Nicole Phillips is a natural-born organizer and planner. Those skills have served her well, as a successful Solution Executive at JDA, wife and mother of two. They have also helped her chart her course and focus on the things that have led to personal and professional growth. Her career story is one of discovery and self-awareness with lessons for all of us.
SCN: How do you describe your role, Solution Executive?
NP: We fall under the pre-sales umbrella and we’re charged with having a bigger purview of our offerings, whether it’s retail supply chain execution, or supply chain planning. We work to develop more strategic opportunities, help expand the footprint and demonstrate the benefits of a broader solution suite versus a single solution.
SCN: What does your JDA career journey look like?
NP: I started in 1999 as a consultant implementing enterprise planning. Then I moved into more of a product management role. I left in 2014 and went to Oracle. I really needed a change and to see life outside of JDA. I came back after a year when Slimane Allab (SVP, Global Solutions, Pre-Sales and Offer Management), reached out to me with an opportunity to take on a new Solution Principal (now Executive) role. I was a bit of a lone ranger for a while as he built out the team.
SCN: Did anything about you change between your first time at JDA and when you returned?
NP: I think when I left, one of the changes I was going through was just taking myself more seriously. It prompted me to more seriously consider what I wanted to do. When I left there wasn’t a very clear direction of where I could out go outside of pre-sales. The tenure in Presales at JDA is long and I didn’t see an opportunity to really change and grow. Leaving gave me the opportunity to identify what it is that I wanted to do.
SCN: For you to clearly chart your path you needed to make a change.
NP: Absolutely, yes. And Slimane had a bigger vision of what the Solution Executive role is and can be. It’s in cultivating people to be more holistic in our messaging and how we present that to customers. It is one of our big differentiators. We needed people who can support that kind of message.
SCN: Where did you go to school?
NP: I went to the University of Wisconsin in Madison. I interned for Neiman Marcus in the summer when I was in college and after graduation I moved to Dallas and was a buyer and a planner for them. I got promoted quickly; it was one of those situations where I always aspired to be a buyer and then I got it and thought, oh, this is it? There are a lot of long-tenured people at Neiman’s and when I left they asked, “but where else are you going to go?” I look back now and recognize that I really had more foresight than I gave myself credit for – to realize that I did want more, and that’s when I joined JDA as a consultant.
SCN: Do you travel a lot in your role?
NP: I feel like all the action happens in front of the customer; it keeps you sharp and in tune with what’s going on. I really enjoy being in front of the customer. I’m married, and have two kids – a 10-year old son and a seven-year-old daughter, and my husband has a very flexible schedule. When I travel, I’m maybe gone a couple of nights. Working from home also offers some flexibility to juggle work and parenting, but it does take practice.
SCN: What’s your “working mom” super power?
NP: My super power is organization. I used to think I just did it out of necessity. But really, organization comes naturally to me. How I place things together and map out my time, helps me balance. Having a supportive spouse and job flexibility definitely helps. One of the things my mom told me about having kids was to “lower my bar” especially around wanting to get everything done. When I’m trying to do something and maybe want to do it a little bit better, I have to remind myself that it’s usually good enough. You know, sometimes I come home and the house isn’t as I left it, and I tell myself, that at least my husband was spending time with the kids and not focused on doing the dishes. That’s how I ease myself into being okay with it. Sometimes I want to control something in my life and housework is very tactical and something I can control, so if some other things aren’t in control, at least I have some control there.
SCN: How do you think your desire to control things impacts your work?
NP: Sometimes when I get in that “control mode” it’s because something might be spiraling that I’m not focusing on, or that needs more attention. That’s when I grasp to gain control, and I become more tactical. When I flip into tactical mode, it prevents me from being strategic and thinking about more important things or an approach to something. When I sense myself wanting control, I try to look at why that is. What is happening that has me wanting to control something? What am I avoiding that I want to focus my energy in that way?
SCN: Are you a risk taker?
NP: I’ve become riskier with age, realizing now the benefit of some of the risks that I have taken. That hindsight has helped me to take more risks, so when I feel something is right – a work project or at home – I will jump into it. It might seem risky because maybe it’s not as planned out. That’s when I look at planning it or, being more strategic about it, to feel more comfortable taking that risk.
