Chris O’Leary, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the International Division of General Mills, spoke to a group of more than 70 full-time MBA students, faculty and staff on campus last Thursday. Using examples from his own career at General Mills and PepsiCo, he touched on a variety of topics ranging from effective networking to international assignments to the dreaded “career plateau.” O’Leary stated that all executives, no matter how successful, are bound to hit speed bumps in their career trajectory. He shared an example from his own career in which he accepted a position that appeared to be a lateral transfer or even a demotion, but which proved to provide opportunities for international experience and career advancement.
Mr. O’Leary also spoke about the importance of developing positive professional relationships with colleagues both within and outside your company. He discussed working with a director at a firm that his company had recently acquired. While such relationships can often be adversarial because employees of the acquired firm may resent the new management team, Mr. O’Leary said he went to great lengths to learn from his new colleague and solicit his input on important decisions. Because of this, they developed an excellent relationship, which benefited not only the company but also Mr. O’Leary’s career momentum.
Finally, Mr. O’Leary discussed the importance of loyalty to the company you work for. He acknowledged that he’s a bit of an anomaly in today’s business world, having worked for only two companies in a career that spans nearly 30 years. Citing examples of professional colleagues of his who have jumped from company to company to pursue promotions, Mr. O’Leary pointed out that it’s not always best in the long-run to do so. He noted that patience is a virtue and is often rewarded if you remain loyal to your employer, even if at times you may feel like you are not advancing in your career as quickly as you had hoped. He also spoke about the importance of mentorship and how he had benefited from being able to work with mentors at his company over a period of many years.
The Full-time UST MBA program community was thrilled to have Chris O’Leary join us on February 18, and we definitely enjoyed his down-to-earth, practical insights into navigating the various career pitfalls and opportunities in the modern corporate environment.