Name: Perry Williams
Hometown: Madison, MS
Current Title: Under Armour, Chief of Staff to Chief Innovation Officer
Industry: Retail/Sporting Goods
Education: BS, Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech & MBA from University of Michigan
What is the most important professional lesson you've learned to date?
Use your mistakes as an opportunity for learning and growth instead of letting them frustrate or discourage you from pushing ahead.
What has been your biggest professional failure to date and what have you learned from that experience?
At times, I’ve found it hard to know if I’m making the right career choices and moves, and, at one time, I found myself in a job and role that I knew wasn’t a good fit for me because of that. When I took the job, I was finishing grad school, and the company had given me a competitive offer that, at the time, was more appealing to me than continuing to search for the opportunity I knew I wanted but wasn’t sure I would find. I ultimately ended up parting ways with the company a few months into my tenure there.
From this experience I learned to be patient and fully weigh and understand each choice that I make in my career journey. That patience has helped me learn to distinguish between the right opportunity and the right now opportunity. Whether it’s a promotion or a new job, it’s important to weed out the right now opportunities that may be good in the short term but not necessarily good for your long-term career growth. There’s no crystal ball that will tell you the final answer, but sometimes a little patience and reflection make the distinction a lot clearer.
What issues have you dealt with being a woman/person of color in corporate America and how have you overcome these challenges?
It’s easy to feel like an outsider as a person of color in corporate America as you often find yourself in situations where most people don’t look like you or may not come from a similar background or experience as you. I’ve learned to embrace those differences instead of running from them. It’s easy to want to “fit in”, but I’ve learned that not fitting in is exactly what makes me an asset to my company and makes me good at my job. This has allowed me to be confident in that fact that I provide a different perspective and opinion that I can use to my advantage.
What resources, professional or personal, have you leveraged to ensure your career is progressing?
In graduate school, I became part of the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management and have used the Consortium’s network and resources not only to find opportunities but to get advice and coaching. I’ve also found the ERG’s (employee resource groups) at my company to be great resources.
Do you have mentor? If so, how did you select this person or people?
Yes, I do. Finding my mentor was actually a pretty organic process for me. I really appreciated the wisdom and courage that my mentor showed in my interactions with him, and I found myself frequently going to him for advice. These quests for advice soon matured into an informal mentor/mentee relationship.
What advice would you give a young adult who is about to start their first job post college?
Take the time to really understand your goals and aspirations. A good first step is talking to professionals in your networks, and I’ve found it especially helpful to talk to those in and out of areas that I’m initially interested in. The next step is to be patient and wait for the right opportunity and to trust your instincts and know that the right opportunity is out there somewhere even if it may take a while to find.