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Spring 2010

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BY JENNY SHERMAN

Being a communications expert for a massive corporation with global reach is no easy feat. Catherine J. Mathis has held communications positions with four such companies, including Overseas Shipholding Group, and The New York Times Co. There, her well-honed spokesperson’s skills—she deftly handled the newspaper’s Jayson Blair plagiarism scandal—helped her rise in the ranks from director of investor relations to senior vice president of corporate communications. In September 2009, she was named senior vice president of marketing and communications for Standard & Poor’s (S&P), the financial-market intelligence firm. Besides acting as its primary spokesperson, Mathis is a member of S&P’s senior management team and oversees public relations, global marketing, and employee communications.

Mathis took a moment to share five essential career lessons with us, including a life lesson from her mother that continues to come in handy.

1. Common sense is NOT all that common.

Some time ago, a company I know of was opening an office in South America. A team from the United States was sent to the country to review the plans, whose measurements were in meters. To double-check the space, the U.S. team asked that an image of a ruler with inches be faxed to them. An assistant in New York City duly faxed the image of the ruler, but since the fax paper was 8 by 11 inches and the ruler was 12 inches long, she used a copier to shrink the image of the ruler before faxing it. Needless to say, that didn’t work too well.

2. Communicate, communicate, communicate.

Tell people exactly what you want and why you want it, and you are much more likely to end up with a good result. Senior leaders must reinforce important issues such as strategy or key messages through repetition. Even if you think you’re going to be sick if you say the same thing again, say it again.

3. Network like your career depends on it.  It does.

Few people in business achieve things just by themselves. Tap into the knowledge of others in your profession—the more resources you have at your disposal, the more success you’ll have in the workplace. Networking is, of course, important for another reason: It’s how you get jobs. Since earning my MBA, I’ve worked at four different companies, and I learned of openings at three of those companies through people I met at professional organizations.

4. Put yourself in a position to succeed.

Companies are like people—they have values and personalities. To be happy and successful, you have to find or create a place that reflects your values and which brings out the best in you. For me, that has meant working with people I respect, admire, and can learn from, and who can learn from me.

5. Be kind.

My mother used to say this to me and she was on to something. In 2003, I was the chief spokesperson for The New York Times when one of its reporters plagiarized the work of a journalist at another news organization, resulting in a media firestorm. As soon as I got off the phone with one reporter, another would call, pummeling me with questions. By noon one day I was at the end of my rope, so I decided to take a walk around the block to calm down. When I returned, still in a foul mood, one of the security guards told me two kids from Australia were there looking for a book of historic front pages from the newspaper. Did I know where they could get one? In fact, I did. I stomped upstairs to my office, grabbed my copy, came back downstairs, and gave it to them. They were thrilled, absolutely thrilled.

        Such a simple thing. But in feeling their happiness, my tension faded. I went back to my office with a clear mind and a calm heart and worked more effectively than I had that morning. I may have given those kids a book, but they gave me something more important—a lesson in kindness.

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