Why I changed jobs

What Ian isn't doing Random

Ian Lurie Mar 19 2014

When we announced my job change, I figured it’d just slip by. Who’d care if I shuffled leadership at Portent? I’m just some guy. Man, was I in for a shock. I got literally thousands of ‘congrats,’ and hundreds of ‘WTFs?!!’ Which was flattering, and a little intimidating. Hopefully this explains the why, what and how of it all.

For folks who don’t know: A few weeks ago, I stepped sideways, from CEO of Portent to Principal Consultant and Chairman. I say ‘sideways’ because I haven’t departed for some South Pacific Island somewhere. I hate hot weather and beaches. Here’s why I changed:

I love my job

Specifically, I love:

  • Teaching my team
  • Teaching in the industry and helping develop our trade as much as I can
  • Geeking out over natural language processing, analytics, data and such
  • Getting all creative with writing, marketing ideas, speaking gigs, etc.

As CEO, I didn’t get enough time to do one of the items above, let alone all of them. But as a leader, I’m at my best when I focus on teaching, geeking and contentinizing (That should really be a word, yes?)

I’m not the best CEO

While I have a lot of passion for what I do, and still have a distressing ability to work myself into oblivion, I’m not the best CEO. I’m pretty flawed as a CEO because:

  • I’m a bit of a coward. I’ve been really lucky to have a great team the last several years. But before then, I really hurt the company because I wasn’t willing to fire/chastise when I should have. And ‘being nice’ for the sake of one person can damage the entire team.
  • I have a big mouth. I’ve said things in public that have cost us clients. I’m not sure stepping sideways out of CEO-ness will help, but hey, who knows.
  • I lack financial expertise. After 19 years, I know nothing — zip, nada — about finances. I throw away receipts. I throw away tax forms. I throw away money. My wife was our CFO for a while. It’s the closest I’ve come to being murdered in my sleep.
  • I’m just not a people person. I want to scream in terror when I walk into a room with more than 10 people in it, and I’m not giving a talk. Public speaking? No problemo. But rubbing elbows? Uh-uh. As a presser of the flesh, I’m at my best in a defined role: The Speaking Guy.

I need a change

I’ve been CEO of Portent for 19 years, give or take a few months.

Eighteen. Years. For ten of those years, Portent’s been at 8+ employees, handling multiple clients. For five of those years, Portent’s been a 15+ employee, multi-million-dollar agency with all the joy and drama you’d expect.

That’s longer than… well, just about anything else in my life except my life. I’m a pretty wound-up person. Being CEO for that many years really took its toll.

So, in my first 100%, non-food-related* selfish act since the age of 4, I decided to change my job to be 95% stuff I love to do.

NOT reasons

I did NOT make this change so I could work less. I’m not sure I’m capable of working less.

I did NOT make this change to somehow separate myself from Portent. I love my company. I’ve poured effort, dollars and thought into it. I ain’t going anywhere.

In spite of suggestions, I did NOT make this change as link bait. Hmph. If I want to make link bait, I’ll ride my bike down 2nd avenue in Seattle, shirtless, thereby causing 123 cases of traumatic blindness.

What I’m doing now

I’m working for Portent, 50+ hours a week, as always.

  • I run ‘office hours’ two days per week, where Portent-ites schedule time to come in with questions about client work or marketing in general
  • I help the team create their presentations for internal and external training sessions
  • I work with the Actual Labs team (it’s not a separate company!) as they develop cool new stuff
  • I work on sales pitches
  • I nerd out, building prototypes and proof of concept stuff
  • I write blog posts and internal documentation

My plan at this point: A multi-year brain dump to my team.

What does it all mean?

I built Portent by teaching, writing and creating. I want to keep doing all three, and this job change is the way to do it. Expect to see me blogging more (finally), speaking more (woo hoo!) and in front of my team more (if you work here).

If anyone had said to me, 19 years ago, that I’d be changing from CEO to Principal of a 40+ person company in 2014, I would have laughed at them. I’m profoundly grateful to have reached this point. And I’m already enjoying the new job.

As always, tweet me questions, or leave ‘em in the comments.

*I have periodically stolen french fries from my kids. See Adventure Time for more information.

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12 Comments

  1. Ian,

    I think this is an excellent move for you, doing what you love and getting paid for it is the dream of all of us entrepreneurial types, I know for certain that this is what you should be doing. You are getting to refine that even more narrowly.

    I’m glad to see this change, as we will all get to see a happier, less grumpier Ian, but don’t lose all the grumpycat in you, its part of your charm. :-)

    Your friend,
    Matt

    • Me? Not grumpy? Seems impossible.

  2. Ian you have done so well and I admire the way you have been able to acknowledge that your team have many different skills, therefore delegating the correct roles to the people with the best skills….and that you will still do what you love to and what you do best.. that is writing from the heart and with integrity

    I’m not yet in any financial position to hire you and your team but as you know I’m a great follower and love what you write and how you write.. you know the stuff good style :-)

    Well done as always

    Karen

  3. As always, eloquently and snarkily said. Since I’ve known you since you were in utero, am I allowed to be proud, or do I have to stick with impressed?
    Bon

    • If you promise not to tell any stories of baby-sitting me, you can be proud.

  4. Shawna

    Damn fabulous! I’m really happy for you. My new career goal is to find something that’s 95% what I love to do, too.

    • Diane

      Mine too!! That’s why I can’t wait till retirement, when I can freelance my little brains out. I’ll never proofread another catalog SKU again. Hallelujah!

  5. Congratulations, Ian! That’s an exciting change and good for you for taking that sideways step.

  6. Chris Countey

    Hi Ian,

    It seems to be a trend in our industry where the people who have been the voices of companies we respect also happen to the the CEO’s, and more of you are stepping down.

    I can only speak for me, but I’ll still look forward to your content and Portent’s content regardless of your title. Congrats and continued success.

    Chris

  7. Ian, you are and always will be one of my favorites in the industry.

    You have been someone whom I greatly respect professionally. I have learned from a lot from you and I am sure I will continue to do so.

    Best wishes to you and Portent’s future. Congrats!

    • Diane

      What he said!

      You are a very special person, Ian. Not just an Internet Marketing Wonk spewing out the 40,000th article about conversion metrics yahdeyahblahdeblahblah. You’re cultured, funny, witty, super-smart, insanely knowledgeable (not just about SEO blahblah), and did I mention funny?

      That’s so rare. Seriously.

      Congrats on this wonderful move. Best wishes and felicitations!

      Diane Kamer

      • Thanks Diane. And for using ‘special person’ in a non-pejorative way.

        Seriously, I appreciate it – an occasional back-pat is really helpful.

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