“Be generous with your time to help other people; Give of your time and expertise” Leadership Lessons With Julie Tomich, SVP at American Express
Be generous with your time to help other people: Give of your time and expertise; pay it forward. Mentor others and be engaged to help other people be successful. People have helped me get to where I am and it is my responsibility to pay it forward. Plus, I get more from these interactions that I give, 10x over.
I had the pleasure to interview Julie Tomich. Julie is a Senior Vice President and General Manager in the Global Commercial Services organization at American Express. Global Commercial Services is devoted to serving small, mid-size, large and global companies around the world. As the SVP/GM of the US Client Group, Julie is responsible for phone-based commercial acquisition and account development for US small and mid-size businesses. She joined American Express in 2007 and has worked in four AMEX business units — Business Travel, Global Business Services, World Service and Global Commercial Services in a variety of leadership positions in consulting, sales, account development, business transformation, re-engineering and servicing. Prior to AMEX, Julie worked for 10-years at Intel Corporation in operations, human resources, and supply chain management. Julie currently sits on the Board of Directors for Fresh Start Women’s Foundation in Phoenix, a nonprofit organization that provides education, resources and support for women to positively transform their lives and strengthen their financial self-sufficiency. In addition, Julie is a member of the Board of Advisors at the Arizona State University W.P. Carey School of Business, Center for Services Leadership (CSL). ASU CSL is a research center focused on expanding service innovation by combining the latest scientific insights from academia with the best of service strategy in business. She earned her MBA from Thunderbird School of Global Management and a Bachelor of Arts in Public Relations and Communications from Carroll College in Montana.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My career has not been a straight line path up the corporate ladder. It has been a culmination of taking risks to learn new functions and skills, geographic locations and curiosity to learn new things. I started my career in customer service working directly with customers in the travel business. I had the opportunity to progress into supervisory positions in operations and human resources that were all developing critical skills in leading people, managing performance and driving results. I had a curiosity to build broad experience across functional areas, and each year would reflect on my development and what skills/experiences I wanted to gain and seek opportunities in those areas. That started with moving mostly laterally around the companies I worked in to gain experience in operations, human resources, procurement, consulting, sales and client management. I feel very lucky that my current role at American Express brings all of those experiences together because I lead a large organization of sales and account development colleagues in a mostly phone based environment so I get to put those operations, HR and sales skills to work every day with the added benefit of helping businesses gain access to solutions for their working capital needs.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Early in my career I learned a valuable lesson about the importance of focusing on the things you can control and how you can’t always control the things that happen to you, but you can control how you respond. I had a final in-person interview for a job at a new company. I arrived an hour early to avoid any traffic or parking issues and ensure I was not rushed or stressed before arriving. I found a restaurant about a block from the office where I could do some final interview preparations and have a cup of coffee. My plan worked perfectly until five minutes before my departure to the interview when a waitress walking by my table accidentally dropped a ketchup bottle that broke and splattered ketchup onto my skirt. With only fifteen minutes to my interview I had no time to find a change of clothes and I quickly evaluated the impact of canceling, rescheduling or just going forward with the interview. I decided to clean up the stains the best I could in the restaurant restroom and not let the incident shake my confidence or composure. I figured I could use the story as a funny icebreaker with my new interviewer or just hope they didn’t notice. It turns out they didn’t notice and the interview went great and I received an offer. My key learning was to continue to arrive early for every interview, but now I just sit in my car. I also took away from that experience that preparation and confidence go a long way, no matter what the obstacle.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I’ve been with American Express for 11 years, and one of the main unique attributes of Amex that I recognized early in my tenure and is still true today is that the colleagues at Amex have a deep commitment to our customers, our brand, and our service legacy. There is deep pride in working for Amex and upholding those principles of service, security and integrity. I see that in the long tenure of colleagues who have committed their careers to the company, and especially colleagues in our servicing, sales and account development functions who interact with customers every day — their energy and passion is unsurpassed. Whenever I need a boost of energy or inspiration, I can simply walk around our office and hear the interactions the team members are having with business owners, learning about their business and how we can partner with them to provide solutions to help their businesses thrive and make a difference in our communities and the economy overall. Each October we hold a company-wide Customer Service Week, where we host celebrations across our service centers in the US and abroad, recognize our frontline colleagues, and highlight their outstanding service across the company. This is one of my favorite occasions across the company and an amazing opportunity to share stories among colleagues who have received compliments and thank yous from customers for their above-and-beyond service.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
As a company, we are constantly exploring new opportunities and products in the lending space to better meet the evolving needs of our existing small and mid-size business customers. We have developed a range of supplier payment and business financing solutions such as purchasing cards, buyer initiated payments, virtual payments, cross border payments and short term business financing, and these are creating new opportunities for growth. Our objective is to become the working capital partner for small and mid-sized businesses, providing access to capital to help their business thrive.
