WHO SHE IS: Heather Kernahan, SVP, Eastwick Communications
SUCCESS STORY: From small-town Canada to working with global business giants in Silicon Valley
WORK SCHEDULE: Early morning, all day, late night, on an airplane, in a car – it really depends on the day
KIDS: Madison, 9, & Cameron, 5
SANITY VICE: Most anything on Bravo. 20 minutes of conversation with my husband, without the kids.
TIME-MANAGEMENT TIP: Make lunches at night to make the mornings easier
GO-TO TECH: My smart phone & WhatsApp
WORK-LIFE BALANCE? I banned the word balance from my vocabulary a few years ago. I now measure my happiness by how ambitious I’m able to be in everything I do at work and with my family. Right now, I’m feeling it’s a 6 but I intend to make it a 9-10 in 2014.
5 Questions for Heather
1. You’re married, have two children, are a global marketing leader at a communications firm, and just spent SIX years getting your MBA on the side. Wow! Congratulations… you must be exhausted?!
I turned in my final assignment about four weeks ago and still can’t believe I have my MBA after all this time. I did a lot during those six years – had my son, raised my daughter, changed jobs twice to align my career goals, keep connected to my husband and family in Canada, and travelled a lot for work and fun. The MBA took me longer than I hoped it would but I’m incredibly proud of all that has happened during those six years. In a strange way, it has left me more energized than ever.
2. How did you stay motivated?
I started my MBA at Dominican University because I wanted to expand my career options. I had been working as a senior PR lead at a technology company and wanted options to work in more strategic business areas. I knew the MBA could get me there. There were moments of pure exhilaration during my program – when I had a great professor or fantastic project. There were also moments of absolute despair when I was doing school work at 2 a.m. for the third or fourth night in a row and wondered why I was doing this to myself.
My family was a great source of support – my husband would let me cry on his shoulder and then tell me to dry my tears and get back to work. My sister reminded me that it would hang over my head my entire life if I didn’t finish what I started. I think we all need someone to give us a hug and then kick us in the ass when we’re working on really big goals.
3. You focused a good deal of the research during your program on women and work. What were some of your key findings?
I can’t read or talk enough about the issues of women and work. I’ve worked in technology my entire career and had to develop a style that could be successful in a male-dominated environment. This experience led me to developing a business plan that addresses the needs of women entrepreneurs and those climbing the corporate ladder.
Specifically, my research showed that we women are a wildly ambitious bunch with big goals, big ambitions, and little desire to limit our thinking for what’s possible. One of the outstanding takeaways of a survey I conducted on women entrepreneurship is that the respondents know they need help but don’t know where to get it. More than 80% of the respondents could clearly state the help they need to meet their business goals but not where to get that help – whether it be finding an accountant, increasing business development skills or knowing how to acquire more customers. The other area of feedback that stood out is that women entrepreneurs have difficulty accessing capital to launch or grow their business. These are just a few highlights from the research.
4. What business school skills do you think you’ll apply most in your career?
There are so many skills I learned. The best skill was the ability to build the plan to get me to my career goals. Practically, the skills I find most useful are how to lead high performance teams, finance and managing global businesses through complexity. My finance classes were the toughest for me and the ones I’ve learned the most from. With this new skill, I’m working to grow our agency’s services and expand into new cities.
5. What advice would you give to someone thinking of going back to get a degree?
Think through your goals for the degree in terms of your career 10 years from now. Make sure it will help you meet your long term career aspirations. If your goal is clear, it will be easier to remind yourself why you’re working so hard when it gets tough. I speak to a lot of women who are considering a master’s degree and sometimes there are other forms of education, training and experience you can get to meet your goals. A degree isn’t always the answer. You also need to look at the cost of the degree and how you’ll manage that with current expenses.
One more thought…
I really believe that anything is possible if you know what you want. I had an incredible role model in my mother who was the hardest working woman I know. She had two jobs and would spend nights sewing clothes for my sisters and me. She always told me that I can do anything I set my mind to, and growing up with that mindset has put me on a path that I’m charting with my family. That is pure happiness to me.