People in Your La Jolla Neighborhood: Meet career coach Kent Porter

"People in Your Neighborhood" shines a spotlight on notable locals we all wish we knew more about! If you know someone you'd like us to profile, send the lead via e-mail to editor@lajollalight.com or call us at (858) 875-5950.

 

Many of us get stuck in a rut at our jobs at some point in our careers. Maybe we're tired of our boss. Maybe we hit a salary ceiling and see no hope of advancement.

Maybe we're just frustrated with co-workers ... Kent Porter to the rescue!

This 51-year resident of La Jolla is a leadership consultant, mentor and coach.

At age 80, he's still going strong and wants to share the career lessons he's learned, which he recently published in the book, "Fix Frustrations at Work." It features 32 short stories about real-life coaching situations.

You were CEO of a multi-national company. How did that come about?

I learned Portuguese when I attended Thunderbird Graduate School of Global Management at Arizona State University .

I became CEO of Oceanic Sales when I went to Brazil and obtained a contract to import lobster tails with the largest producer.

The business was importing and selling seafood, and the owner, Pacheco, told me: 'I've worked with other U.S. importers, but you're the only one who speaks Portuguese. We have to learn your language. You respect us enough to learn ours, so you now have all of my business."

Next, you decided to become an entrepreneur. Everything was going great until you ventured into the restaurant business. What happened?

I started two restaurants called The Shrimp Peddler — one on Midway Drive and one in El Cajon. They were actually retail stores that sold restaurant-quality seafood direct to the public in wholesale bulk quantities. This was before Price Club and Costco. They were very successful. The retail store cooked a number of samples for customers. I thought I could parlay the samples into a restaurant. I was wrong.

My employees were stealing from me, but I had invested in remodeling space, so I thought I had to give it more time. I waited a year instead, and the company lost too much blood to survive. I knew I was in trouble when my CPA asked: 'What percentage of sales will you allocate for theft?'

The restaurant business took me down. I lost the company and I lost my identity. I started to have panic attacks. I was so desperate, I cried out to God for help. Over the next three years, my cry for help was answered. My business was lost, but I needed to generate income to pay the mortgage and to pay my daughter's tuition at The Bishop's School.

So you decided to become a professional mentor and coach. How did you break into that work?

When I owned my businesses, I used Vistage and others for help. I knew what it took to deliver mature, well-reasoned help. I knew I needed training to be that person. I went online and searched the top 10 leadership-development organizations in the world. The Financial Times of London listed the Center for Creative Leadership as one of the top companies, and they have a campus right here in La Jolla. I connected with them and they rigorously trained me as an executive coach.

After that, I gained self-confidence. I reached out to Qualcomm and they liked my background, as did Disney and Pfizer, along with local biotech and medical-device companies.

Was Qualcomm your first big client?

Yes. My breakthrough started with Qualcomm. I had a contact there. I met with a human resource director and gave her my resume. She was polite and said she'd keep me in mind to be a coach. The miracle happened three weeks later. She called and said, 'Kent, your resume presents you more like a psychologist, but you're an entrepreneur and former CEO. Rewrite it and I'll present you to a tough case, to see if he will work with you."

I was introduced to him. He challenged me by saying he'd owned businesses and doubted any coach had ever had their own business. I shot right back, 'You probably went into debt with your business. I didn't! I bootstrapped mine into five states and 28 cities.' He asked me to stay and I coached him for two years.

You take your clients to Brick & Bell, Harry's or Pannikin coffee shops when they come to town. Why?

For me to be effective, my clients need to know and trust me. An informal conversation away from business is a way to start. So I invite them to some local spots to say, "I don't care to know about you, until I know you care about me."

Are there common threads that you see in your clients who are dissatisfied with their jobs?

One trait is they blame the leadership for getting in the way. They have become victims. I point out victims don't have a strong voice in influencing others. However, if they shift their focus to what they can proactively do in spite of barriers, they can influence outcomes.

Another trait is they take feedback personally or get defensive. I ask how they can grow personally and professionally if they don't learn what they can do better? If the person has this reputation, they will be denied what they need to succeed.

Another trait is they are accomplished in what they do, but cause collateral damage in relationships with others. What I hear from companies is: 'We can't live with them or without them.' So I suggest management tell them: 'You have 60 days to learn how to get along with others. We hope you choose to stay with the company and get along.'

How long have you lived in La Jolla?

My wife, Jill, and I have lived here for 51 years. It was 1967. We were living in Berkeley. I worked in San Francisco and she was on the staff at UC Berkeley. I was offered the job of vice-president of sales for a company in San Diego doing $400 million. My wife loves the water. She grew up on a lake in Indiana. She knew La Jolla and said she'd move if we lived in La Jolla.

Do you have children?

We have two grown children; a daughter and a son. Both were adopted and we got them at age 2 months and 3 months, respectively. We also have two grandchildren.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

That would be seeing people learning to cope with all kinds of circumstances and lean into their future.

What about your greatest failure?

My greatest failure was my greatest success. I lost a business and found God.

— You can buy Porter's book at fixfrustration.com

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