President, American Express OPEN
Posted on: February 1, 2012 | Go to profile
Small-business owners need good advice, and Susan works with American Express OPEN to give them just that. As the advocate for small business-owners, Susan has led the company to create business products, customer services and marketing initiatives specifically geared toward entrepreneurs. Susan’s greatest fulfillment is OPEN’s Women’s Business Initiative, which supports women entrepreneurs who want to have an impact on their community. Susan knows first-hand that “empowering women pays dividends on so many levels.” Underscoring her leadership role, OPEN has received numerous accolades including a four-year consecutive title of Best Business-to-Business Brand and the 2010 Social Media Marketing Award for Best Non-Tech Integrated Social Media Campaign.
Q: Please share with us the story of how your professional journey began and has brought you to where you are today.
A: My 19-year career at American Express has been rich with experiences. I’m fortunate to work at a company that values diverse and innovative perspectives. I’m proud of my role as an agent for change by leading innovations in flexible work arrangements, social media marketing and the development of digital solutions. I also enjoy my role as a mentor and role model for many women leaders inside and outside of American Express.
For the last six years, my energy has been focused on small business as the President of OPEN. OPEN is the leader in small business in the U.S. through our payment products and digital solutions that make us a vital resource for business owners. We authorize an average of $1.8 billion in spending each week and provide ~$30 billion each quarter in credit to our customers. OPEN has been the recipient of numerous awards for innovation in our products, services, marketing initiatives and advocacy efforts on behalf of entrepreneurs.
Throughout my career, I have played a leadership role in many of the milestones that have directly contributed to the company’s growth: helping devise American Express’ corporate strategy, developing and managing strategic partnerships with many corporate partners; bringing in major partners to our company including Costco, now a long standing and deep American Express partner.
Q: What’s your best advice for an entrepreneur in an early/bootstrapping phase?
A: Focus: Think of yourself as your most important asset and strive to deploy it in the best possible way; Focus on what you do best and let others do the rest.
Be Resourceful: Use your inner drive to take your ideas and make them bigger than you ever imagined; Look for opportunities and potential in every situation and in everyone around you.
Be Resilient: Don’t consider failure an option or be distracted by obstacles; Try to bounce back quickly from setbacks and channel energy into problem solving.
Q: I love the quote “the bigger the vision, the smaller the first step.” Right now, what is the big vision you have for your career?
A: Helping others realize their potential starts by helping them believe in it.
Q: Who has been your greatest mentor(s)?
A: I don’t believe in having one mentor, rather I believe in looking for opportunities and potential to learn from every situation and in everyone around you…listen to the voices in your path.
That said, I’ve been fortunate to have had many important voices throughout my career that have guided me. I have tucked away key pieces of advice from a wide variety of perspectives that I draw upon often. Of course, some people in my life have been more prolific in their counsel…because they believed in me so much that they made an investment in me.
I often give counsel to others for that same reason. I aspire to help them reach their full potential. My guidance always starts with asking them “what do you want?” Most of the time, that’s the question they are least prepared to answer, and that is the seminal question to unlocking their potential.
ON Starting Out
Q: If you had a young sister who was a senior in college, anxious about landing her first job or unsure of what she wanted to do, what would your advice be to her?
A: Know who you are…know what you are really good at, know what your limits are and know when you need help. And importantly, know your potential.
Believe in who you are…Remember, you are a package. And there are things that are great, and things that are not as great in that package. But you can’t have one without the other.
Be true to who you are…Being true to yourself means fitting in, in the way that you fit, not changing who you are to fit into someone else’s expectations.
Q: Life is full of setbacks. Can you share an experience of one, and how you were able to bounce back?
A: Managing through the recession. In a crisis you have to combine everything you’ve learned, and bring it all to bear at once to serve you and everyone you are leading. In this fast-paced environment you are instantly right or instantly wrong – which makes “sound judgment” the most important quality to possess. Even in the most confusing moments of the economic crisis, I had clear principals that helped guide my decision-making. They grounded me so deeply that I just knew what needed to be done. I relied heavily on staying focused and remained true to my values. I feel like I crammed 5 years of experience into less than 18 months. Now I realize that if I made it through that crisis – I can make it through other challenges and I have surfaced a better leader for it.
Q: How do you balance career and motherhood?
A: At American Express, we support employees and strive to give them the opportunity to integrate what’s important to them. The key is to look within yourself, to be clear about your priorities, versus looking externally. Once you have very clear priorities, think of your time as your most important asset and strive to deploy it in the best possible way. I believe it’s about integration versus balance. I don’t view it as a work life and a family life. I have one very full life and work consciously to integrate all of the things that make it meaningful.
My time goes to the kids, despite my urge to run home and do laundry, cook dinner and go grocery shopping. When will I learn that being a mom isn’t about folding pajamas? Kids would rather have you reading a story with wrinkled pajamas. I try to resist the urge to boil the ocean. It’s not about doing it all, it’s about having focus.
A colleague at American Express shared the following with me, “Don’t live for the weekends with the kids, live for good memories and moments everyday that count.” So, every day I make sure that my children get a piece of me at home. On a daily basis, I stop to think about what I want them to remember about today.