I don’t have a technical bone in my body. So why I would choose an industry steeped in wires, cables, and satellite dishes, well, I truly don’t know. But when I started my career, engineers were my customers, and I had to learn their business if I was to be effective. I was representing Home Box Office to these guys, and it was up to them to put it on their systems, which they’d then transmit into peoples’ homes. We needed the cable guys so that HBO could have viewers.

That’s why I found myself, on a blustery winter day in Peoria, Illinois, at the top of a phone pole with my client. He was stunned I was willing to be up there with him, so once we made the climb, he taught me about his wires and cables like a proud dad. When we climbed down I asked to see his “head end” which housed his receiving equipment, so we went into the air-conditioned room ( on a winter day, in the frigid Midwest–get the picture?) and we talked about his receivers, modulators and satellite dishes.

HBO was added to his channel line-up after that call.

There are no shortcuts to learning what we need to know to be successful in our jobs. You must take the time to study and understand your customer and their business, as if you could do his or her job yourself. Never be shy to ask questions. Clients will be pleased that you genuinely want to solve their problems. And if you’re worth your salt, you do. I call this “getting into the head of your customer.” It’s a great, winning strategy for success.

Later in my career, one of my customer groups was shareholders as I was Chief Operating Officer of HGTV, a division of a publicly traded company called Scripps Networks. I had to stand up in a room full of investors and answer questions about our profits (or lack there of in the early years), our plans for growing revenues, and other related questions. Finance was a new language for me. I had to learn it, and I did that on the job through studying our financial statements and asking our Chief Financial Officer about them. Endlessly. I’m sure I wore him out. But to be credible with our investment company and to manage budgets, I had to know this. I also took an executive financial management tract at Darden to learn more.

There are no shortcuts to the top. We have to learn all the stuff along the way. Think of it as ongoing college or grad school, with pay. It’s part of the adventure of the job. With the will and the discipline to learn, we can succeed. We can win.
Susan signature