Life has always revolved around cutting through contradictions and overcoming challenges for me.
Growing up as a Russian immigrant in Kentucky, I was at once a regular American kid and an outsider. In college, I was both a miserable pre-med and a thrilled anthropology major with a strong pull for film and literature.
Arriving bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to New York after college, I entered a Ph.D. program in neuroscience. Lacking alignment with the experience, I hated coming into class and lab and loved building my first startup at the same time, a Jewish social network called...(wait for it) JuicyJews.com (still have the t-shirts).
The program wasn't the right place for me and the startup floundered. I left after a year, becoming a paralegal while applying to law school. Family expectations that I'd get a grad degree weighed like a millstone on my neck.
I worked my way through law school as an intern in insurance defense litigation and personal injury firms, a legal consulting shop and a hedge fund, among others. Outside of class, I spent probably too much time writing my first novel, "Returns and Exchanges."
Graduating in the middle of the Great Recession in 2009, I struggled mightily without a job lined up, holding $250K+ in debt, unable to pass the bar or pay my rent. Down and out on life, I moved back in with my Mom in Lubbock, Texas at the ripe age of 26 (how Millennial of me :). Two months later, resolved to hack it in New York, I moved back, compelled by two friends who hosted me on their couches over the next five months.
Getting a break, I took a long-term project in Legal/Compliance at a top hedge fund, which became my first "job." While there, I started dating and quickly moved in with my new girlfriend, who soon became my wife. I spent the next 3 years on and between credit risk and compliance projects at top banks like Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Brown Brothers Harriman, going through bouts of unemployment and existential dread due to lack of direction and uncertain prospects.
While at Brown Brothers, I began work on a health tech concept with a friend and health tech investor. While this also fizzled out without enough funding, I decided to move full-time into health tech, more my speed and well-aligned with my lifelong fascination with health and technology.
I spent the next three years at three different startups in the benefits SaaS and medicine-on-demand spaces, first working in finance and operations, then in product management, and finally in "special projects," encompassing business development, fundraising, operations and everything in between.
I left the last of the three by mutual agreement due to bad fit, despite having invested my hard-earned money in addition to significant sweat equity.
I found myself at yet another career and personal crossroads. Living in New York with a wife and two kids, I could no longer rely on projects and the Kool-Aid of one entrepreneur or another for a stable living.
I resolved right then and there to never let myself be subjected to a bad boss again and to become a great one myself.
Out of all the insults added to the injury of a string of awful managers, I had worked for one company after another -- whether large Fortune 500 corporation or a smaller startup -- that paid lip service through marketing copy to employee "engagement" and care about employee health and well-being, without lifting a finger beyond the basic compliance with employment and labor law to actually provide it.
Along with more than 50% of all employees in the workforce, I'd had my trust broken over and over by corporate double speak for "caring," rather than the real deal. All too often, I'd felt used and abused for my deliverables, just as another number in the balance sheet, another "body in a seat."
Looking back, I had burned out from several great jobs because of awful bosses and company culture that cared little for my physical or mental well-being, making my work life drowned in positive buzz words, yet cynically unbearable in practice.
Out of my years-long frustration as a Millennial corporate employee and coach of many Millennial clients, I wrote my "Millennial Workplace Manifesto" to serve as a concise guide for company HR officers confused about the things that actually matter to Millennials in the workplace.
In this document, my Forbes column and in my book due out in 2019 ("What Millennials Really Want from Work and Life,") I've shared everything I've learned from years being a candidate in 5 industries, an employee and a hiring manager, detailing larger studies and my own experience about what makes Millennials tick at work, starting with the many and varied frustrations that lead top talent to seek other jobs and even careers, altogether.
At this point, seeing many conversations on this subject lead to new career and business coaching clients, I decided to invest all my time in my executive coaching and business consulting practice.
I was just starting to ramp up my business when, at just two months of age, my youngest daughter was suddenly diagnosed with cancer.
My wife and I decided that while she would stay in her corporate job, not least for the insurance coverage to pay for the $20K-a-pop chemo treatments, I would stay at home and take care of our little one while devoting whatever time I could to my business.
This gut punch of a challenge led to unprecedented focus in my personal, as well as professional lives. With a remarkable degree of understanding, flexibility and human and benefit support from my wife's employer (a repeat "Best Place to Work" award winner) -- which sticks with me to this day as a gold standard of corporate best practices -- we were able to not only weather the challenge on our family and careers, but to emerge stronger and more determined to thrive in all areas of our life.
Two years, 300+ Fortune 500 and startup executive coaching and consulting clients later, things are looking up for both my daughter (thankfully, cancer-free) and my business.
Using the invaluable data I've gained through my work and my personal experience about what motivates top Fortune 500 and tech executives to leave corporations for new jobs and careers, I consult corporations on building a superior employee experience (EX) that helps each employee to own their career, work smarter and in a way that aligns with their life mission and values, empowers them through substantive and custom-tailored professional and personal development, insures their health and financial wellbeing and creates lifelong customers and ambassadors out of them, maximizing their ROI over the lifetime of the relationship.
Throughout my professional and personal life, I've always prided myself on mastering -- and helping others master -- the language and psychology of themselves and people in their lives and workplaces from all walks of life, cultures, ages and passions, starting with myself.
In our age of record-low trust between employees and employers, when corporations are increasingly realizing that money and short-term perks alone (beer and Kind bars, anyone?) fail to keep employees longer -- or at all, my life mission remains to help improve human communication and build trust between all stakeholders and layers of a large organization through a proven combination of speaking, workshops and team exercises, corporate communication and PR best practices, business consulting, executive coaching, and long-term learning and development.
Rather than perpetuating the view that investing in employees is a fiscal burden akin to "letting the inmates run the prison before they escape anyhow," I help corporations diagnose and optimize the totality of their interactions with each candidate, then employee, as a series of conversations between humans, rather than a set of compliance procedures or checking items off a list.
Savvy corporations must approach talent management as a means of finding, recruiting, engaging and developing the right -- not just the best -- talent, to empower great humans to do their life's best work, while getting out of their way. The result is inevitably better for the company's bottom line and for each human in the corporate hierarchy, resulting in a win-win.
It's time to place the Human First, Resource Second.