Inaugural Pathway to C-Suite Panel

On Wednesday, January 29, the Executive MBA program hosted a Pathway to C-Suite event at the St. Regis Hotel in Buckhead. The panelists, as well as Dean James, were open and authentic about the qualities of leadership that enabled them to “end up” in the C-suite. As we heard panelist after panelist respond, most said they never thought they’d be an executive. That made me think, “What got them there? If they were not actively working towards that goal, how is it that they made it there?”

That’s what the conversation was all about. There were no superficial or stereotypical answers; instead, the audience received insights into the minds as well as the hearts of our distinguished panelists.

Who were they, you might ask? Here’s a quick one-liner on each (left to right):

  • Shannon A. Brown: Senior Vice President of Eastern Division U.S. Operations and Chief Diversity Officer, FedEx Express
  • Rebecca Messina: Former Global Chief Marketing Officer, Uber
  • Jackie Breiter: Partner and Chief Operating Officer, TaxConnex
  • Tony Charaf: Former President of Technical Operations, Delta Airlines

Here were my main takeaways after listening to the panelists:

  1. Care for your people: Tony said it best: Taking care of your people will help you win, together. He mentioned an example that stuck out to me: A teammate of his was terminally ill, and Tony fought tooth and nail to ensure that his teammate had benefits until the end. It’s this type of character that teammates remember. When you take care of your people, they take care of you.
  2. Equity doesn’t follow you: Rebecca mentioned that she had spent over 20 years at Coca-Cola, but when she left, that equity didn’t follow her to her new role. This was such an eye-opener because, all too often, we move on to a new role without remembering how we got there. A lot of times it’s mentorships and networks that helped you get where you are. She noted that one thing she regrets not doing is staying connected with her network—for they are the ones who know her and her capabilities.
  3. Don’t let ego drive your decisions: Shannon shared a story of a position she took because of her ego. She knew it wasn’t the right position, but because so many had failed before her, she was determined to be the one to get it done. When she “lost” herself in that role, she realized that her gut had been right all along, and her ego had caused her to become jaded. It’s hard to leave your ego at the door. For some, the ego can serve as a motivator to do better, but Shannon’s message was clear: Make choices for the right reasons.
  4. You learn the job on the job: All too often we worry, “Can I do this job?” but what Shannon highlighted was that everyone learns the job on the job. This is particularly insightful because we shouldn’t be afraid to tackle a new role—we’ll learn how to do it. The important part is to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you and who have the expertise to help you.

It’s easy to see how these key takeaways helped the panelists obtain their C-suite roles. All the panelists were candid about both the good experiences and the learning opportunities they’d had throughout their career. Afterward, the made time to speak with audience members. Thank you to the panelists, Dean James, Assistant Dean Conner and the students and staff that put on this memorable event. In the spirit of Goizueta, let’s go beyond!

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Barbara Klein Gooding

Barbara Klein Gooding is a branch and premier bank strategist at SunTrust Bank focused on strategic development and implementation of consumer banking strategies. Previously, Barbara worked as a consultant for Deloitte and helped open a new controller office in Mexico City. In addition, Barbara has a strong project management background implementing large scale technology and regulatory changes. Barbara has a finance degree from Georgia State University. Outside of work, Barbara spends her time with her friends and family testing recipes in the kitchen.

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