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A giant leap forward

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August 18, 2010

 

In March of 1991, at 23 years of age and with only $100 in my pocket, I stepped off a flight from China to San Francisco to join my boyfriend (now my husband), who had made the trip nine months earlier. I had no other friends or family here, but fresh out of Beijing University, I was excited and very hopeful that the United States would provide me with infinitely more opportunity than I could find in China.

Over the next couple of years, I would balance full-time work (including my first job, at a dry cleaner, where I earned $4.25 an hour) and a full-time graduate school program. It wasn’t easy, but when I received my MBA with a focus on taxation, I graduated debt-free.

During my MBA studies, I pursued and landed an internship with Moss Adams. No sooner had I started the internship than the office managing partner offered me a position as a staff accountant. I was 27 years old, working alongside new hires fresh out of undergraduate programs. I immediately realized my career path would be different from theirs. I quickly advanced through the senior and manager levels, being promoted to senior manager in five years. In 2005 I was promoted to partner. It was one of the proudest and most exciting moments of my life.

Things changed some when my daughter was born. I chose to reset my priorities, accepting that my career might not accelerate as quickly as it had in the past. I made a commitment to myself that I’d leave the office by 4 p.m. every day so that my daughter wasn’t the last child picked up from day care.

I learned that the key to creating this flexibility is open communication. I strive to keep those around me informed about my schedule, and I make sure to follow through on all work commitments. I also learned that clients don’t care if you call them back from the ball field. You just need to call them back.

In retrospect, it took a lot of courage to tell my office managing partner that leaving early was important me. I don’t think that level of courage is required to make a similar request today. Our profession has made so much progress toward flexibility. I know the flexibility I have helped me stay at the firm and find success, both professionally and personally.

Throughout my career, leadership has recognized my potential and my dedication to the profession. That recognition has resulted in career opportunities and rapidly increasing responsibility.

For example, as a senior manager I was given the opportunity to lead our San Francisco tax practice and am now playing a leadership role across an even broader geography. Each opportunity has played into my evolution from a quiet and reserved contributor to a confident leader. And stretched me beyond what I thought my limits were.

One of my recent assignments has been to serve as the San Francisco office champion for our firm’s Forum_W network. Forum_W is the Moss Adams effort aimed at accelerating our ability to attract, develop, retain, and advance top-notch women. One of my most important roles is to ensure that we listen to our women about their career goals and experience at the firm and to ensure they’re receiving effective mentoring.

I know that if it weren’t for the guidance and advice I’ve received from mentors, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I feel like I have a safety net, and their continued support boosts my confidence even as a partner. That’s exactly why Forum_W is so important to me. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to give back to the firm and to guide the women coming behind me. I want to help them learn that they can create their own career path.

When I emigrated from China 19 years ago, I didn’t have a built-in network from college. Learning how to build my network, then leverage it to develop business, was a significant hurdle for me. Women in professional services aren’t often perceived as rainmakers, and as a result a lot of women lack the confidence necessary to hone contacts and drive revenue.

Over time, I’ve received great advice on building my network. I learned it’s not all about sports and who you know. It’s about finding others you connect with and want to spend time with. Through Forum_W, we’re helping women at Moss Adams understand this—and work to establish solid relationships first inside, then outside of the firm. The time they spend on these relationships today will pay dividends in the future. I know they’ll learn more, sell more, and have a more rewarding professional experience as a result of this investment.

Forum_W has helped me realize that, even though I’m a partner, my journey is not yet complete. It really has only just begun. Where do I head now? I want to make an impact on the firm. I want to be proof that by embracing diversity in leadership styles our firm will be even more successful than it is today. I want to share how important it is to define your own path to success. And that this success results from having confidence in your abilities and being true to yourself.

You must know your strengths and weaknesses and be relentless in constantly improving yourself. And most important, be proud of who you are.

Wenli Wang is a partner at Moss Adams in San Francisco. 

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