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Pung Speaker Series: Finding your path

By Grace Griffin, student writer
Wednesday, May 22, 2024

On March 28, Michigan State University welcomed back alumna Kaitlyn Dickerson (B.A Finance and Accounting ’08), currently the executive director of human resources at Morgan Stanley, for this installment of the Roy S. Pung Executive Speaker Series. Spartans listened to Dickerson share her experience and remind them that the path they are on right now doesn’t need to be the path they take for the rest of their lives. Every experience you take will teach you as you find the destination that is right for you. Students found reassurance in knowing that the career choice they make today could benefit them later, whether or not it changes in the future.

Dickerson started her presentation by sharing her extensive background in her professional career. After her graduation from MSU, she started her career as an analyst at General Electrics in the financial management program, and later she became a part of the corporate audit staff. While she enjoyed some aspects of corporate finance, she felt stress and some imposter syndrome; however, she decided to stay with it in hopes of becoming an executive in fewer years than normal and gaining more knowledge and experience that would allow her to grow tremendously.

After a few years in corporate finance, Dickerson decided it was time to look for something new. While in the finance department at GE, she had made quite an impact within the company, and the human resources department heard about her. At first, she wasn’t sure about HR because of the difference from finance, but once she realized how similar the two jobs were and was asked to run their financial management program — the same department where she started her career — she knew HR would be a great fit. Much of what she learned from her experience in finance benefitted her in her new position, like speaking to executives about the capital needed for their department to reach its goals and what motivates people to do well or to not do well.

“I learned how to look at a lot of data and simplify it for others to understand themes and trends. I learned how to learn quickly. And, most importantly, I learned how important good communication skills are,” Dickerson said.

While the position came with the challenge of proving herself credible because her degree was not within the HR function, she has done incredibly well. Overall, she said, it was one of the best decisions she made, and her background gave her the confidence and experience to thrive as the finance development program’s leader.

“I only believe I have been a successful HR person because I spent my time doing something else and it gave me a broader perspective of how an organization works together,” Dickerson said.

Her success leading that program positioned her to accept a new role as an HR business partner on GE Capital’s Corporate Finance and Business Development team. There, she was responsible for human capital strategy, led the finance department’s workforce planning and much more. Then, in her last five years at GE, she advanced to HR Leader for the Internal Audit department and partnered with Finance to provide HR leadership as the Organization and Talent Development Leader. She played a major role in the disbanding of the corporate audit program at GE and transformed it into the Internal Audit organization.

Dickerson is now the executive director of human resources at Morgan Stanley, where she is the business partner of various leaders within Morgan Stanley’s investment management segment and focuses on setting and executing a human capital strategy to support the overall missions and priorities of each department.

One of the most important pieces of advice she gave to the Pung series audience was to continue to put yourself in an environment where you are learning and growing, both professionally and personally. Dickerson said that one of the ways you can tell it is time to find something new is if you are no longer progressing as an individual. Another way to grow is by surrounding yourself with a strong, smart group of diverse personal advisors, your own Board of Advisors, to help you see things from all points of view. Dickerson shared that putting yourself in an environment and surrounding yourself with people will allow you to keep learning and growing as an individual.

“Keep growing, keep learning. It truly is what will only make your life richer and your career richer. And don’t be afraid of the hard stuff. I promise you that is what will be the most fulfilling, when you can tackle the hard problems, when you solve them for other people and yourself,” Dickerson said.

The years she spent in finance were not wasted, she pointed out, and they largely contributed to her success in HR. Although it can be scary to change careers, it is not impossible. Dickerson reminded the group that even Morgan Freeman didn’t start acting until he was 50.

“It’s important that you home in on an area and you start to become an expert in that area, but it’s not necessarily the place you need to stay for the next 50 years. A career is a long time,” she said.

Dickerson also shared valuable lessons from her experience and career insight to better prepare the next generation of leaders. She noted that it is important to know exactly what the company you work for expects of you. Even though you may have several years with that company, if you are not actively creating value, it will be difficult to advance. It is your responsibility to know what you are responsible for, and if you don’t fully understand, you need to be comfortable enough to ask. The benefit that a company gains by having you as an employee is how you stand out and make a difference. It is on you to learn, not the company.

With that, if there is a problem, you need to go and solve it. Constantly look for ways to improve, and inform superiors how you identified and solved a problem that they might not have even known was an issue. From her own experience, Dickerson knows how difficult it can be to advance in your career or make yourself known within a company. It is important to realize the value that you bring to the table and be assertive when reaching for your goals.

“Know your goals and how to manage them,”

One way to achieve your goals is by communication — key in any situation. If you say you will do a task and execute it when you say you will, that will be noticed. Your “say-to-do ratio” is important: if you say you are going to do something, you need to do it.
Another way is by not being afraid to take on a challenge. Always try to do something that scares you, Dickerson advised. It’s easy to walk away, but if you don’t fail, you haven’t learned anything.
Finally, Dickerson shared advice for the future of work. With remote work becoming more common and interviews being conducted over Zoom, it is important to still be aware of the environment you are entering. She suggested asking to have your interview in person to get a feel of how the employees work together and the overall vibe of the company. You want to be in an environment where people work together and support one another, and that is almost impossible to judge online. Also, with AI becoming common, she advised learning more about it and becoming used to the technology. It will benefit you if you are constantly adapting.
Dickerson ended her presentation with five takeaways to remember for everyone in the audience, regardless of their career:
• Everyone defines success differently. How do you define it for yourself? Constantly check in to see if you are on the right path.
• A career is a long time. Be open to opportunities.
• Find your Board of Advisors.
• Keep learning and growing.
• Don’t be afraid of the hard stuff.

Overall, Spartans in the audience were reminded that there are always new things to learn and ways to grow. There is no specific path to reach your goals, and everything that you learn will benefit you in the future. Continue to learn and grow, and success will follow.

More information on the 2023–24 Pung Speaker Series, as well as information on past events, is available via the Full-Time MBA program.

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