Wayne Gretzky, the national hockey league’s all-time leading scorer, and perhaps the greatest player ever to play the game apparently was pretty astute when it came to offering career advice.
Mr. Gretzky was amazingly prescient about today’s executive job market when he uttered his famous quote in the 1990s.
Wayne Gretzky, a Canadian American, played 20 seasons in the national hockey league for four teams. By the time he retired, he deservedly had earned the nickname, the great one. He once told a reporter that as a hockey player he was not naturally gifted in terms of size and speed. “everything I did in hockey, I worked for.”
Today, we set aside his extraordinary successes as an athlete and focus on one of his favorite quotes.
It is this quote that job seekers today should take to heart.
“A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”
It is all about anticipating the next move. It is about instinct but it is also about mental and physical preparation.
So, let’s leave the hockey arena behind, and talk about how this wonderful quote can play out in how you manage your career.
But first let’s revisit some of the market factors that are impacting the job search market.
First, there is business consolidation across many business sectors. Some of the consolidation is driven by technology but in other sectors it is global competition. Companies are attempting to be more formidable competitors by achieving scale. Mergers eliminate the so-called duplication in operating costs and that fuels layoffs.
The end result is that there are a lot of talented executives looking for work.
Second, the job market is competitive and that will only intensify going forward. The applicants who are successful are those who do a better job than their competitors at annunciating their value to a potential employer. This is not a new theme to this podcast, or my blog, but there seems to be enormous resistance among candidates to buying into this reality. I cannot for the life of me understand why, but the pushback is there.
Third, executives who box themselves in with pre-conceived ideas about the strategic direction of an industry, or those who bring outdated perspectives about how a given job should be done, are going to face some tough times.
In this new economic normal, Executive candidates must invest time and effort in evaluating how their chosen industry is evolving and then acquire the knowledge and skills to stay out in front, to be an accomplished adaptor or innovator.
They have to visualize where the hockey puck is going to be, not where it is today. That is especially true if you aspire to be a CEO.
There are many examples of industries where executives failed to anticipate the pace or scope of change and paid a price.
In telecom, Motorola and Nokia, once the market leaders in cellular handset design and function, are now vague memories.
In the world of mass communications, the Mutual Broadcasting Co. and United Press International news service are either nonexistent or are shells of their former storied operations.
I was a leader in providing news from across the US and around the world, with reporting during world war II, the Korean War and Vietnam.
Their corporate motto was get it FIRST, but GET it right!
It was UPI who beat, by more than two hours all other news agencies, that North Korea had invaded the south.
Some phenomenal reporters and writers like Eric Sevareid, Merriman smith, Helen Thomas and even the great Walter Cronkite worked for the UPI. At one time, Cronkite turned down an offer by the legendary Edward r. Murrow to join the fledgling CBS News.
Mutual Radio was once one of the preeminent radio networks and for many years. This network radio powerhouse offered hourly news updates, an array of public affairs and sports programming and was, for many years, the home to Larry King’s famous nightly radio program.
In their heyday, the people who ran these companies never dreamed they would one day become irrelevant or just a memory. They just failed to see how the market was changing until it was too late.
So, as you think about your career, your current job, or your next career move, do not be trapped by the thinking that the pace of change will not have an impact on your career and how you look for a job.
If you do not believe me, just ask Wayne Smith, the chairman and CEE of Community Health Systems, the Franklin, Tennessee owner and operator of more than 158 hospitals in 22 states with approximately 27,000 licensed beds. But not for long.
Chs, once the largest of the publicly owned hospital management companies, clearly did not fully understand the financial and market implications of the patient protection and affordable care act — also known as Obamacare. Their bread and butter — the wine that Wall Street loved to drink — was built around inpatient admissions.
Early on, when asked about their plans for the future, senior management essentially dismissed the impact of Obamacare and the importance of creating integrated market networks with robust outpatient services.
Instead, they doubled down on their delusion that inpatient admissions would not appreciably decline in the near term, that they would be able to see that change coming in plenty of time. So they bought troubled Health Management Associates, a Florida-based public company with 71 hospitals in 15 states and 11,000 inpatient beds.
The CHS decision to make this acquisition was driven by their need to show Wall Street investors that they still had the magic to achieve growth in revenue. So, they overpaid — colossally overpaid — and today they are saddled with $15 billion in debt that is far higher than their peers. That’s despite raising $1.2 billion earlier this year through a spinoff of 38 small and rural hospitals into Quorum Health Corp and the $445 million sale of its stake in a four-hospital joint venture in Las Vegas.
Now they are in talks to offload another 17 facilities and more divestitures will probably continue into 2017.
Two years ago I blogged that CHS was all but toast and that the HMA acquisition would only exacerbate their problems. I even made the regrettably snide comment that investors should buy their stock, then trading around $60 a share, and short it on the belief that their stock price would decline.
Yesterday, the stock closed at $14.72 a share.
By the way it has traded as low as $5 a share.
For the healthcare industry, CHS is perhaps the best example of a company that was skating to where the puck was, not where it was going to be.
When they write the corporate epitaph for this company, as they almost certainly will, they should probably include Mr. Gretzky’s quote.
So, back to your career and how you manage your strategy going forward.
Today we have looked at some powerful examples of where corporations became too focused on the present and did not anticipate the future.
You should, in fact you must, apply those lessons to your career plans.
This is a strategic career imperative as well as a necessary job search tactic.
Like everything in the job search market, it all begins with your resume.
If your resume is only about where you have been in your journey without addressing the needs of a prospective employer, you are missing a real opportunity that could even cause you to be eliminated from future consideration in a search.
As I have said before, the strongest resumes are those that focus on the needs of the prospective employer.
Candidates should emphasize their strengths and accomplishments that align with the needs of the company. They should use their resume to create a strong story that focuses on the value they can deliver. In this new economy, that is what employers want to hear.
So as you enter the job market, think of the greatest hockey player to ever play the game: be a great candidate, not just a good one. skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it is today.
© 2020 John Gregory Self