Everyone has heard of the term “career changer.” I myself had a major change in careers when I was in my 40s. Our next Voice of Energy also had a shift in her job description, but in her case it was a natural evolution between industries and it provided her the framework to be very successful in her current position. Mary Bass is a partner with Spencer Stuart, one of the world’s leading executive search consulting firms with 55 offices in 30 different countries. Her career at Spencer Stuart has spanned 18 years and has led to her belated “growing up” in the executive search sector.
Before joining Spencer Stuart, Mary spent 15 years in the private equity business. During that period, private equity investors were becoming aware of the attractiveness of investment opportunities in energy. That led to her being chosen for a team at Spencer Stuart who could help with the convergence of the energy sector and private equity.
I asked Mary what obstacles she had faced in her career. She said that she hasn’t had very many obstacles, but the biggest ones are time management and seeking balance in her life, classic problems for just about every career woman I know, or for that matter stay-at-home moms. Mary says that she has to force herself to make time to eat right and exercise to maintain the stamina necessary to function successfully in the pressure-cooker environment of the successful career woman. She mentioned that sometimes people pigeon hole her because of her delightful Southern accent; they assume that she is slow to understand things because she is from Mississippi. She also has a strong exuberance for life, which was evident when I spoke with her, and which she says can be off-putting and maybe threatening to some people.
Regarding her accomplishments, she says she is very proud of becoming a partner at Spencer Stuart, especially since it was a second career for her. When asked to outline the reasons behind her success, she says that tenacity and self-confidence are very important. Mary has not been afraid to “raise her hand” when it came to asking questions or accepting new assignments. She also believes that fairness, treating all of her clients equally regardless of the size of the retainer, is crucial to her success.
For young women considering a career in the energy industry, Mary says that the field is wide open and that there is a void of female talent. She says that young women need to listen, prepare themselves, and stretch themselves while taking on roles and tasks that build their confidence. Mary is a big believer in developing women along the way. She refers to the “drawbridge problem,” where women get into senior positions and then take on an attitude of “I’m here, girlfriend, and I’m not letting you in.” Yet it can be fun to embrace, support, and develop other women on the way to the top of your career. Even if it means something simple like complimenting them on their outfit, we should always strive to get to know other women on a personal level; it is beneficial for both parties.
Mary mentioned “silent barriers” that exist for women wanting a career in energy. An example would be having a need for female restrooms out in the field when you are in an operational role. Another would be the extra burden for family care that many women take on in their families and that can interfere with career progress. She says that it is our own individual responsibility to be ambitious and dedicated.
Mary is “99% upbeat and the rest of the time asleep!” She says that if she can help one person each day she feels accomplished. Very driven and passionate about helping others, Mary believes that something as simple as a smile can change attitudes. What a great lesson to learn from an amazing woman.