At age 40, Michelle found herself unemployed. This was an unusual situation for Michelle because she’d always been on the rise in her career. She had 2 job offers that she was considering. One was a VP of Product Operations at a healthcare company and the other, Senior Product Manager at a software company.
Of course, the job that made the most sense was VP, overseeing a team of 40 people. She had been working toward this type of a role her whole career. It was the logical next step. However, after evaluating the offers with the CEO of her board of directors (her hubby), he asked her: “Which job looks more fun?”
The answer to that question, of course, was the job at the software company. She accepted that offer, which was an individual contributor role, and was promoted to Director within 6 months. She now leads a team of UX designers and product managers for a security software company in Minneapolis.
Michelle began her career in government. She always thought that she would work in D.C. She majored in Political Science and had internships on Capitol Hill, the White House and the Governor’s Mansion.
While in college, a professor recommended that she attend a career fair where computer consulting companies were recruiting top talent. She half-heartedly took some competency exams, which she thought she bombed, and came out with a significant job offer to go to a large consulting firm after college. When she brought the offer to her boss on Capitol Hill, he told her to take it. It was more than 2 times what he would be able to pay her if she were to work in government. That boss taught her a very valuable career lesson. He said to take a chance, because the safe choice will always be there if the chance doesn’t work out.
So, she ventured off on a new career path, which required her to travel 40-50 weeks per year. This was the ‘90’s and the tech boom was just beginning. As it relates to style, she was part of the first class of women at her consulting company who were allowed to wear pant suits. Prior to that, they had to wear skirt suits. When summer arrived, the women were wearing suit separates and constantly being called to HR because the men in the company thought tops and bottoms of suits had to be the same color and match. So, Michelle and her friend went to Express and purchased lime green and bright purple suits, with the tops and bottoms matching, to show the management how ridiculous their request was when it came to ladies fashion.
After working for the consulting firm for 7 years, Michelle decided that she wanted a job change. She wanted to see the man she married more than just on weekends and wondered what he looked like on a Tuesday.
Her next job was at UnitedHealth Group where she created a cross-functional career, moving departments and roles every 2-3 years. She did this intentionally because it’s her long-term professional goal to be in the C-Suite, so she’s focused on the skill preparation necessary for executive success.
She was laid off from UHG twice. After the second time, she decided to really switch it up and chose a role that she thought would be fun and where she would have the most impact.
During our conversations for this article, she said something really compelling about being a leader. “Mary, what CEO do you know can roll up their sleeves and do the work their team does? I want to empower my team, enable the work and get out of their way.” This inspired me at the moment because I was going through a career shift. I am now a leader of a team, but my perspective was to become a leader of the work that you know how to do. After thinking about that conversation and the value that good leaders bring to their companies, I realized that she’s right.
Michelle will continue to have a huge impact on the tech industry and specifically women in tech. Whether she is in the C-Suite or not. The title would be great because it expands the sphere of influence and impact. Her reasons for wanting it aren’t self-centered, which is why I know she’ll get it. Ultimately, she wants a position where impact and messages are amplified to do good. Her plans include growing the local tech economy and helping young women overcome hurdles in their professional development.
If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?
How old I’ll be when I die. I’m a planner and I want to work backwards from a deadline. It’s important for me to know because I want to accomplish a lot of things. Do I have 10 or 50 years to get it all done. How much time do I have to see the seven wonders of the world, to live a year in Europe, to try and finally learn a foreign language.
Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time?
No. I never want to be the person who misses out, so I squeeze 26 hours into every day. Even as a kid, I burned the candle at both ends. I make adventures a priority, so I never feel like I want more. I do have a dream of visiting all seven continents. I only have Antarctica left, and hope to do that before my 50th birthday.
What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
Being the first person in my family to go to college. I didn’t have that modeled for me. The women before me didn’t have the same opportunities, most chose a career of marriage and motherhood.
My career path gave me the opportunity to travel the world, often alone. There is something empowering and confidence building about solo travel. Being able to navigate a foreign city, and work and play with locals is something I’m immensely proud of.
I’m also really proud of the “family” that I’ve created. I have a network of friends, loved ones and coaches. I love my house buzzing with people. I’ve had to overcome loneliness because I’m not from Minnesota, so I didn’t have a built-in network. I’m suited for it though because I’ve always been a person that brings different people together. Even as a kid I was like that.
What do you value most in a friendship?
Transparency. Don’t hold back. Love big, be big. Call me out on my B.S. and vice versa. I also love surrounding myself with bold people with a great sense of adventure. Who aren’t afraid to try new foods, explore exotic places, sneak into parties, or zip line over things.
Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest? My maternal grandmother. I was 2 years old when she passed away. You miss a lot about who your mother is if you don’t know her mother. People told me that I reminded them of my grandmother and I could never put the pieces together. My Grandmother didn’t travel much, but when she did, she loved cruising with my grandfather. She loved all the activities, mingling with other guests, and a bar full of manhattans. I love the same things! I would love to know what it was like to grow up in during the Depression and why she married my grandfather.
I would love to know what kind of trouble my mother got into, what events made her who she became, if she was as good as she said she was!
Would you like to be famous? In what way?
Yes. The impact I could have would be amplified. A lot of crap comes with fame, but I want to impact the success of women. More Bill Gates, than Kim Kardashian. I want to be a driving force to grow the local economy, grow tech careers in Minnesota and help young women overcome professional hurdles. Being famous would also allow me to travel without the hassle of commercial flights!
What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
A true perfect day is when I’m exploring a new city with my husband, which is why I thought it would be fun to include photos of my vacation fashion. Vacation for us is like a long date, and I like to pack layers and accessories to have different looks when we’re traveling together.
If I’m not on vacation, it depends on the level of refueling that I need. I’m naturally an extrovert, so being around a lot of people gives me energy, but I can extrovert myself into a hole. That’s been happening more lately. When you have responsibilities for a team and strategic decisions, there’s more stress. I’m vascillating between playing offense and defense on a daily basis. The constant connection to the world via a phone adds to the over stimulation. A perfect day for that Michelle is most likely a Saturday. It starts with a morning workout, coffee with 1 friend, some kind of pampering like a pedicure, a long walk around the lake with the dogs and cooking a meal with my husband. There’s a couple of bottles of good wine involved too.
If I’m in a extroverted mood, that day starts with a big bawdy brunch with girlfriends, mimosas, talking, laughing and usually dancing at a bar with a jukebox while it’s still light outside.
Women have to maintain the perception of keeping it all together. Any kind of slip is interpreted differently for us than it is for men, so self care becomes really important.
When did you last sing to yourself?
In the car this morning. Bell Biv Devoe’s Poison (never trust a big butt and a smile).
Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.
We both love to cook, we’re both blonde & blue-eyed, not unusual in Minnesota, but we stand out in a crowd in a lot of places we travel to. We’re both very competitive. I was the first person to ever beat my husband in Trivial Pursuit. I think that’s why he was attracted to me. I was both a formidable opponent and partner. Wade has been my biggest cheerleader in my career and has contributed the most to my success.
If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
I believe in the butterfly effect. Everything that has happened has created who I am. If I changed anything I might not be the tough-as-nails person that I am.
Superficially, if I could change anything it would be that I wish my family valued multiculturalism more. I also regret not speaking a foreign language. I’ve been to 45 foreign countries, and I make a point to learn some key words, but it frustrates me that I never mastered another language.