The Best I Ever Worked With …by Maisha Cannon

Joyce Dacher, Human Resources Manager
Castle Rock Entertainment (1994)

Lessons learned: Excellence and Work Ethic

“Good enough is never good enough, when extraordinary is expected and is the standard.” -Ty Howard

During my last two years of high school, I worked full-time summer internships at Castle Rock Entertainment (CRE) through the Y.E.S. to Jobs program. By my sophomore year in college, I had transitioned from summer intern to part-time HR Assistant, reporting to Joyce Dacher.

Joyce was approachable, upbeat, and patient. A clear communicator, her playful personality was on display anytime I entered her office, as her desk was covered with small cartoon figurines. I remember The Simpsons being prominently displayed.

As HR assistant, I was responsible for responding to job inquiries, posting job ads, reviewing resumes, maintaining employment files, and even helping to distribute paychecks. On slower afternoons, I would sit attentively in one of the two chairs in front of Joyce’s desk, listening, learning and laughing (and likely asking 1,000 questions). Though I was only a teenager, Joyce always made sure I knew I was a valued member of the team. I thrived under Joyce’s tutelage which helped lay the foundation for the career I have today.

Sometime in 1997, I learned I was being laid off from Castle Rock along with many of my colleagues.

On my last day, I spent most of my time on the final project – making ~100 copies of the resumes of all the laid-off employees and preparing them to be mailed to every entertainment company on the Entertainment Human Resources Network (EHRN) list.

After spending most of the day shuffling between the copier room and my desk, I carted the sealed envelopes down to the mailroom. As Joyce reviewed everything before the end of day postal pick up, she noticed there was a formatting error of some sort. I don’t clearly recall it now, but to my teenage mind, it was miniscule. Joyce let me know that due to the error, I would need to reprint and reaffix all of the labels.

I was flabbergasted, and a little embarrassed that I hadn’t caught my own mistake.

Disappointed, I headed back to my desk, instead of to the underground parking structure to head out for the day. In that moment, I learned a lasting lesson – “okay” was not good enough. Only the highest quality of work is acceptable, from the smallest task to the biggest. Even on your last day of work.

Faye Clerk, HR Manager
NBC (1998)

Lessons learned: Quality and Ownership

My final project at Castle Rock – mailing resumes of the laid off employees to entertainment companies around the city – is what led me to my next role.

One afternoon, a few weeks after my layoff, I received an unexpected phone call from a woman named Faye Clerk at NBC. After a brief conversation wherein she asked about my CRE experience and availability, she let me know there was a need on their team for someone with my experience. Because of how she received my resume, no interview would be needed. She simply let me know where I should report for work later that week as the new department Coordinator.

I was entrusted with a great deal of responsibility as the HR Coordinator – welcoming new hires during orientation, assisting with the Page Program, updating the job hotline, verifying employment and more.

Faye was an exceptional HR professional. In all of her interactions, she came across as confident, informed and practical.

In our early months together, I was intimidated. But that isn’t to imply that Faye was intimidating. She was no-nonsense, with a high standard, and I just didn’t want to make a mistake. I remember feeling nervous walking into Faye’s office to drop off resumes or ask a question. But she never turned me away. No question was too small. Despite the pressing demands of her day, she was always willing to provide coaching and guidance.

What I appreciate now that I didn’t fully realize then is that Faye was masterful at her craft and highly respected among her peers. She was firm yet warm, sensible yet empathetic. In fact, she was my earliest example of what a Black woman executive could be/look like.

She was an early mentor and advocate for me in ways I probably still am not fully aware of. I’m grateful for how generous she was with her time, energy and expertise during my formative years in Corporate America.

I recently read an article that quoted Faye as saying, “Mentoring is about caring and sharing your experiences. It has been my mission to maximize human potential, to allow others to have hope, to believe, to dream and always want more.”

Mission accomplished.

Uchenna (Onyendu) Nwude, Senior Recruiter
E! Entertainment (2003)

Lessons learned: Patience and Diplomacy

“If you choose your words as you choose your shoes then they would always be soft, comforting, supportive, and would always fit the occasion.” – Wyatt Allen

In 2003, I found myself at a critical career juncture. Frustrated with the ebbs and flows of entertainment HR, I told myself I would move into insurance claims. What was I thinking?

