Rebecca Boyer shares career wisdom during Distinguished Speaker Series event
Rebecca Boyer never had her career path all mapped out.
Her journey to managing partner of her own firm, SLR Executive Services LLC, included a series of steps into the unknown, where she could never be certain she was making the right decision.
But buoyed by a work ethic she started developing as a 15-year-old at KFC and bolstered by a BS in accounting she earned at the University of Missouri–St. Louis in 1997 and later an executive MBA from Washington University in St. Louis, Boyer has always come out ahead.
She worked for CPA firm BKD, was controller of Handling & Storage Concepts, senior accountant and later CFO of The Jones Company and spent 14 years as vice president and CFO of KellyMitchell Group, Inc., before launching SLR Executive Services last year. She was named to the St. Louis Business Journal’s 40 under 40 list in 2013 and its list of St. Louis’ Most Influential Business Women in 2015.
Boyer was the featured guest for last week’s Distinguished Speaker Series event, in honor of Women’s History Month, at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center. She delivered a talk titled “Relationships, Risks and Unknowns” and answered questioned in a session moderated by Malaika Horne, director of the Executive Leadership Consortium, in the E. Desmond and Mary Ann Lee Theater.
Here is some of the wisdom – acquired throughout her professional life – that she shared with students in the audience:
Set goals but be open to opportunities
Boyer landed the type of job she’d been hoping for after graduating when she accepted a position at BKD, but she’d only been there about a year when Handling & Storage Concepts – a company she’d worked for while at UMSL – reached out to see if she’d come work as its controller.
“Not only did I get the accounting practice, but by being open and really asking a lot of questions, I was able to learn a lot more about a lot of businesses,” Boyer said. “It really helped me be much more successful in my next adventure.”
Don’t be afraid to take a risk
The move to Handling & Storage Concepts wasn’t the only time Boyer made a leap in her career without knowing how it would end up. She made a similar decision when she left to take an accountant position – an apparent step backward – at The Jones Company. Her career benefited from the experience in the long run.
“It’s saying yes to what scares you, saying you don’t really know what the next step might be,” Boyer said. “But I think stepping out of your comfort zone is where you really learn a lot. Failing in a lot of ways is what we learn from. When we’re always doing the same things, when we’re doing what we know really well, we do it, but that’s not ever where we really learn anything.”
Boyer stressed that building relationships requires more than what is typically thought of as networking.
“It’s being genuine, showing empathy, really listening and being a person of your word as well,” Boyer said. “When you’re building a relationship, people want to know that they can count on you. When you’re looking for that next job, someone that’s worked with you before, they want to know, ‘Is that someone I want to be on my team?’ Your goal is to want someone to want you to be on their team, to know that you’re going to carry your weight.”
Seek out mentors
In her first job after graduation, at BKD, Boyer made a habit of showing up early and staying late in hopes of having more interaction with senior members of the firm.
“Mentors come in lots of different areas,” she said. “It could be a leader, it could be a parent, it could be your teacher. You can get little bits from all different people.”
That requires listening.
“We want to have a mentor, and we want to ask some questions, but we really don’t want to hear what they might have to say,” Boyer added. “I think it’s important to ask the questions but be open to the feedback.”
Don’t add extra pressure
People are in a hurry to achieve big things, but Boyer believes it’s important to practice patience.
“When I got out of college, I thought I should know exactly what I want to do, how I want to do it and when I want to do it in the exact timeframe,” Boyer said. “Don’t put that pressure on yourself. Have a goal, and everything you’re doing along the way, check yourself by asking, ‘Is that moving me toward my goal?’”
Take time to give back
Boyer volunteers her time as a member of the College of Business Administration’s Leadership Council, is a member of the board of directors of the Missouri Society of Certified Public Accountants and stays involved with The United Way of Greater St. Louis. She encouraged students to seek out similar opportunities as they develop in their own careers.
“Find something you’re passionate about,” she said. “When you get involved, I promise you you’ll get so much more back from it than you give. There is so much that you’ll learn being around like-minded people that share similar values. Their passion is contagious.”
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