After that, I worked in enterprise strategy for two large organizations and served as the chief of staff to a chief executive officer and a chief operating officer. Those experiences taught me how to advise the most senior leaders in an organization—how to articulate and execute their visions. I translated their ideas into actionable strategies, project plans, and metrics to help guide one organization through a rapid growth period, and another organization through a turnaround. Working with C-suite executives requires great influencing skills, the ability to tell truth to power, and organizational savvy to navigate political waters. (I will share insights for how you can navigate career transitions, better articulate how you can add value to an organization, and use networking to manage politics.)
Then something happened that changed my career focus and integrated all of my past experiences.
In 2010, I was the executive director of strategy for Aetna. I visited a company in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that was working to improve the consumer experience for our medical members. It looked like a typical high-tech start-up scene you'd see in a movie: small groups of people brainstorming, walls covered with drawings and notes, wireframes of websites in a large open area. A young consultant walked up to me and asked, "Are you Ted Fleming? You have a phone call from Mark Bertolini's office."
He was the president of the company, so I said I should probably take that call. When I got on the phone, I heard, "Congratulations, you are moving to HR; come back to Hartford." I'd been appointed vice president of talent management, responsible for talent acquisition, talent development, change management, and organizational consulting. Over the next two years I got a crash course on how to attract, retain, develop, and reward people. I presented each week to our executive committee...or, more accurately, I was in the hot seat answering questions on how we were developing the talent we needed to achieve our growth goals. It was a seven-day-a-week job that was one of the best learning experiences of my career. A true baptism by fire as I had not worked in human resources previously.
Over those two years, I led the design and implementation of a new HR operating model to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of how we hired new talent. We cut the time to fill executive-level jobs from seven weeks to six weeks. We also designed and implemented new leadership development programs for regional general managers.
It was hard work, but after sixteen months I was feeling comfortable in my new role. Then the phone rang again. I was called up to our eighth-floor executive offices to see now CEO Mark Bertolini. It was a beautiful office with antique furniture and a working fireplace, and best of all, Lucky, Mark's dog, was there to greet me. A golden retriever, Lucky was a celebrity with an employee badge. As I sat down on the couch, Lucky sat beside me and I petted her as Mark told me my job was about to change. He said, "I've been waiting two years for a corporate university, but nothing has happened. You are going to create Aetna University." I asked if I had one or two years to create the program. He laughed and said, "You have ninety days."
That day I ordered three books on creating corporate universities, picked them up at my local bookstore, and read them all over the weekend. I then spoke to several people who created or ran corporate universities for advice. I had officially moved from the strategy of organizations to the strategy of people—from advising professionals and executives to guiding the careers of the entire organization.
Now, I started this research on success long before Mark Bertolini charged me with creating Aetna University. When I was a banker, I won an award as one of the top salespeople in the company. After the announcement, several people came up to me and said, "I didn't think you did anything." I did not act like other bankers, so they couldn't understand how I was successful. Most of my peers pored over financial statements, monitored stock market fluctuations, and developed relationships with investment bankers and industry analysts, who could funnel them deals. I spent the majority of my time on the road talking to entrepreneurs about their dreams of starting new ventures or reading books about new technologies and futurists' predictions. My approach was to identify and invest in other people's dreams. In another organization, team members would pass by my office, catch me reading a book, magazine, or trade journal, and comment, "There he is again, doing nothing but reading. You must not have enough real work to do." I once heard a boss of mine say to a peer, "Ted works long hours, but I don't know what he does." Inspiring words from your leader! (So, another reason I'm writing this book is to inform people about what I do with my time!) In Develop, I'll share what I've learned over many years of soaking up all the thinking on success while advising thousands of people on how to reach their potential. The book serves a wide audience and is designed as a reference or manual you can revisit during major career transitions. You can benefit from these tools whether you're just starting out in your career or looking for your next step after working for years. In later chapters, I provide examples for those who are looking for their first job and guidance for people hunting for executive-level positions.