Why is it so important to build a network early in your career and establish a track record?
One of the most important activities you must complete, and early in your career, is to build a network and a track record. You will need both and you want them strong, healthy and relevant.
When I was in my last role I received a call from the gentleman who hired me into education when I was 25 years old. 16 years later he was now on the board of Study Group, remembered my contribution at Pearson, and called to discuss the Managing Director role. 16 years later someone I respected tremendously called me and today, I sit in the very job he called about.
Network, seek advice, and find 10 people to serve as mentors and advisors. Use those people to help you get better. It can make a truly positive difference to your career.
How did you start out?
As a little girl growing up on a military base – I knew there was more. There was a large wonderful world full of exciting challenges and I had a glimpse of this through a popular television show called “Hotel”. My parents would let me stay up late once a week to watch – I dreamed of running a luxury hotel and taking care of all the unique and interesting people who came to visit.
From 3rd grade to completion of Boston University’s School of Hotel Management, I never deviated from that dream. I went to work for Marriott Hotels in Key West, Florida and planned weddings and elaborate functions for guests around the world. From there, my mother who was a community college president encouraged me to give back by teaching and sharing my love of business.
At the age of 25, I entered education and for close to 20 years, I’ve never looked back. I’ve been a sales and marketing leader, faculty member, led product development, served as a college president, and led global enrollment for colleges located around the world. Today, I am fortunate to serve as Managing Director of North America for Study Group. What a journey it has been – a journey I am truly grateful for!
What helped you get as far as you have?
Risk taking. I learned early in my career to take the job that nobody else wanted - the messy turnaround role where I could fix and build and leave my mark. This has always been the place I want to be.
I learned early in my career that your track record is created with wins – and wins are created by accomplishing big things. I want to see and feel my impact and I challenge myself to accept those roles that feel out of reach and scare me a bit. I take that leap and it has not failed me yet.
What piece of advice would you give to your 21-year-old self?
Do not spend your career striving to be liked. The goal as a leader is not to be popular - it is to make the best decision on behalf of the people and business. And when those difficult decisions come, you treat people with care and dignity and always communicate in an open and transparent manner.
The minute you accept that it’s not a popularity contest but a race based on achievement and merit - you will move ahead. And trust me; people respect you more for leading the business, not for being the nicest person in the office.
A low point in your career/life and how you overcame it?
For several years I was an IVF patient. I was leading a big piece of business at Pearson and did not share with anyone what I was going through. I would fly overnight, completing injections in the small airplane bathroom – never stopping, never making excuses and running as fast and as hard as I always did.
As the years went on, the emotional impact took its toll. I woke up one morning and said “I just can’t do this anymore”. I got in the car and drove from Boston to NJ and walked into my manager’s office and resigned. He looked at me in shock and said – “you can’t do this and I must know what is happening”. As a strong and confident woman, I was unable to articulate the word “failure” – failure to achieve one of the most basic things a woman should be able to do. I had no words; I was scared because I just didn’t fail. With lots of encouragement, I finally explained the basics to him. Thankfully, he looked right at me and said “Emily – I have no idea what you are going through, I don’t even know how to help you, but we will get through this – whatever that means. You will call the shots….you will now determine how to get through this and determine what you need. This entire company will be behind you”.
That was not only the lowest point but it was a point when I first realized that I was not perfect and sometimes – I needed to ask for help. The end result was twin girls, an understanding that men can be as big of an advocate as women, and as strong as we are, when we face significant challenges, we must ask for help.
One word to describe yourself?
My husband asked if he could have three words and quickly responded with “Can Be Difficult” at which time my daughters yelled out “Kind and Loving” and I know if I asked my colleagues they would say, “Driven”!
What are you most proud of in your professional life?
I am most proud of my work as a college president. In this role you get to see students enter the college and then watch them exit – prepared to take on the world. In this role I could directly see the impact the faculty, staff and I made on the lives of individuals from all over the world.
It is the role that lasts a lifetime because your students stay in touch, you can see them make their mark, remain a mentor and supporter, and you know that companies are stronger when your graduates are employed by them. I found tremendous joy in this role.
Your first paying job: What and when?
I was 9 years old and loved horses. Our family did not have the money to pay for riding lessons. I found a local stable and walked in and asked if I could clean the stalls in exchange for lessons. And that is exactly what I did. And to this day – I know exactly how messy horses can be and know what hard work occurs to take care of them.
What do you do to keep yourself centered?
My family – my husband of 23 years and by 11 year old twin girls are my center. I travel extensively, so much that I was on the cover of American Airlines Magazine.
This hectic schedule helps me to be present when I am home – Basketball, sporting events, church and having my family close all contribute to helping me never forget how fortunate and blessed I have been.
What’s your favourite quote?
My mother told me this when I was little and it has stayed with me all these years…
Whenever you pass someone, always smile, it may be the only smile they see that day.
What would your superpower be?
I might pay just about anything for this one – Teleport. If I could get to a meeting in Singapore and back in 24 hours – my life would be perfect!