From Secretary to Vice President of International Marketing, Bilingual Makes Dreams Come True

Tips to become vice president of international marketing

This vice president of international marketing started out in a secretary role more than 20 years ago. With the help of a few great mentors and a lot of hard work, she has worked her way up the ranks. Here she shares her experiences and explains that international business travel is not as glamorous as it may seem.

What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in that field?
I am a vice president of international marketing with 20 years experience

Would you describe what you do on a typical day?
I spend a great deal of time communicating with vendors, customers, freight forwarders, import brokers, and agents all over the world. This communication is mostly via email but some phone calls. The challenges vary from day to day. It is stressful but never dull.

If you’ve experienced discrimination, in what ways have you responded and what response worked best?
I am female in a mostly male industry. Most men expect women to be sensitive and fragile. I am neither. I can hang with the best of the good ol’ boys. I do command respect by my industry experience and reputation.

What languages do you speak? How has speaking another language helped you?
I speak fluent Spanish and English. I have found the ability to converse in the language of my customers and vendors to be a huge advantage. While most business people in Latin America can speak some English or at least struggle through it, speaking Spanish gives me a major advantage over competitors. I am able to build relationships more successfully. It can be very difficult to build trust between suppliers and customers living and working in different countries. Building trust is much easier when you are able to communicate in the language of your suppliers and customers. Significant misunderstandings can be avoided as well.

What don’t they teach in school that would’ve been helpful to you?
I have an International MBA degree. International finance, accounting, and marketing were the focus. I had to learn about the import and export business the hard way, through trial and error, in the real world.

How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?
I started as a marketing assistant. I was lucky to have two great gentlemen as unofficial mentors. They promoted me throughout my career. It was a long road to get where I am today but I don’t think I would change anything. It has been a great ride.

On a good day, when things are going well, can you give an example of something that really makes you feel good?
When I get an unexpected sales confirmation or an unsolicited offer of something I have been trying to source, I feel good. I work really hard to keep all opportunities open with contacts all over the world. Sometimes, luck just kicks in. That makes me feel good.

When nothing seems to go right, what kind of snafus do you handle and what do you dislike the most?
I handle logistical nightmares, unreasonable (and sometimes corrupt) customs officials, incomplete or lost documents needed to clear cargo, data entry errors that distort costing, customers who don’t pay, vendors who don’t deliver as promised. What I dislike the most are people who refuse to cooperate on any level and will not consider any viewpoint but their own.

How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance?
My job is extremely stressful. I try to maintain a good work-life balance by cherishing my relationships with my family. I am not a slave to the Blackberry when I am at home or with my family. The Blackberry is set to cut off @ 11 PM and turn on @ 7 AM. I exercise in my home 4 – 5 days per week.

What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough considering your responsibilities?
As the vice president of international marketing, I earn $120,000 plus bonus. No one ever believes they are paid enough!

What’s the most rewarding moment you’ve experienced in this position? Of all the things you’ve done at work, what are you most proud of?
My most rewarding moment was when I was asked to speak at the retirement dinner of my mentor. I am most proud of the fact that I started as a glorified secretary and have worked my way up to Vice President.

What’s the most challenging moment you’ve experienced? What would you prefer to forget?
Dealing with drunk customers is probably the most challenging experience. I would prefer to forget how naive I was about trust and the importance of business relationships at the beginning of my career.

What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
Experience matters more than education. Speaking more than one language is very important. International business is more about learning in the real world than succeeding in the academic world.

What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?
Being the vice president of international marketing is not for the faint of heart. It is stressful. It requires a great deal of international travel which is only glamorous to those who don’t do it.

How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?
I always take off the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Then, I take a day or two at a time. It is probably not enough.

Are there any common myths you want to correct about what you do?
Getting all of the frequent flyer miles is not so great when you don’t have enough time to use them. Also, if you travel a great deal, the last thing you want to do in your free time is travel.

If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?
I would like to have my own small import and export business, using the business relationships I now have in Latin America. I would also like to go back to school and get a Ph.D. so I could teach on the college level.

Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?
There is really nothing unique about my situation. I was lucky enough to have people in my workplace who wanted me to succeed. I work hard and am proud of what I have accomplished to date. I am always looking for the next international business challenge.

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