Why This Marketing Exec Thinks Your First Job is Just a Pit Stop
Director of Marketing at LBMC
Top 5% in the world at:
Creating productive teams
Always be on the lookout for opportunities
One life lesson this now marketing executive learned early on is that “you’re always on stage.” While on her way to an on-campus interview for a summer internship at Disney, Suzanne Reed stopped to give a group of lost-looking people directions. “It turns out they were the Walt Disney World recruiters,” Suzanne tells us. “It was pretty amazing because as soon as we walked in to the interview room, they immediately said, ‘You're in.’” And this wasn’t the only time in her career that being friendly to strangers paid off: Suzanne was later accepted to the Management Training program at First American National Bank after a customer she met while bartending introduced her to an alumni who worked there. “You should always be aware that every person you meet could be an opportunity,” she says. In the full interview below Suzanne tell us more about her untraditional childhood, how she seized opportunities throughout her career, and why she thinks your first job is just a “pitstop.”
Your first job is just a pitstop.
Your first job is an opportunity for you to figure out where your path needs to go next. Never think of it as the only entrance ramp to your career. It could be the beginning or it could be the end of one aspect of your career and the beginning of another. Every experience you gain along the way adds up, and it can tell you what you don't want to do, or what you think you're good at, but don't enjoy. It is the combinations of all of these things that make us so much wiser in our later years.
I have worked hard, but I’ve also worked smart, and I think that's where mentors saw the opportunity to help promote me. It’s thinking about what you’re trying to achieve and how to get there — working towards a true end goal versus just working.
Don’t force the next step.
I had a lot of friends who've had very strict paths and when things didn't work on that path, they lost it a little bit. I didn't necessarily have that perfect path - I am the walking example of Robert Frost Poem - I took the one less travelled by. And that has made all the difference. Always be open to taking each opportunity and then looking for the next but not necessarily planning it.
Hone in on your skills.
Sometimes I think we get stuck in our own minds and when things come easily to us we don't really pay attention and realize how valuable that skill is that we have. Listen to others who recognize you in that way. Be mindful of what you’re doing, the feedback you're getting, what you enjoy, and what you're good at.
Don’t be afraid to ask for flexibility.
I hope women — no matter what level you’re at — at least ask the question and say I need to do this, can we make this work? Having a work-life balance makes for a more productive person overall and a happier family. And that creates a better mindset, which is allows the person and the company to go forward.
How she did it
‘The Retail Military’
I was born in Jacksonville, Florida and had an untraditional upbringing. I called our family “the retail military” because my father was with Sears, and we moved literally every two years along with the military families. It gave me unique opportunities to reinvent myself, but it didn't give me the consistency of going through my early years with the same set of people/friends.
My family was really my rock for everything: good, bad, ugly. It’s been something that's stuck with me in a unique way — you've got your tribes that stick with you. It has created a different perspective in me about change that I think has driven my life in a different way personally and professionally. I ended up going to high school and college in the same town and met my husband there. With him came some friends that he had known since elementary school and those have become our lifelong friends and our tribe.
What influence did your childhood have on your career ambitions?
No doubt my father had a huge impact. He was a career Sears man even to a fault. He was loyal to them and climbed the ladder. I am definitely one of the Gen Xers who watched my father give his life to a company that by the time he was 50 -discounted their workers and as we all see now - how that poor strategy played out. But his encouragement to me was ..."you can do anything you want". Today women have so many more opportunities, but back then that was not always the case. There were many comments that today would be considered inappropriate but in those days very common - “Daddy's girl” and “she's going to become a fashion designer or a teacher.” Those were not the conversations I had. It was Suzanne's going to be a leader, she's going to be in charge. I think that untraditional aspect of my upbringing really had an imprint on how I approached things, both in school and as I got into my career.
Western Kentucky University
Always Give Directions
Studying business was never a question. It was where I was going to go that was the big question. I applied to Mississippi State, got in, and was ready to go there, until the last minute. I am proud of my women's prerogative to change your mind and I did. I think at the time I needed to stay in the same place.
Western was a fabulous school, and I think it was the first time I realized that though moving was hard, it had given me some skills. I could meet and deal with different types of people and it wasn't as difficult or stressful for me as it was for others. I enjoyed the newness for the first time and realized that one of my strengths was dealing with unknown.
Why was business the obvious route for you?
Because of seeing my grandfather own his own company(another hero of mine), and my dad in a corporate management role. There was never a question in my mind. Ok maybe I thought about fashion designer for a short minute but anyone who knows me know would laugh at that. In high school I was also involved in Future Business Leaders of America and was encouraged by teachers who told me I had a natural leadership style. I was the girl that people described as “bossy.” I wasn’t afraid to take charge, make decisions and get things done.