On the precipice of accepting an offer with a leading insurance company, I was offered a 30-day contract recruiting assignment at E! Entertainment. This, I thought, would be my last role before changing to a more stable industry. But I loved the work and I couldn’t see insurance claims being anywhere near as exciting. I made my desire to stay known and, with Uchenna’s support and advocacy, I ended up being converted to staff. I stayed at E! for 18 months before another buyout and – you guessed it – and another layoff.

I worked as a “Staffing Specialist” alongside Uchenna who held a Sr. Staffing Specialist title at the time. I remember taking notes feverishly in the first few months of working with Uchenna.

As she helped me get up to speed on processes and systems, I was in awe wondering how she was keeping track of all of the things. Once, I mistakenly asked Uchenna a question that she had already answered (twice). She promptly and politely asked me to check my notes. I have her to thank for the active listening and effective note-taking skills I’ve cultivated to this day.

As Uchenna’s natural abilities became more evident, her role as a recruiter began to expand into handling employee relations matters. She served as a trusted confidant for leaders throughout the company. As I watched from a distance, I couldn’t help but notice and admire the impeccable way she handled conflict and criticism.

As has been the case for several impactful mentors in my career, I was able to work with Uchenna a second time during our years at the University of Southern California (USC).

Uchenna’s skills continue to shine and she was recently promoted to the role of Associate Director, Employee Relations at USC. Fight on!

Dolly Singh, Head of Talent Acquisition
SpaceX (2012)

Lessons learned: Precision and Mastery

“Ambition never comes to an end.” – Yoshida Kenko

To put it simply, there’s just something about Dolly. Striking. Tenacious. Strong. Astute. Smart. Sharp-witted. Dynamic.

In 2012, Dolly Singh was leading Talent Acquisition for SpaceX, a commercial aerospace company founded by Elon Musk. I had been hired as a Contract Recruiter shortly after their groundbreaking Falcon 9 launch.

The atmosphere at SpaceX headquarters was electric. Accordingly, Dolly moved at the speed of light. She tossed a lot at me and I attempted to catch it all. We were moving so fast. It was all business, all the time.

Working with Dolly made me realize that as competent and capable as I thought I was, I still had so much to learn. Her ambition, poise and skillfulness were evident in each interaction with internal and external stakeholders. The ease with which Dolly spoke with world-class candidates was mind-blowing. We were recruiting rocket scientists, for Pete’s sake!

On a rare afternoon, Dolly and I started talking about non-work related things. In one short conversation, I learned that on top of everything else, she was funny and down to earth.

Later, when I told Dolly I wanted to resign, she tried to convince me to stay. She told me I was a rock star. I told her that I was slowly realizing that I actually wanted to be the drummer in the background. Integral to the band, but not center stage. She understood.

I learned even more about Dolly after we stopped working together since she shares her insights all over the web. Dolly is now CEO of Thesis Couture, founded with a mission to empower the lifestyles of ambitious women through innovation and intelligent design.

Dolly was once quoted as saying, “I have very high expectations, I’m super demanding and am not an easy person to work for.”

She’s right. And I’m better for it.

Marvin Stickel, Team Lead
Google (2013)

Lessons learned: Team building and Authenticity

“Never looking back, or too far in front of me, the present is a gift, and I just want to be.” – Common

Moving from Los Angeles to the Bay to work for Google has been THE most exciting experience of my career to date. On my first day, hearing the orientation leader say, “Oh you’re on Marvin’s team? You’re lucky!” only added to my elation.

As Founder of Google’s first diversity focused sourcing task force, Marvin Stickel built the most diverse team I’ve ever been a part of. His intuition, transparency and sacrifice both blended and bonded a team of around 15 people. He created a space that allowed each of us to be authentic while unifying us around a common vision. As a player-coach, Marvin consistently set clear goals, held us accountable, and led by example.

What I remember most were our weekly team meetings. There was always a fun game, interesting icebreaker question or some other activity to bond us closer together. We celebrated our individual and collective wins regularly, and were honest about our struggles. Although there were unique bonds forming within our larger group, Marvin made sure everyone’s voice was valued and heard.

Working with Marvin taught me the importance of letting my authentic self be reflected in all I do as a leader. Marvin had a special way of being vulnerable, open, and hands-on, with a seemingly endless reservoir of energy to encourage and support us all.

When I reflect on Marvin’s leadership style, it serves as a constant reminder that I don’t have to take myself so seriously. I don’t have to know all the answers, or the best techniques to handle every possible situation. All I have to do is show up, fully present, and willing to listen/learn.

Thank you to Maisha Cannon for sharing The Best I Ever Worked With with the Brainfood Tribune.

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