May 24, 2019

Climbing up the corporate ladder: tips and lessons from senior executives

For any career move, personal development or progress to happen, it has to take place outside of your comfort zone.

Be it climbing the corporate ladder, launching a venture or making drastic decisions, the key is to always push beyond the limits.

On May 16th, 2019, LebNet San Diego invited three senior executives to discuss their career move and share tips and advice on how young professionals can progress in the corporate world.

The panelists were Mark Abumeri, Partner at Intellectual Property and tech law firm Knobbe Martens; Mary Gendron, Senior Vice President and CIO at international semiconductor and telecommunications company Qualcomm; and Sam Samad, Senior Vice President and CFO at array-based solutions for DNA, RNA, and protein analysis company Illumina. The panel was moderated by Fram Akiki, Vice President of Electronics and Semiconductor industry at Siemens PLM Software.

The first part of the discussion was focused on the panelists’ career moves and how they progressed and managed to land senior roles.It’s never too late to make drastic changes

Three to four years into his career, Abumeri realized he did not want to be an engineer for the rest of his life, so he applied to Cincinnati College of Law and ventured into something totally different. He taught at several law schools for over 15 years before making partner at Knobbe Martens.  

“I can’t believe that someone at the age of 18 or 19 knows what they want to do,” he said about the pressure of having to choose a career path from a young age.

Gendron’s career move on the other hand was affected by the need to create impact beyond the area she’s involved in. She worked at the telecommunications company Bell in Canada for 13 years before she decided to move to Motorola, where she became Vice President.

“I wanted to have a bigger impact on a global scale. Keep looking for opportunities, it doesn’t always come knocking. You have to recognize it and grab it and be prepared to take the risk. That’s key to anyone wanting to make a change, whether in the same company or elsewhere.”

If Abumeri and Gendron’s career paths led them to discovering new passions and unlock new opportunities, Samad’s path took him to different countries. Shortly after landing his first job at KPMG in Lebanon, Samad moved to Canada to work at a pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly in 1995 as a financial analyst. Thanks to his sales skills, which complemented his financial expertise, he was at an advantage and was exposed to several work opportunities that led him to managerial roles in different countries such as Indianapolis (USA), China, back to Lebanon and then Canada.

“You reach a certain point where you know you’re not going to get much more from what you’re doing, whether it’s from the same company or a different one. That’s when you make the decision to choose something different,” said Samad about his move from finance to sales. “You have to be open to new possibilities, where you have to go through a really long different route than what you expected, but you have to adapt to it.”

Lessons and regrets

Regardless of how hardworking and skilled a person is, their career path is far from perfect.

During the Q&A session, one of the attendees in the audience asked the panelists to share their regrets or main takeaways they picked up along the way. Gendron, who was an advocate of forming diversified teams from different countries, culture and gender, believed that this diversity helps the company look at problems and solutions from different perspectives. Yet, she admitted making mistakes when picking team members.

“Your track record is never perfect. When you know you made a bad decision, you need to change your choices. I had a situation where I called up someone from Singapore to take on a global role. He was great but it didn’t work out. So I said it was my mistake because I pushed him. I put him back to his initial role and he was happy. It’s never too late to make a decision and you shouldn’t be afraid to act. Own it and do something about it.”

As for Abumeri, he did not regret making the move from engineering to law, but he did regret not taking advantage of networking properly. “If I could go back, I would benefit from all the people I knew 20-25 years ago,” he said.

Samad regretted doing his MBA too early.

“MBA helped me in a few ways. The ability to prioritize deliverables and networking was helpful. Meeting people with different experiences – some had no experience and others had 30 years of experience – taught me so much about being involved with different groups. One regret is that I was about 22 years old [when I did my MBA]. I did not have enough experience. My advice is to get a lot of good experience in between. After I got it, everything started to come back and make sense.”

Another question from the audience was to share tips on how to advance in the corporate world and move from a middle position to a C-level. Samad’s answer was differentiation by having a complementary skill that puts the person at an advantage. Gendron and Abumeri advised the audience to have the courage to take on problems other people are running away from.

The evening concluded with the LebNet San Diego team giving updates about LebNet’s internship program, which succeeded in filling 4 out of 7 summer internships, and encouraging LebNet members to join San Diego’s WhatsApp group to stay involved and updated. Those interested in joining can send their request to Andrew Tebsherani [andrewtebsherani@outlook.com]