McDonough School of Business
McDonough School of Business
News Story

Sound Advice

What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received? We asked the Georgetown McDonough community, and they shared the sage wisdom that has served them through the years (along with a few duds).

Howard Schultz, chairman and CEO of Starbucks, has said that success is best when it is shared. In that spirit, we asked alumni to share their best advice — lessons learned over the years from mentors, colleagues, parents, even magazines picked up in hotel rooms — for succeeding in business. They told us to work hard. Take risks. Build relationships. Advocate for yourself. And know when advice phrased as “best” might actually be the worst.

BEST BUSINESS ADVICE YOU’VE RECEIVED

W. Douglas Barnum (B ’67), retired telecommunications executive
Be willing to get down in the trenches (occasionally) and show those below you that you know how to do the work that they do and can understand their issues.

This attitude paid off for me when I was a consultant and was the acting CFO at the startup of a cable television system in Caracas, Venezuela. I had hired the staff of accountants and a controller as their supervisor. When it came time to do the first monthly bank reconciliations and sales tax withholding tax returns, I came out of my office, went down onto the work floor, picked up a batch and started doing them myself, showing them exactly how I wanted them done in the future. The controller and accountants had never seen an “executive” roll up his sleeves and do any real work. Their respect for me immediately grew since they knew that I really understood the nuts and bolts of what I asked them to do on a daily basis. They threw me a party when I departed — the only one thrown by the workers in a department for one of the “bosses.”

William Licamele (C ’68, M ’72), child and adolescent psychiatrist
Work hard and have fun every day. That’s from my very wise dad, Lou Licamele, who was a great pharmacist and businessman. And read the book The Business of ­Happiness: 6 Secrets to Extraordinary Success in Work and Life by Georgetown ­University ­alumnus Ted Leonsis (C ’77).

Lisa Cregan (C ’81, MBA ’83), Mid-Atlantic regional director, Morgan Stanley
My father always said to me: “Don’t feel like you’re walking on eggshells.” He wanted me to be confident and unafraid to ask questions or take risks. His advice instilled a can-do perspective coupled with the optimism to always look forward. His mantra, in many ways, prompted me to become what I term “mindfully fearless” in facing challenges at hand.

I also had two important business mentors who helped me understand the nuances of business and working, which allowed me to strategically apply and complement the foundational character development my father provided. The first was Diane Frimmel, regional chief operations officer, Wealth Management of the Americas, UBS. She taught me how to analyze businesses, an essential skill by which I quickly became an asset to my bosses. Diane’s insights and mentoring helped me, early in my career, to prove myself and to establish credibility at a time then there were very few women in the financial services sector. Working hard and having these skills helped me get noticed. The second influencer was Jim Klein, who at the time was chairman of PaineWebber Futures Management Corp. Jim taught me the art of honest persuasion, which requires the art of listening. He taught me about the power and lasting importance of building strong relationships. He taught me about being creative and getting past “no” by exploring the barriers to getting to “yes.” Jim showed me that success hinges on more than mere execution; it’s guided by personal influence and genuine passion. Jim taught me, and consistently demonstrated, that a great leader can change someone’s worldview — and in doing so everybody wins.

Mark Switaj (MBA ’12), founder and CEO, RoundTrip
A venture capitalist once said, “Three of the world’s greatest addictions are cocaine, heroin, and a steady paycheck. If you aren’t addicted to the first two, and wean yourself off the third, you have a real shot at building something great.”

Andrew LaVanway (MBA ’03), vice president, ICF International
“One of the most important things about your MBA is that it signals you are willing to work harder, accept more risk, and manage more stress than the people around you.” — Professor Ken Homa
It is a constant reminder that the most interesting, lucrative professional opportunities typically appear before or after business hours and over the weekend.

Elizabeth Scallon (GEMBA ’13), associate director, CoMotion Labs, University of Washington
“Be authentic.” As a queer business professional, I was nervous about being “out” in business and talking about my personal life, as I thought it would hurt my professional projection. However, my CEO at the time was fully supportive of LGBTQ rights and encouraged me to be authentic. Since then, I have been open and out about my sexuality at work, and about my marriage. This has allowed me to be truthful with my professional connections, which builds trust and respect. Being authentic is the only way to be in business if you want success.

Lance Ho (B ’15), associate, L.E.K. Consulting
The job of having a job — your job is to make your direct boss’s job easier. Proactively seek ways to maximize the time they can spend on higher value tasks. If you can exceed your manager’s expectations or actively foresee problems, that’s extra time they can focus on their tasks instead of worrying whether you’ve done yours.

The importance of quality control. I’ve learned that the client will never care about how many hours and how much struggle went into a product or a deliverable. They just see the end product, and if there are errors, that is all they will remember.

Kelly McFarren (MBA ’12), brand manager, Perfect Fit Protein
When I started business school, Patty Buchek, senior assistant dean in the MBA Career Center, reiterated to women: “Don’t just sit back and be the note taker.” In a new setting or large group, it’s easy to fall into certain behavioral habits, and this is something I remember in every new team or project I’m assigned. Everyone at the table should be equal, and responsibilities should be shared and assigned across participants. This is also reinforced in Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In.

