Down & dirty on getting ahead - Ex-CEO offers straight talk in "Sleep Your Way to the Top"
By Joanne Davidson, The Denver Post, 06/19/2014
Don't let the title fool you.
"Sleep Your Way to the Top" isn't a 321-page how-to for gaining ground in the workplace via skills honed in the boudoir. Readers will understand that once they see the asterisk after the title. It guides the eye to the all-important subtitle: "and other myths about business success."
Businesswoman Jane Miller of Boulder describes her debut work as a "sassy, funny, maybe even shocking, manual ... you can count on to help you figure out whether to be a bitch or a flirt, how much to drink at the holiday party and what to do when you get an X-rated e-mail from the vice president."
It's targeted at college graduates, those about to graduate and those in their first executive position.
She debunks myths and offers advice gained from her own missteps, holding the reader's attention with a lively writing style, in chapters with titles that include "Identity, Drama, Crying, and Cheating" and "Catgirls, Bullies, Disturbing Guys, and Things That Suck."
"What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas? That's what they all say," Miller writes. "But before you decide to sleep with your boss, just make sure you understand the ramifications. Including the fact that even the janitor will know."
Miller admits to being a CEO who was passionate — "about my work. I was also compassionate; I cared about the people who worked for me," she says.
"Sleep Your Way to the Top," the second title and first hard-cover volume from FG Press, has been described as a cross between " Lean In," by Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, and comedian Chelsea Handler's 2008 best-selling memoir, " Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea."
"So many of the others are written like letters from God," says the 55-year-old former president and chief executive officer of the Boulder-based Charter Baking Co., the baker for Rudi's Organic and Rudi's Gluten-Free. "They're page after page of what the author did right. I've made a lot of mistakes, and this book is filled with examples of lessons learned from being promoted, demoted and then promoted again."
Including the one that happened on her first day as an entry-level marketing department employee at Frito-Lay.
"There was a convenience store on the ground floor of our office building, from which I purchased a Diet Coke to go with the sack lunch I was carrying. I got into the elevator with a big guy, who asked who I was. I gave him my name and he said: 'Well, Jane, let me give you one piece of advice. Don't be seen with a Diet Coke again.' Then the door opened and he got out.
"This was in the days before you could Google everything, and I had no idea PepsiCo owned Frito-Lay. Or that the guy who was talking to me was Leo Kiely," then Frito-Lay's vice president of brand management.
She immediately made Pepsi her cola of choice.
Miller spent 13 years at Frito-Lay, eventually serving as a division president. She also ran the Western division of Best Foods Baking Company, the bakers of Oroweat, Thomas English Muffins and Entenmann's, and was president of HJ Heinz United Kingdom and Ireland, a job that ended after she butted heads with her boss over who to hire as her second-in-command.
The boss won.
"I was offered a lesser position, the kindergarten equivalent of sitting in the corner for a time-out," Miller writes. She quit instead.
Jane Miller's advice for job-seekers:
1. Be able to articulate what you would bring to the job.
2. Over-dress for the workplace culture.
3. Don't be ashamed of any job you've had.
4. Create your own brand.
5. Once you've landed the job, be enthusiastic.
Miller's journey to some of the corporate world's top executive suites began in Peoria, Ill. "I was the eldest child of young, high-school educated parents," she recalls. "My father was a bowling alley manager and my mother was a stay-at-home mom raising four kids."
Then her father left them, and her mom had to juggle low-paying jobs as a school bus driver and 911 operator, and had to rely on food stamps to feed the family.
With encouragement from her grandfather, Miller earned good grades and received both academic and financial-need scholarships to Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., where she majored in Russian studies.
A determined student, she quickly saw how education could open doors. Even in the unlikeliest of ways.
She married and moved to Dallas, where her husband pursued an MBA. To help pay their bills, she landed a job as a secretary at a bank, even though she didn't know how to type.
But she accepted new responsibilities gladly.
"I morphed from being the front-desk girl to being the front-desk girl who also got to work on employee benefits," she writes. "I no longer looked at myself as the Russian major in a dead-end job, but instead as someone who was starting at an entry-level banking job with all the potential in the world."
She thought about law school but found an MBA scholarship opportunity from the Zales jewelry corporation for people who had experience in retail, which she did.
"So the decision was this: Get a free ride to get an MBA, or pay for three years at law school. MBA, here I come!"
Over the years she has also been an American Field Service exchange student to Turkey, an officer in Delta Delta Delta sorority, a wife, a divorcee and widow. (Her husband was diagnosed with cancer shortly after their divorce and died soon after).
Miller left Charter Baking Co. this spring, when Rudi's was sold to Hain Celestial in a $61.3 million deal, and is currently interim president of the Unreasonable Institute, an organization that mentors young entrepreneurs from six continents.
She also serves on the advisory boards for Justin's Nut Butter, ReWork and the Deming Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado at Boulder; and does public speaking.
Along with offering career advice in her book, Miller maintains janeknows.com, a website that provides support, resources and tools for those climbing the corporate ladder. It offers the kind of information she didn't have when starting out.
But she did have a role model in her hard-working mother, to whom she dedicated her book.
"Her difficult path as a young woman paved the way for me to take an easier route. Easy is better."
Jane miller's advice for job-seekers
1 Be able to articulate why you want to work for this company and what you would bring to the job. "Spend time on the company website and create a résumé and cover letter that is less about buzzwords and more about what you can contribute. I once interviewed a young lady who made cake pops from organic ingredients decorated with smiley faces . They reflected her personality and the guts it took for her to go door-to-door trying to sell them. I wanted to buy a million."
2 Over-dress for what the workplace culture is, and pay attention to personal grooming habits. "At Rudi's we wore jeans, but I wouldn't expect to see someone in jeans for the interview. I was always amazed by the number of young women who hadn't had their nails done and showed up with chipped polish."
3 Don't be ashamed of any job you've had previous to this interview. "A lot of kids graduating from college with fancy degrees are going to wind up at Target or Starbucks. They're not your dream job, but you can describe them in a way that makes me want to hire you. You're familiar with customer service, good at working in a fast-paced environment ..."
4 Create your own brand. "Be clear on who you are. At 24, I was a worker bee, a leader, someone who could produce results. Today I'm a cowgirl, a mentor."
5 Once you've landed that job, be enthusiastic, get to know your co-workers, ask for help if you have questions regarding an internal office process or protocol, be confident and don't wait to jump in.