Joan Amble

May 24, 2010

Joan Amble, American Express' executive vice-president and corporate comptroller and self-described "recovering workaholic" believes that it's the "little details" that count when individuals attempt to set themselves apart in their careers as well as the entirety of their lives. Her message was delivered before a standing room only crowd as part of UCLA Anderson's "Distinguished Speaker Series."

After an introduction by Dean Judy Olian, whose relationship with Amble dates back to Olian's days as an administrator at Penn State's Smeal College of Business where she helped recruit Amble to that institution's Board of Visitors, the AmEx executive opened her remarks with a reference to John Wooden, noting that one could not come to UCLA to speak about leadership without referencing the legendary coach. Amble recounted the tale of Wooden beginning each season with a lesson on how to put on one's socks and lace and tie their shoes, the micro-reason to prevent blisters and injury, the macro-reason to emphasize the importance of detail.

In the past, Amble said, excellence and execution were the difference makers in an individual's career. But in an environment where what used to be a differentiation is "now the common denominator" there are three specific areas where attention to detail helps to set one apart. According to Amble, they are flexibility, an understanding of relationships and the creation of one's personal board of directors.

"It's no longer a jungle out there," Amble said. "It's a jungle gym and you must be able to bend but not break. You must be flexible." For Amble, career flexibility includes the understanding that every step on one's professional path is not necessarily to the next highest rung. "Careers," she said, "move up, down and sideways" and the ability to adapt to a given situation and a willingness to take on tasks both beneath you and above you is important.

Amble's flexibility also references work-life balance, which is a corporate belief at American Express. She indicated a strong belief that managers find flexible ways to allow their employees to find their own work-life balance, while at the same time managers must have the confidence to approach their own bosses when necessary in order to find their own work-life equilibrium.

As for relationships, Amble considers them invaluable. Recalling her own early days at American Express, where each meeting seemingly concluded with a new list of twenty people she "should have coffee with," Amble encouraged the gathered students to "walk down the hall to people's offices and take the time to build relationships.

"Work is a team sport," Amble said. "You need to collaborate, not compete."

The idea of creating a personal board of directors is rooted in the realization that individuals are not necessarily objective when it comes to career (or personal) decisions. A personal board of directors, Amble said "is able to offer constructive advice, tough love (when necessary) and a boost of confidence (when needed). One's personal board of directors should change over time and that everyone should ask themselves who they trust when forming this key cluster of advisors.

Amble then turned to the notion of integrity, which she said had become a buzzword in the business world. "Know who you are and what you want," she said. "But never compromise the first to get the second."

After her talk, Amble participated in a brief questions and answer period with the students. At the end, Olian and Amble jointly announced that as a result of their efforts, American Express Corporation would commence recruiting at UCLA Anderson. "We're very excited to add Anderson to the group of top business schools we recruit," Amble said.

About UCLA Anderson School of Management
UCLA Anderson School of Management, established in 1935, is regarded among the leading business schools in the world. UCLA Anderson faculty members are renowned for their teaching excellence and research in advancing management thinking. Each year, UCLA Anderson provides management education to more than 1,800 students enrolled in MBA, Fully-Employed MBA, Executive MBA, UCLA-NUS Global Executive MBA, Master of Financial Engineering, and doctoral programs, and to more than 2,000 professional managers through executive education programs. Combining highly selective admissions, varied and innovative learning programs, and a world-wide network of 36,000 alumni, UCLA Anderson develops and prepares global leaders.

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