Teresa Daly, co-founder of Navigate Forward, a Minneapolis firm that helps executives “in transition,” tells this story about one of her clients. “He started reciting his resumé to me. It was blah blah blah resumé-speak. All of a sudden he stopped, and leaned over and said, ‘Teresa, do you want to know what I really do?’ I said, ‘Yes, that would be good.’ And he said, ‘I go into companies, I create things that weren’t there, and I make them successful.’
“And I said to him, ‘Those are really good words. Those are the words you need, because you just made yourself memorable.’”
Helping late-career executives find the words that will help guide them to their next move is what Daly and the firm’s other co-founder, Mary Kloehn, do. Navigate Forward isn’t a search firm or an employment agency. Daly and Kloehn describe it as a consultancy for experienced executives seeking to figure out their next step.
“A lot of executives will say to us, ‘I have an eclectic background.’ Or: ‘I can do anything,’” Kloehn says. “Once you’ve gotten those words out of your mouth, you’ve pretty much turned people away from you. An eclectic background doesn’t sound like ‘This guy can make money for me.’ And when you say ‘I can do anything,’ that really means that you can’t do anything.” Companies are looking for specialists, Daly notes—so later-career executives need to present a more focused message about themselves.
In helping executives redefine themselves and refine their self-presentation, Navigate Forward doesn’t use standard personality assessment tools. The firm’s clients, Kloehn says, “have been assessed to death.” Navigate Forward asks different questions, such as: What are doing when you lose track of time? What can you speak about with real authority? What role do you consistently “emerge into” on teams and boards you’ve served on? One client, for instance, replied, “I’m always the person who resolves the conflicts.” The idea here is to have clients dig a little deeper into themselves to discover what sets them apart from the thousands of other resumés floating around.
When Navigate Forward first hung out its shingle, its clients were all executives. Currently, about 60 percent of its work is for companies looking to help executives move on to something and someplace new. Daly says that many human resources executives have told her that “our problem isn’t that we have executives in transition. Our problem is that we have executives who are not in transition and need to be.” What’s difficult for those executives, even those who know they should move on, is that “they don’t know what else to do,” Daly says. “They have defined themselves by the role that they hold sitting in that office.”
Daly and Kloehn suggest that baby boomer execs needn’t be fearful of that next move. Older executives can provide guidance and leadership to younger business leaders that have never been through a merger or acquisition or have never had to deal with a private equity firm. “There are a lot of reasons why you want to have someone with a lot of experience working for you,” Kloehn says.
Older executives also are interested in becoming board members or working for nonprofits and other organizations where they think they can make a difference. Navigate Forward provides guidance to help those clients market themselves, since such organizations don’t always see how those executives’ experiences fit their missions.
Sometimes clients use Navigate Forward’s expertise in ways other than self-marketing. When Toshiba purchased Minnetonka-based medical imaging company Vital Images in April 2011, Vital Images CEO and President Michael Carrel called on Navigate Forward to serve as what he calls “a personal board of directors.”
“The biggest value that I get out of them,” Carrel says, “is as I look at [professional] opportunities, they’re people I can run them by and say ‘Hey, what do you think? You know me now, is this a good fit? Should I pursue it or not?’” He also has found Kloehn and Daly helpful for positioning himself as he approaches each job possibility.
With backgrounds in business performance and human resources consulting, Daly and Kloehn founded Navigate Forward in 2008. According to Kloehn “we were landing one executive a week every single week last year,” and the company is “at least at that level” this year. The firm employs nine people and works with nine outside consultants. Since opening for business, Navigate Forward claims that it has worked with more than 400 executives. “Our clients are all with us until they reach their goal,” Daly says. That makes Navigate Forward “very vested” in the outcome, she notes.