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Connecting the Dots: Avni Patel Thompson and Joseph Thompson

Connecting the Dots: Avni Patel Thompson and Joseph Thompson talk about leaps of faith, managing two careers and taking their careers international.

It’s no wonder Avni Patel Thompson and Joseph Thompson are quoting the classic Steve Jobs-ism: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.” If you plot out their careers (and relationship) to date, you’d be holding something closely resembling an Air Canada flight map. Vancouver. Toronto. Cincinnati. Shanghai. Seattle. And some 50 other countries in between.

We met up with Avni, Senior Brand Manager at Starbucks, and Joseph, Director of Retail at Amazon, at our recent SmavvyTV event. The couple shared their thoughts on motivation, mentorship, what it takes to manage two careers and the “leaps of faith” required to go international.

Here’s what makes these two power individuals #standapart and, of course, #standtogether:

Knowing what motivates you

“It’s about what scares me,” said Joseph. Motivation kicks in for him when the intensity is waning: “being stale, harvesting what you’ve learned instead of picking up learning new skills, the feeling of being stuck instead of moving forward.” When that happens, he knows it’s time to shake things up.

For Avni, motivation is all about more: more knowledge and more experiences.  From an undergrad in Chemistry to a career in marketing brand-focused companies, she’s driven by an insatiable curiosity about what makes people tick.

Do you know what motivates you? Identify what drives your performance and be ready to take action when the passion runs low.

Don’t put Mentors in a box

Avni’s initial experiences with “mentorship” followed the classic model. “At first I turned to managers for their more experienced eye before I knew how to trust my own intuition… but eventually you meet so many amazing people you stop putting them into boxes.”

Joseph, on the other hand, has found a lot of value in the peer-forum model; he meets once-per-month with a trusted and varied group of friends from Harvard Business School.  “We talk about what’s going on in life, where we’re having problems and offer some advice.”

Who do you consider a “mentor”? Look beyond CEOs and connect with your network at every level.  

Building an International Career

Imagine this: that big meeting with your boss on Friday afternoon results in an even bigger decision – Cincinnati or Geneva. That’s how it played out for Avni and Joseph, who were both working for Proctor & Gamble at their Toronto headquarters. They didn’t know each other at the time, but they both had the same life-altering decision to make; their careers were about to go international. While Geneva seemed like the more compelling choice – sipping coffee, going skiing – in the end (with the help of a mentor), Avni realized that while Geneva would be a “phenomenal life experience,” the best business experience would be “to manage a US business this early on in her career.”

When it comes to your career, all destinations are not created equal. The right choice isn’t always the obvious one.

On Managing Two Careers

“Throughout our career we decided that we were going to be a partnership,” said Avni, sharing the difficulties of having two careers and managing them equally. When they got to the point of considering an amazing opportunity for Joseph to lead a business and team in China, they had just one weekend to make that decision. “We had to lean forward in this instance and say, this will be an incredible experience for a year – even if it’s not perfect for my career.”

Her next step:  “I reached out to everyone in my network, genuinely wanting to know about their experience in China and, through those connections, I was able to broker a transfer with Adidas.”

Take note: Don’t underestimate the power your professional network.

Leaps of Faith

Most people assume the couple’s big move to Shanghai was the most defining moment of their careers, but for Avni and Joseph, leaving their networks and safety nets early on in their careers was the scariest. “If you let it,” said Joseph, “life just progresses too incrementally, in 5% improvements every year. You have to find the things just around the corner and jump on them.”

Joseph had a terrible first day in China. The email home read: “meet me at the airport, they’ll send our stuff.” But the couple says it’s all about committing to your decisions and then committing to making them work. “Push away from shore. That’s what we tell young people looking for advice,” said Joseph.

Have the confidence to push beyond your comfort zone. 

On the transition from expat to pat-a-cake

“We saw China as our last hurrah before having kids. In some ways it was a great decision, but in some ways it was…a big shock to the system.” The couple went from “a high flying expat experience,” visiting over 50 countries from their home base in Shanghai, to another very incredible but “diametrically opposite” experience: having a child.  “They say it changes everything,” said Joseph. “And it really does.”

Forget being a ‘power couple’, Avni and Joseph proved they know how to ‘power parent’ when they brought their careers and a new baby back from Shanghai and quickly aligned with two West Coast brands dear to any new parents’ heart: caffeine and same-day diaper delivery.
What’s keeping them in motion today?

At Amazon, Joseph points to the breadth of intelligence. At P&G, we would have a  “three month timeline to make a decision and four meetings and a nice documented piece of paper. We’ll make that same decision in about 15 minutes at Amazon.”

Avni took the opportunity to get back to a “great branded company” at Starbucks, where she has the opportunity to do “exciting things in the digital space and in reinventing the experience with consumers every day at touch points around the world.”

We trust the dots will continue to connect into their future.