Three tips to help land that C-suite position

How many times do we feel like we're "stuck" in our career? Or as though our personal growth has plateaued? On this episode, we spoke with Traci Dolan, BS'81, who shares her success as the former CFO of ExactTarget. She offers three, practical tips to launch your career to the next level.

Show Notes:

MATT:

As we approach the 10-year mark since the 2008 financial collapse - as a global market, we’re still picking up the pieces. However, the economic comeback we’re seeing across the United States shows favorable conditions for both new business creation and corporate development - which in turn means better chances for your start-up business’s success or that big promotion. On this episode, we’re talking with a CFO who offers some practical tips for professional growth. The sun is rising on our financial landscape. How will we make the most of it? Let’s get to the podcast.

(The ROI Podcast Music)

MATT:

Good morning, and welcome to another episode of the ROI Podcast presented by the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. I’m your host, Matt Martella, broadcasting from the downtown Indianapolis campus with my special guest, associate dean of academic programs, Phil Powell. Hey Phil…

MATT:

Now Phil, we’re only a few months away from the 10 year mark since the horrible 2008 financial collapse, that many experts are calling the worst implosion the global market experienced since the Great Depression… leaving so many families in turmoil and creating a highly conservative approach to the way both businesses and families spend their money. However, the global markets over the past few years indicate a sort of “bounce back.”

PHIL:

You’re right! The confidence people have in the economy in recent years is really reflected in the strength of our current global market. And that’s breathing new life into the start-up business environment as well as expansion and growth in corporations. Simply look at the recent trends. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, start-up firms were at an all-time low in 2010 following the collapse. Jump to 20-17 and we saw the number of new business creations grow by close to 100-thousand since 2010. Just last year, start-ups gained 1.7 million jobs since 2016... and the growth seems to continue.

MATT:

And major corporations seem to be reaping the benefits too. In fact the U-S Bureau of Economic Analysis are calling the first quarter of 20-18, just the first quarter ALONE, an all-time high for corporate profits since 1950. U-S corporations have profited close to 1-hundred-ninety billion dollars this year. That’s some serious spending power if you’re sitting in the executive suite to grow your corporation.

PHIL:

And this should also give those of us who have been kicking the bucket around, waiting for the right time to start a business some hope and encouragement to finally take the leap.

MATT:

Let’s talk about that for a moment. Following the 2008 financial collapse, we experienced a MAJOR slow-down in small business creation. In fact, new business start-ups fell by almost one-hundred-50-thousand, going from just over 6-hundred-thousand new businesses in 2006 to barely crossing the 4-hundred-fifty-thousand mark in 2014, according to the U-S Census. What do potential entrepreneurs need to do to overcome their fear and take advantage of this incredible economic growth?

PHIL:

Well it’s simple to hear, but hard to implement. The bottom line is they need to be confident. They need to trust the economic trends and plug themselves into this financial growth our country is experiencing. Starting a business will always come with uncertainty, fear of the unknown, and will most definitely push a new business owner’s comfort-level, no matter how the market is doing. But seeing how far we’ve come since 2008, I feel if there was ever a time to take that chance for your new business, that time is now.

MATT:

One of our marketing professors, Kim Saxton, sat down for an interview with former CFO of ExactTarget, Traci Dolan, who most certainly can speak about pushing personal comfort levels. Not only did she rise to the CFO of a tech company WITHOUT a technology background, but as CFO of a different company, she led the decision to take a public company private. That alone would create a huge level of uncertainty. She says that no matter where we are, whether we’re about to start a business or on the tip of the spear for making uncomfortable business decisions that ultimately could affect our career, we have to be comfortable BEING uncomfortable.

Traci Dolan: “You can't be paralyzed by fear - my greatest achievements in my professional career have been because I put myself out there a little bit, outside of my comfort zone, either applying for a job that I really didn't know if I was qualified for, or taking the lead on some project that I might've not had the skill-set and knowing it wasn't going to be perfect. I often see people struggle with decision-making because they're fearful of making a mistake, and it's paralysis to an organization if that happens.”

PHIL:

This is not simply for those of us trying to start our own business either - this can apply to those of us in the corporate world who have sites on upper management positions, director roles, or even the big “C-level” office. Those looking to grow themselves in the professional world have to constantly push their comfort levels. I’m not saying we make radical decisions without doing our research first, but we cannot expect to grow ourselves as a corporate professional OR an entrepreneur by staying complacent. If we’re struggling with complacency and don’t know what to do, the best advice I can offer is find those people who have succeeded. We have to surround ourselves with those who have our dream jobs, our dream business, or are successful in an area we want to succeed. Take them out to coffee and simply listen. Find out their personal habits, see what they’re reading, ask them what their success looks like, ask them about their failures, but more importantly, ask them how they overcame defeat. This will help us lay down tracks for our own professional goals without having to “re-invent the wheel” so to speak.

MATT:

And if we’re in a position that affords us the power to hire, Traci says to surround ourselves with the best, then GET OUT of their way.

