Sara Rock and Hilary Dickson have been working together at UMB for 13 years, and over the course of their careers together, they’ve tackled challenges and grown in their roles—both with recent promotions to leading the bank operations team and leading bank product, respectively.
Ever since Sara was designated as one of Hilary’s first connections when she started at UMB, the two have not only been a support system for each other, but they have also shared successes and created their own career paths. Now, they’re sharing their career stories and how they continue to shape their futures at UMB.
What was your first job, and what did you learn from it?
Hilary: I had a lot of jobs growing up, but the first one that made an impact was my job in the kitchen at a nursing home. It was the first time I truly understood how my contributions can better the community around me – and that there is a lot of wisdom to be gained simply by listening to other people’s experiences.
Sara: I worked at a small hardware store in high school, and it was the need to wear a lot of hats that taught me the most. Whether it was working the cash register, unloading trucks, stocking, accounting or cleaning, I was willing to do whatever needed to be done for the betterment of the whole; this mentality has stuck with me throughout my career.
How did you get into the banking industry?
Hilary: Like a lot of people, I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I got older and dipped my toe in a few things along the journey. I originally started college to go in to teaching—then switched to finance simply because I was good with numbers. After earning my finance degree, I moved into consulting with banks, ultimately leading me to UMB.
Sara: I actually started my career in child support enforcement after college. It was a very tough, eye-opening environment, and I quickly realized it was not what I wanted to do my entire career. I took an entry-level position at UMB shortly after that, and the rest is history.
What are some of your most memorable experiences at UMB?
Hilary: Honestly, one of my most memorable experiences was while on a challenging project for customer data quality. It is up there as one of my toughest at UMB, but it was a project that helped lay the groundwork to build a network of relationships here. It showed me the value of hard work and the success that can come from making connections and working together—one of those colleagues being Sara. Since then, we have been in lock step as we progress with the company.
Have you experienced challenges being a woman in a generally male-dominated industry?
Hilary: I can honestly say I have never felt that at UMB. As a company, UMB is truly invested in lifting women up in leadership positions—and in lifting leaders up no matter their background. It’s about talent and the best person for the job at a given point in time. From my personal experience, I have never felt a lack of opportunity, but rather always felt support.
Sara: I echo what Hilary said. I have never felt there is an arena that I couldn’t compete in or that there is a limit to my career growth at UMB.
Hilary: I just do (my best). I have always been very mindful of drawing a hard boundary line and living by the mantra that our children and family deserve the best of us, not the rest of us. When the day is over, I leave work at work when at all possible (there are always going to be times that require us to be flexible if issues arise), and I let people know that it is okay to stand firm in that separation between work and personal lives.
Sara: I don’t always manage this as well as Hilary, but I focus on making intentional choices. Sometimes that choice is to focus on my family and kids, which can be challenging in an operations role that is 24/7. I communicate those moments of intentional focus, so I can step away while my team still feels supported.
What do you look forward to in your newly expanded roles?
Hilary: I love investing in people and helping them build their careers while achieving their personal goals, work/life balance or career development; this promotion allows me the opportunity to do even more of this for more team members.
Sara: For me, it’s the opportunity to help my team members grow and become company leaders themselves. Whether it’s through technology, resources, staffing or systems, I enjoy being able to set that tone and experience for my team.
What advice would you give people just starting their careers?
Hilary: Stay open to the path ahead, whether you are one of the few people who know what you want to do in your career or are still figuring it out. Always be open to what your next challenge or next step might be.
Sara: Build your network and be willing to take a risk. Your network plays a huge role not only in your success, but also in your development. Find people who will have your back and motivate you and connect with people who will push you to continually be better— they may see potential in you that you didn’t see in yourself. Take that risk and accept the challenges that come with it.
What resources or support have helped you move forward in your career?
Hilary: Once again, I can’t overstate the importance of your internal connections. I worked remotely for 10 years, and proactively building a network of connections and of people who are going to champion you even when you are not in the room is very important.
Sara: Seeking out good partners and developing those relationships goes a long way in finding people who believe in you and your potential, encourage you and stand with you.
What strategies do you use to work through difficult projects?
Hilary: Ask the challenging questions that others may not want to ask. I know it’s easier said than done, but you have to be OK failing forward, because making hard decisions that alter the course of each project gets us to where we need to go—as a team and as a company.
Sara: Be willing to ask for help. Engaging internal partners who may know more about a challenge or have a different perspective and knowing when to bring in an expert goes a long way. It’s OK to reach out and ask for guidance instead of muddling through it; it’s how teams tackle challenges together.
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