Having a career plan can help to realise ambitions

The process of planning helps to clarify the options ahead for entrepreneurs of all ages

Career plans rarely work out as intended. There are too many external influencing factors beyond our control.

For entrepreneurial careers, with a higher degree of risk and uncertainty, planning a path is almost impossible.

We all need, nevertheless, to think carefully about how we wish to spend our time; work simply takes up too much of our lives to just let it happen to us.

It is estimated that we spend well in excess of 50,000 hours working.


That time has reduced in the past few decades, as formal education has extended for many into their early 20s, as weekly working hours have in general reduced, and as earlier retirement has, for some, become a possibility.

Nevertheless, 50,000 hours is still an extraordinary amount of time and it’s incredibly important that this time is spent on activity that is truly rewarding and engaging.

Leaving Cert students were recently faced with a deadline, their final chance to complete a “change of mind” form for CAO applications.

It’s really hard, at just 17 or 18 years of age, to know what area of study is likely to lead to a rewarding and satisfying working life.

When I’m asked to speak at schools and colleges, I suggest that students should actually write a career plan, set out some targets and objectives, and try to write down a description of the type of jobs they’d like to do.

It’s highly unlikely that their actual careers will faultlessly follow the planned path, but the process of planning helps to clarify the options.

By applying basic business planning tools (such as SWOT analysis, visioning, positioning, brand planning) to their own careers, considering their careers as a brand, they can increase the chances of realising their ambitions and hopes.

In the context of such a plan, crucial decisions at times of transition are much easier to make.

I wrote a career plan when I was studying business at UCD in the early 1980s, setting out some ambitions and aims.

My late parents were shopkeepers in Cabra, Dublin. The issues and problems associated with running a small business dominated the conversation at family mealtimes.

The possibility of following an entrepreneurial career path was always a real option for me, and the idea of first gaining experience in large food businesses seemed to be a logical starting point.

At the time, I gave little thought, however, to what I might do after we sold or exited our business. That career plan was refreshed in 2000, after I met Allan Leighton at the time he announced he was stepping down from the role of chief executive of Asda.

Portfolio of roles

He was, in his words, “going plural”; building a portfolio of roles and setting up a company called

Going Plural Ltd

to manage his string of new non-executive positions. Such a portfolio approach seemed to me to be a very attractive option, and has since become a common next phase for former executives and ex-entrepreneurs.

As it turned out, I spent 20 years working through a series of marketing and general management jobs at multinational firms in the food sector. The second phase of my career, over the following 10 years, was spent as a business owner, establishing and building a business which we eventually sold in 2011.

Since then, I have gathered a portfolio of roles; as a director of firms that we’ve started or invested in, on boards of some State agencies, helping to establish and run a few charities, and doing some writing, conference speaking and award judging.

Attractive lifestyle

A few of these roles are paid, most are pro-bono. It’s an attractive lifestyle, though it demands a bit of planning and it can become hectic as multiple times demands often conflict with one another.

On selling a business, most entrepreneurs take a little time out to reflect on their future options.

In some cases, a period of time continuing to work at the business is matched with an “earn-out” period, with some of the proceeds of the sale contingent upon the delivery of promised future performance of the business.

When that earn-out period is completed, the entrepreneur is often not needed (and sometimes is actually getting in the way of progress), and it is time to move on.

I know many entrepreneurs who have found this transition to be most difficult, both in terms of the loss of their “child” and of how to fill their time into the future.

A few years ago I attended a 30-year reunion of our B.Comm class of 1983, featuring a talk by our former lecturer, the legendary whiskey and mining entrepreneur John Teeling.

To my former classmates, a group of business professionals in their early 50s, he asked the searching question: “what are you going to do with the second half of your career?”

It’s never too late, it seems, to revisit that career plan.

Michael Carey is managing director of East Coast Bakehouse and a non-executive director at a number of other businesses, State agencies and charities. @careyonfood