Personal Branding Winner of the Month – Mark Beckford of Disruptive Leadership

October 31st, 2008

I came across Mark Beckford a few months ago, as he is a client of one of my partners, Deb Dib.  Mark immediately struck me as very nice, very ambitious, very successful, and very unemployed.  I watched as he started his blog, Disruptive Leadership, and remember his first post wasn’t even the awkward “I’m here, blogging, now what do I say” post.  He jumped right into it, with an analytical, opinionated view on current events that he had professional passion about.

Very nice start, I just wondered if he would be able to keep up the momentum.

Well, he has kept up the momentum, and he stays true to his name Disruptive Leadership.  Very impressive.  Just about everything he has on his blog is impressive… I love the name, colors, look-and-feel, etc.  He is fearless in what he blogs about, has a great style, knows when to write a lot and when to write a little… he has an excellent blog.

And that’s all I’m going to say about why his blog rocks. If you want more substance into what makes a great professional personal branding blog, you can sift through the last 2 years of award winners.  For now, let’s shift gears a little and move from technique to RESULTS.  Because RESULTS is what this is all about.  Mark gets the customary 6 months of JibberJobber premium (transferrable), the highly sought-after link to his blog in my blogroll, a cyber-high-five, and a Blog Marketing 201 – 501 webinar… not too shabby for Mr. Disruptive.

Now let’s get down to RESULTS.  I’m going to let Mark share, in his own words, the results he got.  This is kind of long, but it’s a great read.  This is exactly the type of story I look for to quantify the value of having a strong personal branding strategy.  Mark, take it away!

After 11 years with Intel and a 3-year assignment in Shanghai starting up a new business group and turning around a few businesses, I found myself unsatisfied.  Being in China with Intel was a great experience, but a combination of things, including a dearth of entrepreneurial opportunities, led me to take a year off.   So I pulled the plug on Intel and China and returned to my home in California to spend time with my family (not much opportunity to do that as an expat or Intel executive), dabble in some hobbies (drawing, blogging, and cycling), and do some self-exploration.

I have read more books on various topics in the last 9 months than I have in 20 years.  Some of the standouts tended toward common themes:

  • Networking: Never Eat Alone; The Go-Giver; How to Win Friends and Influence People
  • Social Networking: Groundswell
  • Career Development: I’m on LinkedIn, Now What? Career Distinction; Ask the Headhunter; Now Discover your Strengths; Uniting the Virtual Workplace
  • Global Perspectives: The World is Flat; Post-American World; One Billion Customers (how to do business in China)
  • Social Capitalism: The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, Creating a World without Poverty

As I started thinking about getting back into the job hunt, I realized that for the first time I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do.  I  have always been very goal oriented, knowing what I wanted to do or be in 5 years, yet here I was, unsure of what I should do next. Join a startup?  Go back to a big company?  Do consulting?  Go international again? And what type of function (biz dev, general management, etc.)?  It was an uncomfortable place to be.

I joined a six-week teleseminar in March on career management for execs which I found on Blue Steps, led by Louise KursmarkDeb Dib presented at the first session and gave an update on personal branding—my first intro to it.  Louise recommended Jason Alba’s book on LinkedIn, and suggested I use VisualCV because my career had strong visual elements.

I agreed with Deb’s approach ideas about branding, but I was daunted at the thought of doing it by myself. I knew that at work I was at my most creative when I was bouncing ideas off people.  In 2006, I had hired a resume writer, Gloria Gordon, to update my resume for the first time in 10 years (never updated it after business school… just got promoted within Intel and never really needed it.)   Gloria did a great job both on the resume and the cover letter—from scratch—for about $600.  They got me interviews and a job offer, but it wasn’t about branding.

I looked at several brand experts and went with Deb Dib (the most expensive, but I believe that you get what you pay for). In April, I then began the branding process which started with self discovery and included doing things that were very uncomfortable but rewarding. For example, I didn’t like sending Reach’s 360 out to my friends/colleagues.

