Spotlight Story

Vickie Sherman MBA 13
Finds Her Passion, Her Career—and Herself

What opportunities, decisions, events have shaped your professional life?

My career path has been a climb across a jungle gym rather than a tangent up a corporate ladder. As a child, I used to thumb through the three-inch JCPenney catalogue, picking out the professional women who I would grow to be. I wanted to rule the world from a corner office in a suit and heels. I wanted to shed my humble origins and become Corporate Barbie.

I was the first in my family to get a college education. I started out at the local junior college, earning my associate’s degree in three semesters instead of four—and with honors. A Wheatland, Calif., native, I transferred to UC San Diego because it was as far from my small hometown as I could get without paying out-of-state tuition. I worked at Victoria’s Secret through college, putting in 40+ hours per week while a full-time student. Working in retail confirmed the suspicion I’d always had: a tall woman in a sharp suit who emanates confidence can accomplish a lot. 

After graduation, I moved to Las Vegas to open my company’s first outlet mall as an assistant marketing director. I later transferred to Los Angeles, got married and trained at an upscale suburban mall. I was the marketing director at the coolest shoe Mecca mall in West Los Angeles (Westside Pavilion) and was a part of the team that grand opened Hollywood & Highland, home to the space formerly known as the Kodak Theater and the Academy Awards. I have more photos with celebrities than I care to admit.

Then in 2004, the mall corporation I worked for sold its portfolio to a little-known developer out of Australia known as Westfield. The sale coincided with the birth of my son. Soon after, I wasn’t offered the marketing director job I’d sought, and I was devastated. But life moved on. A year or so later, we decided to have another child. Then my husband graduated from Loyola Law School, passed the bar—but did not find any compelling job leads in Los Angeles. Suddenly the same things that had inspired me to leave the Sacramento area were kind of cool when looking to raise a family. It was also a market abundant with legal employment opportunities. I returned home in March 2007.

The great recession hit as we closed escrow. Mall marketing is dependent on discretionary income, and my job prospects dissolved. I consulted for a while and struggled to land a marketing director position at the Sunrise Mall. The advent of real estate investment trusts (REITs) had changed the tax implications of acquisitions, and there was a lot of consolidation in the industry. I’d paid my professional dues in an industry that no longer needed me.

While pursuing the requirements for a mall management credential—which I had zero interest in—it hit me: What if I went back to school to get my MBA and earned the legitimate credentials that matched the suits? Three jobs and three years later, I graduated from the Sacramento MBA program in 2013. I now manage the corporate marketing department at Golden 1, California’s leading credit union.

The GSM publishes an annual Study of California Women Business Leaders. Do you have any advice for women seeking to advance their careers?

There is a lot that shapes the statistics shared in the study, and influencing change isn’t simple. Throughout their lives, most men are trained to be strong and ambitious. Most women are trained to be attractive, obedient and likable. This is so ingrained in our society that we hardly even see it. I adopted many of those premises myself. I always wanted to look the part. I also always doubted myself on some level.  

I am Vickie Sherman, and I am an imposter syndrome survivor. Hi Vickie.

I would venture to say any woman who has spent any length of time in a professional workforce has experienced subtle or not-so-subtle forms of retaliation for expressing ambition. Political maneuvering is generally seen as savvy if from a man, manipulative if from a woman. Asking for a raise is an expression of competence from a man, pushiness from a woman. Post-partum career slippage. Appraisals that include terms like territorial and interpersonal discord with no warning nor examples. Sheer astonishment at my audacity when I dared to say that after three years of essentially doing so, I was ready to officially run my department.

We as a society need to talk about this and evolve. We shouldn’t shun the conversation because it’s difficult. In fact, that’s exactly why we should actively have it.

The only way I know how to combat this is reconcile who I am with what I have learned, what my values are and, professionally, to focus on results. I decided long ago I wanted to look and act the part of a powerful, attractive woman. But with that, I also decided I would work harder, be better at generating consensus and identifying data-driven strategy, and be clearer with transparency than my peers. It’s a balance that, to me, is very personal.

What are you passionate about in your work?

Results. Transparency. Inspiring trust. Working smarter, not harder. Identifying leadership’s currency and overdelivering. Becoming invaluable and inspiring my team to do the same. Those are the only tools I know to thrive professionally. There are no shortcuts.

