Courtney VanLonkhuyzen, general counsel at Lenovo Mobile Business Group, recently visited the Law School to give a talk as part of the DPELC-MSL Speaker Series. Like other speakers in the series, her work is squarely at the intersection of law, technology, and business. As some of you may have heard, Lenovo recently acquired Motorola from Google. This acquisition was an interesting and unexpected move for both companies. Through this rollercoaster of acquisitions, Courtney VanLonkhuyzen has learned some important lessons and has developed strategies for success. She was happy to share them with our JD and MSL students:
Be authentic and self-aware
Take inventory of your set of skills and determine what makes you unique. Being aware of what makes you valuable to a company is important for not only cultivating authenticity, but also for surviving and thriving in a business.
Be a person and make real connections
Sometimes the most important leverage that a young professional has in a workplace is the ability to make personal connections. Participating in regular networking through coffee chats, book clubs, or charitable work are great places to start.
Be transparent, inclusive, direct, fact-based
It is great to be passionate, but avoid becoming too emotional in a professional setting, as it can damage credibility within a company. At the same time, do not be afraid to stand up for what you value or believe is right.
Identify mentors and sponsors
It is fine to be strategic in seeking out relationships and cultivating them. Being strategic does not mean being inauthentic. When choosing a mentor, home in on one skill that you would like to learn, and find an individual who excels at that skill. Do not try to emulate a person completely—you will risk sacrificing qualities that make you uniquely you. And don’t think that you must agree with your mentor on everything; it is actually best to think of a mentor as a sparring partner.
Differentiate your skills
You can be the smartest person in the room, but if you don’t differentiate yourself, it won’t matter. When determining what makes you different, focus on the following three areas: Innovation (what can you do that’s new), Simplification (what can you do that’s better and/or faster), and Execution (what can you do that others couldn’t do).
Surround Yourself with the Better and the Best
Surround yourself with good people—even people who are better than you. Be confident in what makes you valuable, but understand that there will always be people who are better in some areas. There is no need to be threatened.
Be a Doer
Sometimes in grad school, it can feel like all of your energy is spent studying theoretical concepts, rather than becoming engaged in real world issues. Don’t be afraid to seek out opportunities to take action in your community. Courtney shared an interesting anecdote about a time she spent a day cleaning an appalling dirty room in a nursing home for which she worked as an administrator. The situation had been ignored by everyone around her, but she took action and cleaned up the mess herself. Read the full story here.
Remember that change in your organization, career, or life can have really positive outcomes, even if that change is unwelcome or seems scary at the time. Focusing on the bright sides of situations can help you to stay positive, and could even improve your situation.
When you sign up for something, jump in and tackle it. Even if you have no idea how you’ll succeed in a situation, it is worth taking the risk.
Often times, it is good to have the uncomfortable “I don’t know how I’ll get this all done” feeling. Be ambitious in thinking about what you can fit in your schedule, then go for it!