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Fireside Chat with Female Leader, Loretta A. Penn

Join Advantis Global Inc. in our fireside chat with a successful woman in leadership, Loretta A. Penn. The meeting is hosted by Bill Ravenscroft, newly announced president of Advantis Global. Together, both thought leaders share insights on how they got started in the staffing industry, career challenges, risks, advice, relationships, and more more words of wisdom.

If you're more of a reader than listener, you can find the video transcript below:

Introduction

Bill Ravenscroft: So, every now and then, you get to share something special with the people that mean a lot to you. And here, today, I get to do just that. So, I have the pleasure of introducing a longtime friend and mentor to my Advantis family, Loretta Penn. Loretta, and I go back to 2007, where I worked in her organization, when she was the president of Spherion. Spherion at the time was a just over a billion dollars. And it was a general staffing company within the SFN group. Spherion doesn't exist any longer. It was acquired by Randstad. And so, the brand no longer exists. But those colleagues at that time, Loretta included, myself, and others, we've all gone on to do some really awesome and amazing things in our careers. And so, I'm really excited to be able to share that part with you guys as well.  

But Loretta was a lot of things for me. She was obviously my boss's boss, or my boss's, boss's boss. And depending on where I was in my journey at the time, she was also an executive sponsor on my national accounts. And this meant that I had the opportunity to engage with her on client strategy and accompany her on client meetings with executives for our different strategic clients. And honestly, through those engagements, I cannot tell you how much I actually learned. I learned tremendous amount of insight into executive presence and presentations and so many other things.  

But she was and still is a mentor to me. She's provided insight to me on how to navigate my career at critical steps along the way. And so, I'm going to have a lot of fun today sharing this special relationship with my Advantis family and getting to ask a lot of the questions. But if anyone on the call today has questions they would like to ask, please put it in our chat, and I'll make sure I try to get to those before the end of the call.  

About Loretta A. Penn

Bill Ravenscroft: I wanted to give you a chance first to talk a little bit about your background, maybe a little bit about yourself, your family, where you grew up. I think it'd be great for the team here to learn a little bit about you personally.

Loretta Penn: Well, I'll be glad to do that. And let me start bill by saying thank you to you for having me here today. I'm so grateful for that. And to say hello to the, as you call it, the Advantis family. And thank you to each of you for taking time out of your day to day to listen to someone whom you don't know. So, I'm very grateful for that. So, a little bit about my background. I'm a Dallas girl. For any football fans, even though I live in Washington, D.C., I am still a Dallas Cowboy fan. I admit it. But that's where I grew up. Mom and Dad, we were just family today. We might call it we might say we were poor, but we didn't know it. We had a lot of love in our house. My mom was, if we use the term now, we might call it a domestic caretaker. My mom was a maid the entire time I was growing up. When I went to college, she decided to go to college, and I'll talk about that, I'm sure, before I finish today.  

My dad worked in what was called a mill, a lumber mill. He did that for 55 years. You think of working any place even for 5 years now, and he did that for 55. And no siblings, lots of cousins, because both of my parents came from big families. But we were a family about a lot of love, a lot of opportunity to really do things together as a family unit. And to appreciate what we had. Again, with a lot of cousins, I felt like I had a lot of brothers and sisters, if you will. And to this day, I still do.  

Today, I'm married, my husband is retired military, and I have 3 children by marriage and 2 amazing grandsons. One who's 26, one who's 29. They are truly the apple of my eye. I know what that means now, now that I have grandchildren. Yeah. So, that's a little bit about me. And I'll tell you more as we go on, I'm sure.

The Non-Traditional Way of Getting Started in Staffing

Bill Ravenscroft: Thinking about your career and kind of where you started in the very beginning, you were... well, you got into staffing, and probably much like the rest of us, kind of in a non-traditional way. You didn't think about getting in staffing in the typical way. But maybe because of your husband's career, you found staffing as a way to work and supplement your time, you know. So, tell us a little more about that. I mean, they don't know the story. I have the benefit of knowing a little bit more about your husband and his journey as well. But tell us a little more about that.

Loretta Penn: Well,  

the wonderful thing about a staffing career, as many of you in the audience will know, and Bill certainly appreciates, is that it's a job we can do anywhere.

We can really do it anywhere. And today, that word takes on even whole new meaning, we can do the job anywhere. And so, with my husband being in the military, it did, it gave us a wonderful opportunity that whenever he moved somewhere, I was able to go and to continue my career. And that's not always the case for a military wife. And I say a wife, because even up until now, it's typically the wife who is going to do the sacrifice of the career. And luckily, I did not have to do that.  

