There Isn't 1 Formula For Career Success — Here's How 2 Female Execs Defined Their Own Paths

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Judy Marks and Carla Harris

Photo courtesy of UTC


Judy Marks and Carla Harris are two women who, to some, may seem as though they’ve cracked an elusive code. As senior leaders sitting at the helm of their respective fields —technology and finance, both historically male-dominated industries — one might assume the powerhouse pair has always had a clear, linear trajectory for their professional selves in mind. After all, how else do you climb the ranks to become President of Otis (Marks) and Vice Chairman and Managing Director of Morgan Stanley (Harris), if not for a single-minded focus applied to an unswerving path?

Though focus comes in handy, Marks and Harris believe there actually isn’t one set path or formula to build a successful career. Recently, the duo took the stage together at an executive fireside chat event hosted by United Technologies, Otis’ parent company, in advance of the 2019 Simmons Leadership Conference in Boston. 

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Close to 300 women from UTC, hailing from locations across the globe, gathered at the Boston Museum of Science, , a testament to the company’s dedication to developing and engaging its female talent. 

Together, Marks and Harris shared with the audience what defining their own versions of professional success has looked like, as well as their top five pieces of advice to other women who aspire to confidently crafting their own definition of success.

1. Don’t be afraid to take a detour from your original roadmap.

“The roadmap you put together probably won’t be the roadmap you follow,” Marks advised attendees. “If you think there is a straight career ladder, it doesn’t exist.”

Harris echoed a similar mentality, adding that a willingness to take risks with your roadmap is crucial.

“If you are a leader in the 21st century, then you have to be comfortable with taking a risk,” she said. “Fear has no place in your success equation.”

2. Have confidence in your readiness.

Named to the Top 50 Most Powerful Women in Technology, Marks held senior leadership roles at IBM, Lockheed Martin, and Siemens AG before joining Otis, the world’s leading elevator manufacturer, in 2017. But she didn’t immediately start out at the forefront of such iconic companies. For other women who might be feeling hesitancy or a sense of imposter syndrome around making their first leap into leadership, Marks advised that they be willing to set their notions about their own capabilities to the side.

“You don’t think you’re ready when someone comes to you and says, ‘I think you’re ready for this; are you in?’” she said. “As a woman, you make your pros and cons list: Am I ready? What are my strengths? What are my areas of development? But at the end of the day, you must take the risk. The person who brought this opportunity to you believes in you, and you need to believe in yourself.”

3. Remember that failing is a gift.

A willingness to take risks comes, by default, with an acceptance that some of those risks may lead to failures. But at the end of the day, even these failures are in your best interest, Harris said.

“What’s the worst that can happen if you take a risk and it doesn’t work out?’” she asked. “So, you fail. Failure always brings you a gift and that gift is called experience. Now you know how to do it better, how to do it differently, how to do it successfully… At the margin, it is always worth taking the risk.”

4. Understand the difference between a mentor and a sponsor, and make sure you have both roles filled.

As Harris put it, there are two types of currency a woman can expect to encounter during her career: “performance currency” and “relationship currency.” Making sure you have plenty of the latter in your bank is crucial, particularly as it relates to sponsor relationships.

“You can survive a very long time in your career without a mentor, but you will not ascend in any environment without a sponsor,” Harris said. 

The main difference between the two? A mentor is the person you share “the good, the bad, and the ugly” with, and someone who gives you “tailored advice,” she explained. A sponsor, on the other hand, is the person who advocates for you when you aren’t in the room.

“The sponsor is the most important relationship you will have in your career,” Harris added.

5. Use your authenticity as an advantage.

Just as our career paths are likely to be varied, Harris said, so are the experiences and qualities we bring to a professional environment. Own that.

“Embrace the fact that we are all multi-faceted and there’s not just one you,” she said. “Know who you are and commit to bringing all of it to any environment… Your authenticity is your edge.”

Marks, in turn, summed it up for the night’s audience simply: “Just be you.”

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