A Graduate Profile, with a message

A Graduate Profile, with a message
Chris Lyons (Chemistry ‘73)


At a recent reception for Hull University Alumni at the House of Lords I listened with great interest to our Vice Chancellor describe the many achievements of the University.

One in particular struck a chord as he mentioned the great work of the Careers Service which still regularly places high proportions of students in employment. Many readers will reflect warmly on those efforts to help with their first step into work.

Amongst the gathering of Alumni were Peers of the Realm, a High Commissioner, Leaders of Industry, Accountants, Lawyers, Clerics and a host of talent all educated at Hull. Contemporaries discussed past careers and life to date, but reflective of current times a sense of "What next?" prevailed.

The impact of the global recession and the changing nature of work have together conspired to make the world a different place. Taking stock and planning your life and career is now even more important and the opportunity to explore a Portfolio Career route is ever more timely.

The world was introduced to the concept of work as a Portfolio in Charles Handy's farsighted book The Age of Unreason in 1989. The changes in work patterns he predicted have led many thousands to adopt the lifestyle he envisioned and his definition of "a work portfolio" as "a way of describing how different bits of work in our life fit together to form a balanced whole" is now a reality to many.

You may be employed, full or part time, unemployed, retired, worried about your next twenty years or just in need of a change. You may have been in one role, profession or company for many years and believe that change may be around the corner, but have no clear idea of what comes next.

These were the symptoms I came to recognise about ten years ago following a long and successful career with Abbey National. My career progressed upwards and through personnel, operations, finance and banking, much was learned though times of great change and seismic shifts in the industry. I learned to cope with all the usual things, frustration, long hours, lack of praise etc., but work was fun. I also discovered many things of value, particularly networking, together with a sense of knowing when time was up as many respected colleagues fell by the wayside. Sooner or later employment with my preferred partner would end.

As my late 40s progressed, the foreboding sense of what the next 25 years held became stronger. The sense of controlling my own destiny took over. The incentive to plan the future elsewhere grew by the day. I quietly extended my network of contacts, sought advice, proactively chased external facing corporate activities and obtained a Masters Degree in Strategic Finance.

When the opportunity arose, it came quickly and timing was everything. A well executed exit plan ensured that I escaped the ensuing years of carnage in what had been a well run, energetic, commercial organisation. My next two years on the executive board of an asset management and banking entity were a period of transition, setting down firm foundations for a future Portfolio Life. Networking and contacts were key during this period and the initial stages of constructing my first portfolio.

Setting it up took time and I chose to have a theme of corporate governance and finance at the core whilst playing to my historical strengths of banking, finance and building new ventures. My current portfolio is founded on three main areas comprising non-executive directorships, consulting assignments and specialist advice on the sale and acquisition of businesses.

Since taking the plunge the range of business problems and issues I have been involved in have been intellectually stimulating and beyond that which I could have imagined. They have ranged from setting up project finance arrangements to operate in Nigeria and Iraq, through to directing the renegotiation of borrowing requirements in a large complex organisation, and the establishment of an International Institute of Mathematics in the UK. The portfolio has grown in size, widened and reinvented itself with interest.

I now Chair the Boards of two regulated organisations, a Housing Association and an international Stock Brokerage. I lecture at both Durham and Kingston Business Schools, the latter as a visiting Fellow. I have served on the Board of the world's leading international maritime consultancy and a charity. Finally, I specialise in business sale and acquisitions advice to small and medium sized businesses.

It is a rich and varied portfolio deriving much satisfaction and time to do things I enjoy, even finding time to rediscover golf and long distance walking. Again that sense of timing has arrived. Anyone considering such a lifestyle change should think carefully and plan the transition. My first "How to" book on the subject You Unlimited was published 2005 and the latest Building a Portfolio Career is due out in July 2009.

It incorporates much recent learning and reflects the new world order. It shares with readers my experiences and my co-authors and contributors together with the wide-ranging feedback and practical tips. It is required reading for those who may see a Portfolio Career as a distant horizon from your present situation but, at the very least, it can be a great form of insurance for your future, rather like your first visit to the career officer all those years ago.

Original Article: A Graduate Profile, with a message

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