North Central College welcomed prominent executives to campus for “The Path Forward,” a panel discussion and series of “coaching sessions” designed to help them select and succeed in their career paths.

Feature News

Executive panel brings career success to the forefront


Apr 16, 2019

Career conscious experts share professional best practices in exclusive speaking engagement and coaching sessions

North Central College welcomed prominent executives to campus for “The Path Forward,” a panel discussion and series of “coaching sessions” on Thursday, April 11. Students gathered to hear advice shared by Katie Dornan, corporate controller and chief accounting officer for Molex Electronic Solutions; Michael Gross ’10, president of Clutch Global Logistics; Frank Pettaway ’96, senior vice president of wealth management for Northern Trust; and Leah Rippe, vice president of marketing and communications for the Chicago Zoological Society and Brookfield Zoo.

The event is intended to be the first in a series spearheaded by Mike Soenke ’86, executive in residence for the School of Business and Entrepreneurship (SBE), and North Central’s Office of Career Development. Soenke, a retired senior vice president and chief financial officer at McDonald’s USA, wanted to give students in all areas of study—particularly majors from SBE—the opportunity to hear how successful executives have climbed the corporate ladder.

“It’s designed for students to help them as they’re thinking about their future path,” said Soenke. “We’re giving them things to think about and consider as they develop their own framework and determine what’s important to them.”

Executives discuss career paths with North Central College students.

(From left) Executives Katie Dornan, Frank Pettaway, Michael Gross, Leah Rippe and moderator Mike Soenke.

Making futures from scratch

Soenke moderated the panel, taking questions from students and asking his own. He led the panelists through reflections on how they began their working lives, important lessons they picked up during their journeys in the business world, the best ways to stand out in the interviewing process, and even their most significant and instructive failures.

The panelists brought unique perspectives, each having worked in different areas of business and taken distinct paths to their current roles. Dornan has climbed the ranks within the same parent company her entire career and focuses on international business in her role, while Pettaway and Rippe have repeatedly changed jobs and companies in the banking and marketing fields, respectively, to find new challenges and build new skills along the way. Gross, meanwhile, left a developing corporate role with Boeing to become an entrepreneur, founding three start-up companies and advancing at Clutch Global Logistics.

Pettaway spun thought-provoking metaphors that helped make his guidance relatable, encouraging students to think ahead and take chances, or in other words, “see what’s around the corner” and “look for buildings on fire and run in.” He also advised them to “always leave the house to put forth the best version of yourself.”

Dornan and Gross shared the key attributes they look for when hiring—initiative, curiosity and communication. Rippe emphasized attention to detail, telling the students to be sure to specifically sell themselves during interviews and follow up afterward. She stressed that the key to organization is planning ahead and looking at each workday strategically.

North Central College student Nick Moore talks career planning and interview advice with Katie Dornan.

Economics major Nick Moore '19 participates in a coaching session with Katie Dornan.

Employment coaching straight from the boardroom

Students were encouraged to come prepared with questions and apply to meet with the executives personally. Those who applied wrote résumés for the executives to evaluate before the event. The Office of Career Development held a preparatory session with students to fine-tune their résumés and practice their interviewing skills.

After the panel discussion, each executive met one-on-one with students for 30-minute interview coaching sessions, providing feedback on how they could present themselves most effectively and guidance on the different paths they could choose. The chance to interview with high-ranking executives is rare for students and Soenke hoped it would give them clarity as they plan their futures.

“Students got feedback on whether they’re focusing on the right things that are going to make them the most marketable,” he said. “For students deciding between multiple paths, the executives gave them things to consider about what careers in various areas would look like.”

The event was co-sponsored by the North Central branch of the American Marketing Association, EIBO (Entrepreneurship and International Business Organization), Enactus NCC, the Finance Club, the Financial Literacy Club, Invisible Hand Economics Association, and the Student Accounting Society. Soenke also credits a number of key people with supporting the event, including Diane Anstine, dean of the School of Business and Entrepreneurship, and the offices of Alumni Engagement, Corporate Relations and Career Development.

Soenke hopes to make this event an annual one and to continue the series with a focus on other majors in the future.