And so, how did I get into it? Well, at the time, I was working for IBM. And I had planned, and I was in Southern California, and I had planned to stay with IBM until retirement, 25 years, get the gold watch, and go to have my big luncheon and sail into the sunset. And that that was in my 10th year with the company. And at that time, IBM had what was called their high-potential performer program. And that's where they slated individuals throughout all the divisions across the company who had the potential to either be the President of a division or to be the CEO. And I was lucky enough to be on that list. And so, with that, you had very quick career progression. And you had a chance to meet a lot of people.  

One of the gentlemen that I met when I was in my 10th year decided to leave IBM. And it caused quite a stir because he was very well known in the organization. I had worked on a few taskforces with him. And when he left, he called me and said he was going to do this thing called going into the temporary staffing business. Well, first of all, we didn't even know what that was. And because at that time, this was in the 80s. We had 4 big companies in staffing. We had Kelly, Manpower, Narelle, and Alston, names that some have changed, some have merged and all today. Then you had regional companies. But the majority of the companies were companies that had we called them mom and pops then. But they had 2, 3 or 4 offices. And we were one. And he went to work for one of those regional companies.  

And so, he said, “I'm going to call you because I think you might like this industry.” And I said to him, “I have no desire to ever leave IBM.” Over the course of a year, he and the gentleman who owned the company where he went to work came to California on business, and each time, I would have dinner with them. The third time they came, the owner of the company asked me to come back to D.C., which was headquarters and to see his company. I said to him, “I'm not leaving IBM. I'm going to stay here. I like this. This company has been awesome to me. I absolutely love it.” And he said, “Fine.” He said, “Here's the worst thing that will happen. You'll come back to Washington D.C. for 3 days. You'll get to see the nation's capital, you'll have a lovely time, you'll see my company, and it'll all be on my dime. You have nothing to lose.” My husband and I talked about it, we said, “Okay.”  

I came back to DC. And after 3 days, and he was leaving to go (this gentleman) on a cruise to Greece for 3 weeks, and he said, “Let's talk when I get back.” And one of the things that I learned then after I decided that, “Okay, maybe I will change and do this,” is that we always want to go forward into a position knowing exactly what we're going to do. Well, that's not always your best adventure. And when he and I finished the conversation, he said, “I want you to come to work here. I don't know what the job will be. But we'll figure it out together.” He said, “You'll be an officer in the company. We'll figure out what you're going to do.”  

Well, I finished talking with him, thinking I was not going to do this, had 3 weeks to think about it, called and told my parents about it. My mother's first words, “Have you gone crazy?” My dad said, “You know what? What’s the worst thing that can happen? If it doesn't work out, you'll get another job.” At any rate, after 3 weeks, I thought, “As wonderful as IBM is, if I'm ever going to change, if I'm ever going to see what I can really, really, really do, maybe this is the time to do it.” And I decided to take the risk, and it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. And that’s how I got into this crazy business.

Major Career Challenges

Bill Ravenscroft: So, I know that story. And so, now that everyone else on the call does too, I think back to my own personal career, and we've shared as much. Dan, who's the CEO of our company, and I had a fireside chat a few weeks ago, and we kind of shared similar journeys. But it was all about taking some risk along the way. I mean, you don't achieve what you're looking for in a career if you're ambitious and you're moving and you're trying to grow without some risk along the way. And that's going to include getting knocked down your fair share of times along the way as well. Have you had any of those major setbacks? Is there anything along your career you could think of that you had to overcome, or maybe the choice you made was being correct one, and you had to maybe go backwards and reset, anything like that?  

Loretta Penn: So, in a word, yes. When I decided to leave IBM, believe me, it was not an easy decision. But it was one where, as my dad said,  

“What's the worst thing that can happen? It won't work? Well, you can get another job?”

And I felt that I probably could. And so, yeah, let's take the risk. Then the next risk was coming to D.C., that's not where my husband was stationed. So, I was going to come back to D.C., on my own and with our kids, and get started in a new place where I'd never lived before.  

Now, the good news is that we had a lot of time to live in Washington, D.C. after that. But at that time, I didn't know anybody. And my first week here, remember I’m moving from Southern California where it had sun every day. In my first week in D.C., we had a blizzard in ‘82. There was a blizzard. And I remember standing in the window at the hotel with a tear coming down, thinking, “What have I done?” But so, you make that leap, and then you make the best of that. So, that was one. And that started, again, a career trajectory that I would never change.  

