Six Keys to a Successful and Satisfying Career

Nothing ventured, nothing gained, stresses Leo Alaniz

Leo Alaniz, senior vice president and head of strategy and global marketing for corporate and institutional services at Northern Trust

“Some opportunities only come around once in life. I wanted to avoid getting too far into my career and wondering, ‘What if I had taken that chance?’ That’s what led me to apply to Ivy League schools even though my parents never went to college, reconsider medical school midway through college, attend Cambridge University for a graduate degree in European studies, and join an Internet start-up in California as the fifth employee. My career is still evolving, but I have picked up some important lessons along the way that I hope will be helpful to professionals defining their career paths.

Find a mentor.

If you do find someone whom you admire and whose ethics align with your own, cultivate that relationship, and that individual will be invaluable to you throughout your life. After graduating from Yale and Cambridge, I moved to San Francisco with just a few bags. That’s where my career took off. A major factor in my success was that I found a strong mentor: my first CEO, Richard Sommer, who encouraged me to apply to business school. He allowed me to learn from his successes as well as his mistakes. He helped me formulate ideas and encouraged me to give back to the community

Never be complacent, aspire to new possibilities.

I have been at Northern Trust as a senior vice president and head of strategy and global marketing for the asset servicing business for about three years now. We serve large corporate clients, public pensions, insurance companies, and other institutional clients around the world. My focus has been on executing my role successfully and developing a strong team. By establishing myself as an asset to Northern Trust, I can translate my skills to other opportunities that will further allow me to lead the organization and strongly position me for an executive role in the future.

Earn the trust and respect of your colleagues.

Do this by doing your job well and being accommodating. My father gave me an important piece of advice when I was very young: “Never think anything is below you.” Work hard, do your work well, and make sure that you don’t neglect tasks because you think they’re boring or administrative. Attention to detail is important, even if it’s tedious at times.

Avoid the trap of work-life imbalance.

I follow the advice a college professor shared with me to never let the inner student die, both in and out of the office. Ongoing learning is essential to maintaining your sanity, especially as you become more senior in your career. In the last few years, I’ve taken photography classes, worked to improve my tennis game, and set aside time to give back to the community, which I find immensely fulfilling. All of this creates a sense of balance in my life. Some of the activities you engage in for fun might even translate into new career insights.

Find ways to give back.

I am lucky to be part of an organization that values community involvement. Northern Trust found an opportunity for me to join the board of La Casa Norte, a nonprofit organization based in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood dedicated to helping youth and families confront homelessness in the city. I’m taking a significant role on their planning committee, helping to develop a solid, sustainable, three-year strategy to drive growth for the organization. It is fulfilling to leverage my corporate sector skills for a nonprofit organization. I was helped and encouraged from the start of my career. It would be unfortunate if someone in my position didn’t feel the need to help others.

Make your own opportunities.

In the end, your career is what you make of it. It is up to you to look for opportunities that will enhance your skills, to take measured risks that will bring you new experiences, and to find those key people who will help you progress professionally. Before locking yourself into a position, you should explore what other possibilities might exist. I have found that if you go with your gut, you usually end up in a place that is pretty interesting.”