lawyers, but you'd have other people that would be understanding how to manage the artificial intelligence, but it will allow law firms and businesses to become more efficient and productive. And I always think that, with companies, what you really want to do is focus on what your core competencies are. And so, you've got to think about what are you really good at. And almost like employees trying to figure out what am I really good at, but the company also has to think about what I'm really good at, and the less time they can focus on other stuff that's superfluous, the more it's going to be successful, and AI can basically help speed up some functions, so they become non-critical functions, and you can hone down the list of things that you're good at.

Jeremy Cline 30:01
A lot of the people who are listening to this podcast are likely to be at some kind of career juncture. And it's a point where many people start to think about whether they want to, rather than be an employee somewhere else, start their own business, start their own company. Something that you've said intrigued me in that regard, which was that, if leadership is not for you, then starting a business may not be right, either. The first of all, what makes you say that?

Christopher Volk 30:35
I mean, leadership is all about making decisions. And it's about taking ownership of decisions. You have to really put yourself out there and have an opinion. And if you're starting a company, people will look to you to have the answers, or at least to lead them and to help extract the answers in other ways. But you're definitely going to be in a leadership position. I think one of the most important decisions people make in their careers is whether they want to be a leader or not. And I think the sooner they make that decision, the better they are. Because if you're deciding that you want to be a leader, then you decide, okay, what's it going to take to be a leader in this business. So, for example, in commercial banking, where I started my career, if you wanted to be in the marketing department, your chances of rising to the Chief Executive Officer spot is pretty low. I don't know of anybody who's gone there through the marketing department. Or if you're doing it from the IT department, I mean, you're not likely to be president of a bank. If you start through the lending area, where you're lending a lot of money to companies, and you're actually producing a lot of income for the bank by doing that, then you have a chance to become CEO. And so, part of how I ended up being a credit geek and understanding financials and lending money to people was because I got into that bank early on, I said, 'What does it take to be president of this place? I want to know that.' And so, I chose a job that had a good chance of getting me into that spot. If I were, let's say, a branch manager at a local branch of the bank, that would give you a very limited chance of becoming a senior leader in the bank, at least the bank that I was with. So, I was intentionally choosing paths that had a chance, a better chance of getting you into a leadership position. And I think that that's a super important decision for people to make. And of course, for people who are going to graduate business school, let's say, I mean, and they're earning a master's in business, or PhD or whatever, those people are taking time out of their day, I went to school at night, because they want to be a leader, they want to be better. And so, these are the kinds of commitments that leaders make, they work hard, and they spend time educating themselves. And so, you're doing all that. And by the way, none of it guarantees that you'll be a leader, but you have a really elevated chance. One of the great quotes is that opportunity is where luck meets preparedness. Or it says luck is where opportunity meets preparedness, I did it the wrong way. But luck is where opportunity meets preparedness. And so, you have to be prepared, and you have to take the opportunity as you see it, and then you can become lucky. So, in some respects, life is about making your own luck and being there and doing it, trying enough times so that you can do it.

Jeremy Cline 33:29
And in this context, it sounds from what you're saying like we're talking about leadership in the context of leading an organisation, I mean, I'm interested in your view on this, but that's not necessarily the only form of leadership. So, your branch manager of a small bank, or the head of the marketing department can still be a leader within their sphere, even if perhaps it's not necessarily going to be a path that will more easily or more naturally take them to CEO or something like that.

Christopher Volk 34:07
That's a really excellent point. And so, for example, if you're in marketing for a bank, you might end up running the marketing department. And of course, that is a form of leadership. If you're in marketing, but you're working for an advertising agency or a public relations firm, then you can be president of it. I mean, that's where marketing people rise to be CEO, where they're really leading a whole organisation. So, I think that you're causing me to refine my thoughts a little bit about this. But as people are thinking about what they want to do with their careers, for sure, choosing to be a leader is very important. Do you have to be CEO or president? No, I mean, the number of deck chairs gets pretty small at that level, but there are lots of forms of leadership. And you can also decide whether you want to be working in and organisation where the skill set you have is not something that would be required of the executive team perhaps or the most senior person in the company, which could be marketing in a bank, for example, or do you want to be in an advertising agency where you have a chance to actually run an entire marketing organisation. But I just think that people in their careers need to make that personal level of commitment, whether they want to be an employee and being told what to do all the time, or whether they want to actually be in a position where they can be creative and lead other people and have a chance to have their decisions to make an impact on an organisation.

