A turnaround comes in all shapes and sizes, and there is no shortage of examples at any given point in the market: from J.C. Penney’s notorious strategy and leadership saga, to Best Buy’s recent rise under former McKinsey Partner Hubert Joy, to Charles Icahn’s self-professed final stab at Dell in Michael Dell’s fight to take the struggling company private. More often than not, these companies are stacked with well-documented challenges, loss of public support, a lack of stability, and doubtless behind-the-scenes complications. They also present the opportunity for incredible success on a personal, professional, and financial level. When considering joining a turnaround, the question you have to ask yourself is: can you stomach (and thrive on) its day-to-day battlegrounds in exchange for the potential upside?
Understanding the environment and challenges involved in turnarounds is key before signing on the dotted line to start fighting the good fight. A turnaround does, after all, have its name for a reason. As an executive at one of these companies, you have to be willing to make the tough choices that are necessary despite ruffling some feathers. Applying thoughts from Errol Morris’s documentary The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara, turnarounds are messy and highly complex, and people can make mistakes in the process – some of which can cost the jobs of hundreds or thousands of others. They present a challenging and occasionally negative environment in which you will have to work day in and day out (a turnaround does not fix itself overnight).
As an executive search firm, we watch decisions play out in the careers of countless professionals. Some food for thought when entertaining a turnaround opportunity: if you accept an offer at a turnaround knowing full well it will be a challenging environment, and then leave shortly after because…it was a challenging environment…what does that say about your decision-making and self-judgment?