Wisdom I wish I had when I first entered the work world.
Like most people, my career unfolded in anything but a straight storyline. Looking at it in hindsight, it’s a narrative that happens in three distinct acts. The first one begins in Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare–and my home town.
When the tourists aren’t there, it’s a small town, very much influenced by the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). So much so that the RSC would send its voice coaches and costumes for our school plays. Our music room was the chapel where The Bard married Anne Hathaway. So, when I was just a child, I was bitten by the acting bug and by the age of 7, I’d already performed as a fairy in “A Midsummer’s Night Dream.” A few years later, I landed my first role in a musical and fell in love with singing.
Opera became my passion. I studied classical singing alongside the more “academic” degree my parents insisted on. In my 20s, I moved to Barcelona where I landed my dream job as a soprano with the Orfeo Catala. During that time, I was privileged enough to share the stage with some of the opera greats like Victoria de los Angeles.
As singing didn’t pay so well, I had to get a second job teaching English. My first students: a group of ladies of the night eager to learn the language to attract a more international clientele. Getting them to study was difficult. But I was able to make a breakthrough when I suggested we learn the lyrics to Madonna’s “Like a Virgin.” An ironic, but surprisingly effective, curriculum. By the time I left Barcelona, I had even converted my red-light students into opera lovers, and they came to all of my performances.
Needing a change from my Bohemian lifestyle in Spain, I moved to London. I got a job as a marketing manager with the MultiMedia Corporation, which used to be BBC Interactive. This led me to my third career act and opened the door into marketing, public relations and the world of technology. Although moving into the corporate world from the arts may seem like a jarring transition, there were parallels. After all, as Shakespeare put it, “All the world’s a stage.” In my career, I’ve had to coach CEOs and other leaders how to present themselves to different audiences, shaping messages and positioning, the way a playwright shapes a narrative arc.
So what learning can I share from this story that’s taken me from the back streets of Barcelona to the boardrooms of big business?
LOVE WHAT YOU DO.
Whether you fall into your career path or deliberately choose one, be passionate about what you do. Because energy is infectious, and you’re either spreading it or draining it. I might have taken an indirect route to marketing, but the connection between my artistic past and marketing is strong. When I realized I wasn’t going to be the next Maria Callas, I was able to draw on my artistic experiences to help me bring a vision to life, craft a more compelling story and strike the right note with a particular audience. Not quite Shakespearean…but sometimes nearly as theatrical. I love it with a passion.
BUILD A NETWORK AND NURTURE IT.
I’ve lived in Barcelona, Paris, London, New York, Houston and San Francisco. And I have followed a personal principle: I never say “no” to an invitation. Including an invitation from an eccentric neighbor of mine in San Francisco to her backyard barbeque—the barbeque where I met my husband. Although saying “yes” doesn’t always produce such dramatic results, you never know what opportunity might come from it. In fact, it was my network that brought me to Accenture when I was eight months pregnant and out of a job, when the start-up I was working for was failing. Accenture, a global professional services company, not only hired me right before my due date, they made sure I had medical insurance to cover the birth and even gave me maternity leave. Now that’s something you don’t soon forget.
In the past few years, I’ve been lucky enough to find a way to marry three passions–marketing, opera and kids—as a board member and vice president of marketing for the San Francisco Opera Guild. I’m playing my part to bring opera center stage into the life of our community by promoting the work we do in our educational outreach programs. I believe that music is a powerful tool for teaching kids the life lessons that are the foundation of confidence and integrity. So, in an environment where arts funding has been cut from so many schools, these innovative programs are inspiring more than 50,000 students in Northern California to discover their potential, make positive choices and grow to become conscientious and culturally aware adults.
Ginny Ziegler is Managing Director, Marketing and Communications, Cloud, Infrastructure and Security Services, Accenture.