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July 26, 2013Today we had the privilege of chatting with Judine D. Agostini, Assistant Vice President, Team Leader, Information Technology, M & T Bank, and her daughter, Alliah Agostini Livingstone, Brand Manager, eos Products, about how they entered their respective fields—and the lessons they’ve learned along the way. The lesson we learned? Sponsorship begins at home!

Tell us about your career path and how it led to your current position—or how your current role differs from the path you started out on.

JUDINE: In the sixth grade, I decided my career goal was to be a chemist. I asked for a chemistry set for Christmas. I enjoyed mixing stuff to see what would happen, but I didn’t like following the prescribed experiments. By high school, I’d become more proficient in math than in the sciences, and I graduated from college with a BS in chemistry and a math minor.

After graduation, a recruiter at an employment agency convinced me that my math degree meant I was qualified to be a programmer at a bank. I was initially hesitant, since this was not in my “plan,” but it was a change in direction I have yet to regret.

ALLIAH: After college, my passion for magazines led me to pursue a career in publishing. I moved to New York to join Time, Inc. as a retail sales analyst. Feeling unfulfilled, I began exploring other career options and eventually became intrigued by brand management. I returned to Harvard for my MBA and launched my marketing career at Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati. Not long after, I accepted my current position as a brand manager at eos Products and moved back to the New York area.

In business school I learned that something like 50 percent of HBS graduates leave their first post-MBA job after a year. That sounded crazy to me at the time and I never thought it would apply to me, but it did. I’d been with P&G for barely a year when the eos opportunity popped up. Leaving a large, established company like P&G was a risk—only one of my P&G coworkers had even heard of eos when I left—but now, three years later, I get notes from former colleagues about how much they love our products!

Was there someone (a role model or otherwise) who particularly inspired you?

JUDINE: My first and most influential role models are my parents. They instilled a work ethic in me that I continually try to live up to. My dad told me never to just be a “double check” (a woman and a minority) but to be a knowledgeable asset wherever I work.

ALLIAH: My mother’s work ethic and dedication to perfection is truly second to none. As a kid, I was sometimes disappointed when she couldn’t come on a field trip or pick me up earlier from daycare. But I see now that her sense of responsibility and unrelenting drive to do her job well would never have allowed her just to “get by”—and I admire her for that. And even after a full day at work, she still managed to cook amazing dinners! She even taught herself how to roll sushi—this was in the early 90s in Buffalo, a city not known for its culinary sophistication—and I always had the best lunches in school. 

Best of all, my mother is extraordinarily perceptive. Whenever I call, she knows exactly how to respond depending on how I say “hello.” It’s awe-inspiring—and a little scary! I hope I’ll be as emotionally attuned to my own children one day.

Our research shows that sponsorship (advocacy from a senior leader on behalf of a promising employee) is key to women’s professional advancement. Can you describe your personal experience with sponsorship?

JUDINE: Throughout my career, I’ve learned by observing the managers I’ve worked for. Several have provided me with sincere guidance and key opportunities to excel; others were detrimental. But each of them taught me some important “dos and don'ts”—which I implement in leading my own team today.

What’s the best advice you’ve either given or received?

ALLIAH: Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you are feeling over-extended. Honestly, this is a lesson I’m still learning. It’s hard to show vulnerability when you’re used to being able to take on any challenge. But we all have our limits, and if you don’t ask for help before your personal well-being and/or job performance suffer, you’ll wish you’d swallowed your pride a lot sooner.

JUDINE: I believe most people learn from observation. My daughter saw how hard my husband and I work and our commitment to getting the job done and maintaining good relationships with our employers and colleagues alike. I see Alliah working smart to get ahead, and I know she recognizes that it requires a balance: doing an outstanding job, keeping current in her field, and putting forth that extra effort to network and make sure management knows her worth.

My advice to my daughter is: keep doing what you do, planning ahead, and working towards your next goal.