Meet Your Neighbor: Dilip Saraf
Dilip Saraf, a career/life coach, author, and speaker is the founder/CEO of Career Transitions Unlimited and has helped over 5000 clients world-wide and is Linkedin's top career coach. Dilip's specialty is reinvention and he has pioneered the concept of an Inductive Résumé, which helps clients take their career from the known to the unknown.
Most of us know him professionally, today let's know his personal & more softer side too through an exclusive interview he had given to BayAreaDesi Team.
Tell us about yourself?
Born in Belgaum, India in 1942, I was the eldest son in my family with five siblings. My father was a lawyer in that town and my family was known for its social and charitable work. I stayed in Belgaum until after completing my high school and went to Mumbai for my college (Ruparel College in Matunga) for two years until I joined IIT-B for my bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. After graduating from IIT-B I was selected as a Senior Management Trainee by DCM in Delhi and stayed there until I got admitted to Stanford in 1968 for my MSEE. I joined SRI International (then Stanford Research Institute) and stayed on its staff for 10 years. I also was awarded two technology patents for my work at SRI. For the following 12 years I worked at two high-tech companies in the Valley and left the corporate world in 1989 as head of engineering and program management at one of the major companies in the Valley. Since then I have gone through four different careers (in as many industries) to become a career & life coach since the dotcom burst in 2001. I have been a career & life coach since then.
How long you have been in Bay Area?
I came to Stanford in 1968 and just fell in love with this area. I have been here since then. My wife, Mary Lou, and I got married in 1970 and we have one son. My wife was a well-known photographers’ model in New York, and she gave up her career to get married, just three weeks after we first met. This is my real success story!
Most people have tough time performing one career, how did you go about having five careers in your lifetime? Can you tell us a little bit about the journey.
When I was first laid-off in 1989 I was 47. I said to myself then that if I continue in engineering in high-tech, as I had been, what would I do if got laid-off again at 57! It would be much harder to find another job at that age, so I decided to change my career and become a technology consultant working with biotech companies to show them how to accelerate product development, as it is done in most high-tech companies. That transition was difficult, because I did not have any training in biotech.
After about five years’ success in that role, I found a very interesting opportunity as a marketing consultant working with Fortune-500 companies to help them with their large global accounts. After my first lay-off I had already decided to not get ensconced in any one track, no matter how successful! So, I changed my track again. In this role, as a marketing consultant, I got a chance to work with such companies as HP, Honeywell, Motorola, Rockwell, and Goodyear. This is where I learned about leadership effectiveness, customer focus, and making organizational change to leapfrog competition.
After five years in this role, I changed jobs again and became a leadership and organizational consultant. This was also very rewarding work because I was able to learn how people grow into leadership roles and how they can be more effective in what they do. This brings us to 2001, when the entire Valley was facing severe lay-offs and companies such as HP, Agilent, Sun, and Cisco were laying-off workers by the thousands. This is when I decided that by becoming a career coach I could show those, who were laid-off in the downturn, how to re-invent themselves, because I had already done this four times before.
What are some of the perks & challenges of being a career/life coach?
Before becoming a career and life coach I had worked in four different industries and re-invented myself as many times. The first thing I was able to do as a career coach working with those, who were facing dire circumstances in 2001 was to help them look at themselves in a very different way than they had looked at themselves until then. The perk to me then was to work with the laid-off professionals, who were willing to try anything worthwhile to re-invent themselves. This is where I was able to use some of my own successes from the past to apply them to their transition and to learn from that experience to explore what works and what does not, for someone else, besides me. So far I have worked globally with over 5,000 professionals helping them in their reinvention, and, in the process have been able to codify all my learning in ways that can be repeated and scaled. In fact, I am now a part of a start-up that is going to provide global mentoring to professionals for their personal and professional growth. I am quite excited about this venture. We hope to launch our site in the early spring this year.
This role as a career coach for me connects all the dots in my life to bring together a very unique perspective in what I practice. When I was first laid-off 22 years ago, I, at 47, felt very lost, lonely, and hopeless. There were no career coaches then and most people did not know the difference between a layoff and a firing. So, whenever I approached those I knew asking for their help in my job search, they kept asking me why was it that I got fired! Things have changed dramatically since those early days of the Valley. A lay-off is now considered almost as a requirement for success. Many of my clients, who are themselves laid-off, find talking to someone, who has experienced this first-hand, quite reassuring.
The challenge I often face with those, who do not know what a career coach can do for them, is to communicate how I can help them in ways that they did not even think about. I call it ‘Unconscious Incompetence,” where people don’t know what they don’t know. There are those who just do not get it; but many do. After all, I am here not to convert the faithless, but to work with those who already know that this can help them! About 10% of those who call me initially fall in the faithless category, or are those who do not want to put in the effort to really discover themselves. This scares them!
What inspired you to become a coach?
