A voyage around work
Tuesday, February 5, 2019 at 7:08AM
Roy Rubenstein in Feature, Juniper Networks, Mark Seery, Work, corporate strategy, work-life balance

The first in a series looking at the experience of work in 2019.

Source: Mark Seery

To land your ideal job, the suggestion is first to find your passion. Indeed, one college in the US promises to guide its students to find their life purpose by teaching them three things: what they are good at, what they are passionate about, and what the world needs.

Assuming you are lucky enough to align all three elements, challenges are still likely. How do you maintain a work-life balance? And what happens over time when, despite having fulfilling, challenging work, part of your creative self remains untapped?

This has been the experience of Mark Seery (pictured below), who was a senior staff member at Juniper Networks, responsible for helping shape the networking company’s strategy.

 

Impetus for change 

Seery first felt a murmuring for change in 2015 but only in 2018 did he act.

In 2015, he returned to Australia to spend time with his dying mother. Work commitments were such that his stay was limited. Seery’s mother died a week after he returned to the US and he travelled again to attend the funeral.

Last July he also visited Australia, this time to spend eight days with his brother who was celebrating a birthday. Again, because of work commitments, he felt he couldn’t spend too much time visiting yet the landmark birthday was something he felt he could not miss.

“The idea that work pressure would mentally impinge on even an eight-day stay made me realise my life was not well-balanced,” says Seery.

Just after the trip he informed his manager that he was resigning in order to take a sabbatical. A key motivation for the break was his desire to travel.

Seery chose to make a clean break rather than negotiate time off: “I didn't want to feel that there were any limitations as to what I could do on my sabbatical; I wanted to be free and see where that takes me.”

A leaving date was set for mid-October, his tenth anniversary at Juniper. “Ten years at Juniper seemed a significant milestone to me,” says Seery.  

Since then, Seery has completed the first leg of his travel, visiting eight countries in Asia. And this month he is embarking on a second trip, visiting the Antarctic and Patagonia. 

He has also set up his own business, to advise companies on finding their focus.

 

Source: Mark Seery 

Career 

As a child, Seery’s education was disrupted due to ill health. His first job, at 17, was in banking while at night he studied computer science. Seery credits his mother for encouraging him to pursue computing, a passion since childhood. 

Seery’s first opportunity to move from traditional banking to IT involved joining the bank’s network operations. This included automatic teller machines, branch networks and data centre interconnect. “The network operations area, which reminded me of the Star Trek flight deck, drew me to choose network operations,” he says.

He progressed to network operations support, network design and systems programming. 

His next step was to leave Australia for the US where he joined several Silicon Valley start-ups, pursuing such technologies as next-generation access, multi-protocol/ virtual routing and all-optical networking. 

In 2002, Seery became an analyst, joining market research firm, RHK, that was subsequently acquired by Ovum. And it was while at RHK covering the switching and routing market that he was noticed by Juniper and enticed to join. Juniper’s routing group hired him as they felt he could help on some strategic issues.

From there, he expanded his strategic skills, joining the corporate strategy team where he undertook several roles. These included market intelligence, running CEO staff-level competitive war rooms and creating materials for quarterly company board meetings. 

 

The real struggle in any strategy is how to get it executed. And an important part of getting it executed is the right allocation of resources.

 

Seery’s role was to help give the company the data it needed to determine how best to meet its goals for the coming year.  A company must determine what actions will have the most impact in meeting the targets and must budget in a way to give the best chance of meeting those goals. 

“The real struggle in any strategy is how to get it executed,” says Seery. “And an important part of getting it executed is the right allocation of resources.”

 

Source: Mark Seery

Seery describes how different units in a company - the sales groups, product groups and the CFO office - all have their own views and agendas. The role of the strategy group is to be independent and provide analysis to help the decision makers plot the company’s course.   

Corporate war-room work involved more tactical, shorter-term strategy, such as how to improve the performance of a specific business or a product.   

 

Eventful years

Seery’s first years at Juniper were eventful ones. He joined soon after a new CEO who brought with him several senior staff, all from outside the industry. This required a lot of work preparing data and documents so that the company’s senior staff were all on the same page.

In 2009, the market hit a recession after the global financial crisis of 2008. And in 2011, it became clear that the European market was getting worse. Such economic disruptors required a lot of replanning.

It also became clear that the capital expenditure budgets of many of the service providers would no longer be growing and that the biggest part of their spending would go on the radio part of their networks. “The thing you did best is not going to grow anymore. What does that mean for the company?” says Seery.

 

Source: Mark Seery

And then there were new developments that occupied Seery as part of his business model strategy role.

One was the observation that software was becoming increasingly important, coupled with the huge disruption that is the cloud. Such developments had to be translated in terms of their significance for Juniper.

 

We all use the term value chain and we all have an idea about what it means. But it is only when you get your hands dirty trying to change the value chain that you really understand what it means.


He also had to grapple with the idea - one affecting companies across many industries - that recurring revenue such as from subscriptions may benefit a company’s evaluation on Wall Street more than that of a company selling products only. Issues to be addressed here include how such a change would affect the company’s revenues, the operational changes required, the products Juniper should develop for such a model, and how to enable the sales force to sell such products. 

“We all use the term value chain and we all have an idea about what it means,” says Seery. “But it is only when you get your hands dirty trying to change the value chain that you really understand what it means.”  

The business model work was a big change for Seery, shifting him from a highly analytical role to one that involved engaging with many functions of the company.

