Building a Sustainable Career

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Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 10.42.00 AMJim John, COO of, describes his career goals in a way that might seem a bit of a paradox.

His goals are both tangible—the specific things he wants to accomplish for a company—and intangible—the relationships he builds with his team, for one.  Creating a sustainable career requires both. It means making a commitment to adding value to a company while balancing your work and all it entails with your own values.

Before joining, a career network, in 2007, John held C-suite roles at multinational companies including MasterCard International and Advanta Corporation, and several start-ups. He’s found that whether a company is large or small or whether you’re at the top or bottom of a hierarchy, continuing to develop skills, build relationships, and make bottom-line contributions is essential for long-term success.

Gayle Rigione, director of Ivy Exec’s mentorship program, spoke with John about his experiences.

(Hear more during our live interview Wednesday, April 23rd.  Attend the webinar and you could be selected for a one-on-one mentorship session with Jim John.)

GR: Did you start out with a plan for your career?  

JJ:  My career trajectory wasn’t really a destination goal.  I had goals that were more subjective than objective.  For example, my work day is important to me.  I wanted my days to be unique and ever changing.  I wanted to be surrounded by people I like being with, and wanted to be in an industry that added real and tangible value to customers.  My career dreams were pretty grounded.

GR: You’ve worked at a number of companies over your 30+ year career.  How do you find your sea legs when you join a new company?

JJ: I’ve worked at giant companies like Magnavox, First Interstate Bank of California, and MasterCard International, as well as start-ups and mid-sized companies.  I’ve had positions at all levels, ranging from payroll accounting and budgeting, to running an IT division and building the international credit card business for a major bank.  It’s a humbling experience going into a new company in a new role. As your career progresses – and even when you make it to the C-suite – you need to go in humbly to a new job, admitting you have a lot to learn and accepting that you will add little value for the first months.  It’s critical to project a positive, can-do attitude while keeping your head down, listening and learning about the people, the organization, and its capabilities.

GR: When you’re the new kid on the block, how do you establish your credibility in your various roles?

JJ: There comes a moment of truth when people will challenge you and ask themselves, “What did they bring this guy in for?  He’s a good person and a good listener, but where is his value add?”  When that question comes–and it will come–that’s the moment to share your conclusions from all the watching, observing and listening you’ve been doing, and to demonstrate that you can help a company in ways they never even thought of.

GR: Was there a pivotal moment in your career that changed everything?

JJ:  When I started out as a staff accountant, I reported to someone who reported to someone who reported to someone who reported to someone at a very senior level.  Early on, since I was closest to the numbers, I accompanied a senior exec to a budget approval meeting at the bank holding company level.  At the meeting I stood up for my boss’s boss’s boss, facing off successfully (though unexpectedly) versus his counterpart.  I could have lost my job because of my honesty and direct style.  The senior exec never forgot it. He  became my mentor and has been an advisor and friend to me throughout my entire career.

GR: Do you prefer working at a large, global company or a smaller company?  

JJ: One isn’t necessarily better or worse than the other.  Each experience has been unique and has filled career voids I needed to fill.  I started off at a huge company –Magnavox – as a junior payroll accountant.  At large companies you’ll find lots of structure – departments, divisions, documentation, t’s crossed-i’s dotted again and again.  Smaller companies are often younger and you have a greater need to play multiple roles.  You do what you have to do to get the job done. There are lots of things to be learned at both types of companies, and the lessons are often transferrable.

About the Author

Gayle Rigione is Ivy Exec’s Chief Community Development Officer. Gayle spent 15 years in diverse relationship management and senior management roles at MasterCard International, Arthur Andersen Strategic Services, and Bankers Trust Company. She earned her MBA from Columbia.