Be More Than Stories

Career Success

In this series, Korn Ferry interviews people who are living our Be More Than principles.

“In that bunker—and everywhere else in the military, really—I saw how well a team could function if they were united by one mission.”

Name: Caroline MacDonald
Occupation: Sales and marketing executive

“Coming out of high school, I didn’t have any particular career path in mind, but I was determined to accomplish three things: get a good education, live in another country, and travel a lot. I wasn’t in a position to be able to do any of that on my own, so I shocked my family and enlisted in the US Air Force.

The Air Force certainly delivered. I helped soldiers get the medals they’ve earned, administered tests, ran personnel departments in Germany, and programmed computer systems in Spain.

career success

But those were just my “peacetime” jobs. For three days every two months, we simulated wartime conditions. On those days, my office was a huge bunker located underneath the base, and my role was to determine (based on weather conditions, artillery shell sizes, and other factors) how much of an area would be impacted by simulated chemical attacks. I relied on my own math skills, a grease pencil, and a protractor—it was the ’80s. That office also was my living quarters. I slept under a desk and ate the same rations front-line soldiers would eat.

In that bunker—and everywhere else in the military, really—I saw how well a team could function if they were united by one mission. There was a real sense of accomplishment when everyone did well. There was also a level of respect that flowed from enlisted personnel to officers and vice versa. If there were problems, soldiers of all ranks would pivot, fix what needed to be fixed, and finish the job.

I left the military at age 23 as a staff sergeant. I figured that with all my Air Force experiences and skills, combined with a track record of getting promoted and holding a good security clearance, that I could get a civil-service job. But at that time, there was a government hiring freeze, and many private employers didn’t view my military experiences as necessarily transferrable to civilian life.

So that’s why I found myself sitting in the back office of a hotel in Monterey, California, interviewing for a sales management job. On paper I was underqualified; the military hadn’t taught me how to write business memos or form letters. But I was enthusiastic, and I was fortunate one of the managers thought I could do the job with a little help. I repaid that faith by reading books on how to write business memos and other key sales department tasks. I saw every assignment and role as a challenge. Over time, I moved to a better hotel, then another better hotel, then a bigger job, and on and on.

These days, I’m a vice president at a major hotel company, overseeing sales and marketing for three international brands, managing 80 people in multiple countries. I also sit on a board that helps homeless people become employable. The nonprofit teaches them how to write resumes, interview well, and network. Many of the people we help are veterans.

My life now seems far removed from living in a bunker and determining the blast patterns from artillery shells. Hardships now are 14-hour flights to do business in Asia. But in some ways the things I saw in the bunker apply now. Challenge yourself. Adapt. Help people around you succeed.”

Korn Ferry empowers ambitious individuals and businesses to Be More Than: Seize opportunities. Embrace new perspectives. Never stop learning. Be ready.