Meet Sue Taylor.
Sue is currently the Chief Information Officer (CIO) at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest, private foundation that tackles critical, global issues from poverty overseas to education gaps here in the states. Sue is also a wife, mother, grandmother, traveler, and everything in-between!
Not only am I amazed by Sue’s career trajectory but also the warmth and charisma that she exudes in every interaction. From meeting members of her team at an office happy hour to running into peers during a private tour of the Gates Foundation in Seattle, it is clear that Sue is widely admired, trusted, and respected, which is why I am honored to have interviewed her and to have made her the first career spotlight for Executives on the Rise.
How did we get connected?
I met Sue 16 years ago. She had moved her family from Iowa to Washington, and I became one of her daughter’s first friends in the Evergreen State (the photographic evidence of this friendship is entertaining to the say the least). Over the course of many sleepovers and carpools, I noticed that the Taylor household was slightly different from that of our friends and even my own. Not only was Sue climbing the corporate ladder in historically male dominated industries as an Asian-American woman but also redefining gender roles and Asian cultural norms by being the main income earner in her household. Attributing 34 years of a successful and happy marriage to having found a partner who is fiercely supportive and confident, Sue’s personal life, uniquely architected by her and her husband, is one to be admired. Thus, I am incredibly excited to share her story, because it highlights that there isn’t just one path to success.
So, where did it all start?
In 1983, Sue moved to Los Angeles and snagged her first job as an office assistant. Due to her diligent work ethic, Sue eventually ended up at Allied-Signal, where she held various positions over several years as a telecom supervisor, an IT help desk manager, and an accounting manager, to name a few. However, due to the violence surrounding the Rodney King riots in the 90’s, Sue decided that it was time to leave Los Angeles.
Then one day, Sue received a phone call from a former boss who offered her an opportunity to run the global telecommunications strategy at Norand, which was later purchased by Intermec, a manufacturer and supplier of automated identification and data capture equipment.
During this merger, Sue was tasked with creating a new org chart for the company, not entirely unexpected in an acquisition. However, the most fascinating part of this story is that Sue created an org chart without her in it. Surprised by this altruism, I asked what led Sue to that decision. Her point was simple - it was the right thing to do at the time, and she was confident in her abilities to create her own opportunities after the fact.
Sure enough, Sue received that opportunity shortly after to become a business owner of the software P&L and turned the once unprofitable business around in two years. Due to her incredible performance, Sue was offered not only the position of CIO but also VP of HR. At one point, she was managing 240 employees and 460 contingent workers both domestically and internationally for 11 different projects. Talk about multi-tasking at its finest!
After much success in her career (and the air mileage to count), Sue received a phone call from a recruiter that would eventually lead her to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a place where she has been able to leverage all the skills and experiences she’s gained throughout her career to make a difference on a global scale.
I learned so much from Sue during our sit down, the most prominent of which is understanding that you have more control over your destiny than you might realize. It's easy to play the comparison game and point to external factors as reasons for failures or missed opportunities. However, the moment you decide to take ownership of your circumstance is the moment that you are able to truly take full control of your life.
For more details from our interview in addition to some rapid fire questions, keep reading!
J: How do you define success?
S: Success for me is more about what you achieve in your personal rather than professional life. I want a great relationship with my husband, children, and grandchildren. It’s all about family for me, and work is a means to that.
J: What was a career defining moment for you?
S: There was a pivotal point in my life where I realized that I have full control over my life and what makes me happy. Every decision is fundamentally based in that.
J: How has mentorship played a role in your career?
S: My first mentor was the Managing Partner at PwC that I worked for. I was his secretary at the time, but he encouraged me to get my Bachelor’s in business and even invited me to client meetings.
J: Having been married for 34 years, what is your advice for young, ambitious women when it comes to finding their partner?
S: If you want to be a successful woman, you need a partner that respects and supports your desire to be successful. You need a partner that is independent and confident about who they are, and they need to feel good in their own skin. At the end of the day, you have to identify and support each other’s strengths.
J: Many young professionals today struggle with finding fulfillment in their jobs. What are your thoughts on finding a job that fulfills all of your passions versus a job that allows enough time for you to fulfill your passions outside of work?
S: In the context of work-life balance, fulfillment is going to be different for everyone. What people have to realize is that happiness doesn't come from work-life balance. It comes from knowing your strengths and what makes you feel good about the day. People don’t take the time to really understand the things they need to fill themselves, so the question you have to ask yourself is, “How well do you know yourself, and what do you truly need to be happy?”
J: What is next for you in your career?
S: There are several projects I’ll be focusing on at the Foundation in the near-term. Outside of work, I’d love to join a public board and do more volunteer work.