I can tell you about another segue. There was a time at Spherion where I'm going to say that life had gotten boring. And there can come a time in all of our careers where we're not feeling as challenged, not feeling as motivated, not as excited about what we're doing. The one thing I would say when we get to that point, do something about it.

Bill Ravenscroft: Absolutely.

Loretta Penn: Time goes by quickly. You just sit and wait and think it's going to change, not if you don't act. So, I had that phase in my career. And where I decided that maybe it was time for me to go do something different. And I decided to do so. I was very fortunate to have been recruited by a company to come and have an amazing position with them. And I had gotten to the point, I had accepted the position. I had the offer letter in my hand. And at that time, my CEO Roy Krause, called me at home and said to me something I'll never forget, and that I thank him for to this day. He called me at home and said, “I understand if you're ready to leave. But I'd like you to come back here to Fort Lauderdale and meet with me today. Because I decided that if you're going to leave the company, there's something that I've done wrong.” And I thought, “What a statement for a CEO to make.”  

And I did. I went back. I spent the day. And clearly, I ultimately ended up staying Spherion, and my trajectory and what we decided to do and the opportunity at Spherion continued to grow for me. But the risk that I took was leaving, because I had built up a lot of annuity there at Spherion, a lot of years. And I liked so many of the people. But I needed to take that risk to keep myself challenged, to do something that was good for my career, to continue to stay motivated. And I was willing to take that risk.  

Now, I will add that you also get to a certain level, where the risk you take, and you have to measure them differently. It's very different if you don't have children, you don't have a home, a mortgage, if you don't have other levels of responsibility. You can go make and leap and make some amazing decisions.  

But when you have responsibilities, how you make those decisions, and when you make them and the risk you're choosing to take it, it's going to be very different.  

The one thing I'll leave you with though is that, when you think about the amount of waking hours that you spend, you spend the majority of them at work, away from people you love and care about his family, and with individuals whom you care about strongly in your work and professional life. You should enjoy that. You should make the best of that. And you should be doing also what's best for you in that environment. And that includes taking a risk. It does. Think are boring life would be if we didn’t.

The Importance of Taking Risks

Bill Ravenscroft: I have been known to take my fair share of risks. And some have worked out, some haven't. But along the way, what I've learned as well as I would never be where I am today if I didn't, period. You just can't get to where you want to go if you're not willing to take some risk along the way.

Loretta Penn: And because I still believe in what you just said, how are you going to get to where you'd really like to be if you're not willing to take a risk along the way? And part of what will allow you to do that, I believe in my heart and soul, is how confident you feel about yourself and your ability.  

If you feel really good about you, then that risk is worth taking.

Bill Ravenscroft: Yes, yeah. I've always had the confidence. And then of course, I say that I'm with perspective. I just keep that in mind. But I didn't necessarily feel in every risky situation where I took that risk, I didn't necessarily feel it at the moment, especially early in my career. But as I progressed throughout my career, I had much more confidence in myself. And I gained that confidence through taking and betting on myself, being willing to take risks, but knowing that,  

“Look, if I fall on my face, I am who I am. I can get up. I’m going to be fine. I’ll figure it out.” Thank you, whoever that was.  

Career Mentors  

Bill Ravenscroft: Alright, so when we're talking about impact, I've been dying to ask this question. I shared with the group ahead of time, you are definitely one of the big impacts in my career, both as a friend and as a mentor and as a leader. Who were yours? Who were the people that influenced you the most?

Loretta Penn: My very first... I probably can think of 3 really. My very first manager at IBM. He was just visionary. He was just an incredible salesperson. He was engaging. At the end of the day when we come in, sales reps, we've been out in the territory, so to speak, to during our sales calls and all, and we’d come in, he had a way of, whether you had had a great day or just a day where you think, “What was I thinking today. This just was not my moment. Presentation was awful,” whatever was your day, when you came into that environment (we called it a bullpen because we all had our discount in this big room and all), he would make you feel like, “It's okay. You can go out and you can face another day. Tomorrow is a new day.” So, there was one thing he did.  

And then secondly, one of the things he said to me when he sat down going through an orientation, and I'm a new rookie sales rep, I was young. I was young. I graduated from high school at 15. I graduated from college at 19. I started teaching school at 20. And I started working for IBM at 21. I'm young, I didn't know anything. Thought I knew a lot, but I didn't know anything. And I sat down with him, and he said,  

“Buy stock, Loretta.” Said, “No matter where you are, if it's a company you choose to work for, buy stock.” He said, “No matter how much you think you don't have enough money to do that, you do. If you can just buy 1 share, buy stock.”  

To this day, it is something I've always done. And I always think about him, and I think, “Thank you, Frank. That was such wonderful advice.”

