It doesn’t come naturally for most people to take the proverbial leap to a new work position or location. We get comfortable; we really like what we’re doing, so we stay in that comfort zone. However, I’ve learned that the best time to make a change is when I’m happiest in my current job. I think it’s because my confidence level is high—I know my job and am comfortable in it!
Taking on new challenges is a great way to stay focused and inspired, and helps you grow. My bosses always encouraged me to explore other opportunities, and when I did change positions, I was often doing something very different than what I did previously. I’ve held positions in finance, accounting, HR, flight service, cargo, and operations. With each new position, I brought experience from my previous role, but always learned new proficiencies.
My last move brought me to Miami after being in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for 10 years. It was difficult for my family and, consequently, difficult for me. I always aspired to be the VP of American’s Miami operation. While the timing couldn’t have been worse, I took that leap of faith, relying on my strength and perseverance. When I arrived, Miami was still under construction, the hub was growing, and 50 percent of our route structure consisted of complex international routes. There wasn’t even a baggage system! Some people, myself included, thought I was crazy to go, but MIA was always my goal. I love this position and this location, and am very glad I took the challenge. After four strong years here, I still love it. The people are extraordinary, even in the most difficult of circumstances. It’s true what that say—what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!
On Finding Success and Staying Competitive
The status quo does not work if you want to successfully compete in the airline industry. It takes determination and hard work. But the bottom line, regardless of industry, is that your people are really the ones who do the hard work. So, you have to be open to new ideas and listen to your people—those who do the work day in and day out. After you really listen to your “everyday experts,” you must also be willing to take some chances and try out those new ideas. I care very much about the people who work for American and the customers we serve. And I know that engaged, involved, and appreciated employees will serve our customers with that same commitment. It works!
On the Importance of Role Models and Mentors
I’ve been very privileged to have had some really great bosses. What they taught me, above all else, was to believe in myself. They gave me the confidence to do more, because they kept pushing me. Each time I thought I had exceeded my limit, I gained the self-assurance to continue to push past new limits. Having the confidence of my mentors was motivation enough to expand my horizons and find new ways to solve problems.
On Facing Challenges
Growing up, my family stayed in one place. I was the first in my family to leave home and the first to move out of state—even today, my family is still in one place. As a result, my most difficult challenge was moving my immediate family around in support of my career. As a parent, I was always concerned about how my kids would transition to a new environment. Initially, of course, they never wanted to go, but luckily for me, they always managed to find their way very quickly. I have really great kids.
Marilyn’s Advice to Young Women Starting Careers
Believe in yourself. But more important, believe in others. Show people how much you care, make them feel important, and build strong reciprocal relationships with colleagues. You will come to rely on them as your career progresses, and they will prove to be invaluable to your professional network, whether you stay in the same industry or move to another.