University of Texas at Austin - Art History with a minor in French
If we could select a woman who embodies the spirit of I Want Her Job, down to the tiniest details, it would be Alison McConnell. So, it should go without saying, we want her job.
As an executive vice president and chief growth officer at Leo Burnett, she oversees the company's growth strategies globally, with a special focus on emerging markets. She spends her days leading a team that has one goal: to help Leo Burnett win and win often. To do this, Alison and her team put their "network to work" and spend many days traveling and meeting near impossible deadlines, always with a strategy of helping the company grow.
This alone would sound like a full-time job, and it is, but Alison's also a full-time mom and wife. And despite the odd hours she has to work to meet the needs of the emerging markets she serves, Alison is continually involved in her children's lives as much as possible and enjoys alone time with her family anywhere, any time.
Working with different cultures is fascinating ... I feel it's critical to respect where people are coming from.
How did you discover your current job?
Before coming to Leo Burnett, I was in marketing for Whole Foods Market where I worked for seven years. At Whole Foods, we focused completely on the community and the grassroots aspects of marketing. It was a great experience working for an incredible company during its key growth and expansion period. But after several years, I wanted to explore how multinational companies approached marketing and communications.
Around this same time, I met an executive from Leo Burnett through some colleagues. During my early years with Burnett, I had the chance to work on global business for blue chip clients and took on some really interesting roles. Several years ago, one of my mentors, who was in a global management role, asked me to come and work for the global company to drive business development. I've been in this role for four years; almost half of my tenure with Leo Burnett. It's been an amazing experience!
What is your typical day like? What types of things do you do in your job?
Let me start with the second question. My job, in addition to helping drive growth strategies globally, is to help Leo Burnett win. In every market in the world, every day. It's something my team and I take very seriously. Our goal is to find ways to help our offices, regions and people connect to one another and to the vast amounts of learning and brain power that exists within our company. With more than 8,000 employees worldwide, it's no small task. In the most basic sense, we connect people and content around the world. We do this through knowing our network -- who's out there, what great creative cases and intellectual property exists and how one market’s efforts can benefit another market’s clients. There is some technology that enables our small team of three, but much of our success is simply our personal connection to our far-flung global family. Leo Burnett’s unique and tightly knit culture plays a significant role in making the network work.
Every day's quite a unique experience for me and the people on my team. We honestly don’t quite know what we’ll wake up to. It could be a pitch in Asia, a prospect in Latin America or a great creative opportunity in any one of our markets. We try to anticipate where the needs will be and prepare, but much of it is immediate. We also spend a good deal of time developing and supporting research projects that will assist us in positioning ourselves globally and in key markets.
What is the most rewarding part of your job? The most challenging?
The most rewarding part is getting to know amazing people from so many different cultures. Working in the global marketplace is a great privilege.
The most challenging is often the timeline in which we have to make things happen. It often goes like this … “We are so sorry, but we need all of this information/help/content by tomorrow end of day.” Once you have received three of those in a single day, it gets a bit harried. There can be some long days, but it’s always exciting.
What is the biggest personal sacrifice you have to make because of your job?
As you can imagine, I have to travel a fair amount. For me, the biggest challenge is managing travel and other professional commitments with my desire to be an engaged and involved parent to my two children. Because I'm in a global role, I tend to work strange hours -- late in the night when Asia's awake and early in the morning when Europe's awake. I also tend to maximize my travel by taking overnight flights and minimizing my time away. So, I guess what I really neglect in my life quite often is a good night’s sleep.
What is one lesson you have learned in your job that sticks with you?
You must respect what all people bring to the table. Working with many different cultures is fascinating. The people I have the privilege of working with come from many types of backgrounds. I have the opportunity to go to so many places and see how business is conducted in many different environments and cultures. I feel it's critical to respect where people are coming from and the uniqueness of their situation.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge for women today, particularly females in your industry?
I think the biggest challenge for women today, in all industries, is reaching their full potential professionally while meeting their goals personally, whether it's as a parent, a partner, giving back to their community or caring for aging parents. Women play so many roles and often hold themselves to impossible standards. I want to see more women in successful roles in business, but I do understand that managing all aspects of our lives can be tough.
Who are your role models?
I'm inspired by so many women from the past and present who have made a difference in the world. I'm also inspired by women who are making it all work! In that spirit, I have been paying attention to what Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, has to say. Check out her TEDWomen’s speech if you haven’t seen it already.
What are some of the rules you live by?
Never stop exploring. Do what you love and everything else will follow. Give back what you have been given and more.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Wherever I'm supposed to be.
What advice do you have for girls who want to be in your industry?
First of all, study what makes you happy and what inspires you. You don’t have to study communications and advertising to be in this business.
To do well in advertising, you have to be intellectually curious, you must be obsessed with people and their behavior and you have to understand and respect the power of creativity. Advertising relies so much on passion that you will only succeed if you really live it, because while it’s incredibly rewarding, it's also incredibly hard. It also helps to be a bit crazy.