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BoSacks: No B.S. : Today’s Publishing Career: We Are All Vulnerable

Talent and excellence are no safeguard against the winds of change.

July 2011 By Robert M. Sacks

I'm a lucky man, and I know it. I have had the privilege and honor of working with some of the brightest minds and leadership, in my opinion, in our industry, and in the best of both worlds: I have worked as a self-employed magazine entrepreneur many times over, and I have worked for the best and most sophisticated publishing houses in the world. In my rounds as industry provocateur, I have the freedom to meet with all levels of management from the very top of our industry, through middle management, to entry-level personnel and students at journalism schools.

I am mentioning this because of an interesting conversation I had this week with a major publisher at a major publishing house. My trick question to him was pretty straightforward: "Do you expect to retire from your current company?" His response was quick, but not immediate; I saw the wheels turning and his pondering, and then the honest answer was delivered: "No."

I have talked about careers in this column before, and I will most likely do so again. It was fascinating to me to know this man and understand the varied career path that took him to top of the publishing food chain, and to see that he forgot, at least for a little while, that he replaced somebody and that somebody will replace him, too. It is not an "if" question; it is a definitive "when" question. And if it is only a "when" question, then we need to ponder on whose terms will the "when" be when it actually happens. Yours or "theirs"?

My reason for asking him was to remind him of one of the most basic and obvious lessons of 21st-century publishing—we are all subject to the winds of change. From a career perspective, it is true that we are most vulnerable when we are the most comfortable.

On the same topic, I received a résumé yesterday from a man in his 50s, who is now out of work. I can tell you that he worked for his last company for at least 20 years and that he was very good at what he did. Being good at your job and having longevity at it doesn't matter at all in the world of disposable products and disposable careers. In his note to me, he said the cardinal sin of all personal careerism, "I didn't see that coming."

 

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