The Value of Lateral Moves

On Friday we welcomed alumnus Laurette Koellner to my leadership class. Laurette probably has enjoyed more corporate success than any other graduate of the college. (Stan Horton may be the main challenger for that title.) Her career includes time as President of Boeing International as well as board positions at AIG (after the crash), Sara Lee and Papa Johns. She is a member of our Hall of Fame and Dean’s Advisory Board, has her own Wikipedia page (click here) and is a very cool lady.

Laurette got her start at McDonnell Douglas as a contract negotiator and expected to spend her entire career in this area until the company decided to centralize these activities at corporate headquarters. Her job was gone. She was devastated. And in this time of great stress she learned to adapt, taking a new assignment in internal audit with the company. It was then that she realized the value of lateral moves: “They opened the door to more and more opportunities,” she noted. “Each time I took on a new assignment, they learned I could do a wider variety of things and more opportunities came my way.” Those opportunities included time as head of shared service and human resources at Boeing and later as head of an airline leasing company.

It was in recounting this diverse set of experiences that Laurette offered something like this: “The world needs narrow specialists– research scientists, tax experts, and those schooled in the “ins and outs” of derivatives, but most of us are going to be asked to be broader, prepare for a greater variety of assignments and learn to adapt.”

I grinned. I thought about how our new Integrated Business Major will not only prepare students looking to work in small and medium-sized firms, but give people who want to follow Laurette’s path an edge in the market. Who doesn’t like seeing doors open and knowing that you have the skills and confidence to walk right through them?

Get going Dr. Gilkeson, I can’t wait to get that program started next year.

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