Bill Ravenscroft: Good advice.  

Loretta Penn: “Thank you for that.” Yes. So, to him, and because her hired me for my first job in that amazing company called IBM that, as I say to this day, taught me everything that I know. And then secondly, I would say my mom. My dear mom, who passed away last July, who was just one of the strongest women I know, who decided when I went to college that she was going to go as well. So, she went to college, got her BSN, became a nurse, practiced for about 16 years, and then retired and started a nonprofit. My mom was an activist in the day when you didn't even use the term ‘activist’. And just involved in everything. This ball of energy until she passed away last year at 98 years old. Just amazing. Who said to me, her idea of what to do to stay healthy was to eat well, drink lots of water, and exercise. Hmm, funny how we still heard that today, right? And there she was, as healthy as could be until she went to sleep and didn't wake up anymore last July.  

So, I would say my mom who taught me also about integrity, and character, and being confident. And that one of the things she would always ask me, my middle name is Ann, and so that's what she called me. And  

she’d always say, “Ann, did you do your best?” If I said, “Yes,” most often, she was okay. If I hesitated, she was not happy with me.  

And then thirdly, I would say my first boss in the staffing business who recruited me, Barry. Because as IBM taught me the foundation of sales and leadership skills, and about emotional intelligence, even dressing for success (because yeah, IBM taught that too), Barry taught me the foundation of staffing. Because even though I came in as an officer in the company, I had to work a desk. I had to make sales calls. I had to do client presentations. He said,

“Because if you don't know this business from the desk, you don't know this business.”

And I am so thankful for that, for all of my staffing and recruiting career. He taught me the foundation of what a great recruiter does, a great salesperson does, a great manager in this industry does. He gave me the business mind of staffing, as IBM gave me the business mind, if you will.  

And then just one last thing I'd like to add, because I think is pertinent here is that the having a mentor is so important. It's so important. And when I was growing up, we didn't have a lot of women in leadership jobs. So, we all know, we're just now getting there, for those who ladies who are in the audience. We've been getting there maybe for the past 15 years, but we didn't have a lot of women in senior leadership jobs. And so, my mentors, as I thought about it in prep for this dialogue, were all men. That's who I've worked for. My environment over the years has primarily been men in my workplace.  

And so, what is so wonderful about today is that there are a lot of incredibly talented females at the top of the ladder. So, our scope is broadened in terms of mentors. And while I didn't give it that name then for, again, all these different incredible talented men who were in my life as leaders, that's what some of them became for me, wonderful, wonderful mentors, many of whom to this day, I'm still in touch with.

Lack of Women in Tech

Bill Ravenscroft: That's great. I mean, it's something that I want to point out that you are probably, you made a comment about even teaching you how to dress for success, you're probably one of the most well-dressed individuals I've ever met and spent time with. I have always been... you really made me up my game. Every time I'd go on a sales call with you, I would literally sweat bullets over making sure that I was dressed well enough to go on a sales call with Loretta Penn.  

But, I think, it's mentorship to me has been very fascinating. Because unlike your journey, my journey has been, most of my mentors and most of the people that I've had have been female. Most of the leaders I've been with over the years have been female leaders in the world of staffing. So, I've had a chance to learn just as much from the female population as I have the male population, which is fantastic. I feel like my career has benefited from the diversity of leadership on both sides.

Loretta Penn: Well, I think it's wonderful. Again, as I think about the last, I'll say, 15 years, it's where we've begun to see women in the C suite. And yeah, that number is still small. It's less than 15% of women in the C suite in Fortune 100 companies. So, yeah, that number is way too small, but we're working on it.

Bill Ravenscroft: Yeah.

Loretta Penn: And it's just the numbers on the board seats are increasing, which is wonderful. We hovered around 14 to 15% females on corporate boards. Now that's in the 20s. Still a small number, but we're moving the needle up, if you will. And the beauty is that sometimes I think it's sad, but it's also true, that many times for someone to look at things as being viable, we need to be able to have a metric behind it, and a metric that can turn it into dollars. And we hadn't always measured the impact of a diverse workforce, diverse not just being ethnicity, but also gender. But now there's so much data behind then, you can pull any poll from whether you're pulling from Deloitte, whether you're pulling from PwC, whether you're pulling from McKinsey, there's statistics showing the wonderful, wonderful opportunity and gains in profitability that you get from having a cross section of minds at the table. And that includes incredibly bright and talented mix of female and men sitting around the conference table.

