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How She Got There: Pam Wickham’s Path to Becoming Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Communications at Raytheon

Pam WickhamAs you might guess about someone who says to use the shortened version of her name even in a published profile, Pam Wickham is as down-to-earth as people come.

It’s probably no surprise, then, that she’s a native of western Massachusetts. Or that she has a pragmatic approach to life, balancing her passion for work with her desire to spend time with her family and friends.

Two traits have held Wickham in good stead: the strength of character to keep her priorities straight and the courage to take risks. Follow her path to VP of corporate affairs and communications at Raytheon in the latest installment of our series profiling the careers of our board members.

Initial Dream Job

“Growing up, I was obsessed with Jane Pauley on the Today Show, and I wanted to be a journalist. At the University of Oklahoma, I worked on the student paper and studied journalism, though I took a lot more literature classes and ended up graduating with a degree in English.”

First Step in a Different Direction

“My first job out of college was actually as a substitute teacher. It was a tight job market, and I had moved back home. My former principal called—he had an ongoing substitute spot for an eighth grade English teacher. I jumped on it.”

Next Move in Another Direction

“I loved teaching, but I ended up getting a call-back from a public relations agency in New York City. They had an opening for a secretary—and while it wasn’t journalism, it did pay a third more than teaching, so I left home to learn about PR. Of course, my fast typing skills didn’t hurt!”

Newfound Career Track

“I learned everything I could about PR by reading the client memos and monthly reports I was typing. In four years, I went from a secretary to an assistant account executive to account supervisor. I loved the work, but didn’t have much of a social life. I missed my friends and family.”

Two More Detours

“I decided to leave NYC and moved back to the Berkshires, where I worked (again!) as a secretary for a paper manufacturer, and then moved to Colorado. I didn’t stay long, but I have no regrets. If you have a hankering for something, and you are able to chase it, I say, do it. At that time, I didn’t own a home or even a plant—I was ready to explore and take some chances.”

Kismet at Last

“As luck would have it, I was home for my sister’s wedding and there was a help wanted ad in the paper for a PR manager for R.T. Blass, a small boutique agency in upstate New York. When I got the job, everything finally came together: I loved what I was doing and where I lived, and I was with my family and friends.” 

More Kismet

Then one of my clients, GE, wanted me to work on-site and eventually hired me directly. While I didn’t recognize it at the time, this was the fuel that made my career take off. The job was challenging, but I loved every second of my work, and the more I did, the more I wanted to do…10 years and 6 promotions later I still found the work and the people both thrilling and motivating. The experience taught me that if you clearly love what you are doing, opportunities will come your way. Managers want top talent on their teams, and top talent tends to be passionate about their work.”

Side Trip to Silicon Valley  

“When Hewlett Packard recruited me to be their vice president of global communications, I saw it as an opportunity to stretch into an industry that was on the cusp of tremendous growth and transformation. I was excited about working in the tech sector and followed my curiosity again, but this time it didn’t work out. The culture there wasn’t a good fit, and the company was in turmoil. I had made a mistake. But I believe in making course corrections as fast as you can, and three months after moving to Palo Alto, I was back in Massachusetts.”

Her Current Role

“I’ve been a VP at Raytheon for 12 years now. It was an immediate fit—a tech company driven by innovation, collaboration and passionate people. All the pieces fell into place for me here, where I am engaged in the areas that drive me professionally—marketing, public relations, corporate responsibility, employee and executive communications, digital/social. I thrive on leading a team of highly-motivated individuals who are always reaching to push the boundaries of effective communications. Personally, it has been a dream job. We do important work every day to make the world a safer place and I have the privilege to collaborate with some of the smartest people on earth. All of that is combined in a job close to friends and family, which creates strong balance and energy.”

Final Advice

“I’m a big believer in the idea that things happen for a reason. Passion is key. You should do what you love and love what you do, because only when you look forward to the work and it energizes you to reach new heights can you thrive and achieve professional success and happiness.”

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