SCN: Have you ever found yourself as the only woman in a meeting and how did that feel?
NP: I recognize it when there is no one in the room that I’m aligned with – who has similar values or shares a stance. It’s not identifying someone who is philosophically like me. It’s wanting to connect with someone who is like me so that I don’t feel so “alone.”
My thinking about diversity goes beyond gender and race to age and other things. When you’re with someone like you, it requires less effort to communicate. It doesn’t take as much time or energy, so you gravitate to them because it’s easier to work together, but then you often lack perspective and other views that you get with diversity – and that is so important. So how do we balance the need for speed in decision-making with variety of perspective, realizing that it is often might take longer because it takes longer to figure out what everyone is thinking or what approach they might bring that is beneficial? We tend to travel in packs and it makes me wonder about group think. With the support of a group we tend to go in a direction more easily. I try to be more thoughtful in who I try to connect with, so for instance sitting by someone different to expose myself to a different perspective.
SCN: At JDA we encourage healthy debate which can result in conflict. How do you deal with conflict?
NP: I try to notice and observe it. If I’m in it I to try to see what I’m contributing to it. For instance, why do I feel conflict? Is it insecurity? A lack of knowledge? Was a word was used that I didn’t like? I to try and look at myself first and determine the reason behind that. Usually it’s something internal in my psychology that I need to fix. Then once I recognize it, it just kind of floats away, or if it’s something I need to bring forward then I will. Usually it’s something that I need to work out and not necessarily about the other person.
SCN: How do you collaborate with and motivate a team?
NP: I try to understand what am I trying to accomplish and what are they trying to accomplish. When you find a shared goal, it is easier to collaborate and help and motivate each other.
SCN: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received and who gave it to you?
NP: It was from my mom, encouraging me to lower my bar, because I do know I have high expectations of myself and others. For me to just make sure my expectations are in check and aligned with the goal. Also, one of my first bosses taught me a valuable lesson with some feedback she gave me. She had asked me for a store performance report and when I gave it to her she said it was missing the point. She asked, “Why did we need this report? Did you do it for the sake of doing it, just to cross it off your list?” It might sound like a small thing, but her asking that taught me to consider the intention behind my work, and what I want the outcome to be, versus just doing it for the sake of doing it.
SCN: What qualities do you admire in a leader?
NP: Integrity, dignity, self-respect, self-confidence balanced with humility.
SCN: What do you think is the most significant barrier to women taking on a leadership role?
NP: What I see in some women is a lack of self-confidence. I also see that it’s kind of a numbers game. There are not as many female leaders because there are not as many females. I recognize that shouldn’t hinder me or that I shouldn’t use that as a guide. A learning for me is to take myself seriously and define my goals and ambitions. When you define them, you can work toward them. It’s the concept of observing, noticing, assessing, plan to act and act. I’ve often planned to act, but I don’t act. It’s taking that next step that I’ve gotten much better at – taking those plans and putting them into action.
SCN: Do you think women tend to self-select out of opportunities because they lack confidence or are concerned about balancing career and family?
NP: You know, often when I think about moving up in an organization, we believe in the story that it’s more work, and going to take more time. That’s a perception that we need to leave behind. We all have the same amount of time in a day; it’s how we choose to spend it. As most people advance they tend to want to hang on to their old job. You’re not doing your old job and your new job, so you’ve got to let it go. It’s a mental barrier, that moving up means it’s going to be more work, which means less time with my family. That isn’t necessarily the case and you can’t bring that thinking into that progression.
SCN: How do you keep your skills sharp?
NP: I’m part of a business leadership and philosophy program outside of JDA. It’s really given me the opportunity to identify my goals and ambitions and how to work more effectively and powerfully toward them. What do I need to know, who do I need in my network of people who can help me, how can I be of help to others? So that’s how I spend my time to gain career knowledge.
SCN: How do you go about building a solid network?
NP: You need to understand what it is you’re trying to achieve, and then identify who can help you with that. It’s not just that you know your boss or your boss’s boss. There are a lot of people around you that you can look at to see how can they help you and how can you help them.