Bill Ravenscroft: Yeah. No, I agree with that 100% I think we're absolutely, and Advantis, I think, I look around with all the colleagues that are in the company and I see an incredible amount of diversity. And  

so many talented people within the organization that come from all over, all walks of life. So, we're incredibly blessed here to have so much talent on our team from so many different talent pools, if you will.

Loretta Penn: Excellent.

Challenges as a Female Leader

Bill Ravenscroft: So, when you think back to your career, in particular, where maybe in your staffing career, in particular, what were some of the biggest challenges you had to overcome? I guess you could draw on it from your experiences as a female leader, and in a relatively new area, or just as a manager overall, I mean, what did you face? What did you have to overcome?  

Loretta Penn: Well, I talked earlier about I was always, one was my age. I would be so often the youngest person in the room. And so, I wouldn't bring as much experience as other people in the room. And life is all about choices. So, my choice was to either be very intimidated by that, or to try to garner as much knowledge as I could, I might not have the experience, but to garner as much knowledge as I could about the subject matter. So, for a few years until I gained experience, so let's say in my 30s, because I think it takes perhaps that much to really get experience in doing something in being very, very comfortable, I would say that was one.  

Secondly, and this may sound very slight, but it's true, what was my height and weight. I’m barely 5 feet tall. I tried to stretch it and say I'm 5 and a half, but I’m barely, as you know Bill, barely 5 feet tall. So, yeah, I'd love the day when they made 3-inch and 4-inch shields. And I've always been petite. And so, once again, I could have been... so, I go in the room, and as I said,

I'm in a room, that's primarily male and they're 6 feet tall. And there I am. And so, it's not just fighting for position, but it's feeling that position of being equal, if you will.  

And then I had that third element, let's be real, I had color. Because if you haven't noticed, I am an African American woman. And so, I'm now sitting in that room with feeling an obligation to, “I must earn the right.” Not because I felt diminished, but because I didn't grow up in that world. So, I had to learn how to assimilate in that world. The good news and the blessing is that I did. But just, I want to take a minute and create a picture for you. Because as I talk about my challenges, my challenges have not been learning the subject matter. Mm-mm. No, I'm going to learn and apply myself. I'm going to know what I'm talking about when I walk in the room guaranteed, or I don't need to be in the room.  

Bill Ravenscroft: That's a fact. I can testify to that. You know what you're talking about every time.  

Loretta Penn: That's not the challenge. But the challenge is i grew up in an all-Black neighborhood. I went to an all-Black school. I went to an all-Black church. All of my activities were with other Black children. And then when I went to college, I went to an all-White college, for all intents and purpose. Maybe in this huge college, there were maybe 6 people who looked like me. And when I went to college, there were 3 things that I couldn't do in the college university that I went to. I couldn't live in the dorm. I couldn't go into the Student Union, which is in that day, that's what we called that's the one big place on campus where people gathered. But I couldn't eat in the cafeteria, because Black people were not allowed.  

And so, I did that for 2 years, until finally, I just could not do that anymore. Transferred to a different University and graduated. But that was my world. And so, then all of a sudden, I teach school for a year. That was fine. Then I go to work for IBM where, once again, only a handful of people looked like me. So, my first 10 or 15 years, I spent my biggest challenge was figuring out where I fit. Figuring out who I was in this new world that I was living in, figuring out how... knowing that, unlike maybe what I had thought, there was not a place for me, there were many places for me to pick from. And how did I select those? It was almost like who am I now in this different chapter of my life, and different area of the world that I am living in? So, my challenge was figuring that out.  

Now, here's the irony of that, and that is that, as I figured that out over the years, for example, the school that I went to where I couldn’t stay on the dorm, I couldn't go in the student union, and I couldn't eat in the cafeteria, exactly 42 years later, that same school asked me to be on the board in the School of Engineering, and I served there for 2 years, helping them set up their STEM program. I call that irony. I call that, it brought us a smile to my face. But that was my biggest challenge. And the good news, I finally figured it out, where I felt I fit, what my role was, what my purpose was, if you will, and where I belonged.

Bill Ravenscroft: Well, thank you for sharing all of that. That's a perspective that I think a lot of people on the call today clearly don't have. It's even the thought that you mentally would walk into a room and be surrounded by mostly men that are 6-foot for example, I remember when you would show up in the executive boardroom like board meetings, and I had the incredible opportunity when I was at Spherion to be 1 of 2 colleagues within the entire company that got to serve on the Executive Council and be quiet, be a fly on the wall and just listen and watch.  

But I assure everyone on the call, when Loretta walked in, doesn't matter if she was wearing heels at 5’ 3”, and she was 5-foot, it felt like a 6-foot giant just walked through the door. That was a fact.  