Bottom line: it helped me realize I had an entrepreneurial passion for growing for-profit tech businesses in emerging markets, creating a wildly successful business while doing good by helping people in need.  The interesting thing is that once I discovered this, I found that there is a huge movement out there to bring business principles to do social good, mixing the dynamics of creating sustainability and growth through capitalistic principles while promoting a social mission.  It is called a “double bottom line” business (i.e. using both profitable and social measurements for success).

So originally, the idea was to take a year of—the first half of the year to hang out with my family, and the second half to do the job search.  I originally figured it would take a few months to find a job.  I had already gotten offers before I left Intel, and headhunters were calling me here and there.  But by June, the phone was no longer ringing, and I realized that this was going to take awhile.  Then things got ugly as the economy ground to a halt and all the companies went on hiring freezes (great for JibberJobber).   The home equity loan I had planned to tap into in case my nest egg for the year got dented decreased due to the decrease in the value of our house.  My wife and I started letting go of all the “help” (gardner, housecleaner, pool man).  I watched my 401K get whacked 20 percent in one week.  Anyway, the financial crisis train was on its way and it was the worst time in 20 years to be looking for a job, especially an executive level job.

The one light for me in all of this was that I now knew exactly what I wanted to be now … CEO of a startup selling computing devices to underserved populations in emerging markets.  The intermediate step given my finances was to work for a startup (preferably) doing this, or a big tech company like Adobe, Google, Facebook that was already doing it (more likely scenario).

But as you know, looking for a job completely SUCKS.  It is demoralizing and boring to boot.

I had become fascinated with web 2.0 and online social networking.   I joined a bazillion social networking sites, but found zero value in 90 percent of them.  The exceptions have been LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.   I finally decided to do a blog, with Deb’s urging, and it has been the most enjoyable thing I’ve done this year.  It has allowed me to express myself and create something that people are actually interested in.   It took a long time to come up with the name, Disruptive Leadership, that fit my “brand”.  I fell into it as I started googling names like Disruptive Marketing, etc.   So 22 posts later, it’s growing and I’m meeting new and interesting people.   It has gotten me noticed by well-established sites in my space such as http://www.nextbillion.net where I’ve been brought on as one of a handful of staff writers.  One measure of how it has impacted my online brand is that if you google my name in quotes “Mark Beckford” my blog is the second result after my LinkedIn page.

I have been invited to moderate two panels on the role of computers for development.  One was at a conference two weeks ago called “Social Capital Markets 2008″ which brought together investors, nonprofits, and social entrepreneurs for which I wrote an article titled Pathological Collaboration about how necessity is forcing two previous “enemies” together: capitalists and nonprofits.  The second panel will be at the Net Impact conference (a global network of leaders trying to change the world through business) in Philadelphia next month on the role low cost computing in development in emerging markets.

I am now working on creating a professional network to complement my blog that will bring together like-minded professionals and executives in the technology business who are growing their businesses in emerging markets and looking to use their products to promote development.   Something like Technology for Development or something sexier.  Nothing out there combines technology, for-profit business principles and emerging markets.  I’m taking a slow approach on this as I think social networks are a tougher nut to crack than blogging.  For example, how do you create an active and vibrant community?  What’s the value proposition?  The technology is easy (Ning.com).

And finally, I just received a job offer with a startup called NComputing that sells low-cost computers to schools and other sectors in emerging markets.  I believe they offer a true “disruptive innovation” to the PC world and I am tremendously excited to make their vision a success.

So, in summary, I would say my “success” in creating my brand, online and otherwise, was due to my:

  • Risk-taking – willing to quit my job which was draining me even though I was working in one of the most dynamic countries in the world.
  • Introspection – willing to peel back the onion to see what makes me tick.
  • Willingness to seek help – hiring an executive CEO coach to help me do that introspection (and taking the risk that the BIG investment would be pay later).
  • Passion for networking – reaching out to people in my area of interest which has lead to great things.
  • Being bold, brash and edgy – abandoning the first name I suggested to Deb Dib for my blog (“Digital Opportunity”) and accepting her criticism of it (“boooorrrrrinnnng!!!”)  which led me to come up with “Disruptive Leadership” and pushed me to be edgy in my writings that convey more powerful things that create interest.
  • Giving more to your network then you receive – Volunteering for a ton of things and looking for ways to give back to my network vs. only take, which isn’t easy when you are looking for  a job, but I’ve seen how this pays off.