Traci Dolan: “Hire people smarter than yourself, let them grow and develop, and hopefully [they'll] take the role you were sitting in so you can keep growing too. Often times people are less inclined to do that, they're either micromanaging or they're somewhat concerned that someone's going to "up-stage' them - I think that's [the] absolute wrong way to look at it. By bringing on the smartest people you can find and actually trying to fill the gaps that you yourself don't possess is the greatest way to keep growing, developing, and ending up in the C-suite.”

MATT:

The beauty of these principles Traci shares is they’re scalable for entrepreneurs and corporate professionals. Because no matter what our title or where we fall in the corporate chain, we will have to make decisions. Some decisions will affect our organization, but MOST of the decisions we make will affect us personally.

PHIL:

That’s a good point. Because even unmade decisions – decisions we are afraid to make or decisions we chose to avoid, are in fact a decision. In those moments, no decision BECOMES our decision. And people around us see that. And a lot of that stems simply from a fear of failure. As American’s, we have a culture of “winners” and “losers”. If our decision succeeds, we turn a huge profit, hire the perfect candidate, or get ahead of our competitors, we’re a winner. Yet, if we fail, we decide that person doesn’t fit our company’s morals, lose short-term profit, or get some bad press, we become a “loser”. And that’s what business leaders have a hard time navigating through - they simply don’t know how to let go of that winner/loser mentality.

MATT:

And for many, it’s that fear of being viewed as a “loser” that prevents people from even trying in order to stay in their comfort bubble. But that view has to change because no matter what, life always guarantees us failures. It’s not about winning or losing in business, it’s about growing or stagnating. If Traci let her failures define her, I would bet my money that she would simply be crunching numbers as a public accountant still. However, she took a different approach when it came to failures…

Traci Dolan: “I’m sure my life is full of failures, but I just kind of dust myself off and don’t look at them as that way. I look at them with learning because tomorrow I'm going to fail at something - I'm not sure what it'll be, but it won't be what I failed at today because I will have learned and picked myself up to keep going.”

MATT:

And what better example of how to navigate through failure then watching Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, deal with some poor business choices recently. Let’s study Facebook for a moment. Here we have a multi-billion dollar company, make some poor business choices that affect us, the consumer, on a very personal level. We’re talking about a lot of people’s personal information not valued the way we would expect. We even find Zuckerberg having to testify before Congress, gaining the attention of major national media outlets. For most, this would destroy their reputation, profits, and potentially their company. And who knows, this could still blow up in their face, but at the moment, their stock price indicates quite the opposite. So, what if Zuckerberg let fear overtake how he leads? What if he let the failures or his anxiety cripple his decision making process?

PHIL:

It would be corporate suicide. Despite all that’s still stacked against the future of Facebook, they’re essentially turning their lemons into lemonade. Sure it’s coming with a high financial price tag - and I guarantee Zuckerberg feels the anxiety of his decisions, especially with the microscopic scrutiny of the media. But the BIG take-away is, he’s still making decisions and moving forward. And even though they may not all be the right ones to make, the fact that they’re made gives investors the confidence they need to put their money back into stocks. Despite their bad press, they closed at $207.23 per share on July 16th. That’s the highest they’ve been since they went public! So if you’re one to become overwhelmed with anxiety in the midst of making decisions, one practice to build your confidence is to know what’s going on in your department or your organization as soon as possible and make the best choice with what is known.

 Traci Dolan: “I think the sooner I can come up to speed on what's going on in the organization, the more effective a decision-maker I will be. I haven't been mentored to do that, per se, but just by career history, it's just evolved.”

PHIL:

Fear of failure and the anxiety that comes with decision-making put serious growth stoppers in our path to professional success. We have to remember that these emotions are normal for everyone. What separates those who are successful from those you are stuck are, they learn how to overcome them instead of being overcome by their emotions.

MATT:

Finally, it’s extremely important that we don’t limit ourselves by saying it cannot be done. In order to be a leading business owner or a top-level executive, we have to let go of the “we can’t do this” mentality. Traci quickly learned her focus as a public accountant had to expand past the numbers and spreadsheets. This shift in seeing the big picture and how to make uncomfortable choices ultimately landed her the coveted “C-Level” position.

 Traci Dolan: “What becomes really important is being a strategic business partner - once you establish yourself as that, and understanding the business and trying to find ways to say yes so that the answer isn't, "No, you can't do it," but it's, "No, you can't do that, but let's figure out how we can do this so that it's a win for the business.” —BUTT TO — “In fact, if you're not working with the business and you're sitting in your office cranking on spreadsheets, pretty soon no one is going to want to talk to you, and you've lost your strategic value to the company.”

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MATT:

So let’s recap. The key is to start. Start the business, start learning your organization, start finding a mentor, or start embracing the uncomfortable growth necessary for success. Next it’s about shifting our perspective of failure - whether in fear of failure or anxiety of decision-making - we have to see failure as fertile grounds for personal growth. Finally, we CANNOT limit ourselves with a “can’t do” attitude. We have to figure out ways to make it work so our business and we ultimately succeed.

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MATT:

Thanks for tuning in this week. As always, thank you Phil for being here today. If you enjoyed this podcast and want to discover more, check out our archived episodes and don’t forget to subscribe. While you’re there, tell us what topics you would like to hear, leave a review, or just say hi. I’m Matt Martella and this has been another edition of ROI Podcast presented by the Indiana University Kelley School of Business.

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