"You can have it all but not at the same time."
With that statement, Kraft Foods' Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs and award-winning author Perry Yeatman began a high-energy review of her own eclectic business career and the lessons she learned from it. She then offered students at her two Executive In Residence sessions action steps for building their own careers.
"Make no mistake about it, despite the current recession, business is still a great career," Yeatman stated. "The challenges have never been bigger."
Graduating from the University of Virginia with a double degree in literature, Yeatman's first job was at a small agency that hired her because she had interned for the agency's biggest client. Calling it "great experience," Yeatman said she learned all the aspects of running a public relations business from making coffee to making deals?opportunities a larger firm may not have given to someone barely past the age of majority.
At 23, Yeatman contacted major agencies across the country with a proposition: two years in the U.S. market of their choice in exchange for a chance to go overseas if she succeeded. One firm took her up on her offer. Two years later, at 25, she was off to Singapore. Although she knew very little about Southeast Asia, she took the job and ended up traveling with world leaders all while working and networking constantly with an eye toward her next career step.
Opportunity would soon knock again?in Russia. Yeatman told students she was off to Moscow for the first time, arriving on Christmas Eve. In the newly democratized Russia, the challenges were even greater as her job was to work with the Russian government to "sell" privatization to nearly 200 million Russians who had absolutely no knowledge or understanding of capitalism or capital markets. Although she did not speak the language when she arrived there, in a few years Yeatman was successful enough to open a commercial consulting firm, advising newly arriving multi-nationals on this emerging market.
After deciding to return to school for an advanced degree, Yeatman received an offer that was too good to pass up: London. Unilever, the British/Dutch consumer products giant and one of her previous employer's largest clients worldwide, needed help in Russia and other former Soviet states. Yeatman jumped at the chance to return to Europe, a place she had fallen in love with during her first trip there at the age of 13.
Traveling extensively throughout Europe and Asia, travels that would serve as the basis for the book she co-authored with Stacie Berdan titled "Get Ahead by Going Abroad: A Woman's Guide to Fast-Track Career Success" (Harper Collins), Yeatman eventually would return to the U.S. with Unilever.
From there, Yeatman moved to Chicago-based Kraft Foods where she serves as a top advisor to CEO Irene Rosenfeld. In addition to being a Fortune 100 company, Kraft also allows her time to spend with her family, which supplanted her career as her top priority after the birth of her daughter.
During her career, Yeatman told UW-Parkside students she found seven common qualities of successful people. These included vision and courage: "You have to know what you want," she said of the former characteristic, adding, "and don't chicken out" about the latter.
Her other success requirements included passion ("You've got to really want it"), perseverance, authenticity, integrity, and humanity.
"Most of Wall Street's problems stem from the lack" of these traits, especially integrity and humanity, Yeatman said.
In closing, Yeatman offered students six action steps they could take to forge a brilliant career. "Be yourself," she advised, but "don't take yourself too seriously. Pursue your passion but be flexible."
She said they should refuse to allow anyone?themselves included?to get in the way of their success but to never mistake what they do for a living with their lives.
"And never stop learning," she concluded.
Following her two presentations, UW-Parkside School of Business and Technology Dean Fred Ebeid said he and the students who attended were impressed by Yeatman's energy and wealth of knowledge.
"Her energy and enthusiasm really captured the students' attention. But what held their attention was her list of principles for career success, her emphasis on international experience, and her personal stories. Those things made her presentation so timely and relevant to students preparing to compete in the global economy of the 21st Century," Ebeid said. "Many of our students said the program was exceptional and said they appreciated the opportunity to interact with such a high-level executive."
Perry Yeatman was the 15th business leader to serve as an Executive In Residence (EIR). Sponsored by UW-Parkside's School of Business and Technology, the EIR series gives students valuable career and personal insights and allows them to have an interactive dialogue with major business figures.