- IMD Business School
News Stories · Leadership

A professional life need not be boring!

Is a portfolio career an option?
June 2019

Indeed, I am a professor (now emeritus) at IMD and the founder of the World Competitiveness Center. But I also am, or was, managing director at the World Economic Forum and the Davos Annual meetings, a professor at the University of Lausanne, chairman of a bank and of a newspaper, board member of several companies, advisor to the top management of large global corporations, an elected member of the Constitutional Assembly of my state, a member of many advisory commissions such as national competitiveness councils, of committees, such as the WWF or the International Olympic Committee, and a few other things. I enjoyed it tremendously, but more than that, I survived. How?

  1. Manage yourself as a brand. This means being clear about the image and the message that you project. Mercedes sells luxury cars and trucks. However, there is only one, unique brand recognizable across many different types of activities.
  2. Identify your uniqueness factor. This is not necessarily doing what you are good at. I drive a car rather well. So do millions of other people. There is no uniqueness in doing so. Instead, focus on activities where you have a significant comparative advantage.
  3. Once you have identified your uniqueness, strive to increase the difference between you and others. The same applies to companies. In a crowded market such as retail food, margins are small. In pioneering sectors, such as digital advertising, with fewer actors, margins can be huge.
  4. Manage the input-output ratio. Only invest in activities that require the least resources on your side, while delivering higher added value to the market and building strong entry barriers. Avoid complex, time consuming endeavors that can be imitated and/or delivered only once.
  5. Stay focused. Activities can be wide-ranging but not your core competencies. Becoming shallow or irrelevant is a recurrent risk.
  6. Maintain barriers between activities. Respect confidentiality. Never compare or judge publicly; be it good or bad. Diversity is stimulating; it should be valued as such.
  7. Remain humble, do not boast. Remember the Icelandic proverb: “it is when the whale blows that it is harpooned.” Stay low key.
  8. Finally, enjoy it. Mark Twain said: “I have spent most of my life worrying about things that never happened.” A wealth of activities may also imply a proliferation of potential problems. Have a positive attitude. Problems are not a personal affront of life; there are just a normal occurrence of events that needs to be resolved.

If you follow some of the simple rules above, then a portfolio career, well managed, can increase the quality of your professional, and personal life tremendously. It might be worth a try.