In September 2001, R. A. Kuffel completed a
successful thirty-five-year career developing food
products for a Fortune-500 food company in Minneapolis,
Prior to joining the company in January 1967, the author
obtained a bachelors degree in chemistry from St. John’s
University in Collegeville, Minnesota, and a master’s degree
in organic chemistry from the University of North Dakota.
Following two years of military service in the U. S. Army
Chemical Corps, he was honorably discharged at the rank of
captain and returned to his home state to join General
Mills, Inc., where he spent his entire working career.
In 2007, he published his novel, The Dangled Illusion, a
fictional memoir showing that you don’t have to be the CEO
to be successful. With Crafting a Successful Career: 8
Principles for Winning in a Challenging World, he completes
his statement about business and describes how every
employee, regardless of title, can have a successful career.
He’s now writing a family memoir, drawing largely from a
stack of notes compiled by his late father.
PageOneLit.com: Where did you grow up and was reading and writing a part
of your life? Who were your earliest influences and why?
R.A.Kuffel: I grew up in St. Cloud, the heart of central Minnesota,
during the best two decades in history to be a kid—the 1940s and 1950s.
America was strong, optimism prevailed, opportunity inhabited our every
thought, and play was unregulated—kids created their own activities,
free from adult supervision and involvement. Creativity abounded and we
Writing came later. It began with letters written during graduate school
and the military. Then technical writing over a 35 year career in
product development replaced the subjectivity of personal correspondence
and third person form masked whatever creativity might have existed.
When I freed myself of the business world I took several writing courses
and, seven years later, self-published The Dangled Illusion, a fictional
memoir about my career. This past year, through Expert Publishing, Inc.,
I followed with Crafting a Successful Career: 8 Principles for Winning
in a Challenging World, the lessons learned along the way. So I’ve been
writing for ten years and wish I’d started sooner.
The seed planted early in my mind that perhaps I could write and the
rush that accompanied a piece well done came first from Sister Sheila,
my freshman English teacher, a nun at Cathedral High School in St.
Cloud, MN who took an assignment I’d written for class and published it
in the school paper. I still remember the feeling. And then Miss Bothen,
another English teacher, who offered encouragement.
PageOneLit.com: Why do you write?
R.A.Kuffel. I write because I think I have something to say and to help
people in their careers. For the latter portion of my working career I
was a mentor to quite a few people new to our corporation. From that
experience and some of my own short-comings along the way I came to
realize the need for the role.
While working I took a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test. What I found is
that my type constituted one percent of the population. From that I
concluded that I see things different from how others might perceive
them, so I might as well make that difference work for me.
Having been a middle manager in a major corporation and having completed
a successful career without making it to the top of any part of our
organization, I thought I could encourage young people specifically and
all people generally by sharing some thoughts.
I did it first by publishing the fictional memoir, meant to share my
story, hoping it would encourage others. Then I gave a lecture at the
University of Minnesota about the lessons learned along the way and
decided I’d written the wrong book—they needed to hear the specifics
regarding what those lessons were. That led to Crafting a Successful
So another way to answer the question is to say this: I write to help
people see their career path a little more clearly and hope to help them
see the rocks in the road of their career so they perhaps avoid
PageOneLit.com: Briefly tell us about your new book 'Crafting a
R.A.Kuffel. I wrote Crafting a Successful Career to help new college
graduates enter their first jobs in major corporations, to help them
understand early that corporations have a way of doing things and that
understanding those ways right from the beginning can create
opportunities for the new person later on. Only after I’d published the
book and begun speaking to groups did I receive feedback that the book
is a help to anyone at any stage of their career who’s entering a new
phase of experience—new job, new company, new situation,
corporate-medical-non-profit, you name it—the principles apply.
Success is the first issue. I wanted students particularly to rise above
the mantra forced on them since birth, that being Number One is all
there is; that’s garbage for most of us. Most of us don’t aspire to be
the CEO; we have other aspirations. Most of us want to do well, but our
goals are personal and often private. We need to get that definition
right for ourselves and make decisions based on what we know is true for
us. That’s first.
Then I speak of getting a job, finding a mentor, getting good at what we
were hired to do, and building a network. Each of these steps
constitutes a building block to creating a career. And we need for each
block to be fully functioning.
