Name: Watchen Nyanue
Hometown: Chicago, IL
Current Title: Vice President, Marketing Partnerships, Chicago Sky
Professional Experience: Chicago Sky, Entrepreneur, Unite 4:Good, Johnson Publishing, Dedicated Media, Yahoo, Hearst Digital Media, and Comedy Central
Education: DePauw University, The University of Chicago Booth School of Business
What is the most important professional lesson you've learned to date?
It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you — like really knows you. I think people pride themselves on having large networks. But I have found that professionally, it’s more important to have deep networks with substantive relationships.
What has been your biggest professional failure to date and what have you learned from that experience?
Man, I have had so many! There was a time I had been working in marketing for a fairly large Web service provider for a while, and I felt like I had been doing my job long enough and could “do it in my sleep.” That’s a dangerous attitude to have when you manage the #1 revenue generating account for the company in all of North America. Because of what I now know to be a kind of arrogance, I stopped paying as much attention to the details as I had been when I first started the position. On the execution of a deal during this time, I realized that I had overlooked something that could have potentially caused the company tens of millions of dollars — in a single transaction. Fortunately, I had an amazing manager who was quickly able to help me problem solve. But from that moment forward, senior leadership began to have little moments of pause regarding things they would not have otherwise questioned my ability to handle. Fortunately, I was able to redeem myself over time, but man, I still get sick thinking about it seven years later.
What issues have you dealt with being a woman o color in corporate America and how have you overcome these challenges?
Well, my high school and college experiences prepared me to be the only person of color in mostly white spaces, which is where we often find ourselves as people of color in corporate America. In undergrad, I think out of 2,200 students there were something like 100 students of color on the entire campus. One of the things that has surprised me is the way I communicate is a little different than what people in corporate America expect from a woman. I am pretty direct and don’t use a lot of fluffy language, because I want to make sure that I am clear in my communication and expectations. My communication style, when it comes to business, is what is expected from male leaders but not so much from women. It’s weird to me because it’s the way most of women in my life communicate. I just don’t think corporate America has gotten that memo.
Also, I am ALWAYS on the struggle bus when trying to decide what to do with my hair. While it is changing, I think there is still a certain “acceptable style” for Black, female corporate executives. Bozoma Saint John at Uber is starting to change that, thank God, but if you look up some of the most successful/visible Black, female executives in corporate America, you will see that they either have the pixie short haircut, you know which one I’m talking about, or a blowout. There really isn’t much in between. Don’t believe me? Just Google “Black female executives,” and see what you find.
What resources, professional or personal, have you leveraged to ensure your career is progressing?
I have really great mentors/sponsors of whom I am never afraid to ask questions. I am a naturally curious person and tend to ask more and more questions until I understand. I’m sure it can be annoying to some people, but I don’t see that changing any time soon. I also read all the time. I had to stop buying books and go back to checking out books from the library because I was spending all of my money on books. Lastly, I am part of an accountability group of peers and that has helped a lot.
Do you have mentor? If so, how did you select this person or people?
I have three mentors whom I go to for very different things. I feel fortunate that they not only mentor me, but they also have all, at one point or another, put their political capital and names on the line to make sure that I had access to the best opportunities and was in spaces where my mind could be expanded to consider new possibilities. Honestly, I didn’t select them, they selected me. I met all of them while I was working or volunteering for an organization, and as we got to know each other the relationships naturally developed. I think it’s really weird to ask someone that you don’t really know to mentor you. The really successful mentor relationships that I have seen are ones that develop organically as opposed to out of a sense of obligation.
What advice would you give a young adult who is about to start their first job post college?
Four things key things come to mind fight away.
Do really good work. You can’t ask for, or expect, more if you have not proven that you are capable of doing the basics extremely well.
Focus on building both vertical and horizontal relationships. As you journey through your career, you’ll need to have access to people who are both your peers and people who are more senior.
Nothing is permanent so celebrate your successes and learn from your mistakes, but don’t let either stop you from moving forward.
Find a cause that you are passionate about and join its junior board. It’s a great way to expand your network outside of work and opens more doors than you could imagine.
Why did you decide to go back to graduate school and what are you hoping it will enable you to do next?
I’ve been considering getting an MBA for a while, but honestly a few years ago, I felt like I was doing it to check a box rather than for the actual value that the experience provides. I’ve switched jobs since I began entertaining the idea of business school, and my current position requires certain skills in order to be successful. Frankly, I just didn’t feel I was strong enough in these skills. So, I selected the program that is strongest in the area that I need to grow in. Looking back, I am really glad that I didn’t go to B-school any earlier because I am certain that I would have wasted the opportunity. Going into my program now, I am very strategic about the organizations that I get involved in and the classes that I take because I am really clear on the skills that I need.