Where is your career headed? 

I will be a CMO before my career is complete. I want to lead the marketing function for a great organization that I believe in, and that believes in me. I think I’m moving in that direction.

How are you a game changer? Or, how are you making a positive impact in the world?

I don’t know that I am a game-changer. I do know I’m more myself now than I ever have been.

I am unapologetic about who I am, what I want to achieve and the ambition I have for my department and my company. And I know that I can’t do it alone: I am the first to say I need help, to express gratitude for an expert’s contribution and to admit it when I screw up.  

I am most comfortable in corporate environments where I have a seat at the table. I wear sharp suits, high heels and bright red lipstick. I love not having to pretend that I’m weaker, more dim or less feminine than I am. I am opinionated, smart, imperfect, pleasant and driven. I laugh heartily and often. I encourage others fully be themselves, in both their personal and professional lives.

How has your UC Davis MBA experience helped shape your success?

The GSM enhanced my technical business acumen in exactly the ways I hoped it would.  Finance is the engine of any organization, and I can speak it fluently now.

The GSM also taught me the value of what I already had. I realized I knew much more than I gave myself credit for. I have a knack for emotional telepathy. People won’t remember what you do or what you say as much as how you make them feel. Group work in the MBA program blew my mind. My first group project was in marketing, and it was because I learned how to shut up and listen that the final result was indeed far superior than if I’d taken charge and done the whole thing myself. When I ran across a group tyrant in my third year, I recognized a former version of myself and was horribly embarrassed.

The GSM taught me how to be a better leader. I learned the value of creating an environment where everyone feels safe to chime in. I honed my drive into wanting desirable results for all. The reward was that some of the most powerful insights from group projects were contributions from others. I learned to focus on the big win of the group being ours, not just mine.

What is the most significant thing that’s happened to you since graduating?

I found my long-term professional home. At least I think so.

Your favorite GSM memory?

One night the planets aligned just so and I ended up skipping a class with about four cohorts to have drinks with four of the marketing professors of the GSM at an Irish pub in downtown Sacramento. We piled into two cars—mine being one of them—and shared a few pints with some of the most recognized marketing geniuses in the world. It was the optimum example of [Past] Dean Steven Currall’s advice to not let your class schedule get in the way of your education. It was amazing.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I refuse to propel the Superwoman myth. My marriage and family survived my school schedule because I made time for it. But we made compromises: the house was a mess and we ate a lot of takeout. Now that my career seems back on track to pre-recession levels, the house is still a mess and we still eat a lot of takeout.

How do you support and participate in the GSM now? Why is it important to support graduate business education?

I knew I’d get out of the MBA program what I put into it. So I gave it my all. Not only was I fully employed with a husband and two children, I was on the Dean’s Student Advisory Committee as communications director my first year, served as class president my second year and was a Leadership Fellow my third year. I co-founded the now-annual networking event Capital Connections on the belief that happy, connected students become happy, connected alumni. I spoke at commencement. Although I was in the Sacramento MBA program, I took a few electives on the Davis campus to meet Full-Time and Bay Area MBA students. Now I’m on the GSM Alumni Association’s Board of Directors and serve on its Engagement Committee.

It’s important to support the GSM after graduation because after crossing the Mondavi stage and getting that diploma, a subtle transformation occurs: Responsibilities don’t decrease—they increase.  

We are no longer consumers of business strategy and information. Now we produce it. Post-graduation, there is no syllabus, no conveniently bundled case studies with facts to light the way. There are no-clear cut questions and no right or wrong answers. What we do, say, influence and accomplish professionally is entirely on us. We have no one but our wits and each other to guide us.

The GSM is a small school. Our faculty are some of the most passionate and talented in the world and are only too willing to spend time with us. There is no director of alumni relations more devoted that Mary Maffly. And there is no reason the GSM alumni network shouldn’t be the tightest and most powerful in the world. I’d like to help make that happen.

I am shameless about my career ambitions: I want the corner office. I know I have to earn it, and I’m willing to work very hard to do so. And I can’t accomplish what I want alone. I am willing to give what I can and contribute to others’ ambitions because I know that, at some point, I will need an introduction or perspective that I alone am not capable of.  

So I’m happy to pay it forward. Especially if it’s over a pint.