ASUG Women Connect: Finding Your Path

Rebecca Garrett in ASUG Women Connect June 14, 2019

If you’ve visited the ASUG Hub either at SAPPHIRE NOW and ASUG Annual Conference or SAP TechEd within the last eight years, then you’ve had the opportunity to walk through an experience I helped create.

I’m Rebecca Garrett. Nearly eight years ago I accepted a temporary job with ASUG to run its one-person membership department. That temp position eventually led to serving as the marketing director and then creative director of the marketing department and my involvement with the ASUG Hub for six years.

For those who visited the ASUG Hub this year, you learned to find your path by tapping into the power of your network and better understanding your own strengths. I can’t stress how important it is to know your own strengths and how to use them to navigate your path.

My Path into IT

I didn’t have a background in technology. In fact, I didn’t even start off with a background in marketing. I graduated from college with a business education degree and from there I went right into teaching. At that time, teachers made something like $10,000 a year, which wasn’t much. And so, like many others, I looked for supplemental work during the summer months.    

One of the jobs involved editing a company’s supplier catalog, both for copy and design. It’s when I got my first taste of marketing. I had a minor in English, so writing copy was the easy part, but I had to learn how to do design work and create layouts on the job. I’d always had a creative side, and I took to it fairly quickly. It wasn’t long before the agency that I was working with noticed and suggested I think about career in marketing. 

That experience opened up a whole new world for me professionally. I went back to school part-time and took all the marketing courses I could take—both undergraduate and graduate level. I listened to input and followed my instinct and that lead to a new career path. I started off as a marketing assistant, and then became a marketing associate, and then took a role as the first female product marketing manager hired in a male-dominated manufacturing company.

Seeing the Big Picture

My first year at the company, I received flowers on Secretary’s Day. The CEO of the company would ask me to do things like bring him coffee. The first time, I obliged. The second time, I said, “I’ll do one better and call your secretary.” He was stunned. I don’t believe they did it to belittle me, but they really had no idea how to work with a female manager. I’ve been fighting the fight since then.

When they finally realized I was there to get things done, we did just that. I worked at that company and led a group of male engineers for nine years. Together we created a brand-new product line that literally changed the way supermarkets merchandized perishable products. I created an entire marketing strategy and campaign to introduce this new concept to the marketplace, and to this day, that campaign—The Art of Presentation—is my favorite. 

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Early on in graduate school, one of my marketing professors pointed out that I had the ability to see the big picture. That’s worked for me. It’s allowed me to work with others who perhaps have strengths different than mine, but I can see how it all comes together. We started as a team of individuals who were wary of each other and ended as a team that had respect for and learned from each other. I still keep in touch with most of those guys today. 

A Fork in the Road Leads to Different Options

In my thirties, I had a decision to make. Stay at home and raise my kids or continue to work and hire a nanny. Back in those days, you made a choice. You chose a career, or you chose family. It was very difficult to do both. So, I chose to stay home and raise my sons.

It was a difficult decision to make because I felt like I was going places and making positive changes at work. But I also wanted to be present in my sons’ lives.

Interestingly enough, I found a way to do that as well as continue to grow my knowledge in marketing. My path led to stepping into a role at my sons’ school as a business manager. I offered to “help them out,” until they found someone more permanent. Instead, I found opportunities to help them with marketing, recruiting, and fundraising for the next nine years. Although I stepped down from that position when my youngest graduated, I knew I still had more work to do.  

Letting Change Guide You

I signed up with a temp agency in Chicago to help figure out my next move. I knew I wanted to work downtown and I knew I wanted to be involved in marketing, but I didn’t know what exactly, or where. My first interview was with ASUG. I accepted the position to help manage the membership department. I was not the typical applicant for this position. I was older and I didn’t have a background in technology. But my experience in life led to an instant connection with the hiring manager.

I went from managing the marketing for the membership department to ultimately managing marketing for the entire user group. It’s amazing to see how much the group has evolved since then and how much I’ve grown with it. We went from a one-person marketing team to a group of more than 20.

Today, the role technology plays in driving a business forward is unbelievable. But even with the best technology in play, it all comes down to one constant: Having an awareness for who you are and how you can contribute is necessary to move any kind of change along. 

Next Stop: Turn Left or Right

I went from teaching business to creating experiences and all along steering my own path in life, or perhaps simply finding it along the way. This year as I prepared for my retirement, I worked to leave a mark on my last ASUG Hub design. I have to say it was my favorite one yet.

Finding your path in life and in your career is one of the most important things you can do. Sure, there will be barriers and perhaps compromises you’ll need to make along the way. I think we need to stop worrying about all our differences and focus on each person’s strengths and how collectively, we can contribute to the whatever goal we set.

I may be retiring from ASUG, but I’m not done yet. I’m taking the summer off, and I plan to travel a lot. But I also plan on figuring out the next turn on my path. I want to pick projects where I know I can make the most impact and have the most fun doing it. I encourage you all to do the same. Find your path and enjoy the journey.

If you or someone you know has something to say about the work you’re doing, your accomplishments, or how other women have helped you on your journey, submit your idea or reach out to ASUGNews@asug.com. Find out how to get involved with ASUG Women Connect  year round.