Re-evaluate where you are every two years, and make a change if needed. This came from one of my mentors at Proctor & Gamble, who has since moved into a VP role at a different company. I have continuously evaluated in the same way, and while making changes too often isn’t ideal, I have been able to take significant steps forward.

Arlen Kantarian (B ’75), CEO, Kantarian Sports Group
“Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off.  Good leadership involves responsibility to the welfare of the group, which means that some people will get angry with your decisions. It’s inevitable if you’re honorable. Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity, and you will avoid the tough decisions.” — Colin Powell

Cheryl Campbell (GEMBA ’16), senior vice president, global government, CGI
Continue to stretch, and do not become complacent. I make it a point to not stand still because no movement could mean stagnation and the risk of being less relevant and effective.

J.P. Borella (B ’93), director, Ziff Brothers Investments
Always assume that a person you work with may one day no longer be your colleague, but instead your client, boss, regulator, attorney, competitor, etc. Don’t put your ego on display. No matter how smart you may be, without a deep and expansive base of in-depth relationships, you will never truly succeed in the world of finance.

Sean Redmond (F ’97, S ’00, EMBA ’11), senior director, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
When I was a teenager, a lawyer I worked for told me the best result always comes from being straightforward, honest, and sincere with people. That credo shaped my outlook in my future jobs, including some pretty stressful situations working on presidential campaigns and, later on, for a Cabinet secretary!

BEST BUSINESS ADVICE YOU GIVE

Lisa Cregan (C ’81, MBA ’83), Mid-Atlantic regional director, Morgan Stanley
If you never fail, you’re probably not trying hard enough. We all stumble, and then we grow.

Temper your belief — this is a big one for women — that if you just work hard or outwork everyone else, opportunities will surely arise. That just isn’t the case and still isn’t the best path to success for women. Working terribly hard is a given, but it’s not enough. You need to ask for what you want. And remember no doesn’t necessarily mean no — find the pathways to yes.

Know your story. Be able to clearly tell somebody (1) where you want to go, (2) why that’s important, and (3) what you’re doing now to get there. Knowing your story is your best and most genuine means of self-promotion. Telling your story is not horn-blowing, braggadocio, or positioning yourself as better than someone else. Knowing your story allows the other person to see you. Your story differentiates you from others with similar educational or work experience. Your story reveals your passions, your imagination of the future, and what you’re doing now to get there. When the other person can see you, then he or she will clearly know how to help or how to tie you into his or her networks and opportunities.

Arlen Kantarian (B ’75), CEO, Kantarian Sports Group
“Look to work with people you like and have fun with, in a role that plays to your strengths and in an area you are truly interested in. If you achieve this, good things will happen.” This helped me decide to pursue a career in the sports industry.

Andrew LaVanway (MBA ’03), vice president, ICF International
Ten years from this moment, nearly every skill that you currently have will be irrelevant. Never stop learning.

J.P. Borella (B ’93), director, Ziff Brothers Investments
Build bridges, don’t burn them, and no matter what financial service you are selling, never believe you are the only one selling it.

Kelly Funk (EML ’07), President & CEO, RSPA
Nearly 20 years ago, when I was an account manager at GE, one of my accounts requested a report that came from a different part of our business. I responded with something along the lines of, “I’ve put in the request from X department and will get that to you when I receive it.” My boss took me aside and coached me that the request came to ME — I was responsible for ensuring our partner’s satisfaction. She talked about the importance of representing the entire company, and she suggested that future responses be along the lines of, “We are working on that. I’ll have that for you soon. Is there anything else I can help you with today?”

She helped me to better understand that from the partner’s perspective, the request and fulfillment started and ended with me. I liken it to Oz in The Wizard of Oz — there is much that takes place behind the scenes to get things done, but customers don’t need (or want) to see it. This style is inherent in all my interactions still today — and it’s advice I pass on to others.

WORST BUSINESS ADVICE

Andrew LaVanway (MBA ’03), vice president, ICF International
“Make an exception, just this one time.” The motto carved into bankruptcy courts, prisons, and chairs at the unemployment office.

“The best part about firing people is that it makes everyone else work harder.” Right up until they quit. Fear is a great motivator — for leaving.

Cheryl Campbell (GEMBA ’16), senior vice president, global government, CGI
“Be patient, and wait your turn.” In some situations this can be good advice because patience is a virtue. But I suggest you weigh your options while waiting your turn.

Arlen Kantarian (B ’75), CEO, Kantarian Sports Group
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” While often used as business advice, this can be an excuse for inaction and complacency in a fast-changing world. Instead, subscribe to the Will Rogers theory: “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just stand there.”

MOST UNEXPECTED BUSINESS ADVICE

J.P. Borella (B ’93), director, Ziff Brothers Investments
Learn how to play golf. It’s the best way to “own” a client for four hours.

Rohan Williamson, interim dean, Georgetown McDonough
“In life, if you ever want to reach your full potential, you have be comfortable being uncomfortable.”

Andrew LaVanway (MBA ’03), vice president, ICF International
“If you dislike change, you’re going to dislike irrelevance even more.” —Eric Shinseki, former U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs

Picked it up from a hotel magazine in Manhattan, Kansas, November 2011.

Published in Georgetown Business magazine, Fall 2016