Lloyd Howell on Having a Non-Linear Career Path

Lloyd Howell’s career path is anything but linear. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in electrical engineering, Howell went to work with Booz Allen Hamilton as a satellite systems engineer. After a short time in this position, he decided to go to business school (the reason for this, he told me, was watching the movie Wall Street), so he got his MBA from Harvard Business School. Howell then spent a few years at Goldman Sachs, then returned to Booz Allen Hamilton, where he led a variety of small teams until being promoted to CFO. From engineer to analyst to consultant to executive, Howell has held a multitude of jobs in different sectors of the industry. He maintains, however, that these experiences only helped him become a better leader today, saying, “I think to be an effective leader, one has to fall upon a variety of experiences and learnings and mistakes. When you’ve had the progression I had, you have the opportunity to see different things, experience different things, and I call on all of that today.

From an undergraduate perspective, the thought of having drastically different jobs throughout our careers can be daunting. It seems we are taught in school to find a profession that interests us (often in banking, consulting, law, or medicine), and climb the ranks until you reach the top. Never are medical school students told to try out academia. Never are engineers told to quit their jobs and go to business school. However, that is exactly what Howell did, and his career path did not take a hit from his decisions. Howell noted that the fear of changing jobs is a transactional fear, and can be overcome if you have an idea of where you want to be in the future. He says,  “the fear can be managed by sitting down and thinking about a few questions - what do you want to do? What do you want to be? You can think of scenarios of things you want to be doing, and with each of those scenarios, laying out what career you might want to have. Then when it comes to a transactional concern, you have the capacity to weigh your options: is this actually a concern? Is it consistent with my career plan?”

If one point can be taken away from Lloyd Howell, it is not to fear change. Of course, we shouldn’t all blindly quit our jobs. But if an opportunity presents itself that lines up with our long-term goals, even if it is out of our comfort zones, we should take it! Life isn’t linear, and career paths shouldn’t be either. With that in mind, is anyone down to switch to BSE with me?