Jeremy Cline 35:39
And this circles back quite nicely to when you're talking about your own business, because you can start your own business as something, it's just you providing the service, and you can be a dog walker, and just do that by yourself, or you could be a copywriter, or any number of things where you just provide that service by yourself. And on the one hand, you certainly don't have to be a leader of tens of people, hundreds of people, thousands of people. But there's still that element of, even if it's just self-leadership, of having that self-starting to get the business in, unless you're a consultant who's on a five-year consultancy or a 10-year consultancy, you're basically working as an employee, but at the same company, you're just calling yourself a consultant. But if you're someone who is still having to get the customer service for your customers and do stuff which an employee might not have to worry about, like figure out how you're going to do your taxes, how you're going to work out your own personal profit and loss and all that kind of thing, there's still an element of what you might call leadership, which is over and above what you might have as an employee, so if you're just starting a very small company.

Christopher Volk 36:55
Of course, I mean, in today's world, you and I are talking to each other thousands of miles away from one another. And people can work this way. And so, you have a gig economy where people can literally be their own contractor and be engaged by folks in completely different countries. And it happens all the time. And so, the opportunities that are available for people from a work perspective are much different. Is consulting the same thing as being a leader? I don't know. I mean, I always think of leadership and businesses as running a business, and you have lots of employees that you're working for, and you have shareholders, and you have customers and all that. If you're a gig person, you're your own shareholder, and you're providing services, you're providing services to your customers. But it's sort of a one-off basis. It's a different type of leadership, in the sense that you're working for yourself, so you're telling yourself everyday what to do, and you're counselling customers. But that's kind of like an education position, you're providing a consulting service to make people think about what they do. And so, it's a different kind of thing from taking six variables and running a business, six variables, there are fewer variables.

Jeremy Cline 38:17
I don't know whether this is a situation where you've ever found yourself, but I'm sure that you have during the course of your career worked with people who have been, maybe they're 10 plus years in, and they feel like they're in a career rut, they feel like they're just not going anywhere, and then, not quite sure what to do about it, especially when you've got this, to go back to your 10,000 hours, maybe they've been doing the 10,000 hours on something, and they're really good at it, but they're not sure that it's necessarily what they want to be doing for the next 10,000 hours. What steps or advice do you give, have you given to that sort of person?

Christopher Volk 38:56
Well, I mean, I think that it requires a lot of introspection and a lot of personal deliberation to think about what you want to do. And our career paths are really guided by what provides us with personal satisfaction in life. And so, for example, I became an entrepreneur the first time at the age of 47, so not exactly a young entrepreneur, and I did so because I thought I had a chance to start a business, and I could take my careers and my skill sets and harness them to be able to start a business. But my alternative was to take another position, probably making more money, a lot more money, and more certainty and less risk. And so, you do things because you have a lifelong bucket list. I mean, I didn't want to look back at myself and say, 'Gee, Chris, you could have started a company. This was your moment, and you let it slip by, because you were looking for safety and security, and you weren't looking for taking some risk and trying to start a company.' And I just didn't want to look back at my life and say that. And I think that, if people are thinking about being in a rut where they are, then obviously, you want to do something about it. And you don't want to look back at your life and have regrets. I mean, life is so short, we try to minimise them as much as possible. And I decided I would rather make less money and work for myself and hope I'm going to be successful, than more money working for somebody else. And I think people make those decisions every day, and it requires a lot of deliberate thought as they're shifting tracks, and they're going from one thing to the next.