What did you get involved in while you were in college?
I worked all through school in restaurants and loved it including my experience in Disney World. I think working in a restaurant is probably one of the best jobs. You have to deal with people; you've got to deal with money; you've got to deal with processes and a lot of unplanned scenarios. It's a great learning environment for any future job.
Summer Internship with Disney @ Epcot: I was looking for something to do in the summer, and a friend told me that Disney World was coming to campus to pick their college work program groups. As I was going to the interviews, on the way, I saw a group of people who looked lost. I stopped and said, “May I help you?” I gave them directions, and it turns out they were the Walt Disney World recruiters. It was pretty amazing because as soon as I walked in, they immediately walked up to me and said, “You're in.” They said that the fact that I walked up to them, introduced myself, smiled, gave them directions and made sure they made it, showed that I had all of the Disney stage attributes they were looking for.
Disney was amazing. I asked a lot of questions so they ended up slotting me for a mini management training program that summer, and telling me that if I wanted to stay, they had a job for me. But my dad said, “Disney would be a wonderful company for you to work for, but it would be harder for you to finish your degree. I think you should finish your degree first” Of course, I valued my dad's opinion, so I went back to finish school.
What skills did you learn at Epcot?
I learned it's important to have a brand for yourself. Mine became she can get things done, she's willing to take charge, she's curious, she likes to learn. I think they like when people ask questions because they believe you’re more engaged and trying to really understand the mechanics versus just doing them. It became a brand that has stuck with me - I was even in a women's magazine that called me "Jill of all Trades - getting things done".
MBA @ Mississippi State University
Figuring Out The Next Step
When I graduated, many companies were looking for MBAs. It was much more prevalent at that point to get your MBA immediately after school. I knew business was it, and I wanted to focus on fine tuning my skills and deciding what to do. I was interested in computers and thought I might want to specialize. I wasn't sure if I wanted to focus on an industry, get into consulting, or go the sales avenue. So I decided to go to Mississippi State. I was ready to spread my wings and go a little farther from home and Mississippi was home to my family on both sides so it had a legacy and personal appeal too. And keep your fingers crossed I hope faith I may encourage my son to attend there.
On Campus Job @ Department of Finance & Insurance Chairs
When I applied to the MBA program, I put that I was interested in working on campus. They asked if I would be interested in working for their new Department of Finance and Department of Insurance Chairs, so I ended up going in for an interview. They wanted somebody willing to take charge and jump right in, and I think they could tell by my approach that I was very much one who would do that. That ended up being a great opportunity because it stuck me right in the middle of two industries that you will see I have been involved in since college. It was a great experience learning to manage between two very different deans as well as understanding the industries.
First American National Bank
Always ‘On Stage’
Many jobs come from relationships, and my very first job came from a Mississippi State alumni who happened to work at First American National Bank. They had a management training program, so I joined it right out of graduate school.
One thing I really liked was they were going to move me through several departments so that I could learn the various aspects of the bank and then move into the position that fit my career aspirations. I liked the client aspect and the problem solving, but I didn't like the fact that I only had one or two solutions and that was lending money. Didn't I mention this was during the early 1990's and the economy was not what it is today -- I spent quite a bit of time telling people they could not borrow money for their business or assessing why they did not pay the bank back.
How did you connect with the alumni from Mississippi State?
My Disney training kicked in: you're always on stage, always. I worked in a restaurant that was frequented by local executives. I was bartending and one of my customers asked me what I was doing. I told him I was graduating from Mississippi State in August and looking for a job somewhere near Nashville. He knew the alumni and put me in contact with him. You should always be aware that every person you meet could be an opportunity, so keep your mind, heart, and eyes open to that opportunity.
Banker’s Trust (now Deutsche Bank)
Figuring Out What I Love
A new company came to town called Banker's Trust at the time, now Deutsche Bank, and they were moving their defined benefit operations from New Jersey to Nashville and had a huge hiring fair. They were looking for individuals that were looking to learn, had finance experience and willingness to deal with the customer. They trained us and I got my series six certificate and it was a great culture for learning. I consider this a pivotal point in my career trajectory. I learned that I love to problem solve and I love to mediate between the client and the problem. And I'm good at it. Those are the things that resonate with me, and the financial aspect is more of a sidebar. It does not matter what you are doing -- every business has customers.
