AmEx's Denise Pickett: Use your leverage to move up
Monday, August 3, 2015
Posted by: Barbara Francella
Pickett, president of American Express Open, shared "The Power of a Career
with No Limits" at the NEW Executive Leaders Forum.
Women on the rise have more leverage than
they know, and should ask for what they need to make career-advancing moves
work for them, Denise Pickett, president of American Express Open, told more than
300 industry leaders at the NEW Executive Leaders Forum, July 30, 2015 outside
"There are a million reasons to say 'No,'
to an opportunity," Pickett said. "Ask yourself, what will it take
for me to say, 'Yes'?'"
Pickett shared her personal career story during
"The Power of a Career with No Limits," a discussion with NEW Forum Co-Chair
Trish Lukasik, senior vice president, PepsiCo Warehouse Sales, PepsiCo Inc.
When offered the top spot at American Express
Open in New York City, the former head of American Express Canada faced
relocation to a new country with her husband and three children, including her
oldest high-school-aged daughter. Before accepting the position, she recalled, she
"asked everything I needed to make it work."
Among her requests, beyond title and salary,
were responsibility for a larger piece of the business than initially offered,
support for her husband's job search and help in selecting the right school for
her children. She received all.
She was assigned a coach, too. "I didn't
think I needed one," Pickett said. "The notion of a coach was weird
to me. But in the first session, the coach mapped out of the relationship map
in the company. Not the org chart, the relationship map. I thought, 'Wow, this
is useful – I had no idea.'"
Still, the first year of the relocation was
difficult on a personal level. Her daughter cried "every night for six
weeks," Pickett said. "But the experience brought us together as a
family, because the kids had no one [but their parents and each other]. Now,
the kids are very close and that's a great outcome we didn't expect."
As she rose through the ranks, Pickett learned
career lessons about the importance of being authentic and having sponsors. As
a senior vice president in Canada, she asked a sponsor if she should change her
behavior as she moved to the American Express world headquarters in New York.
"My sponsor said 'Absolutely not. You are where you are because of who you
are, and you will fail if you change,'" she recalled. "I said,
'That's really good, because I’m not capable of changing.'"
When a longtime sponsor passed away, she
realized what that person had meant to her personally and professionally.
"Every time something good happens in my career, I write my sponsors a handwritten
note," she said. "I have written thousands of them. When is the last time you wrote a handwritten note to a sponsor who did
something for you?"
As a sponsor to others, Pickett writes notes
to her protégés offering support and kudos on their successes. "If I know
they are presenting to the Board or operating committee, I say 'I've got your
back, send me your deck in advance, I’ll make sure it’s good,'" she said.
Women leaders can create corporate cultural
change by keeping connected to the customers and leading with courage. "Do
big things in a very visible way to send very big signals," she urged. One
example: Pickett "blew up" the floorplan of office suites assigned to
executives and moved her office to the first floor. Earlier, serving in the top
spot for American Express in Canada, she gave up the parking space closest to
the building and gave it to the Employee of the Month.
"Culture change is hard work,"
Pickett said. "It takes a lot of communication. You must be on it and on
it and on it."
Women in leadership positions, she said, are
called on to be uncommon. "Break down barriers in a very public way."