Thursday, April 14, 2011

Your Career as a Business Development Test Pilot

The history of the word experience aligns it closely with the concept of experiment. Building a great client experience – especially during the client attraction stage – is often an experimental initiative.

Larry Fussell is a Business Development Director at PwC. He’s also an experimental airplane pilot and craftsman. Larry is an instrument rated pilot who began flying in earnest in the late 1990’s. Somewhere along the line, he decided that flying the planes wasn’t enough. Larry helped build the Defiant - a twin engine all composite aircraft designed by Burt Rutan – the famous American aerospace engineer who designed record-breaking Voyager, which was the first plane to fly around the world without stopping or refueling. Most recently, Larry built an RV-7A kit aircraft that maintains cruise speeds near or even above 200 mph. Can you imagine building your own plane and being the one person who will test it – by going up in the sky – to make sure it works OK? We asked Larry Fussell to relate his experiences building and flying experimental aircraft to his experience doing business development for one of the world’s largest accounting firms. As Larry explained, it starts with the vision . . .

Larry Fussell:

Building /flying Experimental aircraft and business development carry many of the same requirements. First is the vision. I can tell you that when I built the first part for my airplane I could not sleep that night because I could envision the day I took off for the first time. Next is the determination to follow through. Building an airplane is a huge undertaking requiring 1000s of hours and making decisions along the way that could cause the project to fail or cost a bundle to repair. You also find yourself changing plans as technology/circumstance both evolve. Constant problem solving and acquisition of new skills are a major part of the project. Then the day finally arrives where you put all your faith in the skills you have developed and the quality of work that you have done. The engine fires, you roll out onto the runway, everything is in the green, you're scared to death but confident in your work product/skills, full throttle, dancing with the stick and rudder just like you were taught and then comes the moment that your vision feels the wind under her belly and flies. It is almost a religious experience. Which explains why there are so many serial builders in the sport. Now comes many hours of tests and tweaking. A project like this is never done. You are always making adjustments, but you're also having fun expanding your horizons and looking for the next big breakthrough in your skills.

So how does this all relate to Business Development?

  • Vision - what do you want to do (and with whom). By the way this has to be your vision. You have to be committed to it and willing to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve the vision.
  • Investment - a business development role done properly takes well more than the traditional 40 hours per week. You have to know about the company, the people you will be working with, their families, their interests, their personal drivers and what makes your relationship a win for them.
  • Skills - You must constantly acquire new skills to solve the problems that will inevitably present themselves. Find a mentor, enroll in skills classes, and experiment on a small scale. 
  • Judgment - How are your actions bringing you closer to your vision? 
  • Enjoyment - you must enjoy the small wins along the way or the journey will become too arduous to continue. 
  • Bring your skills and confidence to the table each time you are in front of the client. Watch your vision become reality and dance with the ever changing environment knowing that you have done the work properly, sought training as needed, and built a beautiful machine(relationship) that will meet the client’s needs as well as you own. By the way, this has to be real; fake it and you will, I guarantee, auger into a flaming hole.
  • Enjoy the ride - To me, Business Development is about the relationships that you build and the richness that those relationships add to your life and that of your clients. Yes, if you do it right you will be rewarded in both finances and career. But you will find the real joy comes from the ride.

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