Boss Moves Lessons from a Woman of Power: American Express EVP Glenda McNeal

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Power woman Glenda McNeal, in 1997 as VP, American Express, and now, EVP, American Express, Global Client Group (Image: File)

I absolutely love meeting power women, especially those who exude confidence, have career receipts and are fab to boot. These women truly inspire me, and they remind me to keep pushing toward my own career goals, especially in times of challenge.

This morning was no exception, as I had the pleasure of meeting Glenda McNeal, Executive Vice President, Global Client Group, at American Express. The Wharton School graduate with more than 15 years of experience in the financial services industry was in our offices for a cover shoot for Black Enterprise magazine’s next issue.

As journalist and host Caroline Clarke conducted an impromptu interview with McNeal on leadership and her own professional evolution, I observed themes of innovation and humility.

McNeal began her career at American Express in her late 20s, and by her mid 30s, (just eight years out of Wharton,) she had already been appointed president of MOD retention and loyalty. She was described in a 1995 Black Enterprise interview as a young MBA who “creates and carries out the marketing campaigns aimed at keeping five million of the company’s best customers happy ” (ie “the high rollers of the gold-through-platinum set, those cardholders who spend the most and have the best credit profiles.”

As anyone who’s familiar with this blog knows, I enjoy gleaning leadership (#bossmoves) lessons from awesome professionals, so here are three on career positioning I observed simply from being in McNeal’s presence and doing a bit of research:

1. Consistently pursuing education can lead to a VIP ticket to advancement. This may seem like a given for some, but many of us who might have already gotten our bachelor’s degrees and are resting on those laurels (myself included) might want to reconsider.

Not only was McNeal a graduate of U Penn’s Wharton School (which boasts an alumni list of power players like Donald Trump and Suzanne Shank), but she also graduated summa cum laude from Dillard University, a leading HBCU in New Orleans. I’m sure throughout this time, she was able to meet, connect and work with future leaders who are still part of her professional network today. And with studies showing more employers raising standards on degree requirements, continuing one’s education and/or training is looking more and more attractive in a tough job market.

McNeal also noted during her visit that she strives to be a lifetime learner—even in her current position as an executive—and continues to seek ways to enrich her base of knowledge.

2. Taking risks often leads to superb career results and rewards. According to a Black Enterprise interview early in McNeal’s career at American Express, she made the decision to switch from a high-stakes sales and trading career to marketing, even taking a salary cut of $20,000. “The decision made some who had always admired McNeal for her steady, measured perfectionism, question her common sense,” the article notes.

The power woman now stands strong in her current position as an EVP, managing the largest global relationships for the company.

3. Diversifying your skill set and experience is not only vital, but a great way to remain engaged in your own advancement. Before becoming EVP, McNeal sharpened her skills in a variety of capacities at the company including marketing, client relations and establishment services, to name a few. Today’s market denotes one have a variety of experience to bring to the table, and if there are ways you can really stretch yourself to challenge other skills you have, it’s best to go for those opportunities. As women, we may want to pause or “stay in our lanes,” but it clear that power women like McNeal didn’t get to their current success by doing so.

Who are the women of power who inspire you, and why? #Soundoff and follow me on Twitter @JPHazlwood. Also, if you’d like the opportunity to rub elbows with women of power across the nation, be sure to register for February’s Black Enterprise Women of Power Summit.

Embrace Your Power: The Moment is Now! Attend the Women of Power Summit hosted by State Farm, and explore all the ways you can achieve your professional and personal goals. This four-day event caters to executive women of color. It’s your opportunity to connect with other powerful women, develop professional strategies, and get expert advice from today’s leading female executives and decision makers. Register today!

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