The Formula for Success - Susan Chapman-Hughes

Getting selected for a role you applied for is great, however, getting a role which allows space to grow, succeed, and lead, is better. Throughout her professional journey, Susan Chapman-Hughes has undergone numerous changes that have helped her create her ‘formula for success.’ From engineering to regional planning, she’s done it all. For Susan, the secret to success all comes down to opportunities, sponsorships, and the gift of unapologetically being yourself.

Susan spoke at the Wisconsin School of Business ‘MBA Leadership Speaker Series’ on her experiences and formula for success:

“Oprah has this saying where she says being lucky is just preparation meets opportunity, so for me it was about the preparation first. The opportunity would come if I kept doing what I needed to do. So I put some feelers in the marketplace that I was interested in and a couple of opportunities came to me, then the third opportunity that came was Potbelly. The reason why it attracted me was because it was a small company that was growing rapidly. They had just gone public and were transitioning from the equity direct owners to independent directorship. I thought to myself, if you want to get into a company where you can literally be a part of the growth of the company as a director, this is the kind of place you want to be.

“I have a simple formula for success. For me, in terms of where I want to be, number one is: do they have a demonstrated track record of giving people the opportunity to do different things? That’s the first thing I ask. So, at Amex I’ve done something that almost nobody else has done candidly, which is move from a pure operations role to running a P&L, to now running digital.

“The second thing I ask is: do they have a demonstrated track record of sponsoring people who look like and are like me? You can’t progress in any corporation without sponsorship. This sentiment is especially for the ladies because I see women in my office all the time who say ‘Susan I’ve done everything, I’ve just put my head down and I’ve just worked.’ Well guess what? That’s why you don’t have a promotion. It is all about relationships and how you manage relationships. The work is table stakes, and how people perceive your ability to influence and move the needle is really what’s going to give you the opportunity to move to the next level.

“The third thing I ask is: can I be myself? I see executives in some companies who you see on a Saturday as one person, then you see them in the office and they’re a totally different person; I cannot imagine how much energy it takes for that to happen. My mother always used to say to me, ‘it’s really hard to send your representative to the table for a long period of time because eventually they’re going to find you out and they may not like you, so be yourself.’”

About Susan: Susan Chapman-Hughes is a connected leader with experience in several industries. As a growth strategist, she transforms traditional businesses into modernized digital models through driving engagement in various sectors and implementing revolutionary expansion strategies. Her interpersonal skills and relatable personality have allowed her to easily build trust and offer a people-centered approach to inclusive, empowering, and energizing leadership. She currently serves as an independent board director for Toast, Inc. and The J.M. Smucker Co.




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