The inspiration came from looking around and seeing all the lay-offs of highly skilled and experienced professionals in 2001. Few had a clue as to what the next right step was for them, and even fewer held hopes for their re-employment. The inspiration also came from seeing an opportunity to try new things working with people, who were willing to experiment with new ideas for managing their careers. In good times such a ready, real-life laboratory is almost impossible to find. Once the concepts proved themselves, many even beyond my own expectations, I realized that this could now be bottled and marketed as a viable practice. As times improved, people began calling me for help because the word about what I did spread quite rapidly.
How did you become Linkedin’s top coach?
LinkedIn now has nearly 90 million users worldwide. It lists professionals and service providers in 23 categories (from graphic artists to physicians). Career coach is one of these categories and there are 500+ global coaches listed on LinkedIn. For each category, a service provider is ranked based on the number of recommendation each receives from their clients. I have been LinkedIn’s top coach ever since it started ranking these professionals. It is a great honor to have this ranking. This is how I get my clients from across the globe; it is a great marketing tool!
Who are the people you spend most time coaching? Who among these are your favorite and why?
My coaching clientele covers the gamut. They are across the globe and cover all ages: from 18 to 70. Most in the clients in the Silicon Valley are in their mid careers, typically 35 years of age, and, typically, who started as engineers. Many of my clients are mid-managers, directors, and above in their titles. One of my clients is even a neurosurgeon; some are physicians! I have some CEO clients as well. About 20% of my client pool is entrepreneurial, with their own venture. I also have many clients who are couples and who are in their careers, in need of help dealing with work-life balance, and who need help in their growth. I have no favorites. Each one brings their own challenge to my practice and I enjoy working with each one individually.
You are also involved with few non profits, like TiE, SIPA, ICC etc, tell us a little bit more about your involvement with them
My work takes me to many organizations where these professionals gather. I also get frequent invitations to speak at their events. So, I often speak at these organizations and their events: TiE, TiECon, SIPA, IBPW, South Asian Heart Association, OPEN, and ICC to name a few. I also chair the Career Resource Center at ICC in Milpitas. Shweta Khare is the co-chair; she does all the heavy lifting!
What does future hold for you?
I focus on the “here and now,” not on the future. Whatever I do is for the now and for creating the most impact now.
Has being a “Desi” affected you in either good or bad way in achieving your goals?
I do not see myself as an Indian or an American, but as someone who wants to help anyone who wants to grow. Of course, coming from Indian background has helped me tremendously to understand the Indian mindset and to help those who are stuck in their past to help them overcome some of their limiting beliefs and their deep imprinting. It is not just with the Indians, but is with every culture; each one brings their own imprinting and I learn from that to see how I can help them. The human need to grow and succeed is primordial; it transcends barriers!
Do you feel being in the Silicon Valley accelerated your career goals?
The Silicon Valley has been an amazing place to be. This is where all the great ideas blossom and all the great minds congregate. Just by being open to seeing what is happening around you is an experience to behold and cherish. As a career coach here in the Valley, I often feel like someone at the Grand Central Station witnessing all the happenings around me, as they do in the Valley. My clients bring to me their challenges that they face, which often are a window into the Valley’s world. With each challenge my clients bring, I am struck by what a unique opportunity this is to be a part of this experience. Also, having clients globally helps me keep that insight into perspective. I am always deeply grateful to all my clients for their trust and confidence!
What are you usually doing when you are not working?
I have four vintage Mercedes Benz cars. They were all made in the ‘70s and I work on them, restoring and maintaining them; we also drive them for our everyday needs. Finding parts, fixing them, and enjoying them is something from which I derive much pleasure. I also enjoy Indian classical music. When I came to the Bay Area I used to play the tabla at many events on the weekends. That was 43 years ago. Now seeing the talented musicians that are among us, I am embarrassed to admit that I used to play with other musicians in those days! But, I still enjoy and attend classical-music concerts.
What are some of your favorite things to do in the Bay?
We are really blessed with such rich environment in this Bay Area. Whatever little time I have is spent with being with my family, enjoying going out on the spur of the moment, and just hanging out here and there!
Favorite places to eat? Activities? Places to go?
My wife loves good Indian food. So, we often venture out to explore new places to eat that become known for their Indian cuisine. There is so much to do here that we often stick to what we know is good and worthwhile.
How do you enjoy your culture here in the Bay Area?
The Indian culture is quite rich and varied. My wife, Mary Lou, who was born and raised here in the US, finds our culture extremely interesting. She not only loves the Indian cuisine, but also the costumes, jewelry, and the Indian culture. I think that because of Mary Lou, I have come to appreciate our culture even more!
If you had one piece of advice for South Asians, what would it be?
Go ahead, take some risk, learn to fail and grow. Wake up scared every day. If you do not wake up scared every day, you are not living!
How can people learn more about you & stay connected to you in future
I have an extensive profile on LinkedIn. I also have two websites that are listed in my Profile there. I blog weekly on www.dilipsaraf.com and write about a variety of topics related to career, life, and living. I am on Facebook and Twitter. I also have several videos on YouTube. I have published five books on career, leadership, and the workplace. I often have several speaking engagements every month.