Finding Confidence & Making a Strong Presence

Bill Ravenscroft: I watched your incredible executive presence in those meetings, your response to the dialogue that was happening in that room. And listening to just that comment that you made earlier about having expertise and being well read and understanding what you were going to say, you could come from a perspective of fact, that gave you such power in those meetings, because you didn't have to fake it until you made it, you were it every step of the way. But did you have that confidence when you were in the room? Because it came across that way. How did you collect yourself? How did you create that persona? Because I think that's important for all of the people on the call, is that sometimes we feel like we're worried we don't deserve or we don't feel like we've earned it, and we don't necessarily have the credentials to speak up. Or maybe we just don't have the experience, as you said, to offer our insights. So, ultimately, how did you do it? I mean, share that part of it as well?  

Loretta Penn: Absolutely. 51%, in my opinion, my humble opinion, is knowing your subject. Because I just personally don't know how you can walk in a room with a level of confidence and not know what you're talking about. And you know when you have prepared. We all know that. You know when you're somewhat ready. You know when you're kind of prepared. And you know when you're ready to hit the ball out of the park. You know that.  

So, once again, you have a choice. If you choose to walk in half ready, then you just might half deliver. And when you half deliver, everybody knows that. If you walk in confident, you've got that 51%, everything else, I promise you, everything else that happens in that room, you'll be able to handle it.  

You may not feel good about it when you walk out of the room, but you will be determined to do something about it because you'll know that the reason it didn't go the way you wanted it to was, not because you didn't know your stuff. So, that's 1. 51%, that gives me the confidence to walk in the room.  

Now, there really is a part 2 to this. What gives you the confidence to feel that you should be able to sit at the table? That's that remaining 49%. So, 51% gets you in. Now, do you have the 49% to sit at the table? Well, part of that, of feeling comfortable with that, I think, one, starts with the relationships that you build anywhere you work. So, when you're sitting around the table with a group of individuals, so much of their ability to listen to you is going to be about the relationship that you have with them. Relationships help us to garner respect. And so, when individuals are sitting at the table, they respect your knowledge (let's go back to that 51%), they also have a degree of respect for you and trust, then they're going to listen to you.  

And then thirdly is that,  

with knowledge comes... you must have something to say. So, when you're going to walk into that room, make sure you're ready to contribute something that has value. And by that, I mean it's not just your opinion, because we all have those. But that you're going to deliver a message and you're going to deliver something that has value.  

So, when you can walk into the room and you have that 51% of knowledge, you have individuals around the table with whom you've attempted to build a relationship, you've done all the right things to gain trust, and you know that you have something to contribute to the conversation that's going to bring value to the organization, however you equate that, whether that's to the bottom line, whether that's to an expense structure, whether it's to talent development, wherever it is, you know you have something's going to add value, then you have earned the right to have a seat at the table.  

If the conversation doesn't go the way you'd like it to, if you aren't able to get out all the points that you'd like, if you feel that you weren't heard, the first place you should look is in the mirror.

Bill Ravenscroft: I think, well, no wiser words spoken on that. There's something though about having confidence and preparation that you taught me early on in my career, because of our time as an executive sponsor and going out. You would drill me going into those meetings to make sure that you understood the data. But what I recognized in that preparation with you, and by the way, you were, by far, the most thorough executive sponsor I had. It wasn't even close. Not Brendon, not Bill Grubbs, not Rebecca, or Linda, it was you. Is that preparation is king. I mean, you literally have a chance to understand every aspect of what you're going to encounter, and how to prepare that data in a meaningful way. And so, that has prepared me in so many ways for other parts of my career. So, I have to say thank you for that.

Loretta Penn: I'm not sure you said thank you then after some of those meetings.

Bill Ravenscroft: No, I did not. I honestly, it used to make me sweat bullets having to prepare for you. Like, preparing for you, it was hard work. But ultimately, what that did though is made me perfectly prepared for the client. Because if I could answer all of Loretta’s questions, then I knew the client was going to be a breeze. To be honest, that was the easiest part.

Was C Suite Leader & Board Member a Part of the Career Plan?

Bill Ravenscroft: Did you always know at an early age, or at what point in your career did you say, “I wanted to be a C suite leader, to be a board member,”? I mean, was it something that you were born with? Did it grow on you as you went along? And how did that work?

