Lessons from the C-Suite


How do you decide when to stay, and when to go? Make a note in your personal almanac – on Wednesday night last week, the secrets of a successful career were revealed at the corner of 10th St. and Lasalle Ave. Lessons from the C-Suite featured high profile, successful executives with a total of more than 100 years of experience. The conversation, ably facilitated by management consultant Bill Wells, president of W. Wells & Associates and a successful corporate leader in his own right, was lively.

All of the evening’s presenters had deep corporate experience providing foundations for their perspective, but their current roles spanned the range from management consultant (Wells) to non-profit leader (Linda Keane, CEO of Girl Scouts of Minnesota and Wisconsin River Valley), to business owner and Chief Executive Kim Vappie (Menttium Corporation), to professional association (Jesse Tyson, Interim President and CEO of the National Black MBA Association). The panel was rounded out by Anton Vincent, president of a $2 billion division of General Mills. So, what did they all have to say?

Insights from the panel discussion, presented by the Twin Cities Chapter of the National Black MBA Association were numerous, and ranged from tactical and practical to the strategic and philosophical. Observations ranged from the importance of dressing for success, with an eye to fitting in with the norms of the organization of which you’re a part, to how to tell when it’s time to leave an organization for greener pastures, and when it might be more advisable to ride out the storm.

Kim Vappie observed that successful leaders are self-aware and understand how others see their brand.

Some of the conversations took rather reflective turns. A question about the decline in support for affinity groups turned into a conceptual discourse on the role of these groups, also known as Employee Resource Groups or ERGs, and the recent explosion in the number and variety ERGs to now include not only race, but sexual orientation, religion, even school affiliation (UST ERG, anyone?). And the reality that, at the end of the day, employer supported ERGs are not a right, but a perk that only merit employer support when employers believe ERGs provide organizational ROI.

There were a few choice sound bites as well. Jesse Tyson may have had the evening’s winner, when he observed the importance of making strong connections when times are good, because they may be critical when times are tight. “Network. Or you may not work.”

The importance of fit, and the relationship of authenticity as an attribute of effective leadership, reinforced at several times in the conversation. Anton Vincent encouraged the audience to “Know how to bring the authentic You to work every day.”

Race and gender issues surfaced as well. Linda Keane observed that “Family responsibilities still fall predominantly on women” in most households, although she went on to say that she was blessed to have a spouse that stepped up far more than most. Vincent cautioned the audience “Don't let anyone tell you that we are in a post-racial world.”

Oh, and how do you decide when to stay, and when to go? Linda Keane suggests that when it’s really time to move on, you see yourself moving towards something, not just getting away from something.