American General Life Companies (now AIG)
No Path, Just Opportunity
From Banker’s Trust, I went into another consulting role with American General. I was really not one that had a direct path. I would take an opportunity and while I was in an opportunity, I was looking for the next opportunity, but it wasn't like I had a path spelled out for me.
American General poached a group of us from Banker's Trust, and trained us in every aspect of consulting, similar to Lean Six Sigma. It was a fabulous addition to the skills I had gained at Banker's Trust. American General brought me up to the management consulting level.
First American National Bank
AGAIN You Want Me?
I think the absolute best thing that American General taught me was that opportunities are going to come up and you need to explore them. The opportunity from First American came to me, and I wasn't necessarily looking for the next opportunity. But a former colleague from Banker's Trust who was at First American knew my work ethic, ability and financial skills, and said they needed help. And this is where I added marketing and my real desire to keep learning, I had not had marketing responsibilities in any of my previous roles. I wasn’t sure that I had those skills.
This was a great lesson for me because it was one of those moments where I was questioning myself even though I had somebody telling me very clearly, “You can absolutely do this.”
When I went to talk with them about what the job entailed and what they were looking for, it went back to wanting somebody who can question and challenge and can get things done, that thinks bigger than just the task at hand, that enjoys being part of a team, and that understands both the client and financial aspects. All of those things played together to make the First American role an opportunity of a lifetime. If I had not at least had that conversation I might still be at American General.
What was First American like?
I came into the management role and loved it. I got there and realized I was able to wear every hat that I enjoyed. At the same time, First American was going through mergers and I was tapped to be on the merger team. I was working with a team of all different kinds of people from IT to executives and outside consultants. I got to be the voice of the customer for a lot of those mergers because I represented the marketing aspect on the team. I also learned a lot in a very short period of time about how to be smart — we've got a lot of financial risk riding on these mergers and acquisitions.
Internally we had to address how can we be efficient? How can we have processes that everybody's aware of? Externally we needed to be client centric while ensuring our products were profitable and competitive. I was also tagged with helping the CEO handle disgruntled customers. One of the highlights of my career is I won an award for generating several million dollars for the bank, while maintaining clients, attrition was less than one percent. I was very proud of this achievement because it's easy to say you've made more money for the bank but what I really got excited about was the fact that we kept the majority of our clients at the same time.
I was able to use all of the things that I had learned, that I was good at and enjoyed, in one role. This really was my pivotal point and set me on a path to an executive level fairly quickly. Marketing was driving growth for First American and efficiencies as well as client satisfaction. This was before the client journey was talked about but we focused on segment marketing and creating personalization for each of our segments. We were ahead of our time and it was a lot of work but rewarding. Mergers were the theme of the day so it was just a matter of time before First American merged with another - AmSouth (not Regions). I became the marketing executive for TN and Louisiana - it was a great opportunity but again my paths were never direct and I felt that I needed to forge a new one.
This is what I need now
At this time in my career, I had a small child at home, my husband traveled quite a bit, and I thought it was time for me to take that next step. I was offered an opportunity to leave AmSouth in a positive way, which was very important to me. As it played out and as faith would have it - a new opportunity at FirstBank was dropped in just around the corner. I had actually been called by a head hunter earlier and said no to the opportunity based on a requirement of moving. But they called me back and said, “We understand you're one of the best marketers in Nashville. Are you interested in making a move?” nice compliment and a testament to my work.
It was a very small privately-held bank. I was going from a $16 million budget to a bank that wasn't even $16 million. They had wanted me to move to Lexington, Tennessee. But my husband and I had just bought a house. And as I have learned in my life - things can work out if all parties are flexible. So they had me meet with the owner of the bank, and other executives and ended up offering me the job, but without asking me to move.
Making Time For Family
FirstBank got to a point where they were ready to go public, and I was at a point where I had a daughter graduating from high school, a son in high school, and I was ready for the next new challenge. I’d been at FirstBank for 15 years. My mentor boss had moved on and I felt now was a great time to try something new. From an innovative perspective, things were very slow at the time in the financial industry and there was not a lot of value put on development. I was at a point in my career where I felt like I needed to up my game. I think sometimes people have to be self-aware to recognize that moving on is necessary... You see a lot of people, they get to that point, and it is easy to get complacent.
I've been at LBMC for three years now, and my story is still being written…
What drove you in your early career and what drives you now?
What drove me in my early career was progression and accolades. But what drives me today is personal satisfaction and results —sometimes those are monetary or sometimes they’re solving a problem, but something where I can tangibly say, look, I made a difference. I hope in my next 10 years to create a legacy impact with something bigger than me.