Kellogg World Alumni Magazine, Winter 2003Kellogg School of Management
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Alumni Profile: Rick Smith '94

Dream big
True career satisfaction has more to do with passion than pay, says Rick Smith ’94, who has written a popular new book that offers the evidence and the inspiration to be extraordinary

by Deborah Leigh Wood

Rick Smith ’94 was in the middle of a comfortable career when he decided to “follow his passions” and write a book. He worked nights and weekends for three years, at home and on planes, in between family life and his full-time job.

The effort proved well worth it: The 5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers: The Guide for Achieving Success and Satisfaction (Crown Publishing) is a hot new bestseller.

“ It’s the most exciting thing to happen in my career,” says Smith, who co-wrote the book with James Citrin, a co- worker at SpencerStuart, an international executive search consulting firm.

Like many good career guidance books, The 5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers, which was published in August, makes its point by means of compelling anecdotes. Unlike the others, the book goes one giant step further: It bases its advice on extensive research. Smith says it’s the first book of its kind to do so, and therein lies its strength.

“ People are skeptical of gurus. Given the Enron and WorldCom scandals and the state of things today, our statistical approach provides tremendous credibility,” he says.

Using SpencerStuart’s executive database, Smith and Citrin sent out 8,000 in-depth surveys to successful executives. To the authors’ delight, 2,000 recipients — 25 percent — completed and returned the surveys. The authors interpreted the data, then conducted interviews with 300 of those surveyed to illustrate “why some people ascend to the top and prosper, while others, equally talented, never reach their expectations.”

What emerged were patterns of success, refuting a popular belief that success is due to “luck and larceny.” The authors plucked the top five patterns and wrote their book around them. Their intended audience was 30-to-40-year-olds, Smith says, “but it’s been scooped up by undergrads, senior executives and even parents of high-schoolers who want their kids to get a good start.”

One of the patterns shows that people with extraordinary careers do just what Smith did: follow their passions.

“People commonly fear that following your passions won’t lead to financial success,” Smith says. “But we found that passion for what one is doing has a tremendous impact on career satisfaction, while compensation has very little impact.

“ In fact,” he continues, “the executives we interviewed said even though following a passion sometimes meant making a lateral move or even a move backward, their choice ultimately led them to become more successful.”

Smith’s research shows that people with extraordinary careers exhibit four other major patterns: They understand how value is created in the workplace, they practice benevolent leadership, they find a way to get the experience they need to get the job they want and they “storm past” job definitions to “create breakthrough ideas and deliver unexpected impact.”

Bolstered by their examples, Smith is on his own career trajectory after completing The 5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers. He’s leading SpencerStuart’s launch of leadership services around the demand created by the book. He’s on the professional speaking tour circuit, which he loves, and is planning several books based on The 5 Patterns concept.

Smith attributes his success in part to his experience at the Kellogg School.
“ The MBA program exposes you to so many alternatives that make it possible to find and follow your passions,” he says. “It’s the people you meet there, the students, professors and the experts. My advice to other alums is to appreciate the value of the Kellogg experience and follow your passions.”

For more information on Smith’s book, visit

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University