Last Tuesday, UTM’s Alumni Association and U of T’s Affinity Partners presented a Backpack to Briefcase lecture, where Susy Martins, assistant vice-president of Global HR Shared Services at Manulife Financial, shared her story and the skills she believes helped her to achieve success.

Martins is from a small town in southwestern Ontario. She attended the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario for her undergraduate HBA degree. While in university, she took advantage of various opportunities, such as an international exchange to Barcelona for a semester, and reaching out to the alumni department for job experience opportunities.

According to Martins, you don’t need a concrete answer to the important question of “What do you want to do?” But you do need to be able to communicate what you’re looking for in an employment opportunity. It is important to have some criteria for what you’re looking for in a job, especially something you can easily communicate to a prospective employer.
Martins knew that she wanted to work internationally, where she could interact in multiple languages, and especially work with industrial companies—companies that do something.
Following her undergraduate degree, Martins worked in customer services at the company 3M, before going on to complete a Financial Management Program with General Electric. She then completed her M.B.A., again at the Richard Ivey School of Business, and decided she wanted to work with a Canadian company, leading her to Manulife.

Martins emphasises that she took every job and opportunity she had seriously, while keeping an eye on the future. Every opportunity is a chance to learn new skills, broaden your working knowledge, and lead to new and exciting experiences. Martins says, “You have to think about what you are trying to achieve […] your job’s important if you make it important.”

One of the skills which Martins believes has most helped her throughout her career is her ability to “package”. Properly packaging your work is necessary to make sure that what you’re doing is important to other people as well. For example, making a PowerPoint presentation to demonstrate what you’ve done and the transferrable skills you have developed is a way of clearly expressing your contributions to the company.

“Another [skill] that I think is really career-enabling, and career-limiting if done badly, is taking feedback,” says Martins.

As Martins says, if you do not take feedback well, then people notice. Feedback is all about perception, so even if you don’t agree, it’s still another person’s perception of the events, and it is important to take that into consideration.

When discussing the hiring of fresh university graduates, Martins says that while these individuals come to the company with a strong desire to do a great job, once they start working, “They’re trying to put sparkles on it.” Martins says she doesn’t want sparkles; she just wants them to complete the main task she assigned to them. As a manager, Martins is responsible for ensuring that individuals concentrate on the important part of their assignments—this is a large part of setting your brand.

Setting your brand involves consistently executing your duties at a high level and on time. If you consistently have high integrity, then that is the person you are seen as by your peers and supervisors. This reliability will define your success: by being consistent in your delivery, people will know what to expect from you in the workplace.

“[You’ll] have a mistake here and there—everybody makes mistakes—but if you are able to execute your tasks 99 percent of the time, then that other one percent will be forgiven. It won’t chip away at your brand unless it becomes a trend.”