Learning from experience

2017 College of Business commencement
The College of Business celebrates the 2017 Commencement at Colorado State University.

From Fortune 500 executives to recent grads, College of Business women have covered a lot of ground in the working world. To provide perspective into what they have done to succeed, and to inspire our current students who are starting to chart their own courses, we talked to a number of alumnae and gathered insights into how they have approached their careers.

Thanks to everyone who shared their time and wisdom to support our female students and alumni alike!

CATHY MORRIS, ’80

Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer  Arrow Electronics, Englewood, Colo.

Cathy Morris presents to students during Business Day
Cathy Morris

Pick something you love, because you get the privilege of doing it for the rest of your life. … If you don’t love it, it’s going to be more work than fun.

Aim high, there’s no reason to not pursue an opportunity and try to go for something you think might be over your bandwidth. You would be surprised with
how many times you aim high and someone gives you an opportunity, so don’t hold yourself back. I think from a tactical point of view. Once you do those more ethereal things of what you love, and aiming high, you still need to have a plan and goals.

If you want to excel quickly, you need to make sure that every experience is relevant to the end game. Seek out that person who you think you want to become, and you would be surprised at how willing they would be to help you.

Whether it’s gender or race or functional responsibility, extraordinary decision-making happens when you have diversity of thought. Just because the main focus in the room is in one direction, you have to be confident that your diverse opinion matters. Highly effective teams are effective because of diversity of thought.

There are all sorts of challenges, whether it be a bad boss or bad project or bad business results. Those challenges are when you are going to learn the most. I also believe if you don’t find yourself facing challenges, then you have not stretched yourself enough. Taking the safe route does not get you noticed. The people who take on hard problems and solve them are generally rewarded.

With knowledge comes credibility, with credibility comes confidence. Whatever situation you are going into, you need to be prepared. Many people will just show up at a meeting and think they are there to listen. I have never gone to a meeting where I felt it was my job to listen; I was to be there to help solve a problem.

It has everything to do with showing up, being prepared, and articulating your point of view. It has nothing to do with being right. Complex problems require complex solutions. It takes a very diverse thought pool to get to the answer to complex problems. Early on, you need to get over the need to be right. You need to go into situations to contribute. You will find you will contribute more every year you are in the job because your knowledge base gets higher. You always have to invest in yourself to get credibility and be prepared.

Angelina Howard, ’14

Product Manager  Amazon.com, Seattle, Wash.

Angelina Howard talks to people during Business Day
Angelina Howard

Moving into a workplace, where in most cases women are the minority, can feel intimidating. Do not let this intimidate you or negatively impact your confidence. You are where you are for a reason. Use your past experiences to navigate through the transition, and use the experiences you will gain on the job to propel you forward to what is next.

Whenever I am faced with challenges I always think of different solutions and talk them through with my manager and mentors. I look at all challenges, as lessons and experiences to better equip me in the long run. I also think about how some of the things I face can inspire others. I want my challenges to help others.

The College of Business provided me with cases that allowed me to work directly with companies throughout my academic career. Having case competitions with companies such as General Motors, Advanced Energy, and Noya Fibers, as well as a practicum with Forney, I was able to take what I learned in the classroom and apply it to real business problems. Having this tangible experience helped me think through problems that I face in my career. As a product manager, developing strategies and finding solutions is a large part of my role, and my experience in college has helped me be successful.

If someone tells you that you can’t, do not let that stop you from pursuing what you know you can do. There will be people who will assume because you are a female you are not as qualified — I have experienced this myself. In some cases, you will have to work harder than your male counterparts, but do not let this discourage you. You are as qualified. You deserve to be in the room. You can achieve whatever you work toward. Lastly, do not be afraid to speak up; your speaking up can change the landscape for the women coming after you.

My greatest professional accomplishment was being selected as a keynote speaker for Colorado State University’s 2017 Business Day. As a first-generation student, being asked to return to my alma mater meant a lot to me. Starting at CSU, I did not know what I wanted to do and would have never imagined I would have received a job offer at a tech company before graduating. To be able to come back almost three years later was amazing. The mentors I had at CSU helped me get to where I am today. They encouraged me throughout my collegiate career and have continued to stay in touch with me post-graduation. They continue to encourage me as I navigate throughout my career. I owe a lot of my success to the faculty in the College of Business.

Cheryl Zimlich, ’86

Executive Director  Bohemian Foundation, Fort Collins, Colo.

When you’re new and have lots of new ideas, my best piece of advice – and what I tell folks when they start here – is listen first. Ask why they do the things the way they do, what brought them to that place. Ask a lot of questions, and then you are in a better position as you think of ways to improve. It is always OK to ask, “do you have any advice for me?”

Listen to the person as an another human first, and let them know relationships are all based upon listening and conversation. Keep asking questions to seek understanding if there is a difficult situation. The people on the other side of the table have valid reasons for what they believe. We are usually closer to an agreement than a disagreement when we work together to find the right approach.

