Name: Ayo Cole
Hometown: Baltimore, Maryland
Current Title: Senior Finance Program Manager at Tesla
Industry: Technology/ Automotive
Professional Experience: Morgan Stanley, BB&T, and Under Armour
Education: B.S., Business Administration at Towson University and MBA at the Stern School of Business, New York University
What is the greatest professional lesson you've learned to date?
The greatest lesson I've learned in my career thus far is that things only seem difficult or impossible until you actually start to do them. You'll be surprised with what you can accomplish that you may not have had complete confidence was possible just a short time prior. I have been in meetings where I'm presenting financial information to a room full of executives which eventually led to me leading those meetings on a regular basis. I did not expect to reach that point so soon in my career. I've learned that I am capable of excelling in all areas to which I apply my focus and diligence.
What has been your greatest professional failure to date and what have you learned from that experience?
My greatest professional failure to date to be honest is the fact that I am still not operating in the industry that I want to be in (Entertainment & Media). Although I believe I am taking strategic steps regarding job function that can get me to closer to my industry goal, the lesson I am currently learning is to be patient. It will come in time.
What issues have you dealt with being a female person of color in corporate America and how have you overcome these challenges?
As a person of color in corporate America, I have had to deal with being the only one in the room on several occasions. When you're the only one in the room you often feel like you have to serve as a representation of all others at the company and even other people of color who will come after you. It can be daunting to feel like your work is being judged for criteria other than the work itself. To feel like you actually do have to work twice as hard as your white counterparts can take a mental toll. I have not overcome these challenges thus far since I still find myself the only or one of the few people of color in the room but I believe it is up to all of us to play a part in changing that narrative. To that end, I do my part to mentor younger associates at the company with the goal of helping them achieve their goals and earn their seats at the table. Additionally, I do my best to not carry the weight of societal pressures and expectations of people of color on my shoulders. When I find myself feeling pressure to be a representation of all people of color at the company or elsewhere, I quickly pivot to my belief that the greatest impact I can have in these situations is to just be the best representation of ME that I can be.
What resources, professional or personal, have you leveraged to ensure your career is progressing?
The various alumni organizations that I belong to have been invaluable in my career progression. The people I have met through my undergraduate and graduate institutions as well as MLT and the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management have all played major roles in getting me to where I am today.
Why did you decide to go back to school to pursue a graduate degree?
I was raised to believe in the power of education and its impact on your life's upside potential. Knowing that, I set a goal for myself when I was younger to earn my MBA. I thought the MBA would be a great differentiator for me and provide opportunities to advance my career beyond what an undergraduate degree alone could.
Do you have mentor? If so, how did you select this person or people?
I do not but I absolutely recognize the positive impact mentors have on your life and career. I am actively looking for mentors who align with the path I want to take in my life.
What advice would you give a young adult who is about to start their first job post college?
Think long and hard about what you enjoy doing, what you are truly curious to learn more about, and what kind of work you think will keep you engaged and reaching for more. Don't start a career because you think it will lead to a lot of money or because you've seen someone else be successful doing it. It has to truly be something you care about or else the work will feel empty leading you to search for something else. However, keep in mind that MOST people don't figure this out in their 20s or even 30s so take comfort in knowing that your career is a long and winding road. You will do many different things so have fun and don't get weighed down with fear that any choice you make will define you or your career in the long term.