EVP, President of US Cards
But first, coffee
One of my favorite ways to engage with new hires and interns is by hosting coffee chats. Inevitably, participants ask how I made career decisions and are seeking advice. These questions make me pause and reflect on my own journey and, candidly, I am extremely grateful for those who invested in me. Especially since I never could have imagined when I joined Discover 14 years ago I would end up here – an executive committee member.
My career journey
As I reflect on my career journey and what I would have done differently, it reinforces how trying to predict your career path is a futile exercise. Rather, I always encourage being open-minded to new or different opportunities to learn and grow.
For me, it all started in Boston in college. I initially pursued architecture, but during my first internship I witnessed the reality of a recession on seasoned architects and opted for more stability. I switched to the business school and concentrated in accounting. After I graduated, I quickly learned accounting was not a great fit and quickly pivoted to financial planning & analysis (FP&A).
I found my passion. FP&A allowed me to learn the business, get close to the customer, and engage with partners to creatively solve problems – and I loved how everyday had something new to offer. This passion fueled me through a lot of my experiences prior to joining Discover. Starting out, I was a finance professional at various banks, where I was exposed to commercial and consumer lending, centralized and decentralized business models, and operations domestically and internationally. To that end, my learning journey really accelerated when I relocated to Tokyo. I gained new business insights, but my time managing in a different culture really helped me grow as a leader. It is why today I place a great deal of emphasis on listening to gain insight, and I have a relentless focus on building strong and trusted relationships.
As I thought about new opportunities, I always took the path that allowed me to learn something different, and I always considered the leadership. So when Discover came calling, what was the compelling difference? First, my interactions with leadership and hearing their vision for the company really resonated. Second, I had not yet been exposed to a card business of Discover’s scale. Third, the opportunity to draw on my experience and contribute to building a robust corporate planning function for a new publicly traded company. And finally, I loved the hyper focus on the customer and felt the Discover values coming to life through every conversation. It checked all of the boxes!
Discover: a brighter future
I joined Discover’s finance organization in 2007 and for the next eight years I progressed, taking on more scope along the way. I was having a lot of fun and enjoying the unique makeup of my role. Although, I was unsure about what was next for me in finance. So in 2015, when I was asked to consider the general manager role for the deposits business, I went through my thought process. It was definitely outside my comfort zone, presented an opportunity to learn new skills, and had a nice tie back to finance.
As I reflect, the biggest lesson was gaining perspective. In finance, it was easy to sit back and strongly encourage better performance for the sake of the profits and losses. As an operator, I had to balance all of the moving pieces and simply execute, which can be challenging. As a result, I feel I emerged as a well-rounded leader, and I would highly recommend rotations between the business and corporate functions.
In 2017, I was promoted to the executive committee. At that time, the role was managing credit risk and decision management and, later, expanded to include enterprise-wide responsibility for strategy and operations across fraud, collections, and recovery. I had the unique opportunity to closely partner with the US Card President and co-lead Card360. Over the course of three years, this allowed me to deepen my understanding of the card business, which ultimately led to my current role.
The important note, as it relates to one’s career, is that you always need to focus on impact and not scope. Along my journey, my scope has both expanded and reduced. At times, I even recommended to leadership that I was not the best leader of an area. As you progress in your career, beware of the pitfalls of only measuring success through the size of your organization and always try to be self-aware of your own blind spots.
Living into the Discover behaviors
Another question I hear in coffee chats is what it takes to be a great leader. Discover values leaders who can succeed in a wide variety of roles, those who can attract and develop strong teams, and individuals who can solve problems. The company also places a great deal of emphasis on the way a leader executes – essentially living into the Discover behaviors is mission critical to your long-term success. Decisions regarding leadership positions are balanced, taking into consideration what skills and experiences would the candidate bring to the role and how would the role benefit the individuals’ professional growth.
Also, keep in mind that rising above “what’s in it for me” in favor of “what’s best for the company” will always pay dividends. That perspective worked out well for me. You also do not need to be a life-long expert to lead an organization, but you do need to commit to a continuous learning journey – and be comfortable with not having all the answers. Leading a team of experts does not scare me, because I focus on learning the fundamentals and adding value in other ways.
In my role today, I have the opportunity to “pay it forward” with creating learning and development opportunities for others. The US cards’ talent strategy is focused on diversity. We are bringing people together from different backgrounds because we know that diverse perspectives will improve our ability to be successful long term.
To do that, I encourage you to take control of your own development and diversify your experience. Start by sharing your career objectives – and what fulfills you – with your manager. Explore training and development opportunities. Consider furthering your education to help you obtain additional skills to further your career. And don’t forget to network with colleagues and expose yourself to new experiences and cultures. Be courageous on your path – it is your life, no one is going to live it for you.
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