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Break In, Be Kind, Pursue Happiness: Career Advice from Momofuku’s Leslie Ferrier

Leslie Ferrier '90, vice president of human resources for Momofuku

As the vice president of human resources at Momofuku, Leslie Ferrier '90 is charged with ensuring that David Chang’s rapidly-growing food and media empire is a supportive, positive place to work. Read on for her hard-earned advice gleaned from an eventful 25 years in the business.

Back in 1990, I was 76th on the waitlist to meet with Hilton Hotels Corporation during on-campus recruiting at Johnson & Wales’ Providence Campus. That meant 75 people had to lose interest or leave the planet for me to get a shot at an interview. With that knowledge, I set up a few interviews within a certain radius of the Hilton recruiter. I had no luck breaking in.

As I left the career development office empty-handed, there was a handsome guy in the seating area. I figured if I wasn’t getting a job with Hilton, I would at least get a lunch date. As I was chatting up this charming individual, he asked if I was interviewing with Hilton. I said no and explained my plight. He asked what I was interested in and I told him human resources. The stranger asked if I could wait until after lunch. I asked why because I thought we would have lunch together.

The world doesn’t owe you anything, but you owe it to yourself to make your own way.”

At that point, he explained that he was the Hilton Hotels college liaison and he thought I should meet with the visiting VP of human resources. So I waited. I was given 10 minutes to state my case to the VP. A week later, I was sent an airline ticket to Chicago for a second round of interviews. A couple weeks after that, I was offered the East Coast placement for the Hilton Professional Development Program HR training rotation.

Those were my first two lessons in career management: First, you NEVER know who you’re speaking with, and second, always have your “elevator pitch” ready.

I’ve been in human resources now for 25 years. (I can’t believe I just wrote that.) In the course of this wonderful, amazing and often ridiculous career, I’ve learned a shocking number of things along the way.

You’ve already read the first two. Here are a few more highlights.

1) Everyone says money isn’t important. I’m here to tell you it IS. My mother always told me to have enough money to provide for yourself and two kids (I don’t have kids), but I took her advice and found a career that could provide a comfortable living. However, your happiness is also extremely important. It is up to you to decide how to balance these two (often warring) factions. If you fail to figure this out, you will be destined
for a lifetime of frustration and potential heartache.

2) Be kind and be honest. Those traits are very important when you’re dealing with people. And they are NOT mutually exclusive. Some of the biggest challenges I’ve faced in this business have resulted from a failure to have crucial conversations about real issues. Indeed, I’ve found that every broken system, process, issue or relationship can be traced to a failure to have a candid conversation about the things that matter. This is true for business as well as your personal life.

Find your passion and your joy. Find the career that’s right for you. You cannot wait.”

3) Learn to speak honestly while preserving and building relationships. It isn’t easy, but it is an art that will pay you back in spades your entire life.

4) Finally, it is later than you think. We are only here for a short time. There’s no time to be wait listing: I’ll wait until I have more money. I’ll wait until the timing is better. Find your passion and your joy. Find the career that is right for you. You cannot wait for someone to give it to you.

YOU have to go get it and manage the process. The world doesn’t owe you anything, but you owe it to yourself to make your own way. It will not be handed to you.

I’m not the same brazen young woman I was back in the career development office that day, but I do admire her. I’ve had my bumps, disappointments and bad news along the way. But, like that day so long ago, I’ve always found a way around the dreaded waitlist.

Leslie Ferrier '90 graduated from JWU Providence with a degree in Hospitality Management. Prior to becoming VP of human resources at Momofuku she worked for Hilton Worldwide, ABC Carpet & Home and various other companies.

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This article originally appeared in the Winter 2016 issue of JWU Magazine.

Topics: Careers Providence Internships Alumni