How to Launch a Successful Executive Portfolio Career

After more than nine years as the Vice President of Global Markets, Policy, for General Motors and a long career on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Lee Godown was not interested in retirement. He wanted to step back, figure out what was most important to him and then decide what he was going to do next.

Reuben Cohen U.S. Managing Director, LHH Leadership Transition Practice, International Center for Executive Options (ICEO)
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Over 40 years, Lee Godown had built a career that – by any standard – was hugely successful. From the hallowed halls of the U.S. Capitol to the executive suites of several Fortune 100 corporations, he had earned a reputation for ingenuity, diplomacy, and resilience in the face of crises.

He was known on a first-name basis by Washington D.C. lawmakers and power brokers. He chatted intimately with presidents and provided counsel to global C-suite executives.

But after four decades of public policy work inside and outside of government, he decided it was time to shuffle the cards in the deck.

 “I thought to myself, ‘should I let life happen to me, or chart the course myself?’”

There were challenges. Lee was 60 years old, and he was not interested in simply retiring. It also didn’t help that, by his own admission, he did not do well with change. “Whenever I have Chinese food, I always order Kung Pao Chicken. Always.”

Lee approached LHH’s International Center for Executive Options (ICEO), a career transition advisory practice designed specifically for C-Suite executives exactly like himself. Working with ICEO, Lee started to take stock of his professional experience and aspirations.

It was, Lee admitted, a “pretty steep learning curve.”

“My default thinking was that I was going to just keep doing what I was doing.” He thought to himself: “Sure, this guy has a lot of experience, but maybe in this age of Millennial flavors of the month, does that matter anymore? Sadly, I heard my inner voice say ‘OK Boomer …’”

After talking with his ICEO Advisor, Lee began to weigh other issues such as the need to spend more time with his family. Did he really want to get a job working in a downtown consulting firm which would require him to do a long commute every day back and forth from his Northern Virginia home? 

And then, the possibility of a “portfolio career” entered the discussion. Although Lee had never heard of a portfolio career, as he learned more about it he realized it could be the best of all worlds: the chance to offer his network and skills as an independent consultant, while also giving him time for family and his many other interests. 

It sounded great, but Lee was unsure where to begin.

“I love to write, but I learned from the ICEO experts on my team that there’s a specific kind of writing you need to master for branding documents such as a resume, bio, board profile and LinkedIn profile. I also learned that I needed to slow down when I was talking and always have an elevator pitch with focus. Be able to articulate the why behind things, not just the nuts and bolts, making sure the foundation was there.”

Lee said he had never really considered opening his own shop, but especially after assessing the breadth of his network, he realized it really could be the best of all worlds for him. He became more committed and confident, and he jumped in to make it a reality. “It was just one of those amazing life experiences.”

The result today is Alpex International LLC, a boutique firm that specializes in crisis management, business advocacy and global government relations. “When a client comes knocking, wanting some background on me, I now have an immediate ability to respond. I don’t have to worry about these kinds of things, leaving me able to focus on the creative parts of landing the client.”

The portfolio career also created more time for teaching and philanthropy, two of his great passions outside work, and to pursue various hobbies with greater enthusiasm. 

“I teach at George Mason University and at the University of Maryland, and I sometimes speak at conferences. I’m on the boards of some non-profits, stay in touch with politics and even garden a little. I’m learning to play the piano. I have more time for a favorite hobby I’ve developed over the years, racing cars at local road tracks. But most importantly, I have more time for my family. I now sometimes turn business away from my consultancy because I’m so busy.” 

“Through all of this I learned so much about myself and my decision-making process. I make stronger decisions now in my professional life. The guidance I received in my transition was invaluable. It really was a life-changing experience.”

 
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