Next I focus on sponsorship (it’s different from mentoring) and the need
for anyone hoping to move up in an organization to understand this
Finally I expand on the need to really perform and I close the list
admonishing my reader to establish Plan B and Plan C. They need to be
prepared for change, whether they initiate the change or some outside
force does. I speak to being prepared for that eventuality.
After that I speak to character traits and attitudes that will help the
reader be successful (resiliency comes to mind) and I warn them of the
triple threat that waits for them to slip up (boredom, the inordinate
need for freedom, and the breadth of their lens.)
And if they still harbor dreams of being the CEO of a Fortune 500
company I confront them with their odds and wish them well. For some,
being #1 is not just a dream, it’s a goal. I commend them for their zeal
and point to friends who have reached that goal—for their encouragement.
PageOneLit.com: Discuss your professional background and how it helped
you to write 'Crafting a Successful Career'.
R.A.Kuffel: Most books written about career success are written by
people who made a lot of money, led from the CEO chair, and filled the
dictionary definition for success, “The attainment of wealth, position,
honors, or the like.” For 35 years I worked in research and development
for General Mills, most of the time working as a low-mid level manager
in research and development, so by dictionary definition standards I
didn’t fill the bill. Yet I was successful, and I felt I had something
to say to the rest of us who don’t want to be the CEO.
When I joined General Mills, Inc., I was placed on
the research and development career fast track receiving 4 promotions in
9 years, going from a level 2 to a level 6 manager. In some business
situations this is not considered fast, but in research and development
in those days, it was considered meteoric. My lifetime goal was to be a
level 7 director, but that effort stalled in the 16th year when I was
demoted and dropped to a level 5, a level I retained until my
retirement. In working both as a star and as a non-star I came to
understand and appreciate key nuances in both segments of the working
population; those who are perpetually ascending and those who are locked
One component emerged from the career devastation almost untouched: my
network. It was and is filled with those who would lead corporations and
those who would simply perform day in and day out for a career. Those in
marketing created career paths which were “up or out”: they either
received regular promotions or left the corporation to lead elsewhere.
Those who stayed rose to power positions. One of my friends of that era
became the #3 person in the corporation while he was in his mid
thirties. I was pretty well connected.
When I became damaged goods after the demotion I
found I was still regarded well for my technical skills, but was no
longer considered promotion material in the area in which I’d worked—I’d
lost my internal sponsors.
Out of this set of experiences I learned something about corporations
and perhaps I could help people craft successful careers by seeing more
clearly what lay before them. I felt I had some insights that might be
beneficial, so I wrote about the lessons I’d learned.
PageOneLit.com: In 'Crafting a Successful Career' you write about
finding a 'Mentor’. Explain how and why this is important.
Every business has its own peculiarities, its own way of doing things. I
selected to address acronyms, procedures, and meeting behavior. For a
person to be unaware of the meaning of acronyms is for them to be out of
the loop and considered ignorant or stupid. Knowing procedures, how
things are done around here, keeps the new person from aggravating
sensitive leaders. To get things done, there’s a right way and a wrong
way. It’s better to know the right way. And certain practices are
sacrosanct like behavior in meetings. Knowing what is expected keeps a
new person from making social blunders and getting labeled an outlier.
All these things I call “rocks in the road.” They can only make a new
person stumble or fall, so beware.
Mentors are people who will act in the new person’s behalf; they’re on
the mentee’s side. A mentor is a person who will take the time to define
what to watch out for, interpret situations that may seem optional but
really have built-in expectations, and highlight what could hamper the
mentee’s getting into the corporate flow.
To find a mentor I’d suggest starting simple. Upon arrival at the new
work situation, find others who have been there less than six months and
get some help about current practices—eliminate rookie errors. Then get
assigned to the corporation’s formal mentor program and learn about
current practices. While you’re at it, be looking for an individual
who’s a step or two above entry level grade, has a few years in the
corporation, and might be open to taking a rookie under his or her wing.
Ask them if, from time to time, you could stop by to discuss concerns
and receive a little direction. Most would be honored to be asked.
PageOneLit.com: In 'Crafting a Successful Career' you say " go after a
BIG job first". Explain.
