146. Balancing Priorities and Redefining Career Success with Graham Bell

November 26, 2020


“Our career choice massively impacts our family and loved ones. When thinking about what I want to do next, the first lens I put on it is, ‘Is this the right thing to do for my family?’” — Graham Bell.

This episode is part of Season 5, a short series where I share conversations I’ve had with my heroes and role models. My hope in sharing these conversations is that you’ll pick up something that inspires and motivates you. More importantly, I hope these chats move you to sit down and have similar chats with your role models and heroes.

Second Breaks Ep 146 Graham Bell

Graham Bell is the Chief Executive Officer of World of Books Group. He assumed this role in September 2019 after being the company’s CFO/COO.

Prior to World of Books, he was the Managing Director at Countrywide. And before that, he led a Corporate Finance team at PricewaterhouseCoopers, which is where we met and became good friends.

While that list of achievements sounds impressive, what I truly admire about Graham – and why he’s one of my role models — is the way he took risks in his career. From my vantage point, these career actions were always level-headed and well-considered. Wherever he was, he didn’t just sit back and waited for things to happen. He put himself on the path where opportunities and luck could find him.

In this episode, we talked about how and why his career goals changed over time, how he measures success these days, his views around the common sentiment “follow your passion”, and his approach when things aren’t turning out the way he might have liked.

Links From the Episode:

Connect with Graham Bell on LinkedIn
World of Books
Briefing Notes
Follow Second Breaks on Instagram
Connect with Lou Blaser on LinkedIn

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

When I think about what I want to do next, the first lens I put on it is, ‘Is this the right thing to do for my family?’ And that’s not totally selfless. That’s also very selfish because you sort of think, am I going to be happy and therefore, am I going to be a good person at home?

I think instinctively I am a risk-taker. But I have to check that now with the balance of how it plays into other things in my personal life.

You spend most of your conscious life at work or thinking about work or preparing for work. So, why wouldn’t you do something that you feel passionate about? And, I think if you don’t, you risk, not just making yourself unhappy, but those around you unhappy. And you’re probably doing a disservice to both your employer and your colleagues.

Someone said to me once that as a CEO, you’re always on show. Everything you say, every reaction you give, is being watched. And it can be interpreted or misinterpreted. And so I think if you’re a CEO and you can’t be passionate about what you do, you shouldn’t be CEO, frankly, because your job is to be massively enthusiastic about everything you do.

Someone asked me the other day about how I’ve sort of planned my career to get to be a CEO. And I said, well, there’s probably less planning in it than you think. But the one thing I always tried to do was I always tried to choose the decision that kept my options open and kept my relevance quite broad.

If I think about stuff that goes wrong in business and stuff that goes right, almost always the biggest underlying theme is communication. And I think this is the case in your personal life as well. When you think back to those times where you’ve had an argument or stuff’s gone particularly well, we probably don’t spend enough time really thinking about how we communicate.

In my role right now, the biggest and the most important thing I can do is just communicate in the right way to people.

I’d just rather get on and be known for someone who did the right things, was a good, honest guy to work with, and hopefully helped to build something quite successful.


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