Leading up to the Humans Doing Powering Up: Supporting Women in Corporate Success Event, on August 31st, 2023, Hailey Hunt interviewed keynote speaker Jean Harvey Johnston to learn more about her career journey.
By Hailey Hunt (5 Min Read)
It’s not often you come across a career that spans from Investment Banker to the tech world. The journey of Jean Harvey Johnson is a testament to the unpredictable pathways one can traverse in the corporate landscape. When I sat down with Jean, I was eager to uncover how such a diverse career came to be.
“How would you describe your career?” I began.
“Wild is probably the right word,” she chuckled. Starting with aspirations to become an investment banker after graduation, Jean was a bright student of economics, getting recruited by some of the biggest names in the banking world.
However, her stint with a well-known investment bank soon revealed a mismatch. While the role developed great analytical skills, Jean’s passion for transaction due diligence didn’t quite match up. This realization led her to Stanford Business School and eventually to the tech world, building online tools that have become indispensable today.
“What was your first product management role?” I asked.
“Interestingly, it came before business school, at Time Magazine. The job? Leading a small business in the consumer marketing department, selling reprints of popular articles. “It was a time before technology had made content distribution as easy as it is today,” she said. The mention of physically reprinting articles drew me into an era I had only read about.
“However, the more familiar world of product management came post-Stanford, with a role at Excite@Home, an early consumer internet mail product and a precursor to today’s online email giants like Gmail, Y!Mail and online Outlook. But like any journey, it wasn’t devoid of hurdles” Jean spoke.
“Can you pinpoint a significant challenge you faced?”
There wasn’t just one, Jean shared. Every vanguard company she worked with saw new leadership, strategic change, and shifts in product roadmaps. “Ideally, you plan for the change you don’t see coming,” she said, emphasizing the importance of agility in today’s fast-paced corporate environment.
To the younger professionals obsessed with controlling their career trajectory, Jean had words of wisdom: “Embrace what you can control.” She recalled a standout moment from her career when volunteering to draft a presentation got her an opportunity to attend a significant conference.
Jean’s journey is an embodiment of adaptability, seizing opportunities, and the importance of continuous learning. For those eager to script their unique career paths, it offers both inspiration and insights. Embrace change, seek opportunities, and always be ready to learn.
“One of the consistent themes in successful professionals’ narratives is the emphasis on continuous learning. What is your approach to learning and skill development?” I petitioned.
“Learning and skill development is a bit different from merely supplementing your knowledge,” Jean shared.
To hone a new skill, she recommends observing people who already excel in that area. “It’s not about imitation, but rather deriving inspiration,” she emphasized. Observing the best in the field provides exposure and mild apprenticeship, which you can then personalize and adapt to your style. In a world saturated with information, Jean leans on podcasts, online lectures, and audiobooks to stay updated. The NPR podcasts like “Up First,” for current events and “Decoder” for tech news were among her top recommendations. Podcasts like “Think Fast, Talk Smart” for communications insights and “The Jason and Scot Show” for retail industry thought leadership also made her list.
“In a field that is always changing, how do you successfully adapt to a constantly changing landscape?” I asked.
FinTech, especially in hotspots like Atlanta, is an ever-shifting landscape. To stay ahead, Jean values relationships and connections. She believes that while technology evolves and the competitive landscape changes, it’s people who guide its direction.
Regularly scheduling conferences, following industry experts on LinkedIn, and checking in with those platforms quarterly is her strategy for staying updated. “People are what guide technology in many respects,” she remarked, emphasizing the importance of networking and connections.
“What role have mentors/ sponsors play in your career?” I inquired.
“Corporate America can feel like a game with unwritten rules. This is where mentors, advocates, and sponsors come into play. They can provide a clearer view of the landscape and aid in your decision-making. The challenge is that You don’t know what you don’t know. I have found that the fastest way to make a mistake is to limit yourself to the thinking you already have. It’s great to share knowledge, ask questions, and augment your perspective with insights from others. Expanding your field of vision allows you to aim higher, be bolder, and create more of an impact” Jean noted, underlining the importance of widening one’s perspective.
“How do you define success?”
“As you mature, your perspective about success tends to evolve,” said Jean. “It’s no longer just about climbing the career ladder or meeting predefined goals. Rather, it’s about the detours and the unexpected avenues in life. Being promoted every three years doesn’t necessarily equate to being successful. Sometimes, the key is in learning new things, meeting interesting people, and continuing to grow.”
This perspective focuses on continuous learning and personal evolution. At the close of each year, taking a moment to reflect on one’s progress can be more rewarding than one might think. By recognizing how much more skilled and capable we’ve become over time, we allow ourselves a moment of acknowledgment and reassurance. This approach fosters a mindset where the journey becomes just as important, if not more so, then the destination.