Building a Strong Foundation: An Interview with Stephanie Eggert
The Greater Philadelphia Women’s Leadership Forum (WLF) Vice President, Stephanie Eggert, recently assumed a new role as Senior Vice President of Operations at Hilco Redevelopment Partners. In true WLF spirit, the emails flew back and forth highlighting an announcement article from PR Newswire with shouts of congratulations from all corners of the city.
The beginning of a new role is always exciting, but we found ourselves curious about Stephanie’s path to get here. As an organization full of women looking to continue to professionally grow and develop, we couldn’t wait to hear what guidance Stephanie could share with us. She shared lessons from her childhood, about learning to be a team leader, and advice for women on their own career journeys. The common theme in all of these lessons was laying the framework for your future.
Lessons from Childhood
Whether it’s learning how to be a team leader from her days on the softball team or a meaningful comment (positive or negative) from a teacher, there are moments from Stephanie’s childhood that stand out to her; two of her most memorable lessons came from inside the classroom.
The first was in fifth grade. She was participating in an activity where everyone needed to pitch to the group why they should be the leader. It came down to Stephanie and a boy in her class. When it came time to vote, Stephanie voted for her classmate to be nice. He ended up winning by only one vote. After class she made a bashful, off-hand comment to her teacher about being disappointed, the teacher replied, “Stephanie, you have to be aggressive in this male-dominated world.” Years later, Stephanie wrote a paper in college about this moment – a story about her most influential teacher. It’s safe to say this message had an energy that resonated with her and created a passion in her to know that she could do whatever she wanted in her career.
The second was later on in middle school. She was sitting in a geometry class, which to her didn’t make quite as much sense as the algebra, and after ‘one too many’ questions was told by a teacher that she had exhausted her questions. Stephanie ended up doing horribly on the test, and left even more upset knowing that she had tried to explain to the teacher that she didn’t understand. When she relayed this story to her mother, who was also a teacher, her mother said, “Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you ask too many questions.” That’s how you learn, that’s how you get information, and that’s how you make connections in your head and with other people.
These two lessons helped lay the groundwork for the path that Stephanie has taken to date. She continues to be successful in a male-dominated field, and to this day she owns the fact that she asks ample questions and prefaces meetings with this information.
Learning to be a Team Leader
If you’ve ever had a conversation with Stephanie, you will not be surprised to learn that her greatest passion is people. She has a passion for learning people’s skills, what those skills are, where people might have opportunities to grow, and how she can link people together to help them learn from one another’s strengths. She spends time learning about people and understanding who brings what skills to the table through connection, observation, and conversation. These concepts can be utilized by other leaders using the steps and questions she outlined for us below. (We’re glad we asked!)
Connection: Understanding people at their core is very important in understanding what motivates them and how to support them best as a leader. Learning about them both personally and professionally can help a leader connect the dots as career development opportunities become available. Asking simple questions about what people do, what people like to do, and what people hate to do allow leaders insight into someone’s motivations.
Observation: While it’s not an active observation process, one can learn a lot about a person when there are many people working together in a room. You may learn how people interact with each other, how they approach the discussion, and who is jumping in to help. This can give a leader a baseline for what to expect from each teammate.
Conversation: Two questions many people dread are what are two things at which you’re really great and what are two things at which you could do better. Although in an interview these questions may cause anxiety, they provide exceptional direction from a personal development perspective. As a leader, you can help someone develop a plan to address opportunity areas and determine if it’s possible to pair groups of people together with complementary strengths and growth areas as you make decisions moving forward.
If you find that you’re new to a team, consider spending time with each individual person to lay a bit of foundation of your voice to start to build trust within the group. Once you develop trust, it’s a lot easier to be heard and for people to hear you. Stephanie reminded us that there’s a different between talking and being heard, and to really make a difference on a team there’s a lot of time and work that goes into the effort behind the scenes.
Advice for Women on Their Own Career Journeys
Stephanie left us with two pieces of advice at the end of the day: (1) you can empower yourself, don’t rely on other people to empower you and (2) when you build a strong foundation you can build yourself into whoever you’d like to be at the end of the day.
From her fifth-grade exercise trying to pitch being a leader to the group, Stephanie learned that you need to believe that you belong. This belief can go a long way. While people have support systems and mentors, at the end of the day it’s knowing what you want to do and creating a path to do it. Using your connections and letting people know what you want to do can help put you in charge of your own destiny.
Secondly, a boss once likened the different roles you have in your career to building blocks. This analogy stuck with Stephanie. You can either build upwards in a straight line and then your tower may fall over, or you can lay a strong base, build across and then up, and then you will have a strong foundation to build yourself into whoever you want to be. She assured us that no one ever knows what direction they’re heading in their careers (even if they think they do), but as long as you continue to learn new skillsets and activities, you will continue to grow your foundation of blocks and your career can grow in many (sometimes unexpected) directions.
As a chemical engineer, it’s not surprising that Stephanie’s advice is so methodical. She talks of building blocks, information gathering, and putting in the work to build genuine connections. She has spent her career laying the groundwork for this next step of her journey and this new role as Senior Vice President of Operations will continue to build her own path forward.
We are very excited that Stephanie has chosen the WLF to be one of her building blocks and look forward to continuing to learn all we can from her. When one of us succeeds, we all succeed. We flood each other’s inboxes in cheers of congratulations. And we share our stories with each other to help others grow into who they want to become.