Loretta Penn: The answer is no. And why? Because I didn't know how to dream that big. I had not had that exposure. And when I was growing up, it was at a time where women who went to college were most likely going to come out and be a housewife. And if they were going to choose a career path, they were going to be a secretary, or they were going to be a teacher. And that may sound so old fogy to some of you who are listening on the call, but that's what happened in the late 60s and the early 70s. And I decided I wanted to be a teacher. That was the one I chose. And I would have done that again for 25 years. But the irony is, teaching in Dallas at that time, I didn't make enough money to eat and pay my rent. And I wanted to do both of those simultaneously.  

So, but that was a path for women, if you will. And then but when I went to work for IBM, that's when I realized, “Oh, my goodness, there is another world out here. It's a business world. And there are a multitude of opportunities. Oh my goodness, what does this mean?” And I had exposure. And I lived in different places. And it was just, “Oh my. Okay. Well, perhaps I can do some of these other things.” And then, of course, over the years, I saw different things. I had different opportunities.  

But while early on, I didn't dream about the C suite, because it seems so far away, but  

there's one thing I always dreamed up, and that was being successful. I'm not sure I could always give you the definition of what that was for me. But I knew it was something greater than I was at the moment. And so, whatever that was, I knew I wanted to be that.

Now, as I moved in my career, and I had more exposure, and I saw more different things, and I had more opportunity, because I wanted to be successful, but I want more of those opportunities. They were out in front of me. Yeah. And I was willing to take the risk to try to get some of those. I would say it was about maybe 10, 15 years before I actually became President of Spherion that I truly had aspirations for the C suite. Now, I wanted to move up, no question, wanted to do that. But to really say that, let’s put it this way, that I wanted to compete with Brendan, or Mike, or Rebecca, or some of those guys for the seat, when I did decide I wanted to do that, I wanted to do that.

And once I did, once I decided, “Yeah, that's what I wanted to do,” then (and this would be the level of encouragement that I would give here), I made a plan. Because one of the things I feel as we look in one to promote our careers, going at it haphazard will not do. Don't wait for someone to take charge of your career. That's your responsibility. And so, I begin then to plan and to put goals in place. I talked earlier about having a mentor. I began to actively seek and decide on who I would like to be my mentor, and to ask individuals to do specific things for me, to help me in my growth and development. Yeah, I made a plan.

Early-Career Advice to Yourself

Bill Ravenscroft: So, that's good advice for anyone on the line. But if you could go back, suppose, and give advice to your younger self, professional advice, personal advice, whatever it would have been, what would you have done? What would you say to your younger self? What would you have done to change the trajectory or direction or anything that you experienced?  

Loretta Penn:  If I were going to give advice to my younger self, I would say

define work-life balance early.

Now, that's a phrase that we just overused, so much. And if somebody has found it, please tell all of us what it is. Well, I know some of you might differ with me, but I don't believe that we can have it all. I don't. But here's what I do believe. I believe that we can have parts of all of it. We just have to choose which parts are most important. And that will shift over time, what's important to us, who's important to us. But we can have parts of all of it, we just have to make choices. So, I would say to this audience, decide what those choices are earlier, so that you will be doing those things in your life that are really most important, and that would really bring you fulfillment.  

Secondly,

take control of your career today, right now. If you haven't done it, start today. And what I mean by that, don't wait for someone to tell you you’re due a merit increase. Don't wait for someone to tell you it's time to be promoted.

You know when it's time. You know when you're at your best. You know what your talent is. You know how to prepare yourself. You know how to be a constant learner. You know how to have a great dose of curiosity. You know. Take control of your career. Plan where you want to be. Where do you want to go? How do you want your career trajectory to look? What do you want to learn? Who do you want to surround yourself with? Who is going to keep you challenged, keep you motivated, keep you, help you be excited about what you're doing? That's the second thing I would advise.  

Number 3, have fun. As I said earlier, we spend the majority of our waking hours working. There are too many people who retire, quit, or whatever happens with their job, or while they're actively on it, and someone says to them, “So, how is work?” and they go, “Oh, my goodness, it was just an awful day.” So, don't be that person.  

Don't sit and do something that is not motivating, stimulating, challenging, thought provoking, and fun for you.

If that's not what you're doing, right now as you hear my voice, then call your boss up, think about something else you would want to do in that organization that would be more fulfilling, and start working towards that.  

And then finally, and I will say this, and this is just for the women in the group, but it's applicable for the men as well, but

keep your girlfriends close and make time for them today.  

Because they're the ones that we sometimes abuse as we are growing in our career, we kind of make time for them as we can. Make time for them now. When you get to be my age, you'll understand why I suggested this to you today. So, I hope you will remember it.