The result is I am better grounded in who I am, have built a solid online presence, have found the perfect job, and hopefully become a thought leader in this space.

Excellent! Inspiring! Great job Mark!  And congrats on being the Oct 2008 Winner of the Month!

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6 Responses to “Personal Branding Winner of the Month – Mark Beckford of Disruptive Leadership”

  1. Deb Dib says:

    Hey Jason (and Mark)! I’m thrilled that you’ve honored Mark with the coveted JJ “You Get it Award.” Mark has been amazing to work with – I just love that he embodies the trifecta of branding/passion/value. It’s awesome and attracted exactly the right opportunity. But not without a lot of courage, tenacity, and work on Mark’s part.

    Once he knew his personal/executive brand (and value — a brand is no good to business unless tied to value), he went the distance. There was nothing he wouldn’t tackle to get it out there. We developed a portfolio of branded documents (resume, case studies, etc), but I wanted so badly for him to do a blog — his passion/knowledge around “creative capitalism” was SO strong I was sure it would create an almost instant community…and it did. In fact, he tackled a blog, Facebook, LinkedIn, VisualCV, and Twitter nearly simultaneously. When Mark decides to do something, he does it!

    The funny thing is that initially Mark (as most job seekers do) balked at narrowing his job focus to his branding sweet spot. But the more we worked together, the more he realized he could not deny the “power within” — and when he embraced it, WOW! Branding and passion (and may I take a little credit, too?) helped him stay motivated and moving forward on his pursuit strategy, even when things were getting tough financially and with the economy in meltdown. He never gave up.

    Mark used lots of job search methods, but the personal relationships he built traditionally, and through Web 2.0, delivered the opportunity for job he truly wanted (and that job will help him truly “change lives through technology” which is one of his core values.) Doesn’t get much better than that!

    Mark, you are one of the greats and NComputing is lucky to have you!

    Deb Dib
    Mark Beckford’s proud and happy CEO Coach :)

  2. Great story, Mark! How awesome that you were “discovered” by NextBillion.net!

    I have inside knowledge of that award-winning site, and know that one of its co-founders grew-up in the careers space, reading Fast Company and “The Brand Called YOU!” Branding and Web 2.0 tools like blogs and social networking are essential elements of Social Entrepreneurship and BOP.

    Interesting that Rob mentioned you to me, but not in the context of personal marketing. I think it is fair to say that your “branding process” was so successful that it wasn’t visible even to a “trained eye.”
    Jason’s blog post and your story resonate with the conversation we had yesterday about age, transferable skills, and career transition.

    If I’m understanding your story correctly, you are one of the accomplished folks who would trade work-life balance for money any day; whose career transition is unlikely to be advanced by recruiters because it is not based on a “career curve” (Recruiting Animal’s term). You have successfully engaged career strategies and career coaches who have helped you to take ownership of your career and helped you to conduct a proactive search.

    Congratulations to you, to Louise, Deb, and to the insightful folks at http://www.Next.Billion.net (Rob Katz)!

  3. Hey Mark (and Jason) — thanks so much! We’re honored that our little book, The Go-Giver, is in such distinguished company with the likes of Tom Friedman, Fareed Zakaria and Dale Carnegie! (Was it Josh Hinds who put a copy in your hands? Just guessing!)

    Much appreciated —

    John

  4. What a great story, Mark… I am so thrilled that I was able to “matchmake” you and Deb through the BlueSteps program. What’s interesting is that your brand was coming through quite clearly from the very beginning… from your resume and your comments… but it was like you were holding back, making it one strand of several rather than jumping in wholeheartedly and pursuing it with the passion and determination that have made all the difference.

    Congrats on your new position and, especially, on gaining clarity and doing all the hard work that you did.

  5. Deb Dib says:

    Hi Louise (and Mark and Jason);

    1) Yes, you did the “matchmaking” to put us together; and it worked beautifully. Many thanks!

