My Five Steps for Navigating Career Success

By Pamela Aldsworth, Head of Venture Capital Relationship Management, Silicon Valley Bank

I am often asked: How did you navigate your career from lender at a local bank to managing director at global tech lender Silicon Valley Bank (SVB)? First, it took nearly 25 years. Second, I consciously sought to make a difference in every job I took. Finally and most importantly, I did not do it alone; I sought out people who could help me along the way.

Now in my role at SVB, I am in a terrific position to help others, particularly those who may have never thought of themselves as entrepreneurs and innovators. While money is flowing in tech, it still is a challenging time to raise capital and launch a company, especially if it’s your first try.

Here are five ways to build a successful career and life, gleaned from my experience and the entrepreneurs and business leaders I’ve been fortunate enough to know in my life.  

#1. Find a role model.

Women sometimes underestimate themselves. I had two mentors who changed my life. Early in my career, I met a woman who worked at Massachusetts Capital Resource Company. She was equal parts graceful, poised and intelligent. I learned from her how to grow up in a mostly male industry. She helped me gain leadership skills, including how to present with confidence and banish the insecurities of being a young woman.

By the time I met my second influential mentor, then-SVB CEO Ken Wilcox, I had ambition. “You think that client is smarter than us?” he once asked me. This quote stuck with me because it showed that Ken viewed me as an equal and a partner. He became a sponsor and advocate for my career, assigning me high-profile projects and ensuring I was constantly in front of senior leadership.

#2. Embrace challenges.

For me, work is no fun unless it’s a challenge. I’m always nudging my SVB team and myself to think differently and innovate just as entrepreneurs and investors do. As an example, we uncovered a growing segment in the venture capital market of entrepreneurs, operators and venture capitalists leaving established firms to begin their own practice. This led to the development of SVB’s emerging manager practice, which now serves venture funds with under $150 million in capital. We help to connect more established players with up-and-comers, all part of my passion for bringing communities together to increase their probability of success.

#3. Sign up for skills-based help.

I love empowering women as a mentor inside and outside of the bank. I am heavily involved in the bank’s development programs, such as our associate development program that gives hands-on banking experience to recent college graduates. Access to capital is a huge hurdle for any startup, but women typically have to work harder and wait longer to secure institutional or venture capital. In 2016, I helped create our CEO coaching sessions, which now hosts eight sessions a year to help women founders refine and sharpen their presentation and leadership skills. More recently at SVB, we are working with All Raise, an organization that helps women enter the venture industry and rise through the ranks.

#4. Do what you enjoy. 

I thrive on working with inspirational people. Among SVB clients I work with is Dulcie Madden, co-founder and CEO of Rest Devices, which makes wearable baby monitors. Rest Devices’ app, Nod, uses AI to deliver customized, daily sleep recommendations to parents based on pediatric sleep expertise and the biggest infant sleep database around. Helping parents and their children get more sleep—now that’s rewarding.

#5. Stay grounded.

I have a two-fold mission: In addition to helping women access capital, I think it is important to also aid those in my community who have few resources and need a helping hand. I firmly believe in “teaching people how to fish” so they can define success on their own terms. I spearheaded the expansion of a charitable program called Tech Gives Back beyond its Boston base to New York City, San Francisco, Santa Clara, Los Angeles, Houston and Boulder. Education is my passion, and my husband and I are very involved with uAspire, a nonprofit organization ensuring that all young people have the financial information and resources necessary to find an affordable path to and through college. Twenty years ago, I started a tradition for my SVB team to serve dinner at the Woods-Mullen Homeless Shelter in Boston every month. These activities keep me grounded and I am proud to work for a company that values giving back. Make giving back a priority where you work.

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