Anna Utley (MBA Marketing and Human Resources ’08) is vice president and general manager of laundry for Whirlpool Corporation, overseeing the North American Residential Laundry business along with the Global Commercial Laundry business. Utley leads a team in charge of setting the strategy for the laundry category — maximizing sales and profitability through pricing and channel strategies and developing the future product roadmap based on deep consumer insights.
Utley served as the guest speaker for the final installment of the spring 2022 Roy S. Pung Executive Series and was eager to do so. When she was a student attending a guest speaker presentation, she shared, her own career trajectory changed. The theme of Utley’s presentation was “A lesson learned should be a lesson shared,” and she left students with advice for their future careers as the semester started winding down.
Throughout the early years of Utley’s career, she worked in health care, in both clinical research and marketing. She had always intended on a having a career in health care, but when she was considering graduate school, she looked at the opportunity to chart a new path and pursue a passion for marketing.
“I had the chance to try something different with Whirlpool, a Fortune 500 company, and test my thinking in new ways,” Utley said. She shared common values with Whirlpool, and it was important that she maintained them in order to grow within the company. Being a part of the company for nearly 14 years has allowed Utley to transform its 100-year-old brands and products into innovative, category-leading disruptors.
Utley shared 12 lessons with the Spartans in attendance, articulating some of the things she wished she had known or heard when in their shoes. The lessons she shared highlighted benignity, dealing with change, vulnerability, working with others, storytelling and purpose.
She said your success and potential starts with the ability to be yourself within a company. “If you show up every day as your authentic self, you have no competition except a better you,” Utley said. “You will be compared to other people, but finding a place that is your best fit will allow you to come as your true self. It’s the cumulative view of how you engage in an organization that determines your potential.”
Utley shared with students that “It’s OK to say, ‘I don’t know.’” Even in positions as a leader at Whirlpool, she has understood that admitting you don’t have all the answers opens the door for others to share their ideas in order to help the team.
Now more than ever, embracing disruption distinguishes the good from the best. Utley told students, “Don’t be afraid to disrupt yourself. Change is rapid.” She highlighted the importance of being bold and healthy businesses making bold choices.
“Vulnerability is powerful,” she continued, and said that the last two years have taught her how vulnerability is critical to being a successful leader. “Social issues, mental health, work/life balance used to be taboo discussion. Now people crave being in companies with purpose and values and are looking to leaders to embrace discussing more of these things.”
No matter the field, she shared that data must be shared in ways that drive impact. “Practice telling stories with data. You will do it every day,” Utley said. She suggested students look for mentors or colleagues that do this well.
Finally, Utley shared two lessons that are important to career growth: First, build a personal board of directors, and second, a quote by Harry Truman, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.”
“People who make it at the top are those who can work together to better the company. Don’t think of it as a competition,” she said. Her personal board of directors consists of a mix of teammates, family members, leaders, mentors and direct reports who contribute to her growth.
Utley also voiced the importance of the following wisdom:
- Taking listening skills to the next level by co-creating. She urged Spartans to transform relationships at work by being more curious and engaged in conversations and to challenge ideas and state why you may disagree.
- Asking for advice instead of feedback. She said others will show a different investment by giving the same message but will be more willing to express it in a positive tone.
- Showing gratitude, because people who feel appreciated will always do more than what is expected.
- Not underestimating the power of a walk or a coffee. These are traditional opportunities for colleagues to come together in a meaningful way. Such a small thing as this can show approachability and make it easier to have those difficult conversations in a comfortable setting.
- Doing anything but not everything, and not all at once. Every individual is tasked with so many responsibilities. You may see stillness in a leader, but there’s a lot of chaos happening behind the scenes. Balance comes with compromises.
More information on events in the 2021–22 Pung Speaker Series is available at the Full-Time MBA program page.