Don’t Be Afraid to Live, Dream and Pivot Your Career, According to a Senior People Business Partner

Sponsored by Mercedes-Benz Research & Development North America

Heather Pagh

Photo courtesy of Earl Pagh.

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June 23, 2024 at 7:59AM UTC

Heather Pagh started her career as a receptionist and worked her way up to becoming a Senior People Business Partner at Mercedes-Benz Research & Development North America (MBRDNA).

“My initial role as a receptionist was the step I needed into the work of an assistant,” she tells Fairygodboss. “There was a colleague there who allowed me the opportunity to be a part of different projects, and I learned to use Microsoft Office by just ‘doing.’ She would give me documents to type, presentations to create and opportunities to be creative in all aspects. Once I left the role of receptionist and got into executive assistant work, I was able to use my people skills and the technical knowledge I had gained to be a great assistant.”

From there, she said she had great managers — including one, in particular, who gave her the push to take a step further and get her master’s degree. Meanwhile, another gave her the push to move across the country, from Chicago, Illinois to San Jose, California.  Both of these decisions, she says, were “instrumental” in becoming who she is today. 

In fact, Pagh says that the opportunities and support she had along the way have given her the drive to try new things and grow both personally and professionally.

How did you make your career switch, and how did MBRDNA support you in this process?

The company I worked for at the time had a culture of internal growth and support. They were always very good at that, and I appreciated it. My switch was something I had discussed many times with my manager and upper management, so it was not a surprise when the opportunity came to me. I still speak to my mentor from when I was an EA, and I appreciate the mentoring my manager gave me as I made the change.

How have you benefited from the skills you’ve gained in your career journey?

Many of the skills I learned as an executive assistant really are the skills that have helped me be more self-sufficient when working on things. I am able to create documents, forms and more without having to ask someone else to work on them.

However, I have also learned in my new journey that teamwork truly does make the dream work! I have certain skills that help with the day to day, but my colleagues always teach me more and more. I feel confident in my current role, but it is always a good thing to surround yourself with a good team.

I would not change my pivot or journey for anything. I enjoy working with my employees and although it has only been a short time so far, I know employees also see the benefit of having an HR team that cares about them.

What do you find most rewarding and challenging about your current work?

The most rewarding thing is seeing employees grow, develop and, when they get promoted, smile! The most challenging thing is recognizing burnout before it gets too deep and being able to "save" the struggle. This has been difficult, especially with the pandemic, but even before, too.

What is(are) your favorite thing(s) about working at MBRDNA?

My team! My employees! The culture is wonderful, but it is the employees that make the difference. I love their excitement for our products and innovation.

Looking back on your career, what would you say has been your most valuable career mistake?

I should have finished school when I was younger. If I had gotten my bachelor’s degree, I would not have waited so long to get my master’s degree and officially move into HR. I left school and started a family, but I went back and finished at night school. Although it showed determination to go back, it was the hardest thing I had to do, and I believe I might be farther in my career if I had done it differently.

What is your best piece of advice for other women who are thinking about making a career pivot?

DO IT! Don't wait for someone to push you. Just find your own direction and make it yours.

Is there anything else we didn’t ask about that you’d like to mention?

Women are the strongest people I know. We can work, take care of a family, bills, homes, go to school — so much all at one time. We take the weight of the world and ensure our families and friends are safe. Each of us needs to make sure WE are doing what WE want to do with our future.

So, set aside the bills for today, let someone else do the cooking and give yourself a moment to really think about where YOU want to be in your career — a full-time mom, a full-time executive, a full-time student or so many other options. If you continue to put aside the dreams you have for yourself, you will never be able to tell anyone else to follow theirs. And if we do not follow our dreams? Well, then we stop living. So LIVE, DREAM and PIVOT! We all support YOU!

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