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Mentor Spotlight: Tara Smith

March 23, 2017

By Camp Campbell

This month, we are thrilled to share words of wisdom from Camp Campbell Executive Mentor Tara Smith, Deputy Corporate Secretary and Corporate Counsel for Campbell Soup Company.

In this role, Tara provides legal and strategic advice to Campbell’s board of directors, CEO Denise Morrison, and the senior management team on a wide range of issues relating to corporate governance, securities law, executive compensation, compliance and enterprise risk. She is also responsible for managing the company’s communication efforts and ongoing engagement with certain long-term investors, and is a member of the steering committee for the company’s enterprise risk management program.

Previously, Tara was an Assistant Vice President in the legal department at Toll Brothers, Inc., a publicly-traded luxury homebuilding company based in Horsham, PA. She began her career as an associate in the Philadelphia office of Morgan Lewis, advising large companies in the areas of corporate and securities law.

At Campbell, Tara also serves as Global Co-Chair for the Women of Campbell network, helping to support fellow female executives as well as the next generation of rising female leaders across the organization. She was included on the 2016 list of “Women Worth Watching” by Profiles in Diversity Journal.

In this Mentor Spotlight, Tara shares her insight with the Camp Campbell community on the importance of developing mentor relationships, the profound impact that working for a female CEO has had on her career, and the responsibility of female leaders to support female talent and internal progress across organizations nationwide.


 

1. What role has mentorship played in your own career and personal development? What questions should members of the Camp Campbell community be asking their mentors to make the most out of these relationships?

Mentorship has been invaluable to me at every step of my career. When I was a young associate in a law firm, there were many partners who provided career advice and opportunities to develop my skills to become a better lawyer. One partner in particular made me the point person for a small, start-up client. That experience gave me confidence in my own abilities and helped me develop the “presence” you need to effectively speak to executives. I had another wonderful mentor in my first general counsel, who taught me how to go beyond being just a lawyer to being a partner to the business. He also created opportunities for me to gain exposure to senior management and the board of directors, which led to my role here at Campbell. Another mentor is my former manager who took the time to really groom me to be her successor. She was secure enough to teach me the subtle nuances of her role and continues to be a trusted resource. Now, I have the privilege of being mentored by our CEO, Denise Morrison, which is truly the opportunity of a lifetime.

Ask your mentor about the challenges and failures in his or her career and what they did to overcome them. Also, don’t just pay attention to what your mentor says, but watch what they do and how they do it.

2. What soft skills have been most valuable to you throughout your career? How did you develop these particular skills?

Unwavering integrity, and an ability to communicate effectively.

I was raised to have integrity. My mother always taught me: “Your word is your bond.” For lawyers, integrity is table stakes, but it’s just as important for anyone in business. At the end of the day, trust is paramount.

I’m a proud Gen-Xer, so I came of age in an era where communication was very different than what it is now. Being able to communicate orally and in writing was a skill that you had to develop in order to succeed in school, at work and in life.

3. You’ve mentioned that the most important quality a female leader should exhibit is patience, both in herself and others. How do you practice patience at work and in your personal life?

At work, one of the things I’ve learned from Denise is that patience – particularly when it comes to staying in a role long enough to learn and grow from the experience – is critical. As ambitious as I am and as much as I want to advance, I’ve come to appreciate having time in a role to develop necessary skills before moving on.

At home is where I’ve had to exhibit the most patience with myself. As a working mother, I’ve had to accept that I can’t be everywhere for everything. Fortunately, I have an amazing husband who supports my career and is willing to pitch in and carry the extra weight at home when necessary.

4. What do you think are the biggest challenges women face in leadership roles especially? How have you overcome these challenges in a male dominated industry?

I think women are underestimated and have to continually prove we deserve our seat at the table. Even in 2017, the perception that the bar was lowered for us, or we were promoted because of some corporate diversity initiative, remains. Women in leadership roles know the journey they’ve traveled and the challenges they’ve overcome, but when they receive the recognition they deserve, it’s like they have to prove themselves all over again. One of the great things about Campbell is that having Denise as our CEO sets the absolute “tone at the top” for respecting and valuing female leadership. Unfortunately, not everyone has the luxury of a Denise at the helm.

I’ve overcome these challenges by developing strong expertise in my field and putting in the work. I promised myself a long time ago, no one was ever going to question my work ethic or my skill. I’ve also never been afraid to ask for what I wanted, state my goals and, if necessary, move on from a situation where I wasn’t valued or didn’t have the support I needed to grow and develop. I’ve been extremely fortunate in my career to have wonderful managers and mentors, both when I was in private practice at a law firm and later at two corporations. At Campbell especially, I’ve been so lucky to work for two amazing general counsels, and Denise is the best there is when it comes to CEOs. But I know that not every woman has had the experiences I’ve had and it makes me more inclined to give back to others.

5. Denise Morrison is just one of 29 female Fortune 500 CEOs. How has the opportunity to work for a female CEO impacted you or influenced the way you operate in the workplace?

Having the opportunity to work for Denise is truly one of the great blessings of my career. She has so many things on her plate, but is selfless in her commitment to mentoring women and sharing her expertise. I’ve personally benefitted from her generosity and it has made me even more committed to being generous with others. It’s so easy to say “I’m too busy” when asked to meet with someone or participate in an event. But if Denise can make time to do it, who am I to say no?

6. We recently celebrated International Women’s Day and are in the middle of Women’s History Month. As someone who strives to empower women to reach their highest potential, what do you believe women in leadership roles can do to give back and support rising female employees?

Those of us in leadership roles all need to commit to being generous with our time and our talents. We all benefitted from someone who came before us and I believe we have an obligation to pay it forward. To lead is to serve, and making the small personal sacrifice to mentor other women, speak at an event, or offer constructive advice to someone who is rising up the ranks, will have a significant impact on the pipeline of future female leaders.

We also need to use our seat and voice at the table to advocate for diversity and champion other women. When we have a role to fill on our team, we should insist on evaluating a diverse slate of candidates. We shouldn’t be shy about recommending rising female employees for open roles on other teams if we believe they would be a good fit for the job. We should look for opportunities to highlight the contributions and accomplishments of other women. We just launched “Facebook at Work” at Campbell, which is a great forum to give kudos to team members and acknowledge our colleagues. We should never underestimate the power that we have to effect change within our organization.

7. What is the greatest advice you’ve gotten in your career, and what would piece of advice would you share with your younger self figuring out her career path?

The best advice I’ve received is to be open to change. A career is a journey and there will be starts and stops and even changes in direction, and you need to be open to those changes. Also, in business, change is inevitable. Look at the journey we are on at Campbell – we are setting out to change our company, how we make our food, how we engage with consumers, and how we are viewed externally. We must not only be open to change, but seek to embrace change and even drive change.

The career advice I’d give my younger self is: give yourself room to fail, forgive your own shortcomings, and don’t expect to be perfect at everything all the time.