ENTREPRENEUR OF THE MONTH: JUNE 2014
Former senior global advisor for Humantelligence Ana Dutra: Her Life After Corporate America
By Hope Katz Gibbs
When long-time corporate exec Ana Dutra retired last year on the brink of turning 50, she was ready for a new adventure.
For six years, she had been the CEO of Korn Ferry Leadership and Talent Consulting, where she created a $300 million global business using a combination of organic growth, multiple acquisitions, innovative go-to-market approaches, and incorporation of technology and digitization of products and services.
Prior to that, the Brazilian native—who holds an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, a Master in Economics from Pontificia Universidade do Rio de Janeiro, and a Juris Doctor from Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro, all summa cum laude—spent decades as an executive, consultant, and business leader in industries such as technology, manufacturing, and professional services.
“I had accomplished everything I’d ever dreamed of in the corporate world,” she explains. “Then one day, I looked at my life and knew that I needed a change.”
And that’s not all. A book deal is in the offing, as are other investments and ideas that Dutra hopes to pursue. “The problem with having a lot of options open to you is that it can be hard to know which one to choose,” she admits.
Dutra knows she’s not alone. In fact, she coined the crossroads as “The Second Act Dilemma.”
What does she mean by that? And what can business leaders do to gracefully find their way to the next phase of their career?
Scroll down for our Q&A with Dutra from her home in Chicago.
And click here to listen to our entire podcast interview on Inkandescent Radio: The Voice of Entrepreneurs.
Be Inkandescent: You have had tremendous success in the business world, so before we launch into what’s happening in your present life—let’s look back at the last few decades. Tell us about your career.
Ana Dutra: I was brought up in a very global family. We spent our summers in different countries, and that made me want to be a diplomat. So I studied law and economics. And I shadowed a couple of people who are diplomats in Brazil at the time that IBM was starting to recruit. I got the job! Then, one day I was in my office and a colleague of mine walked in and said he was coming to say good-bye because he was heading to the US to get his MBA. I thought, what a great idea. I got into five schools, and chose Kellogg because I had a background in economics and knew the school’s program was based on collaboration and teamwork, and was also strong in marketing. I came to the US with my husband with the goal of staying for two years. And 21 years, three children, and five jobs later, we’re still going strong.
Be Inkandescent: Let’s talk about what led you to coin the phrase, “The Second Act Dilemma.”
Ana Dutra: This was born from not just my own self-reflection but from conversations with others who have finished up one big career, but refuse to say that they are “retired.” When you have the energy and the drive to keep working, being 50 (or 60, or 70) means nothing. More importantly, we are asking ourselves what is next. Believe me, everyone I’ve talked to about this knows that they are in a privileged position. But still, there is a challenge because you know that the Second Act might bring so much more ambiguity into your life. The other issue we all seem to be wrestling with is what defines ourselves as individuals and as leaders. I am hoping to figure out what my purpose is in life. That’s not easy, but to me it’s essential.
Be Inkandescent: Why do you think so many successful people are struggling with this phase?
Ana Dutra: I believe it’s because most people are taught what success should look like. It could be messages from family, parents, bosses, teachers, and mentors—or what they see in business or society. This recipe for success is usually based on achievements, promotions, and status. But I’ve come across way too many people who, despite all those achievements, tell me that they are miserable. That’s when they start to ask if “success” was worth the time and energy and sacrifice.
Be Inkandescent: Do you see a way around the dilemma?
Ana Dutra: In my new role with Mandala Global Advisors, I meet a lot of CEOs and I ask them: When you are gone from this world, what do you want the people who cared most about you to remember about you? Most people pause, not knowing how to answer. They think about it, and while the answers differ slightly, I’ve never heard anyone say, “I want them to remember that I was the best operator in my company,” or “I made more money than the other guy.” Rather, they want their kids, spouse, and best friends to remember that they were inspiring, caring, and devoted. The good news is that it’s never too late. The key is to create behaviors that match the legacy you want to leave behind. This Second Act is your chance to be who you want to be.
Be Inkandescent: Give us some insight into what’s next for you in your Second Act?
Ana Dutra: As soon as I cut the umbilical cord to my traditional career path, I enrolled in a yoga teacher training—not because I wanted to be a yoga teacher, because I’m not good enough at it, but I thought I’d get into the wellness business. And, to the horror of my children, I bought an electric guitar and took lessons. Then I started assessing my options. It turns out the list of things I do not want to do is pretty clear. I’m a very competitive person and since I no longer have the day-to-day responsibility to increase marketshare, I look for personal challenges. It helps me keep an open mind, and in doing so I have met fascinating people. I’m very comfortable with ambiguity, and I’m excited to see what’s next.