Knowing how to navigate the sometimes-choppy waters of one’s career is not a lesson that is usually taught in the classroom. Kelly (Heape) Parsons ’85, CFO of North America for Mosaic, says that while she learned many things during her years earning her accounting degree at A&M, how to manage a career was not part of the curriculum. Parsons recently visited Mays to share with students lessons she’s gleaned from a successful career.

Set a goal, then plan

It’s important to set a long-term career goal, even though that goal is likely change over time, says Parsons. Equally essential is the plan you must create for its attainment.

Mosaic CFO Kelly Parsons '85 recently visited Mays to share her experience and advice with undergraduate business students.
Mosaic CFO Kelly Parsons ’85 recently visited Mays to share her experience and advice with undergraduate business students. (view more photos)

Parsons shared that her initial goal was to be a partner at a Big 8 firm. A few years of audit work at Arthur Andersen in Houston, however, convinced her that it wasn’t her best career choice. She set a new goal: become a CFO. Her plan was to gather experience in many different areas of finance and management to bolster her skills. After working in many capacities with different companies in Australia, Canada, and the U.S., she made it to the C-suite, 15 years after she’d set her goal.

Don’t be afraid to refocus your career, she told students. If you have the opportunity to stretch your skills, put your hand up and volunteer, because that’s the best way to grow your career and discover what it is that you love.

Seize opportunities

When opportunity comes, leap and see where it will take you, says Parsons. Though daunting, in her experience it’s always been worthwhile.

Parsons left Arthur Andersen for PepsiCo in New York when she was 23 years old. With no apartment, no car, and no friends in the city, she strode off the plane with nothing but a suitcase and a job. It was scary, she admits as she’d hardly been out of Texas.

A few years later, she saw career potential in the company’s Australian office. When she expressed interest in it, her supervisors said no. Not willing to accept that answer, she landed the job when she applied directly through a contact in the Australian office.

She was nervous about such a big move, but it was easier because of her previous experience in moving to New York.

Both times, her willingness to seize on opportunity was rewarded with career enhancing experiences that helped her toward her goal of CFO.

The path may not be smooth

Sometimes achieving your career goal requires a step to the side, or even a step backward. It may make sense to take a job that seems like a regression, either in salary or responsibility. Sometimes a job lower on the ladder can be an opportunity to increase a different set of skills that can help toward your ultimate goal. This might include moving to a smaller firm or taking a pay cut for a position that promises new experience. Be open to trying it, Parsons told students.

She related an incident from her personal experience: Once, she was nearing her goal of the CFO spot, but all was not well. Her immediate supervisor was acting unethically. She reported him. When the company took no action, she left the company with her integrity intact. Her personal integrity was more important to her than a shot at the corner office.

Sacrifice: a necessary component

Making sacrifices is part of one’s career, Parsons said. Just as when she resigned for the sake of her integrity, sometimes doing what’s right is at odds with your career ambitions.

When she finally had the chance to be a CFO, it was in London, and her husband had a job he liked in Dallas. They agreed to sacrifices for her to accept the job. She commuted, returning home every few weeks over the span of two-and-a-half years.

She’ll soon step down as Mosaic’s CFO. What is Parsons new goal? She’s not sure yet. She’s examining her opportunities, so that she can approach the next phase of her career with a goal and a plan for success.