A Walk Down College Ave is a series of interviews conducted with successful individuals to gather insights and advice for high school students, college students, and recent graduates to help them on their own path to success.
Name: Kathy W.
Position: Executive, Major Financial Firm
Education: BS in Journalism & Political Science, University of Wyoming
Kathy is an executive at a major financial firm who started her career with Car and Driver magazine, leading to an early career path in the automotive segment. Kathy spent time at major New York advertising agencies servicing clients like Mercedes and Peugeot and on the client side with Wrangler Jeans working on the NASCAR team.
After taking a few “gap years” while her children were born, she re-entered the job market and joined a large financial organization in the emerging sector of digital marketing. Kathy now has 17 years of experience at the same firm in many different roles, ranging from marketing and product leadership to operations.
Kathy is also active as a mentor, group leader, and board member of multiple foundations. She enjoys playing tennis, traveling, and skiing with her family, who are all very understanding of her crazy schedule!
If someone asks you what you do, how do you respond?
I work for a very large financial organization and have a great team. My role is to drive strategy and enable our team to get stuff done. Often, I spend my day meeting with internal leaders to gain alignment on our direction, projects, or approach on specific issues.
Communication and working across many different groups is key to getting stuff done here. It is also important that people have clear direction and are empowered to make decisions/drive their own project and build their skills. That is what is fulfilling in our workplace.
What do you enjoy most about your current position?
I truly enjoy leading teams that take on large, complex problems. No two days are the same, and there’s always something new to address. That keeps you on your toes and thinking in different ways. But at the heart of our service is our customer, and we never forget that they have a choice in services, and we need to earn their businesses every day.
What project are you currently working on right now that excites you the most?
My current team is in its second stage of transformation. I’m excited to lead a group through change and see them succeed. It really feels good when the entire team owns the outcome and sees their contribution to our success. That is very different from a ‘top down’ directive that just has to get done.
How did you decide where to go to college?
I grew up in Wyoming. I wanted to go to college early (I was bored in high school), so my parents let me go to the University a year early so I didn’t really look around. I did take a break for a ski season after my freshman year…and then went back with a strong determination to get my degree. The year off was the best way for me to figure out my path forward.
Why did you choose to major in journalism and political science in college?
I chose Art as my first major (I liked creative things) but found it too theoretical. I switched to Journalism because I gained real skills (writing and photography) along with communication strategy. Those skills have served me so well over the years in all my career shifts and focus.
If I could give anyone advice, it would be to learn to communicate well no matter what your specific discipline is. Then you will be successful because you can communicate your vision, your goals, and your approach effectively.
What was your favorite class in college?
I really enjoyed my political science and sociology classes. They focused on our current society and how we interact as people. We also had a great journalism and PR program where part of the course work was interaction with visiting professionals (many of whom I still consider my first true inspiration for how I approach my work today).
Is there a subject you wish you studied in college when looking back?
If I could go back to study again, I think it would be architecture. I love traveling and seeing cities, and the way that the architecture shapes the culture (and vice versa) is one of my great interests. And now, technology is driving so many new and innovative approaches…it would truly be my second career if I could do it!
What was your best (or worst) memory from your summer job while in college?
My summer jobs were as lifeguards and waitresses. I loved them, and it taught me how to deal with people. It also taught me to be nice to people no matter what their role or station in life.
What was your first job after college and how did you land it?
I was on Spring Break in Phoenix, AZ in my senior year. I had a photo assignment due when I got back to school. We went to an Indy car race for a day (I thought I could get some great photos). And by pure chance, we got to meet a group of journalists, and I met an editor from Car and Driver Magazine.
He gave me his card, I sent him my resume and samples, and his boss thought it would be great to have a woman from Wyoming on their staff in New York! (Little did I know that the publisher, David E. Davis, Jr loved the American West!)…and David E remained as one of my mentors over my entire career. He was willing to take a chance on me, and I never let him down.
What do you recommend college students do while in school to prepare for life after graduation?
Definitely get involved with internships and/or Co-Op programs. It’s really hard to know what a career in any field will really be like for you, and getting that hands on view early will help you make decisions.
What is one thing you believe helped you advance and be successful in your career?
Three things have served me well –
- Knowing how to communicate
- Working hard…I’m very competitive and don’t take anything for granted
- Being open to new directions in my career…it’s been a very interesting journey…and it happened because I didn’t ‘define’ myself as only one type of skill or career path.
What is one piece of financial advice you know now that you wish you knew when you were 25 years old?
Have a budget and stick to it. And remember that experiences are more important than “Stuff.”
Looking back on what you have learned in your career – and in life – what is the one piece of advice you would give to someone who is just starting out?
When you are deciding on the first and then next steps in your careers, always consider who you will be working with and for. You spend a lot of time with these people and you need to be able to learn from, trust, and ultimately contribute to a high performing team. Never make a career move to an organization just for money or a title.
What is your go-to source for news, industry info, insights etc.?
Too many to list, but suffice to say that I have a voracious appetite for news from every source, and have started my day with the Wall Street Journal since the earliest days of my career.
If you could recommend only one book for someone to read, which book would it be and why?
There is no right answer to this question, and any more, I’d say it’s more important to get a number of blogs/feeds/email newsletters connected that allow you to learn from many sources.
The only “right book” to read is one that takes you away from your job and gives you a new view into something totally unrelated but interesting to you…on vacation!
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