    2) You are exactly right; Mark’s brand was there all along, as was his passion, but he wasn’t aware that it was his singular “best thing” to offer (great personal brands are built on ONE core thing, as you know). Mark lived his brand at Intel by being a passionate “intrapreneur” and emerging markets “digital access” evangelist in a corporate environment, but after a while the square peg/round hole thing was just too frustrating and he left because he had to work way too hard to manage around Intel’s culture. I think that’s when his brand power really started to emerge and mature, because once you start living your brand, the wrong fit feels REALLY wrong.

    Mark’s quitting Intel “cold turkey” was hugely gutsy, but even though his brand drove him to do it, his concrete, concise brand knowledge still wasn’t there. When we worked together, within weeks it just exploded. When we began, Mark was playing it a little “safe” and a little “corporate” at the beginning (as many clients do), but then he just let go and decided to go with his core message and passion, That’s when the floodgates opened and the “real” Mark Beckford, Creative Capitalist, emerged, took charge, and rocked his world.

    That often happens in branding – when we uncover the core brand, it just takes on a life of its own and pretty much flattens any lingering doubts like a steamroller. Anything not on brand feels really wrong, even intolerable; anything on brand feels exactly right (even if a little scary sometimes). Wrap that brand around a value message and watch out world!

    Deb Dib

  6. @JasonAlba – I am honored to be recognized by somebody that is clearly a thought leader in career management (CEO, author, speaker, blogger, and more). I have shared some of your key blog posts to many fellow travelers in a career transition, as well as pointing to an entry or two of some of your flagship content. I will be giving away my premium membership (as I already have one) and may do a contest on my blog/twitter to give it away to somebody who really needs it and is on a path towards branding and creative capitalism.

    @Deb (@CEOCoach) – thanks so much for your continued kind words. I took a big risk financially hiring you (never knew how huge until the financial crisis hit) and it paid back itself in spades, and I’m not talking about monetary return. It has and will continue to pay itself back in long-term career fulfillment which I believe is elusive for most people. I think everybody goes through a “mid-life” career crisis (I am one of many friends who were in my space, quitting their excellent paying executive jobs to find that next big thing), and with your help I believe I’ve emerged relatively unscathed and setup well for the future. I look forward to a long and fruitful relationship.

    @Karen What a small world! I am very impressed by your son Rob Katz at Next Billion and the Acumen Fund who at such a relatively young age is clearly a thought leader in the creative capitalism space. I recently sent me an email of your conversation this weekend before I even had a chance to look at the comments of this post. Interesting about your comment on work-life balance. I blogged about this at http://www.disruptiveleadership.com/2008/09/29/work-life-balance-pop-quiz/ . It introduced me to a work-life balance “expert” who commented on the post. Great to be introduced to Rob’s mother … you clearly did a great job raising him!

    @John – I even more honored to catch the attention of one of my favorite “little books.” I think your almost singular focus on the “giving” piece of networking was key for me. One short story … I have a friend in China who is a recruiter who had just opened his on business recruiting attorneys in China. I asked him to connect me with some folks in his network. He gave me a few contacts. Because I read your book, my mind initially went into thinking “what can I help him with?” I realized I had worked with an attorney who was a Chinese national who worked at a Law Firm in Washington DC but split his time in Beijing as he was an expert at working with the Chinese government. I figured he had a great attorney network in China/US and would be a great contact for my friend. I introduced them and my friend then turned into a personal recruiter for me, introducing me to probably more than 15 folks. And it made me feel good! Thanks for putting out a great nugget of wisdom.

    @Louise Thanks for the kind words … it really did start with you back in March and the connections you made for me. I was in my “sabbatical” period but was definitely churning in terms of all the potential forks in the road. And I love visual PC … thanks so much for introducing me to it (and Deb!). You and Facebook have certainly lit a fire under LinkedIn. Hopefully the site can continue to evolve and provide a complementary and/or competitive advantage.

    Thanks again all … I’ve enjoyed networking with all of you.

    Mark

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