His growing disquiet at Juniper wasn’t due to the stress of needing to continually produce deliverables, nor the demanding nature of his work. “It was more a feeling that I was missing out on something else,” he says.

 

In a corporate context, there are certain expectations, the scope of things you talk about, the scope of things you express

 

Parting

Seery provides a multifaceted answer as to why he decided to resign.

First, his work on business modelling had been largely defined and was moving to the operational phase. It meant his day-to-day involvement was no longer required. This led him to question what he wanted to do next.

He also felt that, for a long time, part of him remained unfulfilled. “In a corporate context, there are certain expectations, the scope of things you talk about, the scope of things you express,” he says. “People in a corporate environment don't really care about some of the bigger issues you have as a human being.”

Companies focus on meeting targets each quarter and your life can become all-consuming to fulfil that ongoing short-term goal. The result, he says, is that a part of you gets pushed aside. 

 

Source: Mark Seery

“You make a lot of sacrifices on things you are passionate about; things you enjoy,” says Seery. “If what you are passionate about is driving a business, then great, but not all of us are made that simply.”

Seery has spoken to people who have been more successful at managing their work-life balance. “Could I have have found a better balance in my ten years at Juniper? Maybe, but the fact is I didn't.”

It is these issues that led Seery to identify what was important to him and to focus on that.       

Seery admits the decision to leave a secure and well-paid position at Juniper was extremely hard. But he says that he has a great appreciation and gratitude for the affluence he has already achieved, reinforced by his travel experiences.

One of the today's great challenges is ever-increasing consumption. The key is to step back and be grateful for what you already have, he says: “There is nothing wrong with striving for more, but craving for it and comparing yourself to others can be a trap.”

 

Travel

Travel is something Seery did repeatedly when he was younger but it inevitably dwindled with work and family commitments.

For him, travel is a way to understand the human experience through other people’s stories. “I find when I travel, it has a real impact on me,” he says.

Seery worked with a travel company to plan his itinerary for the South East Asia trip, including having local guides in each town he visited. 

“I had a structured itinerary with dates and places, though I had the ability to change what I wanted to do on any given day,” says Seery.  “Having some structure and predictability is helpful when you have a family at home worrying about you.”

 

Source: Mark Seery

 

South East Asia 

Seery had travelled via work to developed parts of Asia including China, Japan and South Korea. But travelling through less developed parts of Asia is a very different experience, he says.

He spoke to one young man while visiting Myanmar who told him that his fishing village didn't have electricity till 2008 and didn't have the internet till 2010. 

Villagers continue to cook with fire rather than using an electric stove, claiming they don’t know how to use one, however, it could be that they can’t afford one, he says. They also use hay for one cooking effect and wood for another.  

“The young man told me that the village had had no visibility into protests taking place in cities across the country until the advent of the internet. “They use Facebook, not Google, as a search engine, to see videos and get information about what is going on,” says Seery. “In the modern context, with everything that is going on with Facebook, we probably think that is somewhat scary.” 

But the young man added he’d rather get on Facebook and talk to someone who lives in a city and ask them what is going on than trust what the Government tells him. “An interesting insight into why they view Facebook as a credible source of information,” says Seery.

 

One young man in Myanmar told him that his fishing village didn't have electricity till 2008 and didn't have the internet till 2010

 

Other examples of the impact of the internet include the way football is viewed. Before mobile data, villagers had to pay one villager that owned a huge satellite dish to watch an English Premier League match. Now they all watch on their phones.

Seery also highlights the ongoing tension between traditional life and modernity. He tells how when visiting rural villages in Laos one is struck by the poverty and lack of modern conveniences.  It is easy to judge and wonder how they enjoy living there, he says, but they do.

However, the long-standing tradition of the elders sharing the history of the tribe and life stories around a campfire is changing. “Now, you get around the campfire and some kid with a cellphone is telling everybody what is going on in the rest of the world,” says Seery. “They are all very happy with how they are living until they find out how other people are living.”

Seery originally planned to be in Asia for a month but after talking with his wife and son who were about to oversee some home renovations, they all concluded that he should extend his trip. So he joined a tour group as part of the India and Nepal leg of his journey that extended the trip by several weeks.   

 

What next?

The imminent trip to Antarctica will last 12 days with five days required to travel between Antarctica and Latin America. Once at the Antarctic, two nights will be spent camping on the ice, and there will be snowshoe walking. There are also Zodiac boats and options for kayaking and mountaineering.

In Patagonia, the trip will involve a three-day hike, an overnight horse-riding and camping trip, and several shorter hiking trips.  

Seery’s new venture is a consultancy and research company called Bohcay. “It is a play on the photography term, Bokeh, the soft blurring you get behind a portrait,” says Seery. 

The company’s aim is to help clients retain a systematic focus on what is important in terms of what they are doing, he says. Seery is in the process of closing his first customer for a short engagement.

“It is all part of exploring what I want to do after I finish my travel,” says Seery.

People that have met Seery since his return from his Asia trip comment on how he has lost weight and looks more relaxed. He is also exercising regularly, something that was only episodic during his time working.

He himself feels a weight has been lifted by no longer being burdened by the thought of sacrificing what he really wants to do. 

“The more I travel, the more I will feel I have addressed that thing that was going on with me,” he says. 

 

Further information 

Bohcay website, click here 

Mark Seery’s travel blog, click here 

Article originally appeared on Gazettabyte (http://www.gazettabyte.com/).
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