Important Career Lessons to Keep in Mind

Bill Ravenscroft: I've never heard that part on the end. So, alright, I know we're running out of time. I could actually go another hour, but I can't. My question, my follow up question to that really is, work-life balance, I couldn't agree more. You don't get everything you want in life if you aren't willing to work for everything you want in life. And so, that means pouring yourself into whatever ambition it is that you have. If you want to be a painter, if you want to be the best leader, doesn't matter, if you want to be the best parent, you really do have to pour yourself into that moment and work hard towards your goals. But when you talk about work-life balance and you talk about the consequences of early sacrifice and late reward, is there anything else that you would look back at that and say, “I would do more of this or less of that?”

Loretta Penn: Well, I guess the one thing, Bill, that I can put it in is that

you can't hug a financial statement.

Bill Ravenscroft: No matter how good it looks, you can't hug it.

Loretta Penn: No matter how good it looks. And the one thing for sure that won’t happen is that it can't hug you back.

And so, when I think about I've been blessed, I've had a great career and a great personal life. But is there's anything that I would change over time, or if there any memories that stay with me if I can have a do over, not one of them is about my professional life.

Finding Inspiration as a Female Leader

Bill Ravenscroft: That's fantastic. So, if anyone has any questions in the audience that you guys want to ask Loretta, please put it in the chat box. I've got 1 more question for you, but seems like someone would love for you to host a podcast. Where do you find creativity or inspiration for what you do today? I mean, I think we all have to have it. We all have to have someplace we go get our batteries recharged on a regular basis.  

Loretta Penn: We do. Well, I put my inspiration into 3 F's, as I call it. My faith, my family, and my friends. They give me such joy and energy and a desire to be my best self, and not to disappoint, and to and to share, and to learn from. They give me all of those things. So, it’s really very simple for me where I get my inspiration, faith, family, and friends.  

My creativity, I'm not even sure I have any. Really, I mean it. If we put it in its purest forms, I can't draw anything. I have no arts, artistry type skills. I can’t put pretty little things together. I would tell my mother all the time, she just sucked it all out of me because she did all of those things. But so since I don't think I have a lot of creativity, I do 2 things. I go purchase it if I need to do something for my business. But what I really do in a very serious basis is I try to surround myself with people who do.  

And so, I'm very lucky that I have a wonderful network of individuals who I can learn from in my client base, I learned from them. People who challenged my thinking, associates, people in my network. And I call on them.  

I am not ashamed. I am not at all, at all, at all ashamed to admit that I don't know something, I don't have something, I can't think of something, I wouldn't know how to do something. I am not at all embarrassed to do that. And I will call on those people who do. That's how I do it.

Importance of Creating Relationships & Connections

Bill Ravenscroft: Well, I remember you being one of the very first calls. When I joined Advantis, I was like, well, I pick up the phone I called you and I said, “I have no idea how I'm going to start up this Government Solutions business. Do you have any advice?” And instantly, you put I'm in touch with someone in your network that could help. And it's having those type of relationships and surrounding yourself with people, taking care of them over the years too, right?

Loretta Penn: Yes.

Bill Ravenscroft: And never just going dark, and just along the way, making sure you share your wisdom and knowledge whenever they need it, or proactively offering.

Loretta Penn: Yes.

Giving Back in Relationships

Bill Ravenscroft: But you were there for me, as usual. As soon as I called, you picked up the phone, and you went to work and put me in touch with someone. And I appreciate that more than you know.

Loretta Penn: Well, you are most welcome. I will always do that for you. And one of the things that you said that is so important,

when we make these asks of other people, to give their time to us, make sure we have something to give back, that we have something that we want to share with them. So, that they will know it's not a 1-way street.  

And we're not just here to take and take and take and take, that we want to share too. And whether that's your knowledge, whether that's resources, whether that's time, whatever it is, there's always something that you can give back.

Conclusion

Bill Ravenscroft: I appreciate you sharing with us today. And what you've shared with us today has been recorded. So, I know that they can listen to this again, because you shared so many pearls with us today and pieces of advice that I know that they're going to use throughout their career, whether they realize it right now or not, they certainly will. And I'm so happy that I was able to share our relationship with the rest of the Advantis family. And so, thank you so much for being our guest today. And I look forward to another conversation in the near future.

Loretta Penn: Well, Bill, I thank you. And again, to everyone in the audience, thank you so much. Thank you for spending time with me today. It was an honor and a privilege. Thanks, Bill.

Bill Ravenscroft: Alright. Thank you so much. Goodbye, everyone.

Loretta Penn: Bye, everybody.  

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Graphic for Fireside Chat with Female Leader, Loretta A. Penn.
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