A Career Path

Debra March was torn about a job opportunity she had received from her current employer. Up to this point in her career she had done mostly engineering work. The job opportunity would be in marketing, a career path that she had never considered when she graduated from college.

She loved the engineering work she was doing, but the MBA degree she was soon to receive had given her background in marketing. She liked her coursework in marketing, but the thought of abandoning a career in engineering was troubling.

She tried to put the decision out of her mind as she was preparing for her finance course. The subject matter was modern portfolio theory developed by Henry Markowitz in 1952. Prior to the work of Markowitz, most investors tended to focus their investments on just a few companies. Markowitz showed the value of diversification.

She was curious about the market performance of companies in the 50s. What she found was that only 52 of the Fortune 500 companies in 1955 still remain on that Fortune 500 list today.

Creative destruction from new technologies has certainly changed the marketplace, she reasoned. But other forces were also at work as well. She began to wonder about what happened to investors who had placed most of their money in companies that no longer existed or were acquired by other companies.

That led her to think about her own career decision. She realized that she needed a balanced career portfolio rather than just concentration in one area. She remembered her college mentor telling her that she needed a variety of experiences if she wanted to continue advancing in her career.

At the time, she thought that meant changing companies. She didn’t want to do that. But here was an opportunity to diversify her experience with the same company.

The modern portfolio theory developed by Harry Markowitz has applications beyond investing. It’s also applicable to career planning. But think of its application in other areas as well. The need for a diverse workforce is becoming more and more accepted as companies realize the strength of the perspectives of those who come from different backgrounds.

It’s also applicable in other areas as well. Policymakers are beginning to realize that carbon reduction needs to come from a variety of approaches. The same is true for medical advances, poverty alleviation, and other areas of concern to society.

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“A career is a portfolio of projects that teach you new skills, gain you new expertise, develop new capabilities, grow your colleague set, and constantly reinvent you as a brand.” – Tom Peters

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