Seize the moment. Opportunities present themselves all the time. Put yourself out there and take a little risk. Seize opportunities to meet other people, because you’ll never know what connection you might make.

I have not had an experience where it’s like, “if you do this, things will work out for you.” It is more about being who you are and being confident in yourself and your abilities. Trust in yourself, and the skills that earned you the job. You have every right to be there.

Cheryl Zimlich portrait
Cheryl Zimlich

Shelly Swanback, ’91

Group Operating Officer  Accenture Digital, Denver, Colo.

When I am in stressful situations, I find ways to relax. Everyone has different ways of relaxing; my favorites are to take a walk, find a few quiet moments to breathe, or find a way to inject some humor. My experience is the power of just being able to relax your brain and body often gives you a completely new perspective.

When my kids were young, I began coaching their youth sports. I would often leave the office stressed about a situation or problem and found after spending a couple hours outdoors with the kids, the solution to the problem was easier to find.

There is only one person to manage the integration of your career and life aspirations … that’s you! You have got to be clear about your priorities. You cannot go 110 miles per hour in your personal and professional life. You can have it all, but you can’t necessarily have it all at the same time. Give yourself permission to change your priorities as your life evolves, and do not forget to ask for help along the way.

About four years ago, I took on a role as the global group operating officer at Accenture Digital. It’s definitely been the most challenging thing I’ve done, but also the most rewarding. This past fiscal year, we were a $9.5 billion business growing at 30 percent. When I first started, I remember thinking to myself, ‘how in the world am I going to do this? I’m going to be physically worn out flying around the world all the time.’ I decided I was not going to take 20 international trips, but instead I would pack up my family and go on a business trip to Europe for 54 days.

I just made it work. I never asked anybody for approval, I just did it. I think a lot of times people take options off the table before trying to make it work. I was a little worried what people were going to think: “Is she just taking her family on a vacation?” The people I worked with in Europe actually loved it. I was there for 54 days, I had dinner with their families, and the work impact was huge. However, I could not have made that decision when I was two years with Accenture. I definitely think it takes a while to build that confidence and reputation.

I try to listen first to make sure I understand the various perspectives, and then I like to tackle the issues head on and in a very transparent fashion. I find many people are afraid of this approach because it could involve some conflict or uncomfortable situations. I find people appreciate I’m able to do that, because we get to a real solution and we can move on. Let’s really understand the problem or challenge and let’s make a decision. People trust me because they know I’m all about solving the problem, not pushing a personal agenda.

Shelly Swanback portrait
Shelly Swanback

AMANDA WHITE, ’11

Career Counselor  CSU College of Business Career Management Center, Fort Collins, Colo.

Amanda White portrait
Amanda White

I wish I knew career paths are so much different than they used to be. Instead of a linear pathway, careers are ever-changing and there are many lateral movements available to help build skill sets for future opportunities. Be open to new projects, learning new areas of expertise, and meeting new people across organizations. You never know where they will take you! It’s OK to be goal oriented but sometimes, without experience, it’s hard to know how to grow or develop in a specific company or role. It has helped me to set goals around the next skill areas I want to develop or projects I want to be a part of, and opportunities continue to develop from there.

Keep moving and find a network of people who support you – whether it’s taking the next step in your career, having difficult conversations, identifying opportunities, or general life planning. I am grateful to have people I can look up to, who believe in me, and push me even when I don’t think I can do it. Those are the people who have helped me the most. They know me better than I know myself and help me find opportunities that align with my strengths and where I want to be. I suggest you find those people, nourish them, and keep them as long as you can!

Don’t stop questioning! Recruitment efforts, policies and procedures, culture, etc., can have an effect on who is in and who is out. Creating more inclusive work environments is important to provide the most value to a diverse group of consumers. By questioning these aspects of a company, you draw attention to issues that may not have ever been discussed.

Being involved outside of work in professional associations have has the greatest influence on how I approach my career. I started in a Chamber of Commerce committee and now am stepping into being president of the Colorado Career Development Association. Meeting people in different locations, roles, and companies gives me new ideas and ways I can maximize efforts.

Karli Julian, ’11

Brand Manager  E. & J. Gallo Winery, Denver, Colo.

Be patient. I wish I would have been more open to knowing I was not going to be the best at something right away. You go from being in your comfort zone for your entire college career to a brand-new environment with new challenges. Embrace the change! Soak up the experience and be excited to learn as much as you can.

The best pieces of advice I can give is to manage up and to establish an uplifting relationship with your coworkers. Learn what your manager likes and dislikes, how they want certain tasks completed, and set that standard moving forward. Find co-workers – both male and female – who have similar passions for their careers. You spend more time with people you work with, more than anyone else, so you might as well create an environment where you can bounce ideas off one another and build each other up.

It’s OK to live a balanced life and prioritize what is most important to you – that could be career advancement, building a family, or simply being healthy outside of work. It may change over time, but the key is figuring out what’s important and finding a career or company to fit your criteria.

Karli Julian portrait
Karli Julian