Judith Wright realized early on: If she wanted to get ahead and move up within her company, she needed to be the best candidate. The candidate who was standing there, waiting and ready. The candidate they couldn’t look away from.
“I would always keep my head up, look on the horizon, know what opportunities there might be and what experience I might need for those opportunities. I would intentionally seek out those skills, so they had to give me those opportunities,” Wright explained.
Wright, an assistant clinical professor of business law, began her career as a corporate lawyer after attending law school at the Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis.
Wright first began work at an insurance company she had previously interned at. About six months into her position, they promoted her to the manager of her department.
“Suddenly, I was getting called into the management meetings in the board room. They handed me financials, and I had no idea what to do with them,” explained Wright. “I had never had any business classes, and I hadn’t had math since high school. I realized I needed more education.”
Wright got as many books from the bookstore as possible, and she started to teach herself. Shortly after that, she was recruited to work at Hillenbrand Industries in Batesville, Indiana in their newly created Forethought Financial Services Division.
“It was then I knew I needed an MBA,” said Wright. “I was managing people, and I didn’t have any experience with HR. I didn’t know how to do performance reviews, or help people with career development plans. I knew I needed the MBA Program.”
Wright was pregnant both years she was in the MBA Program through the IU Kelley School of Business in Bloomington. She maintained a career – and moved up the corporate ladder.
“Living in a small town, my family support network was around me. That’s how I pulled it off. I raised kids, traveled all the time, had a senior executive position, was involved in civic affairs and I cleaned my own house,” she added jokingly.
“Looking back, I think, ‘How did I do that?’ At the time, as a woman, I think we were ‘leaning in’ before those words were put together. We just leaned in. I wanted it. I wanted it all.”
So she had it all. She made it happen.
“At the time, you just lean in because you want to get it all done. I see that I can do this, and I’m just going to make it happen.”
Wright says at the time she worked with mostly men, and she was the first female executive to make it to higher ranks.
“Early in my career, I was passed over, and I wondered why. I was determined that would not happen again. So whenever there was an opportunity, I went for it,” said Wright. “I ran the legal department and did HR; I did the new business unit. I ultimately became the Chief Operations Officer of the financial services division by being willing to move around. I made it so they couldn’t look past me.”
Wright was at Hillenbrand for 20 years, as the financial services firm grew to a four billion dollar company. The company eventually chose to sell the business, and Wright’s division was tasked with finding a buyer.
She opted for an early retirement after that. It was then when Jane Lambert, the executive director of academic programs at the time for the Kelley School in Indianapolis, asked her to teach a class.
“She said, ‘Just teach one class and see what you think,'” Wright said, remembering. “So I did, and I was hooked.”
Wright describes what she calls, “light bulb moments:” that moment when everything clicks for a student, and he or she fully understands what you’re teaching.
“When you’re explaining something, you have moments where you see in their eyes – a little light bulb that goes on over their heads. Those moments are so addictive, and you look forward to that next ‘light bulb moment.’ Every class I get them.”
Currently, Wright is the coordinator of the Business Minor Program, the Business Foundations Certificate Program and the Business Law Courses.
The certificate program is for anyone in the community looking for business skills to add to their repertoire, whether that be current students earning a degree, anyone who hasn’t gone to college or anyone who has already graduated from college and needs some business skills.
Since Wright took over the certificate program, the program has doubled in size.
“We have had pharmacists, barbers, people who want to run their own business, undergraduates, you name it. This will give you a basic understanding of business, with courses in each of the disciplines. If you want to become the supervisor of the team, know how to put a budget together, deal with personnel issues: this will give you the confidence to step up to the next level,” explained Wright.
For students, Wright says she has three pieces of advice.
First, she says, when you get in a new job – figure out what is expected of you. Determine how you will be measured for your performance. Ask for a performance review, and manage your own performance. Take it upon yourself.
Second, she says, prepare yourself for the future. Look around the organization and say, ‘Where is my potential growth here?’
“No one is going to say, ‘Let me show you how to do this so you can be ready for this next job,’” she said. “Be intentional and disciplined in adding to your skill base, so you can get that next thing. It doesn’t mean you’re necessarily going to get the exact job you want, but if you’re always improving your skills, you’re a better candidate at the job you’re in or maybe somewhere else. You’re managing your own growth, development and your own future career positions.”
Third, make sure you take time out of the day to put your head up and learn your industry, Wright says.
“It’s one thing to learn your company, but you need to learn your industry. Who are your competitors, who is good at what, who is dying on the vine? Become an industry expert at what your company does.”