Marsha Kelliher has made several successful career transitions, and we recently caught up with her before she embarked on her new role as dean of the Sigmund Weis Business School of Susquehanna University. Scroll down to listen to the brief interview in its entirety.
Q: How did you start your career?
A: “When I graduated from college, I worked and went to law school at night and on weekends. My ultimate goal was to become a labor arbitrator and to teach at a university, and so ultimately that’s what I did — made the transition from being a litigator to an academic.”
Q: Who is someone for whom you have great respect?
A: “That is an easy answer for me: my father. No matter how successful my father was, he was always very humble and he respected everyone. He asked me once who was the most powerful person in the organization and I went through probably what you expect to say, and he told me I was wrong. ‘The most powerful person is the janitor,’ he said, ‘because that’s the person who has the key to every room,’ which I’ve always remembered.
He was always very positive and no matter how bad things got, my dad always kept his sense of humor. My favorite phrase of his was ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going.'”
Q: What advice would you give to somebody entering the legal profession or academia to help them?
A: “It doesn’t matter what environment you’re in, you have to understand the culture. And when you think you understand it, you probably still don’t. Knowing how decisions are made, who the power players are, what traditions are sacred—I think all of that is crucial to being successful as a leader.
Ask a lot of questions and listen, listen, listen before acting. Unless you truly understand the culture of an organization and why it operates the way it does, then you are likely to make a mark on the organization, but perhaps not in a positive manner.”
Q: What has really contributed to your success?
A: “Probably my sense of humor and work ethic. Whether it’s been in academia or in law, I really never compare myself to others, men or women. As long as you set your own goals—and I have been teased for setting some ambitious goals from time to time—and go after those, you’ll be successful.”
Q: How do you share your expertise with your team to enhance their performance and their own professional experience?
A: “Listening to them, giving them challenging assignments, and not telling them how to do things but rather seeing how they handle it and then providing feedback. I also think it’s really important that if you’re going to ask someone to stretch, that you also provide the resources for them.”
Q: What is something you do every day or on a regular basis that really helps to keep you energized and focused on succeeding, both at work and in your personal life?
A: “I play with my two poodles every day, but I also like to get up early and really think through what my priorities for the day will be and how I’m going to approach those. At the end of the day I enjoy having a glass of wine with my husband and debriefing about the day’s events.”
Interview by Whitney Wilkerson