Susan Part II: Introspection and Advice.
Susan was my college roommate, is my best friend, and had a successful career as an executive, mostly in the magazine business. This is Part II of our conversation, talking about looking back and some advice for those(particularly women) working their way up. Part I appeared in a previous Lustre post. Erica
You had a lot of different jobs in different companies with different responsibilities, from sales, to management, to CEO. What were the biggest lessons you learned?
There are many. Here are a couple that stood out for me. I am forthright and can be blunt…no hidden agendas and those who worked for me knew I was very straightforward. I thought people appreciated my being like that. While at Reader’s Digest, I attended management leadership school with other managers from around the world. Before attending the week long training, a variety of people who worked for me were interviewed anonymously. Then I got the feedback. While I got lots of positive feedback, I also was told "many people do not appreciate your bluntness.” I was surprised. I changed. I became much more thoughtful about how I communicated. Lesson learned.
Another good lesson involved a person that came with me to three different jobs. When she resigned to take a new role, she told me that she was hurt that I had never built a personal relationship with her outside of the office. I took that to heart. I changed. It wasn’t comfortable for me, but I did it.
You retired from working full time 8 months ago at age 69. Did you plan for retirement?
After my CEO role I was not ready to retire but I wanted to do something less stressful than running a large business. I did another "zig zag" and used my skills to do executive recruiting for the next 7 years. I recently retired from full time work when the time seemed right. There’s a lot of joy in not thinking about what I am going to do next. I can do nothing and not worry about it. I will do something, but I’m not desperate to think of what that will be. For the very first time, I am letting things unfold with no set plan. I had a fabulous summer doing so many things I love..being with great friends, paddle boarding, kayaking, swimming...felt like summer camp!!
What advice do you have for those still working or entering the workforce?
Here are a handful:
• Listen, learn and observe.
• Trust your instincts and gut.
• Embrace ambition- Men are aggressive. They are always ready for the next big role. Women should be too.
• Believe in yourself and show confidence.
• Don't be afraid to ask for what you want - the worst that can happen is someone says no.
• Create and nurture a network. Find a mentor and be a mentor - pay it forward.
• Be a team player.
• Have a positive attitude and a sense of humor. Negative people aren't effective or successful. Most people have setbacks in their careers. Leave the past in the past and move forward positively.
• Be open to new challenges. A skill set you amass can be transferred to other businesses and roles.
• Remember business is business. Don't take things too personally and manage your emotions. Take things in context. Women are more defensive than men because they are more susceptible to questioning their own capabilities
• Be active in online networks such as Linkedin - companies recruit potential employees at all level from that site.
• Learn from your mistakes and failures.
• Don't burn bridges.
• HONESTY AND INTEGRITY ARE PARAMOUNT PERSONALLY AND PROFESSIONALLY.
Thank you, Susan.
Susan Baron is a magazine and media executive who retired after working for decades at companies like The New York Times, Reader’s Digest and Meredith Corporation. Today, Susan is a Coach for Girls On The Run, a learning program that inspires girls 8-13 to be joyful, healthy, and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running.