Women's Network

Chicago Booth Alumni Special Interest Group


Sophia Stone, '14, came to Booth with a single post-MBA career focus: pursue a marketing career with a luxury brand. Like many others, Sophia augmented her MBA studies with Managerial and Organizational Behavior (MOB) coursework to acquire the “soft skills” for managing others. Little did she know at the time that her interests in MOB would lead to big career changes and land her the job of her dreams. We recently spoke with Sophia recently about her time at Chicago Booth and her career- see the full interview below. 

Where did you start your career after Booth? 
I joined L’Oréal’s Management Development Program, which is designed to be a fast track into management roles across the company. I started the program in a marketing role where I shadowed the president of the Lancôme brand; I was essentially his Chief of Staff. In this capacity, I worked with many marketing managers and within four months I knew - I did not want that to be my life. 

What did you do next? 
I panicked! I thought “maybe I don’t want to do marketing at L’Oréal, but I’ll want to do it elsewhere.” So I called all my Booth marketing friends and learned about what they were doing at their companies. That wasn’t it. And then I realized: I don’t want to do marketing at all, period. 

After panicking a little more, I started working through a lot of self- assessments, like the Career Leader test we took prior to starting at Booth. I thought about the courses I really enjoyed at Booth and what kind of work I would really enjoy. Luckily, as the pseudo- Chief of Staff for Lancôme’s president, I had a lot of exposure to all the business functions for that brand. Around the same time I was internally panicking, I was also sitting in on meetings to discuss L’Oréal’s employee engagement survey results and how poor engagement was hurting our bottom line. There was a lot of room for improvement in how internal operations were conducted at L’Oréal - everyone knew this, but nobody would say it out loud. One thing became very clear to me: if I was going to stay, I was going to be part of the change. 

How did you land on Talent Development and Executive Coaching as the direction to pursue?
At one of the Lancôme Management Committee meetings, we hired an executive coach as an external consultant to come and facilitate a meeting about our ways of working, and to help us think through actionable methods for improvement. As I was sitting in that meeting, it hit me like a ton of bricks: I wanted to be her. I was enthralled by her work and reached out to her to learn more. We set up a phone call where I picked her brain about her current role, how she got there, different career paths within the field...everything. It was very informative and got me very excited. The fire within me had been lit! 

I spent the next six months networking like crazy within L’Oréal - I spoke with our Brand Education teams, our Sales and Training Executives, and many others. I had multiple coffee chats a week. Finally, through determination and persistence, I found the right team and the right function. 

How did L’Oréal react to your change of heart?
Many people told me to stay where I was - that I was in a highly coveted role and on a fast track to management which I shouldn’t give up. People couldn’t fathom that I would “leave the business”! I’ve always been a strong believer and told other people: do what you are passionate about - you’ll be better at it! And this will lead to greater success than merely trudging through. 

As for the transition itself, it wasn’t easy! It took six months to find the right role and the right team, and then another six months to convince them I could do it! A stereotypical Boothie, I convinced them with data. I showed them my Career Leader self-assessments (which suggest a strong interest in Talent Development) and explained how the results are based on data and algorithms. I shared the courses I had taken as part of my MOB studies at Booth and how the Career Leader test supported my desire for a career shift.

The convincing worked! But the group I wanted to join didn’t have a permanent position open. They offered me to backfill a person on maternity leave for five months, but they couldn’t promise me a long term position after that... And they wanted to cut my pay!  I took the short-term position, and with support from the Lancôme President for whom I had been working for the past year, negotiated hard for a higher pay. They agreed, and after two months on the team, they said they had a long-term position for me.

In a nutshell, I first had to find the position, then fight for the position, and then fight for the salary! Pursuing your passion may not be easy, but it is definitely worth it.

And now? You recently organized a global TEDx Business event, internal to L’Oréal. Tell us about that. 
I was first introduced to the TEDx Business platform by an employee who had previously worked for Johnson & Johnson, where such events had been highly successful. The TEDx Business event is an amazing way to increase employee engagement. It’s a way to give employees a platform to speak about their passions and share their ideas; it’s an opportunity for them to have a voice! Considering our current internal landscape, I knew immediately that we had to do this.  

I didn’t want this to be another “top-down”, “corporate” initiative, so I formed a task force with employees across the organization - from different divisions, functions, and levels – 
and we created a case study and proposal to share with our CEO so that we could get the necessary funding to host the event. 

He said NO. 

However, there were so many other people across the organization who supported us and said “just do it!” In December 2016, I sent our CEO an email and said “we have support, so we are going to move forward.” He never responded, and we took the “no news is good news” approach and forged on. As the saying goes, “ask for forgiveness, not for permission!” 

The event was hugely successful! Employees were given a chance to share their passions - regardless of their day jobs. It was an opportunity to inspire others with those passions, and to be inspired! It was such a success that the CEO now wants to host this event once per quarter! 

Wow! That is really cool! What gave you the confidence and courage to move forward even without the CEO’s consent?!
It was the right thing to do for our employees, and when it is fundamentally the right thing to do - nothing should get in the way. Not an ingrained corporate culture, not a skeptical CEO, not lack of funding… nothing! 

How did your experiences at Booth help or prepare you to navigate this post-MBA career change?
Booth gave me the confidence (and the data) to do this. Business school was the best two years of my life; Booth taught me to think and provided me the academic skills and credentials for success. Most importantly - I gained the courage to ask for what I want and to advocate for myself. Booth gave me the confidence to know what I am worth, and to fight for it! 

L’Oréal’s culture is not known for valuing or recognizing employees very well, I have had to ask for everything. I could never have done this without my Booth experience backing me up. 

Any parting words you’d like to share with us?
I spent five years in the wrong career (pre- Booth), so I am now very conscious to not spend another five years in the wrong career or on the wrong path. Another Booth alum shared the best advice with me when I was a student: on my birth date each month, I put a reminder in my calendar to check in with myself. Each month I assess: am I happy in this role? Am I happy in my life? Am I happy with what I’m doing? It’s a journaling exercise where I put pen to paper (no typing involved). I have followed this advice since that day over three years ago, and that is how I knew I was on the wrong path where I started at L’Oréal. Professor Linda Ginzel once said in class: “we go through life and we have experience after experience, but we never stop to reflect on those experiences and how they have impacted us or changed us in any way.” That is what this exercise allows for: a dedicated moment of self-reflection, to feed a bigger picture of overall happiness and contentment. 

The biggest thing I’m proud of is being somewhere where I love the work that I do; some people go their whole lives without ever knowing, and if it weren’t for the lessons I learned and experiences I gained from the Booth community - I might have done the same. 

Now, Sophia is Director of Performance Management & Employee Engagement and currently pursuing an internationally recognized executive coaching license from the Teleos Leadership Institute. We can all probably learn a few things from Sophia and her experience! Some quick takeaways: 

1. Trust your gut. Even when the world advises you otherwise, go with your gut! Had Sophia heeded the advice of others to stay in the highly coveted fast track to marketing management, this would be an entirely different story, and probably without as happy an ending. 

2. Take risks (that your gut approves). Put yourself out there! When it is fundamentally the right thing to do for yourself (e.g. Sophia’s career change) - or for your employees (e.g., proceeding with TEDx Business w/o the CEO’s approval) - then nothing should get in the way. 

3. Self-Assess. Pay attention to the self-assessments we took at Booth (e.g., Career Leader, Hogan Personality Index, etc.). Check-in with yourself at least once a month! A few minutes of self-assessment once a month can make a huge difference to your overall quality of life. 




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