Jeremy Cline 40:38
It's not just the idea of luck being opportunity plus preparedness, but also, being prepared to take the opportunity and not letting the fear of failure get in the way.

Christopher Volk 40:48
Totally. I mean, I think that most leaders, and you've consulted with a lot of leaders, or a lot of employees who would like to be leaders, I think most leaders are personally insecure. I mean, they have personal self-doubt all the time. And they have fear of failure all the time. And it's what drives them to work as hard as they do. Because I mean, I don't know, I've never met a leader that didn't really work super hard to achieve what they achieve. And so, the motivation to be able to work that hard often comes in self-doubt and fear and insecurities, and I've had those on my whole life. And so, the goal is to take that and put it to positive use, take these negative emotions and put them to some positive good, and so that's what I've worked to do.

Jeremy Cline 41:42
Chris, this has been a fascinating conversation. And we talked briefly offline about recommended tools and resources, and I'm fascinated to know what you've come up with.

Christopher Volk 41:52
Sure. Well, one of the early mentors of mine who had read a lot of business books as he was becoming an entrepreneur, had a favourite that he would hand out to people. And it's a book that was written in 1960 by a plastic surgeon, Maxwell Maltz, from the south-eastern United States. And the book is called Psycho-Cybernetics. And it was one of the early self-help books that sold millions of copies. And basically, it came about because Dr Maltz had conducted surgery on all kinds of people and found that, in changing their appearances, he caused them to feel better about themselves, and people, as a result of what he did for them, ended up with better self-image. And then, the obvious question is, do you really need to do that to have a better self-image? And my mentor would narrow this down to a simple notion of, you are what you're becoming. So, you're thinking about, you are what you want to be. And so, Psycho-Cybernetics was early on that. I also am a fan of The Power of Positive Thinking, which is a Norman Vincent Peale book. And that was done in 1953, I think. And so, these are really early self-help books, but they're fabulous.

Jeremy Cline 43:00
I think that recommendations of books which stand the test of time like that are very, very welcome. Chris, if someone wants to find you, get in touch with you, where would you like to send them?

Christopher Volk 43:09
Well, I'd try the LinkedIn profile, it's the easiest way to do it. If you send me an email on LinkedIn, I'll respond to you. And if you want to look at the website for the book, it's www.thevalueequation.com. I look forward to any comments on the book and enjoy hearing from your listeners.

Jeremy Cline 43:27
Fantastic, as always, there'll be links to those in the show notes. Chris, fascinating conversation. Thank you so much for your time.

Christopher Volk 43:33
Jeremy, I have enjoyed it. And I knew I was going to enjoy this interview, and I wasn't disappointed. Thank you.

Jeremy Cline 43:40
Okay, hope you enjoyed that conversation with Christopher Volk. Slightly different episode this week. Christopher has just got so much experience, has been in the game so long, that I was quite keen just to play around with the conversation, see where it went, and just tap on his experience. It's also worth reminding yourself if you're interested in starting your own business that Christopher didn't identify as being an entrepreneur until he was aged 47. Now, I'm a couple of years younger than that, and I've been dabbling my toes in. So, that kind of gives me a bit of encouragement. If Chris can achieve all he has achieved with starting businesses and taking them public, and he started doing that at age 47, well, you know what, there's definitely still plenty of time for me and probably also for you as well. You'll find the show notes for this episode at changeworklife.com/166. That's changeworklife.com/166. And if the conversation with Chris has left you feeling at all uncertain or unclear about whether it's a passion you want to follow, what it is that you might want to help people with, well, don't forget, help is at hand. I know from first-hand experience how coaching can help you to uncover and clarify what things you might want to pursue yourself. if that's something you'd like to find out more about, and maybe you'd like to work with me, then go to changeworklife.com/coaching, that's changeworklife.com/coaching. You can sign up for a free 30-minute introductory session and find out more about it. There's another great interview coming up in two weeks' time, so do make sure that you subscribe to the show, if you haven't already, and I can't wait to see you then. Cheers. Bye.

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