Name: Jeffrey Gaither
Hometown: Rialto, California
Current Title: Real Estate Manager at Starbucks
Industry: Real Estate & Retail/Consumer
Professional Experience: 2 years at Starbucks; 5 years at Morley Builders
Education: B.S., Civil Engineering at University of Southern California and MBA at the Stephen. M. Ross School of Business, University of Michigan
What is the most important professional lesson you've learned to date?
Your professional relationships and reputation are just as important as your knowledge and the excellence of your work.
What has been your biggest professional failure to date and what have you learned from that experience?
I’ve been fortunate throughout my career that I have not yet encountered any major setback that I wasn’t able to bounce back from. There was a time during my first job out of undergrad where I was working diligently to draft a contract for one of our vendors when I hit a figurative wall and was not able to proceed because I was missing information regarding the vendor’s scope of work. I was blind to it at the time, but I now know that my pride would not allow me to ask any of my teammates for help because I was so focused on working independently and not looking like I needed help from others. I ended up coming to my manager the day the contract was due and confessing that I had only 80% of it completed at the time. My manager gave me a quick lesson that day—all I needed to do was ask for help. There is no shame in asking for help, especially when you are on a team working toward a common goal. With some simple direction from a fellow colleague, I was able to wrap up the contract, albeit a day late. I’m thankful I learned this lesson early in my career.
What issues have you dealt with being a erson o color in corporate America? How have you overcome these challenges?
During my time in corporate America, I have consistently been the only person of color in most environments (teams, office, etc.), with only a couple brief exceptions. White men are the typical majority in the real estate, architecture, engineering, and construction industries. My undergraduate classes and summer internships initially prepared me to be comfortable in professional spaces where I am the “only one”, so there wasn’t any culture shock when I started my first full-time job upon graduation.
I’m sure there have been times when new colleagues may have underestimated my professional abilities when meeting me for the first time and knowing nothing of my background, but those initial perceptions from others have never shaken me. When you regularly exude professional confidence and can showcase your knowledge through the excellence in your work, your reputation will overshadow the negative biases some colleagues might have of you as a young person of color. My advice is to “own it” and use the fact that you visually stand out to your advantage whenever possible.
What resources, professional or personal, have you leveraged to ensure your career is progressing?
I think I have a balanced approach to assessing my career progression. I lean on the advice of family, friends, colleagues, and mentors whenever considering a major career move. I believe it’s important to have diverse perspectives from people who know me well when evaluating where I am versus where I hope to be.
I am also a member of different industry organizations, which allow me to connect with professionals from an array of companies and backgrounds. These organizations host conferences, networking events, and professional development seminars that keep me in-the-know about what’s happening in the real estate industry and how to make sure my career is on track with trends in the market.
Do you have mentor? If so, how did you select this person or people?
I am fortunate to have a few different mentors. All those relationships were grown organically through work (senior leaders I currently report to or have reported to in the past) and/or through my involvement with professional affinity groups at the office or in the industry.
It is important to be proactive throughout you career in asking for candid feedback from leaders you admire, who can help guide you on your path to success. My mentors provide advice for both my professional and personal development. My work mentors have also been champions for me during performance evaluation discussions with senior leadership. Their advocacy has consistently opened new doors and professional opportunities for me.
What advice would you give a young adult who is about to start their first job post college
Welcome to the infancy of adulthood! It is easy to get stressed thinking you need to start planning out the rest of your professional life—don’t. Just take this time to focus on the new role you’re taking on and learn as much as you possibly can. Be present. Be professional. Be proactive. Get involved. Ask questions. Start building relationships. Be open-minded. And, most important, be unapologetically you! With time and experience, you will gain a better understanding of what you want out of your career and life in general. As you gain more work experience, take time at least once a year or so to reflect on your recent growth and how your current path aligns with your short-term and longer-term goals.