Vice President, Communications & Corporate Affairs
I was born in Detroit, Michigan, and I moved to Indianapolis when I was 10 years old. I grew up in the Midwest of the US.
Where did you go to school and what did you study?
In high school I fell in love with writing and telling stories and I went to Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, where I earned my BA.
What attracted you to a career in public relations?
I expected that I would be a broadcast journalist, and while at college I worked for a newspaper and a magazine until I realized that I Iove to tell stories, but I didn't love the fact that, as journalist, I had tell a story and move to the next one. So I got exposed to corporate communications, which uses some of the same skill sets but allows you to have more continuity in telling the story of an organization or cause. That really appealed to me and that's why I made this transition.
How did you reach the position you now hold?
I had the opportunity to be a freelance writer for Allstate, and from there I moved to a number of companies through relationships. I worked for a lot of great firms like American Express and Prudential by building a network and doing what I loved to do and growing as a communicator in a variety of industries. At my second company, a small one, I was around 27 years old when I reached a director position. I moved to Prudential in my early 30's, when I reached the VP level. I was fortunate to move pretty quickly in the profession. Now I am VP - Communications & Corporate Affairs at Northwestern Mutual.
What particular professional challenges did you face as your career progressed, and how did you overcome them?
I was recognized as a strategic communications leader, but I didn't have the same level of business acumen as the senior leadership table. So I had to make the effort to come up to speed in really understanding the economics and operations of business by being a student of the organization where I worked, by doing external courses and by being an avid reader to build on this expertise. Catching up on the business acumen side to round me out as a business leader was my biggest challenge.
Were there personal challenges as well?
I'm a mom of three, so balancing family and having a dynamic career has been a challenge. I have made personal career choices to fit my family life and you have to be prepared for those kinds of tradeoffs. I happened to work for people of color and women in companies where people like me could rise to the highest level. But I have become a mentor for people whose organizations are not like that and I have made a personal commitment to try to be a coach, so we do see more people like us succeeding in the profession.
What do you think are the biggest challenges in attracting more people of color to careers in public relations and corporate communications?
Many of them don't see role models -- people of color in leading agencies and corporations --and that can be a de-motivator. It's important that we create more visibility for those who are leaders and that we provide the right mentoring, coaching and sponsorship to see people of color rise through the ranks. Relationships truly matter, and sometimes people confuse comfort with competence. For women and people of color the same kind of natural comfort may not exist and we don't have the same opportunities. It's important that we all make it possible for people of all kinds to be developed and successful. We do somewhat of better job attracting people to the profession early in their careers, but we have some work to helping them to grow so we can retain them.
If you could give one piece of advice to a young professional today what would it be?
It is important that you show and demonstrate that you can bring value. It is not enough to simply do great work, you have to understand how to solve real problems and deliver real solutions and you do that by creative thinking and excellent execution. You have to be patient and reinvent yourself multiple times. With each opportunity, enjoy it to the fullest. Don't obsess about climbing too fast. Be well prepared for the next opportunity that will come your way.