February 6, 2023

Dave Stevenson and Ann Waters Share Their Secrets to Career Success

Julie Scates

I feel incredibly fortunate to not only serve as President and Founder of J2T but also as an adjunct professor in Montana State University's Master of Science in Innovation and Management program (MSIM). I teach the program's Professional Development course, where the syllabus is full of high-caliber speakers and professionals from various industries. Among the list of speakers this semester appears Dave Stephenson – CFO of Airbnb, and Ann Waters – SVP of Oracle. 

Dave Stephenson – CFO of Airbnb: 

Dave Stephenson graduated from Montana State University in 1990, receiving a bachelor's degree in industrial and management engineering and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Iowa in 1998. He left the beauty and mountains of Montana to work the third shift at Proctor & Gamble, where he oversaw production lines, literally putting toothpaste in the tube and shampoo in the bottle. On a trip back to Bozeman, Dave generously gave his time to two speaker panels, one open to the university and public and one for the MSIM students. During his time with the students, he shared that early in one's career, the focus should not be on money and status but rather on experience and longevity and that by putting in work - the toothpaste in the tube - money will follow. 

He now serves as the Chief Financial Officer at Airbnb, and he attributes much of this achievement to his commitment to honing his skills and prioritizing longevity early in his career. Mastering a craft takes, on average, 10,000 hours; therefore, establishing job hopping as an annual habit is a surefire way to become a master of none. MSIM students were fortunate to take away several critical points from his presentation, but one, in particular, stood out. The invaluable information is not from Dave directly but rather a quote from his mother that guided his young career. Dave shared that his mom directed him shortly after graduation to "Stretch for the best quality company to learn and grow. Good things will come if you have first made the investment in yourself." This invaluable advice struck students, as many are fielding interviews, negotiating salaries, and accepting offers. The idea of first growing oneself and not basing employment decisions on salary alone coincides with our recent article on why company value integration is so important and highlights a critical point that can aim the trajectory of early professionals' careers in a positive direction.

Ann Waters – SVP of Oracle:

Ann Waters, the Senior Vice President of Oracle Corporation, generously gave her time to the MSIM students for the second year in a row and delivered a similar message as Dave's. Oracle is a significant player in the IT services and consulting industry. Oracle "helps people see data in new ways, discover insights, and unlock endless possibilities." Ann advised the cohort on when to say "yes," when to say "no," and several keys to success, followed by her personal lessons. 

When to say yes, and when to say no, according to Ann:

When to say yes

  • As often as possible and practical early on in one's professional career
  • When it will help the team, boss, company, customer, or partner
  • When it does not jeopardize others or prior commitments
  • When it furthers one's career, whether or not it is an area of interest 

When to say no

  • The sacrifice required is inappropriate
  • Illegal or unethical activities
  • You feel undermined, mistreated, or it would require working for someone you do not respect or get along with
  • An incentive compensation plan that is too risky
  • When you sincerely believe you cannot be successful 

Keys to success: Attributes that favor success 

  • Willingness to sacrifice
  • Open minded-compromise
  • Willing to try something new/uncomfortable
  • Identify solutions, not just problems
  • Leverage the strengths of the team
  • Keep learning and challenging yourself
  • Do not be a martyr or a victim
  • Do not let politics get in the way 

Ann's lessons: 

  • You cannot please everyone
  • Understand when it is time for a change
  • Prioritize and reprioritize constantly; be ready for anything
  • Seek out challenges and opportunities/more work
  • Take care of yourself; be healthy in mind, body, and soul
  • Be compassionate; everyone has their own story 

Ann oversees hundreds of employees at Oracle. When asked what she considers in the hiring process, she responded with attributes that may come as a surprise. She looks for standard qualifications, such as intelligence and judgment, capacity to learn and anticipate, strong communication skills, high energy/drive, and desire to get things done. However, some of the characteristics she looks for are less commonly identified by employers. Optimism, compassion, balance in life and ego, and a sense of humor all made the list of what Ann seeks when evaluating possible candidates to fill positions at Oracle. 

Ann expressed that being a lifelong learner is integral to success in her industry, and when asked how intelligence faired compared to other vital characteristics, Ann shared that she would rather hire someone who meets the other criteria and is willing to learn rather than someone who relies upon intelligence alone. 

This is a critical point for those early in their career. It is common for recent graduates to feel they need more specialized knowledge to apply for certain positions or to certain companies. By applying to companies sought after based on core values, prospect experiences, and status within the pertaining industry, rather than chasing a paycheck, young professionals can experience a company that grows them professionally and personally. J2T encourages early-stage professionals to apply for positions they may not have every requirement for. We encourage you to apply if 80% or more of a job description speaks to your knowledge, skills, abilities, and education.

If you find yourself in this circumstance, it is even more important to carefully craft a resume and cover letter that express each area of alignment between your background and the job description. As described by both Ann and Dave, recognizing that gaining experience and gathering skills early on in one's career is crucial, rather than focusing on pay alone. This acts as a stepping stone for discovering personal values and aligns early professionals with purpose over a paycheck.