R.A.Kuffel: The idea behind this strategy is to eliminate the fear of
big. Too often when people emerge from the world of academia, regardless
of the level, they are a bit awestruck by the enormity and complexity of
large organizations; how can one learn all there is to know to succeed
in this new set of surroundings?
My suggestion is to face the dragon head-on. Just do
it. Grab the opportunity to work in the largest setting you can secure
and begin to soak in the benefits. Why big? Because they have the
dollars, they offer the training, and on a daily basis you’ll learn
about segments of business that in lesser settings all kind of merge.
And you build a great network.
In the course of two or three years you’ll be exposed to all the levels
and all the business units and will be in a much better place to make a
decision about where you want to carve out your career. At that point
you can decide to stay where you are, move to a different phase of the
operation, or perhaps move on to academia, try a smaller business, or
even start your own business.
But you see the field of opportunity best, I think, if you start big.
PageOneLit.com: Does 'Crafting a Successful Career' speak to the
entrepreneurial who works outside the corporate world?
R.A.Kuffel: I think the principles still apply, some even more in the
The definition the entrepreneur creates to define his or her success is
critical, it defines how they will make decisions short and long term.
They have a job, so that’s not too important, but they would benefit
from having a good mentor who’s walked the path before them. They still
need to get very good at what they do, grow their network, and all the
rest of the list stated in the book with the possible exception of
needing a sponsor—I think that might not apply.
From discussions I’ve had with people in small and large businesses,
public or private, academic, not for profit, and medical, I would say
that the principles apply. In fact, I’d say that anyone entering any new
field of endeavor would benefit from applying the principles of Crafting
a Successful Career.
PageOneLit.com: Discuss briefly your other book 'The Dangled Illusion'.
R.A.Kuffel: When I left the workforce I had completed a 35 year career
and felt that my career was a success—I had been successful. But how
could that be? I never became the CEO of my company. I never even
reached my own humble goals. So I set out to write my career story,
complete with successes and failures, the show how this would be
possible. The result was The Dangled Illusion, probably an example of
learning by writing.
What started as a personal memoir changed to a fictional memoir because
I didn’t want to be held to names and dates, and I wanted the freedom to
make my statement without implicating people or the company when that
wasn’t my purpose. So all the good events are people whom those near to
the situation could identify; the not-so-good people (a very small
number) are morphs of personalities.
So The Dangled Illusion is my two-part career story, fictionalized; my
16 years as a star and my 19 years as a solid performer trying to work
my way back to my previous career path. Imbedded in the narrative are
the lessons I learned along the way.
For anyone wanting to understand the workings in a real career, the
individual trying to do a good job while working a personal agenda of
advancement, I recommend this book. It’s fiction—and it’s real.
PageOneLit.com: What do you hope to achieve with your books?
R.A.Kuffel: I would like readers to come to an understanding that they
have more control of their career than they might have considered, but
realize that, with the forces set against them, they also have less—yet
the situation is hopeful.
By understanding the corporation a little better (“the corporation
doesn’t love you”) each of us can prepare a little better for the next
step on our journey. I hope to shed a little light on that path so
people new to the journey might see their way a little better.
PageOneLit.com: What was the last book you read?
R.A.Kuffel: I like thrillers and have read all of Vince Flynn’s series,
the most recent being American Assassin, and all but one of John
Grisham’s series, the latest being The Confession. And since I’d enjoyed
Stieg Larsson’s trilogy I read the most recent Swedish hit Three Seconds
by Roslund and Hellstrom. Along with that some old westerns by Louis
L’Amour, and some conspiracy stuff. I can’t call my taste exactly
eclectic, but it certainly is varied.
PageOneLit.com: What's next?
R.A.Kuffel: My father’s memoir. My father passed in May of 2007 and left
me about 50,000 words of his recollections about the family, the times,
and a bit of his life, hoping that one day someone would pass it along
for others to know and appreciate the times from about 1900 until 2007.
A couple of years ago I took a memoir course from Carolyn Walker, a prof
at Western Michigan University, who pointed me in the right direction.
Now I’ll see what I can do with that great sendoff. Though I don’t read
that many memoirs (I’m reading Russel Means’ Where White Men Fear To
Tread right now and enjoying it), this memoir project handed to me by my
father has peaked my interest and I’m having a great time.