Additionally, last month we released our annual State of Women-Owned Businesses Report which revealed the number of women-owned businesses increased by nearly 3000% since 1972. It’s something we have invested in for eight years now and really amplifies our commitment as a company to female entrepreneurs. We are committed to showcasing their growth and contributions to the overall economy and their local communities.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive? What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
In my opinion, the best way to manage a large team of colleagues is to create a strong and diverse leadership team. The front line leaders are the stewards of the strategy and brand, and they have an exponential impact on the people in the organization and our customers. Hiring strong talent at the leadership level sets the tone for hiring great talent at all levels. It’s important to create an environment where leaders can spend time with their people, that they understand the strategy and can live and breathe it for their teams, and that they operate with the integrity, compassion and passion for the business. Communication is critically important, both formal and informal, and especially taking the time to meet and get to know people one-on-one. It’s important to engage, communicate and create connections with people at every level of the organization to build trust and ensure you have a relationship where people will be honest with you about challenges or blind spots that you or the organization need to fix. Remember that every large organization is comprised of individual people who bring their talents, hopes and aspirations to work and it is the job of a leader to remove obstacles and help them achieve success. It’s also important to create a management system and business routines to ensure you manage your time effectively. This requires organization and planning around one-on-one meetings, employee forums, staff meetings, informal gatherings and business updates. Plan ahead and manage your calendar so you can make time for balanced approach to leading results and people.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There have been so many individuals that I am grateful to for inspiring me to develop and grow along my career path in every stage of my development. I am grateful to all of them, but in particular, Susan Chapman Hughes at American Express has taught me the importance of personal resilience. A few years ago I experienced a setback at work that in my mind was seeming catastrophic at the time. I reached out to Susan as one of my mentors for advice and she provided an incredible combination of kindness and a healthy dose of reality. She said it’s a setback, we all have them. There will more and there will be other opportunities, your career is a long game. Give yourself a 24 hour deadline to feel sorry for yourself and rehash all the learnings, but then move forward with the belief that better things are ahead and this experience will make you a better leader and more resilient person. This one thing does not define you. It was just the perspective I needed at the time, and this is advice that I share with many people I mentor who are disappointed in a job they didn’t get, or a project that went to someone else, or a disappointing performance rating.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
My role at Amex provides an excellent opportunity for me to get involved and give back to my community. American Express very much recognizes that every one of our colleagues is a powerful ambassador of good citizenship, and offers a range of opportunities to participate in organized community service activities and increase our impact as individual donors and volunteers. I am currently serving as a board member for Fresh Start Women’s Resource Center in Phoenix, Arizona. Every woman deserves a bright, happy and safe future where she and her children can thrive. Fresh Start Women’s Foundation provides women with education, resources and support to positively transform their lives. The organization is helping women to create stronger communities and families. I am also the executive sponsor for the Phoenix Women’s Interest Group at American Express, where we have nearly 1,200 members and focus on fostering a community for diversity, development and community service.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
o Never stop learning: Cultivate curiosity and continue to read, listen to podcasts and TED Talks, take classes, look for opportunities to gain knowledge and expertise. The world and business is changing at an incredible pace and to stay competitive you need to continuously develop your skills and knowledge.
o Get comfortable being uncomfortable: Complacency is the enemy of innovation. Proactively put yourself in situations that make you uncomfortable to push yourself to develop in new areas, whether that is doing something you fear or taking a new job in an area where you have limited experience or expertise.
o Be generous with your time to help other people: Give of your time and expertise; pay it forward. Mentor others and be engaged to help other people be successful. People have helped me get to where I am and it is my responsibility to pay it forward. Plus, I get more from these interactions that I give, 10x over.
o Culture eats Strategy for lunch — Peter Drucker: Creating an environment where people want to work and can thrive is as important (if not more so) than the fancy three year strategy PowerPoint you develop. Invest in talent, attract and retain the best people and work to create team chemistry that drives innovation, commitment and followership because this is where strategy gets executed.
o Define reality and give hope — Ken Chenault: Ken was an incredibly inspiring leader and this leadership lesson demonstrates that leadership is a privilege and our job is to define reality so that those around us understand the facts and the circumstances, while always providing hope and the optimism of looking ahead and focusing on something we can be inspired to achieve.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Don’t let success go to your head nor failure go to your heart.” I love this quote because it means staying grounded and humble. You will have successes and failures in your career and in the spirit of a growth mindset, when you stretch and try new things or try to innovate, setbacks and failures are imminent. Failure is an important part of learning, growing and innovating so take informed risks, reflect and learn from failure and success, but don’t let failure destroy your confidence or success make you complacent.