Ten members of the BYU Marriott community who hold or have held leadership roles at an array of organizations share insights to help members of the class of 2023—or any employee—find career success.
On April 28, 2023, more than 1,500 students graduated from BYU Marriott School of Business. Many of those students walked across the stage in the Marriott Center, accepting congratulations and diplomas from Dean Brigitte Madrian and other faculty members who helped and supported them during their educational journeys. These outstanding graduates join a strong worldwide network of individuals who are united in their desire to take what they have learned within the walls of the Tanner Building and “go forth to serve.”
Marriott Alumni Magazine invited a few members of that BYU Marriott network to reflect on their own experiences since graduating and share insights they have gained as they have worked their way to the top.
Bain & Company
BYU Marriott National Advisory Council
“I like to think of a career like an airplane ride,” says Mark Gottfredson. “When the airplane is on the ground and gets to the runway, what does the pilot do? He puts the plane on full throttle for the takeoff. Only when the plane achieves cruising altitude does the pilot let up on the throttle a little bit to continue to cruise.
“The same thing is true the first year of a new grad’s career,” he says. “You are in a learning mode. Becoming productive means learning the job, perfecting it, and excelling at what you are asked to do. Don’t come in complaining about the hours or requirements of the job. Come in with enthusiasm, learn the job, and exceed expectations. Be eager to learn.”
Gottfredson acknowledges that when applying for business school and interviewing for jobs, business students and grads may need to sound as if they have their entire future planned out. “But when you get into school or your first job, you realize that all the plans you have made were just ideas,” he shares, noting that the timing and exact details of a grad’s career plan will likely change many times. “However, the number one goal you have to have is to succeed in your current job. You want to be perceived as a high achiever, a star. If you accomplish that by excelling in your current position, the opportunities for the next step will be multiplied. If you fail in the short term, it will take several years to get back on track. Don’t look beyond the mark. Succeed today, have some general goals in mind, and the pathway will open before you.”
Finally, Gottfredson urges new grads to focus less on getting credit for success and more on the common good. “There is an old saying: ‘Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.’ This is true,” he explains. “When you have success, there is plenty of credit for everyone. Don’t worry about getting credit for what you have done. When you focus on making sure others succeed and then revel in their success, it will come back to you, and you will eventually be recognized.”
Founder and CEO
MAcc, Class of 2010
Early in her career, Brittany Brown found herself in a job that involved following written instructions all day while doing repeated tasks, a situation she now calls her “own personal purgatory.” However, from that experience, Brown gained valuable insight that she willingly shares with new graduates.
“Choose a first job based on who your boss would be and how up-to-date they seem to be on your industry,” she says. “Careers can be made by finding a great mentor early on, and this mentor is often in the form of a good boss who is capable of teaching you industry-best practices, effective ways of thinking, and the most relevant tools of your industry.”
Brown also encourages new grads to find a field that they can be passionate about and then do whatever is necessary to become world-class in that field. “Read the books, learn the tools, take the classes, find the jobs that expose you in the right ways,” she says. “Invest in yourself. Do whatever you need to do to totally master the field that you have chosen. Do not take the path of mediocrity. Mastery will open many doors and ensure your success.”
Ultimately, Brown left her first job and found a job that played to her “genius”—founder and CEO of a company that offers accounting services specifically for e-commerce clients. “I needed to be in a role that allows me to network, mentor, teach, guide, and play to the big picture—a place where I was able to play to my genius and a place that helps me find the genius in each of our team members,” she comments. “Everyone benefits when this is the case. Know or find your genius and then find the role that plays to that strength.”
MBA, Class of 1997
Tracy Maylett graduated in secondary education before earning his MBA. “At BYU Marriott, I discovered a new world that I didn’t even know existed—business! When I came to BYU, I learned that business could play a very powerful role in shaping good in the world,” he says. “It was through this that I began to understand that the principles taught by the gospel of Jesus Christ could guide in all areas of life, including business.”
This is one of the insights Maylett hopes to pass on to new graduates, along with another observation: Graduation isn’t the end of learning; it just creates the foundation for it. “Your first job doesn’t have to be your ideal job,” says Maylett, who notes that he had two “careers” before creating his own company and incorporating the things he’d learned in those earlier positions. “It can, however, be a great opportunity to explore firsthand what you really enjoy.”
