Vanessa Fox, Vice President & Chief Development Officer of Jack In The Box, Sounds Off On Why You Should Never Sacrifice Your Family Dreams For Work
What does balance look like for the modern career woman? Vanessa Fox, Vice President and Chief Development officer for Jack in the Box, had to ask herself this difficult question early on in her career as she earned promotions and raises while being both a mother and a wife. The secret is: there is no way to do it all. But any woman who aspires to be a VP has to set her own priorities to step by step build her dreams.
Fox did just that, navigating the corporate world as a manager, senior manager, and now as a Vice President and CDO. After twenty four years of real estate and development expertise, Vanessa spoke to MadameNoire about how she juggles her personal and professional life, and advice for up and coming girl bosses.
At what point in your journey did you know you were made to be a boss?
If you asked my parents and my friends dating back to childhood, they would tell you I have always been opinionated. As I matured in my early adulthood, I observed a lot of behaviors from bosses and other leaders in the companies I worked for and I always had the same take away: they have lost touch with what it means to NOT be the boss and what challenges people face. I have been determined over the last 25 years to never become numb to the challenges that every level of the organization faces, both personally and professionally, and to always remember that no matter what the job or role, it takes everyone to make the wheel go around. Early on in my career with Jack in the Box, I was asked what my long term career goals were and I was honest – I wanted to lead the development organization. Over time I have come to realize that I enjoy leading, regardless of the topic, and that I enjoy problem solving and I am not afraid to make a decision. Too often people are afraid of making the wrong decision so they stall on making one at all. Making wrong decisions is how we learn what the right decisions are.
What obstacles did you face in achieving Vice President status? How did you overcome them?
My road to get promoted beyond a manager level took some serious effort and some serious patience. I always knew I never wanted to find myself faced with being up for a promotion and losing out to the position because another candidate had a degree and I didn’t. So I made sure to get an MBA to be competitive. The degree did not lead to a promotion immediately, but I believe it showed my organization that I was serious about learning and improving my skill set. There were opportunities that arose that would have allowed me to climb the ranks faster, but they would have required some personal sacrifices that I was not willing to make. Early on during my first pregnancy, a field based director position became available that I was very interested in but the intense travel and potential relocation, did not align with my family or my health. The head of my department who had been mentoring me for years, told me to be patient and that he believed there was greater opportunity if I remained at the corporate office. I was promoted to director two years later. At that time, my husband and I were talking about having a second child, but I was nervous about that undertaking given the recent promotion. I had lunch with our CMO at the time, Terry Graham, and we discussed the challenges of being a working mother. I confided in her about my hesitancy of getting pregnant so early into my new job. She was very direct and told me not to ever sacrifice my family dreams for work, and that I was capable of handling a pregnancy and doing an excellent job. She really inspired me to not personally sacrifice and pursue what I wanted. I got pregnant three months later and was promoted to VP while I was six months pregnant. I was so proud of my organization in that moment – and it was awesome to ‘pay it forward’ by being the example for other women that promotions and appreciation do happen even when pregnant!
Who is your womenpreneur inspiration and why?
There is a woman in Seattle named Lee Rhoades, that founded a beautiful company called ‘Glassybaby’. I am an avid fan and customer of the brand, as the handmade glass blown votives are exceptionally beautiful. Ms. Rhoades journey to start and grow her company is also an exceptional story in that she overcame cancer while raising three young children. During her treatment, she found inspiration and peace from some beautiful glass blown votives and decided to start making them. Today, Glassybaby is a very large company but its purpose to help others, provide beautiful light to the world and to make people smile is alive and strong. I have been collecting and giving these beautiful votives as gifts to friends and coworkers for over 14 years. Ms. Rhoades donates a portion of every sale to different charities including hospitals, cancer research and animal rescues. This company is really all about grass-roots, starting small and making a big impact to individuals and communities on a daily basis. Every time I light one of my several dozen votives (my husband groans every time I go to Seattle because he knows I am coming home with more!), it makes me smile at their beauty, and the way they have a life of their own. Ms. Rhoades’ drive and vision is a true gift to all.
What is thebest advice you’ve ever received?
Never take yourself too seriously and be sure to laugh at yourself. Too often people get caught up in their titles when in reality, they are no different than anyone else.
What is your advice for women navigating themale dominated business sector?
Don’t try to be one of theguys, but also don’t feel the need to be the opposite either. I tend to curse more than I should and I naturally have the sense of humor of a 13 year old boy, so for me I tend to get along with most people, man or woman. Be willing to be yourself and be willing to speak your mind appropriately. The old saying ‘it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it’ is very true in any situation. Issues arise, conflicts happen and they must be addressed appropriately. This is true for dealing with a man or woman, and for myself, I often take time to calm down before I address an issue. But I always address it, or it festers and I cannot work that way.
Did you ever doubt your ability to “do it all?” Why or why not?
I still doubt my ability to do it all, in fact I don’t do it all. I do some of it and some of it just doesn’t get done. Whomever came up with that term certainly did not have to try and do it all, and you certainly never see that question being asked of a man! As I have gotten older I have realized that some things, the important things, get done and others get a priority spot on “The List” and eventually get taken care of. My biggest luxury is getting help with the housework on a weekly basis. I grew up cleaning toilets, dusting etc. every weekend, and it took a long time for me to be willing to pay someone else to do work that I am very capable of. But when I got pregnant with our second child, my husband begged me to agree to get house cleaning help so we could both keep our sanity. He was of course right and having a clean house is important to me, and it relieves my stress level tremendously (and my loved ones as well!). For my family being present is key, and both my husband and kids know they are my #1. They are pretty flexible about the constraints that interfere with traditional family time. For me, the biggest pressure to ‘be more’ comes from myself, and I am working on trying to be kinder to myself and lowering my self-imposed expectations.