An unpleasant phenomenon began to emerge in the fast-changing business environment of the 1990s: an increasing number of senior executives and managers became scared by the prospect of early retirement. While retirement years are often considered the happiest of our lives, for formerly busy, hardworking executives the prospect of having little to do and only a pension to live on for the next 30 years can be very distressing. Drawing on his executive coaching experience in the Asia-Pacific region, human resources veteran David Stratford has come up with a solution to the problem - the 'portfolio career'. The concept encompasses a variety of contracts, consultancy assignments and other revenue-generating or voluntary activities, created and constantly reviewed by a self-employed person. The current economy can be brutal for many executives. 'When new chief executives are in, they might choose to let go of certain staff for various reasons. Most likely, those are the ones close to retirement age,' says Mr Stratford. 'This sudden change will make these executives feel helpless.' Based in Australia and serving the region for Right Management Consultants (a global career management counselling firm), Mr Stratford made a comparison between Hong Kong and Melbourne, which have both survived a tough economy at different times. 'In the 1970s, the unemployment rate was very high in Melbourne when we went through a bad recession. There were only few jobs around. A lot of executives could not get back into full-time employment after being made redundant. To survive through these times, all needed to keep their options open. 'Everyone should stay positive, and be more flexible about working either part time or as a fee-based consultant.' The portfolio career can also be attractive to corporate executives who are still working. 'Some executives are frustrated with their organisations - good ideas do not get through, and long hours and pressurised work environments can hurt both family lives and personal health.' To keep up with a changing and demanding environment, executives are encouraged to plan ahead carefully and to start engaging in a portfolio-driven career. This option can help those who want to enjoy a more flexible, open-ended lifestyle engineered to their particular needs. To pursue such an option, you will need to build up at least 10 years' experience with well-managed organisations that provide lots of contacts. 'One of my clients is an information technology expert with years of corporate experience,' says Mr Stratford. 'When he launched his portfolio career, he rendered IT [information technology] consultancy services to his past employer, lectured at a university, wrote a book and worked for community service organisations either voluntarily or on a low-fee basis.' As a self-employed person, Mr Stratford says, you can leverage your specialist skills to provide consultancy services to several organisations. 'This will provide much more flexibility in your life.' As with any self-employed business, portfolio careers require a strong entrepreneurial mindset. Additionally, the executive needs to secure a certain level of financial stability and full family support to back them up before everything can fall into place. The successful launch of a portfolio career requires good strategic thinking and a trustworthy reputation. There are three levels of evaluation you need to conduct objectively and in detail. First, examine your marketable assets, skills, capabilities and achievements, or everything that you have done in the past. Second, consider your liabilities - what you do not want to do, what type of life you want to lead and what skills you want to upgrade to avoid stagnancy. Third, assess your personal attributes that are essential for self-employment, such as independence and self-assurance, selling and presentation skills, time management, self-organisation, all-round capability and so on. Besides these factors, good health is an imperative. To make sure you are serious, you will need to write up a business plan. The plan should be highly professional so that it can be used to obtain a bank loan should you need one. A marketing plan is also critical. 'Do a lot of research and develop your resume and brochures for marketing. You have to describe your business in a precise way within a 30-second introduction,' says Mr Stratford. 'That introduction should be clear and focused to get through to your formal and informal contacts.' The first year is critical to building up the career. All this will be paid off in a life lived on your own terms, encountering new learning opportunities, enjoying time for personal growth, and establishing and earning self-respect. As Mr Stratford stresses, detailed planning at the outset is of utmost importance in everyone's career. The portfolio careers concept is one of the options you can choose to pursue. Researching all your available options can help you find the one that will lead to a fulfilling life and extended career.