Maylett recalls that in his first job, he dreaded going to work on Monday mornings. “But those grueling experiences shaped the rest of my life very positively because I took the opportunity to learn how I would handle things when I led an organization. The first career was six years of hard yet invaluable learning. I wouldn’t trade those first six years for anything.”
In addition, Maylett counsels new grads to work to understand themselves and take responsibility. “Oprah Winfrey once said, and I’m paraphrasing, ‘You are responsible for your life, and if you’re sitting around waiting on somebody to save you, to fix you, to help you, you are wasting your time. Only you have the power to take responsibility to move your life forward.’ We are our own biggest challenge and obstacle,” Maylett observes, “but once we understand ourselves, we can move forward and make progress.”
Greenvolt Power Actualize
MAcc, Class of 2000
Look for opportunities to gain experience, advises Vadim Ovchinnikov, who explains that experience provides credibility. “Sometimes when you are young and don’t have experience, people don’t want to listen to you; they may think you don’t have anything to contribute,” he says. “Acquire experience so you have meaningful things to share and so that people will listen to you. There’s no way to avoid it—experience matters.”
Specializing can also prove to be beneficial, notes Ovchinnikov, who suggests that new grads identify an industry or field they enjoy, then learn about that industry and develop a functional skill within that space. In fact, his focus on becoming exceptionally good at what he does is one of the things that has contributed most to his success. That, along with “persistence and the ability to ignore what others thought of me,” he says.
Ovchinnikov also points to networking as time well spent. “Sometimes networking starts after 5 p.m.,” he observes. “Be willing to go out and meet people. People and connections can make a difference.”
Management, Class of 1996
Visitors to Rob Trounce’s office may notice a whiteboard on prominent display. Trounce writes his goals on the board for all to see. “It’s been helpful for me to share my goals with others, including my spouse, children, mentors, and managers,” he explains. “Everyone who comes in my office can see those goals and my progress. This helps me confirm my commitments to achieve the goals and, as an added benefit, those who are invested in my success are able to look for ways to help me achieve those goals.”
That’s not all. Once Trounce achieves a goal or milestone, he wears his pink Nike Vaporfly running shoes to work for a day. His colleagues and family members enjoy celebrating these “pink-shoe days” along with Trounce.
Setting goals is top on the list of advice Trounce hands out to grads. He also recommends being willing to speak up in respectful and professional ways because “some of the greatest ideas come from the newest people on the team who have fresh perspective and great energy,” he says. Finally, he advises graduates to focus on family and other relationships and to look for ways to serve and contribute outside of work. “It will make work even more meaningful,” he observes.
MISM, Class of 2002
When Josh Steimle was preparing to graduate from BYU Marriott, he had an opportunity to talk with JetBlue and Breeze Airways founder David Neeleman. Steimle asked Neeleman what advice he would give to a new grad. Neeleman’s answer was short and to the point: Get dirty.
“When I asked what he meant, he told me, ‘Even if you’re not sure what you want your career path to be, do something—anything—and you’ll find more than enough opportunities to figure things out,’” Steimle recalls. “It was a good answer at the time, and after two decades of considering his answer, I continue to see the wisdom in it.”
After “getting dirty” himself, Steimle has his own words of wisdom to add to Neeleman’s: Dream big, and don’t hesitate to update your dreams. “A professor once asked me, ‘Where do you want to end up?’” Steimle says. “I told him I wanted to be the CEO of a company with at least 1,000 employees. However, after becoming the CEO of a company with 30 employees, I realized I didn’t like the CEO role.
What I truly enjoy is starting companies. I still have a dream to start a company that will have 1,000 employees, but I don’t want to run the day-to-day. I didn’t give up on my dream, I merely updated it.”
Heather Hammond Cruz
Former VP, Global Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability
MBA, Class of 2014
Mentoring and networking are key for new grads, says Heather Hammond Cruz, who notes that “a lot of people are very focused on networking while looking for a job but don’t think much about it once they have a job. However, networking within your organization, outside your organization, and everywhere pays off in the long run.”
As does finding a mentor, she continues. “Set goals with your mentor—and your manager, if they’re not the same individual—so there is some accountability,” she suggests. “It also helps to have your manager in your corner, someone who knows you are working toward a promotion or the next step in your career.”
