Inspiration can often come from an unusual source. And you should never be too closed off to learn career lessons from a wide variety of people!
On my way to the Productivity in Pharma meeting in London yesterday, as is often the case, my cab got stuck in traffic.
As we edged our way across Westminster Bridge, I got chatting to my taxi driver, and discovered that I was going to be his very last customer after a 45-year career as a London taxi driver. His plan was to drop me off, return his cab to the depot, and catch a bus and train combination back to his wife in Surrey.
Not one to miss an opportunity to learn, I quickly thought through what this wonderful man’s life and career lessons could mean for procurement professionals.
A Quick Side Note!
But before I share my learnings, let me tell you how much I love London cabs! I’ve always wanted the opportunity to share my love in one of my blog articles, so I’m very happy to now have the chance! These unique, purpose-made vehicles can turn on a dime, and accommodate five passengers, as well as luggage. Amazing.
According to Wikipedia, many black cabs have a turning circle of only 25ft (8m). One reason for this is the configuration of the famed Savoy Hotel. The hotel entrance’s small roundabout meant that vehicles needed a small turning circle in order to navigate it.
That requirement became the legally required turning circle for all London cabs. Also, the custom of passengers sitting on the right, behind the driver, provided a reason for the right-hand traffic in Savoy Court, allowing hotel patrons to board and alight from the driver’s side. I love these types of London stories!
Back to Career Lessons
Anyway, back to the career lessons learned from my septuagenarian chauffeur. Here’s what came to mind –
1. Don’t sweat a couple of hiccups early on in your career
Don’t worry if you have to go over a couple of speed bumps early in your career – my cabbie got fired twice early in his.
He had a lot of fun in his very first job, which was being the doorman at the very exclusive Dorchester Hotel. A highlight he shared was when Zsa Zsa Gabor dropped her towel and exposed herself as he made a delivery to the room. His photo also blessed the Daily Mail, when the famous Hollywood actress Jayne Mansfield rewarded his good work with a kiss. Maybe as a result of these heady experiences, one day he fell asleep on the job and was summarily dismissed.
He tried couple of other jobs, including being a bus conductor, but when he threw his supervisor off the bus, he realised he wasn’t really meant to work for others. Despite these small set-backs, this gentleman still enjoyed a 45-year career.
Which brings me to my next point…
2. Your career is a marathon, not a sprint
I know that during the first decade or two of my career, I was convinced that the faster and harder I worked, the faster my career would progress. To a certain degree, this may have been the case. Even now, I am probably working at a slightly unsustainable pace, but I am learning that sometimes you have to slow down in order to go faster.
While chatting as we edged our way along, it dawned on me that this gent was someone who was in extremely good shape. At 75 years of age, he still had a full head of hair, was highly animated and spoke lovingly about his children, grandchildren and wife of 52 years (“who kept him young”).
He was obviously a man who enjoyed good health and had a positive life. As much as we feed our self-esteem through career success, we need to remember that our health, happiness and support of our family and friends are really what will sustain us on the long haul.
3. Do what you love
People who have been successful in their career often say things like “I’ve been very lucky”. But what you normally find is that they have worked hard at a job they love.
Make sure you are passionate about what your career – it will reflect in everything you do and will help buoy your success. Being in procurement is a great head start, because you’re working in the most exciting profession in the world…right?!
4. Know your stuff
One of the defining characteristics of the London taxi drivers is their in-depth knowledge of London’s streets and their ability to navigate their way to the desired destination through the congestion and chaos London is so well known for! All without the help of a sat nav.
This is because London taxi drivers go through stringent training to obtain their licence. They need to pass “The Knowledge”, a test which is among the hardest to pass in the world. The drivers need to memorise every possible route through the 25,000 city streets, and know all 20,000 landmarks. Apparently, it takes the average person between 2 to 4 years to learn the knowledge. And it shows – these guys really know their stuff!
So no more complaining about studying for your MCIPS or ISM qualification! Knowledge will give you the credibility you need to achieve your career success.
5. Trust the universe
Amazingly, in his long career (which must have included literally tens of thousands of customer trips), he only had a handful of people not pay their fare. To me, this really reinforced that the universe is actually quite a good place.
There are more good people than bad and in the large majority of cases, people are honest and do the right thing. A cause for us all to remain optimistic!
The Productivity in Pharma Think Tank brings together a conclave of senior procurement leaders from the Pharmaceutical industry, creating a unique, mini-MBA style environment, where the most pressing issues facing the function are explored in detail and, from which, key insights and applicable takeaways are derived.