Challenging Your Comfort Zone

Jill Smith is a renewal partner and in her 20-year journey at JDA she shares how she’s kept her career fresh and gotten out of her comfort zone professionally and personally. As a self-professed introvert, she had to take a leap to do things that excited her like traveling internationally, coaching/leading kids and teaching fitness classes. Being raised in a family where her mother was a working professional and her father raised her to be independent and to see women as equals has helped her take chances in her career that she may not have taken otherwise.

Jill with her husband

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I grew up in Columbus, Ohio.  I double majored in Math and Economics with a minor in Spanish at Miami University of Ohio.  After college, I worked for Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) for two years and my first project was a JDA MMS implementation.  The consulting firm experience was positive in that I experienced different customers and products; but after doing two projects that were completely different industries/products, I decided I wanted to find a way to build on my skillset rather than having to start over on each project.  Having gone on two vacations to Club Med where I found a love for their unique customer service model and international flair, I took a year off to work at two Club Med resorts (Saint Lucia and Cancun, Mexico) as a G.O. (Gentie Organizateur).  There I used my language skills, assisted US and international customers every single day, and had opportunities to try new things.

During that experience, I met a friend from Phoenix who convinced me to come visit her.  I consider it divine intervention that brought be back to JDA since I didn’t even realize it was based here.  I have a blended family with a son who is now a senior in high school, a stepdaughter who is a junior, and a daughter moving into sixth grade who plays competitive softball and is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met.  My husband is Chris Smith who used to work for JDA.  We met at JDA 14 years ago when we were both in Support and just celebrated our 13th anniversary.

You’ve been at JDA for over 20 years – tell us about your career journey!

I didn’t know what I wanted to do out of college with a math degree.   Andersen Consulting targeted math majors who, it turns out, make pretty good programmers.  With that project experience under my belt, I worked in JDA Consulting for seven years.  I met some amazing friends and role models and gained tremendous on-site customer experience as well as management exposure as a Technical Manager.  Wanting to get off the road, I moved into JDA Support for five years, working my way up to the role of Support Manager. Below you’ll see how I found my way to the Renewals team where I have performed various roles/tasks over the past decade. This role has evolved so much; I never know what each day will throw at me and I love that!

Have you ever found yourself as the only woman in a meeting? How did that feel?

I feel fortunate that in my entire career at JDA I’ve never felt like I was unwelcome or treated differently as a woman in a meeting, whether internal or with customers.

But I did have an experience as a senior in college that fueled my fire.  I was interviewing at a bank.  I walked into a boardroom and sat at the head of the table with six men firing questions at me about my experience in banking… of which I had none.  The comment that I remember is: “It sounds like you don’t know much about banking” and my inner monologue response was “DUH!”  I came out of the meeting feeling defeated until I realized two things: 1) Not having experience does not mean I wouldn’t have been capable of excelling at the role and 2) Being prepared for meetings is the best way to avoid feeling “less-than.”

What is your favorite part of your role?

I love to help others.  My favorite part is feeling that both customers and my fellow JDA associates know they can come to me for help and that they trust me.  I also love that by experiencing different roles over the last 20+ years I have an expansive knowledge and toolset I can rely on in nearly any situation.

What about your career surprises you?

I am surprised to have a career at a single company that has lasted 22 years and counting!

But more specifically, I used to assume that to succeed I’d need to keep moving up.  In Consulting, I continued to get promotions.  When I moved to Support, I continued to get promotions.  I assumed that I’d need to keep going up to feel like I was progressing; but in my heart I found that it was doing the work that kept me challenged and fulfilled more than managing people.  In my current role, I love being able to serve our customers and other JDA associates and am constantly learning new things and growing.  Even though I am not in a role that is considered management, I impact the company and guide others and my job challenges me every single day.

How has your life experience made you who you are today?

Getting out of your comfort zone and experiencing different things helps prepare you for the future.  These are a few experiences that have made me who I am today:

First, joining international organizations in college and traveling overseas gave me an appreciation and love of different cultures/people.  We also have three “adopted” children with Compassion International which is a Christian organization that helps children in poverty all over the world which helps keep things in perspective.  In 2018 I went on a mission trip to Medellin, Colombia to meet two of our children and it was one of the most memorable experiences ever.

Second, getting involved with my kids’ activities threw me into situations where I took on leadership positions. This includes Girl Scout troop leader, recreational soccer and softball coach, room mom, and other volunteer roles at school and church.  When others don’t step up, I felt incented to take the reins and drive.

Third, teaching fitness classes. From early on I found a love of fitness and have been teaching various classes on the side for fun (Zumba, Kickboxing, and Cycle) for close to 15 years.  Having to stand in front of a group of people with a microphone stretched me out of my introverted ways and helped create a thrill of being in front of people.

What is the best risk you’ve taken and why?

I have two risks to share.

First, when I was a Support Analyst, I was challenged and loved problem solving and fixing things for customers.  But once I became a manager, I did more metrics and reporting.  My team was senior/experienced and very stable. I didn’t feel like I was contributing a lot of value to the team and felt a bit “stuck.”  I didn’t think I wanted to go up… but wasn’t sure what other paths were available.

There was an opening in what was called the “Liaison” team at the time and it was to be the representative to Latin America. I had studied Spanish but was far from fluent, but the prospect excited me and I decided to go for it. I wanted it enough that being out of my comfort zone and not being fluent didn’t scare me as much; instead it motivated me and drove me to prepare myself for the role.  It turned into a great opportunity and grew my confidence.

A second risk was staying in the role when our group experienced some significant turbulence and a number of teammates chose to leave the company.  I had frustrations and doubt about the future and considered leaving as well.  I chose to stay because I wanted to be there for my customers and the JDA team I had grown to love in Latin America.  My decision to stay has ended up being rewarding.  I was able to be a source of consistency for the JDA team and customers throughout the transition and I am now a source of knowledge and history for the team that has since built up around those of us who stayed.

What is the best advice you ever received? Who gave it to you?

The first thing that came to mind is “Just keep swimming” – from Dory in Finding Nemo. Work and life can be tough at times but if you just keep moving forward then you will feel a sense of purpose and achievement.

What is one mistake you see leaders making more frequently than others?

I love when leaders get input from the teams or associates under them because they are the ones who will execute the plans.  Having that insight can help with buy-in as well as improve speed and ability to implement.”

Jill’s kids – Ethan, Riley, Bri

What do you think is the most significant barrier to women in leadership?

For me, it’s emotions.  My kids think I’m hilarious because I tear up at sad (or even happy) movie previews and commercials.  It can be challenging to be perceived as a serious leader when you have a wide range of emotions.

In addition, at times I think we are our own barrier.  We may have grown up believing that we are at disadvantage therefore we may not try for things we believe we can’t achieve rather than just going for it.  But at JDA I think it’s the opposite.  We have so many strong women and many women in leadership. I admire them all.

How do you maintain work/life balance?

I am passionate about a number of things outside of work.  I do everything I can to make time for those things.  I love being involved in my kids’ activities, teaching and taking fitness classes, and going to concerts/shows/sporting events.  Something I love about my current role is that I am responsible for my own work/results/goals and I can plan accordingly to ensure I meet my targets.  Sometimes this means doing work at night or on weekends to keep up but that is ok when I am able to be present for my kids’ activities or to do things I really am passionate about.

I am also hugely grateful to all levels of JDA management because they understand that work/life balance is important as well and have always been supportive in that respect.

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