Finally, Cruz encourages new grads—and anyone interviewing for a job—to know what they’re good at and be able to articulate those strengths during interviews. “When you can clearly state your strengths and offerings to a potential employer, that says a lot about you,” she says. “Employers are looking for confident, articulate, hardworking people for their organizations.”
MPA, Class of 2010
Although he admits he hated networking in graduate school because it felt “forced and awkward,” Raymon Burton now recognizes that the connections he made during his time at BYU Marriott have been invaluable. “I have been shocked by how much my professors and MPA cohort have continued to be a support to me throughout my professional life,” he says. “I had no idea that I would stay connected as much as I have. Those relationships are enduring. I gained valuable skills through BYU Marriott, but the relationships have been paramount.”
It’s no surprise then, that one of Burton’s suggestions to new grads is to network. “Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there,” he says. “Take advantage of informational interviews, volunteer opportunities, and constant networking; those connections will provide keys for the future.”
Burton also suggests building your identity capital by committing to a job and sticking with it, at least for a while, even if you don’t love what you’re doing. When he decided to focus on HR during his MPA studies, he wasn’t sure the field was a good fit for him personally or professionally. However, he committed to the pathway and threw himself into the career. “I worked hard, contributing to many different projects and working in different facets of HR,” he observes. “Through this experience, I realized that HR wasn’t my passion, and I began utilizing the skills and experience I had gained to shift to a different sector. Without the full commitment, though, I would not have gained the experience I needed to move on.”
Arizona Board of Regents
MAcc, Class of 1996
MPA, Class of 1997
“During His mortal ministry, the Lord gave two types of career advice: First, cast your net on the right side of the ship and ye shall find, and second, leave your nets,” says John Arnold, who has served in a variety of different roles during his two-decade-plus career. “In my career, I have received both types of promptings: do something different in your current job, and it’s time to change your course. When those promptings come, follow them—even if they go against your instincts or your ideas.”
Another tip from Arnold: work hard. “President Ezra Taft Benson taught that the secret to missionary work is work,” counsels Arnold. “The same is true of having success in the workforce. No matter what you see as your career path, learn to embrace the work and do it.
“Decide early on what type of employee you want to be,” he continues. “In general, the workforce is divided between employees and owners. Which one you are doesn’t depend on your position but on your goals and your approach to work. If you want a career in management, start working like an owner from day one. Take ownership for the overall success of your employer; approach projects like the owner would.”
Arnold also urges grads to be kind, learn to communicate, and find the delicate balance between taking the initiative and deferring to their supervisors.
Early in his career, Arnold worked with a mentor who gave him another golden nugget of advice: “Eighty percent of your problems will go away if you just ignore them, and the Holy Ghost will help you identify the 20 percent that won’t.” Arnold, who has worked to follow the Spirit throughout his career, shares that “understanding this principle helps me to appropriately react when problems come.”
MISM, Class of 2005
Being intentional—and not compromising on things that distract from that intention—is high on the list of advice Dave Olsen shares with new grads. “See yourself as being someone who can create the life you desire, as opposed to someone who simply takes what comes,” he explains. “Then spend time getting clear about what that life looks like. Gain as much experience as possible, as broadly as possible. Work hard, be dependable, and volunteer for extra assignments. Pay attention to what brings you the most fulfillment. Don’t worry about money but focus on providing more value than you’re getting paid for.”
Olsen also suggests focusing on the type of person you want to become rather than on specific accomplishments. “Set short-term goals and create habits that will move you in the right direction,” he says. “Then the following steps will become more clear. Don’t look at goals as destinations, but instead see them as milestones along the way. As you progress, what you want to create in your life will change, and that’s okay. But always be intentional about the direction you are going.”
As an example, Olsen points to his own career trajectory. He knew from the get-go that he wanted to be present in his children’s lives. Consequently, he didn’t pursue positions that required extensive travel, and when he started his own business, he worked from home beginning on day one. “I never settled in when I didn’t feel quite aligned,” he says. “I moved locations and kept myself open to new opportunities until I discovered the situation that felt right for me.”
His education at BYU Marriott reinforced that he could, indeed, “integrate all areas of life into one, as opposed to separate compartments,” he says. “It’s hard to find, and many people don’t believe it can be done. But God, health, family, work, church, and other priorities, can all come together to create the best life possible.”
Photography by Bradley Slade