After transitioning from the public sector to academia to banking, Heather Campion, chief administrative officer of Northeast Bank and ableBanking and board member, Massachusetts Conference for Women, learned valuable lessons about building on past experiences and networks to help her be a successful leader. We recently asked her a few questions about her career; scroll down to listen to the full interview.
Q: How did you transition from a career in politics to one in banking?
A: “My career in politics began first on Capitol Hill, working for Tip O’Neill when he was speaker, which was a tremendous experience. I then moved over to the White House and worked in what was then called the Office of Public Liaison. Our job was to reach out to various constituencies on behalf of the President’s agenda. When President Carter lost, I moved back to Boston and went to work at the Kennedy School of Government doing outreach and public relations and public liaison. So I was always in a career where I was reaching out with the public sector, the private sector, nonprofits, academia, etc.
After a couple decades, I moved into banking. Many banks hire people who are active in the community, because of the regulatory obligation called CRA [Community Reinvestment Act], to get out in communities that they serve and to do media relations and communications. Communications is something that really every industry needs and that was my experience.”
Q: What was a defining professional moment for you, and why was it important?
A: “Going from the public sector to academia into a bank – I was 40 years old at the time – was a huge, huge transition. All the ideas I had about how to succeed changed dramatically. The private sector is organized so very differently from the public sector, and it’s particularly different for women. I had naively sort of jumped into the management team of this very fast growing bank thinking ‘Well, I came from academia where there were a lot of men in charge, I can certainly do it in the private sector.’ But it’s much more hierarchical, the private sector. People don’t move up the ladder so quickly. I think men engage with women very differently on a professional basis in the private sector than they do in the public sector. There are many more women in the public sector and even in academia. So that was a huge transition.
The reason I mention it as a defining moment is because one of my big pieces of advice to all women is to continue to evolve and transition your career. If you stay too long in a place, you’ll get stale. There’s an art to knowing when to leave and how to go to the next step, but I think it’s very important to be able to pivot at key moments in your career.”
Q: What are your top tips for a woman who is ready to make her next career move?
“Certainly don’t burn any bridges, because every experience should build positively upon another. I have found, through all the different jobs that I’ve had, that staying in touch and keeping those relationships going has accrued to my benefit in every new job. You bring your history, your relationships, your experiences with you, so don’t burn any bridges.
And the second is, communication is key. You need to be sure that your colleagues and your supervisors understand what you’re doing – you could be working day and night – but unless they understand what you’re doing, you’re not going to be perceived as being hugely valuable. So work very hard and work very hard at communicating what you’re doing in a way that they understand your value.”
Q: What is the one thing you make time for in your daily life that helps keep you going?
“You know, this wasn’t the case earlier in my life but it is now, and that’s exercise. Because if I don’t exercise, I don’t have any energy. It sounds sort of counterintuitive, but that’s really true. And the other thing that I think is really important is taking time to think. I think women juggle so many things that they just go from doing one job to the next, all day and all night. And I try and get in the car and turn off the radio and just think.
I had a lot of women senior vice presidents working for me at one point and I noticed how different they managed than their male counterparts. I once said to a vice chairman of the bank, ‘You know, all of these women are working so hard and they don’t take any time off, they’re running around.’ And he said something I’ll never forget, which was, ‘You know it’s true, if you don’t take time, if you’re too busy doing all the time, you don’t have time to think. And if you can’t think, you can’t lead.’ I think that’s a really profound statement, because women spend a lot of time trying to convince everyone that they’re working so hard and yet they often miss the point that they have to hold back a little bit and be strategic and lead.”
Interview by Karen Breslau