He was running the corporate audit staff while I was there. He noticed my work and was impressed with some of the things that I had achieved. He took interest in my career early on, and throughout my ca- reer I have called him for his opinion on particular opportunities at GE.
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He had a lot to do with some of my career moves. He was an excellent mentor in this regard. Having a connection to someone with enough experience and insight to understand your challenges—but who also is in a position to be objective—is very valuable. Did you ever worry about moving too quickly?
How long do you think someone needs to stay in a role to really have a positive impact for the business? Rotating people—and rotating them frequently—really has been a fundamental part of the GE culture. There are pros and cons to this approach.
Obviously, I have had the ben- efit of working in different functions, different businesses, and different con- tinents. With all that comes a huge learning experience. One year is way too short—to me, twelve months is a training program, not tenure in a position. As such, the business is willing to sacrifice your contributions for your learning. I think three years is about right.
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I started with four years on the corporate audit staff. We would take different projects every four months, ranging from reducing the cycle times of aircraft engine designs and gas turbines, to overseas projects on compliance processes and infrastructure, to examining how we market appliances globally, to selling aerospace operations and performing the due diligence to prepare for that sale, and so on.
In all of these environments, you have to learn as much as you can as fast as you can, and you need to make an impact right away. Next, I ran operations for our mortgage business for two years. The busi- ness was doing so well, they had really not focused on the process. As a result, it was easier to come in and make a big impact quickly. This made it one of my toughest jobs, as I had to prove myself with- out having a lot of expertise in this particular technology.
As I transitioned into any new role, I treated it like cramming for a college exam. I read as much material as I could, and I set up meetings with people who knew what they were talking about and asked them a ton of questions. Eventually, you build a baseline by pulling in experts to help. What stands out from your overseas assignment? This was before the euro, so there were lots of issues with understanding financial ex- change, different laws, and how that all affects business. So, there were some challenges from a technical and functional standpoint, but more importantly, it was just a big eye-opener for me to see the differences in cultures between Italy and Germany and India and so forth.
When you are at HQ, you have a lot of infrastructure and support. When you work away from that base, you have to do much more on your own. What helped you make this key transition? Through those projects I learned about many different parts of the business and how each function worked and provided value to the organization.
I got enough of a taste to equip my- self with confidence in my ability to be effective as a general manager. Once I figured that out, it became easier to transition across, functionally. I would add, too, that working with Jack Welch from through was great, eye-opening preparation. The exposure from sitting with Jack in all those business strategy and financial meetings and traveling around the world with him gave me a huge—if not unfair—advantage of watching and learning from a master.
How do you pick the people you are going to influence and spend time with as a mentor? Sometimes it means helping them by opening doors to opportunities because you know how good they are.
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I have been the most senior woman at GE for a long time and I am a mother of three children, so I tend to mentor a lot of people who strive to have families and do well in their careers. You just naturally want to help people like that. Another thing I tell people early in their careers is to not try to plan out your whole career too soon.
If some- one asked me early on if I thought my career would have taken all the turns it has, my answer would have been no. When I was first starting my career, I thought being successful in business was mutually exclusive to having a full family and social life, which I wanted, too; but it is not an either-or situation. It depends on the support system you have, and on your own determination and the decisions you make along the way. Someone with a less supportive spouse could not have en- tertained the choices I have entertained.
It is best to figure out what the priorities are for your family and stick with them. This has the predictable benefit of building breadth of experience and the predictable drawback of the individual developing a shallow depth of experience. Along with that benefit may be a drawback: since many people are moving knowledge about, awareness of your weaknesses or blunders moves, too. Her sentiment, that she is drawn to some people who she just naturally wants to help, reinforces for early- career people the importance of finding ways to be appealing to their senior colleagues.
Showing initiative, displaying curiosity, and offering solutions where others simply identify problems are all ways to get others to care about your success. Just as a business strategy needs to have the ability to evolve as con- ditions change, so too does your career strategy.
He graduated with an MS in that same field from Georgia Tech in What initially drew you to engi- neering and MIT? Engineering seemed like a logical major for someone with my interests. I was excited about the thought of one day working on cutting-edge technology. I had grown up in Georgia, so the chance to live in another city was appealing, too. What were your intentions? My dad had been the president of a couple of banks here in Georgia.
My mom was a role model, too. She started her own real estate appraisal business—she was an entrepreneur. Is that right? During my undergraduate program, I held a couple of internships. The exposure, in a way, provided a test to see if working in the medical device industry was really what I wanted to do.
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I applied to several programs coming out of MIT. I ap- plied to Georgia Tech and to three schools in California. I was looking for someplace warm. I ended up picking Georgia Tech because of the extent of the financial support I received to attend. All the while, I had in the back of my mind an interest in business.
Once I was at Tech, I learned about a program that teamed engineers with business students around the development of a commercialization plan for a technology. I became interested in that program and at about the same time decided to pursue my PhD in engineering.
The program is set up to build and commercialize a plan, but honestly my research was too basic to consider commercialization opportunities. Still, the program made use of it to teach us the process. You will have exhausted school options—what are you doing in terms of launching your career?
I honestly wanted to interact with people a little bit more. That same de- sire is part of what drove me to the MBA program. There, I had the chance to work on a number of projects with outside clients. Those experiences triggered my interest in consulting. I worked on three projects in the MBA program.
One was in a strategy class—it was the first group project I did with an outside company. We worked on something for Air Tran. It was also great to interact with some of the top-level people at Air Tran. I did a couple of other projects in other classes. These experiences helped me realize how much I enjoy working with other people in order to deliver results that help the client. At that time, I was still thinking a little bit more about how to leverage my engineering credentials.
I knew that I wanted to leave academia. I looked at several different types of positions, including product specialist, research scientist, and business analyst. Product specialist positions are relatively new options for PhD students. Only a few companies have these positions for new PhD hires. Traditionally, PhD students have become research scientists. My MBA scared some companies because they want to hire research scientists who will become research experts, not someone who will use the job as a stepping-stone to something else.
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This question—what did I really want in my career—came up frequently during interviews. Business development positions are also nearly impossible to get directly out of school. Each company hires only a few people, and generally the positions go to new hires from the top five MBA programs or to internal hires.lighfanduca.tk
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That path probably would have required me to move to the Northeast or the Midwestern U. I made a lot of contacts with small biotech companies in Atlanta, but it is very difficult to get a position with them as a new PhD hire. I also talked to a few VCs do- ing biotech work and got the same answers regarding my lack of experience. During these efforts, I noticed that a lot of people in start-ups and VC firms had been consultants before becoming entrepreneurs. It seemed like the right move to make might be to reframe my search to focus on consulting companies. Of course, this became clear to me as a viable strategy in January of —after the traditional recruiting cycle had just ended.