Words of Wisdom with Chris Harris

Chris Harris
Senior Vice President/Chief Financial Officer, SAFE Credit Union
Email Chris

What are three things you wish you’d known as you embarked on your career?

1.   Success is the aggregation of small wins over a long period of time.  Rarely does one milestone or accomplishment dictate success or failure.

2.   You will make mistakes in your career.  But it’s the experience you gain from these mistakes that will benefit you the most.

3.   Set reasonable, short-term career goals for yourself.  It makes you much more flexible in reaching your long-term objectives, as they will likely change as your career develops.

Did you have a mentor? If so, what was the most important piece of advice they gave you?

No, I did not have a single mentor in the traditional sense.  Instead, I would argue that I had many mentors in the past 20 years, with one small caveat.  Most of those who have influenced my career probably don’t know they provided the insight and guidance that helped me achieve the success that I have been fortunate to gain.  Rather than learn from one key person, I watched and learned how people in business interacted in so many different environments; how they made decisions and how they handled themselves in both stressful and positive situations.  I also tried to emulate the personality traits of those I perceived to be successful in both their business and personal lives.

I think most young professionals should have more than one mentor, giving them a range of perspectives that can influence their careers and life in general.

How did/do you handle work/life balance?

In today’s environment, the work expectations imposed on both young and experienced professionals can be significant, but so is one’s personal life.  I’m a firm believer of having a work/life balance.  In my opinion, it helps to keep you more engaged and happier in the workplace.  I have high expectations for my staff but they all know if they need to take time off for family or other personal reasons, they have my support.  It’s important for employees to feel they have flexibility in their job when it comes to life outside of work.  I think more and more companies are moving in this directional as well.

Do you have any suggestions of books, articles, websites, etc. that might help a young professional?

I don't have any specific suggestions. My recommendation is to pay attention to the leaders in your organization. Figure out what they believe makes them successful.

How important is it to be involved in organizations outside of work (church, networking groups, philanthropy, alumni groups, athletic groups, etc.)? Why
I think this is very important and helps young professionals in a few ways.  First, it shows that you have a life outside of work and that you participate and interact with people from other walks of life on a periodic basis.  Second, you gain life experience and perspectives that shape the way you think and operate in the workplace.  Third, you’ll be amazed at how small the Sacramento business world is and how many people you meet will know someone else you already associate with.  Your business and personal connections often come full circle.

What do you love about Sacramento?

First, it’s a great place to work and raise a family.  Second, geographically you are close to just about everything you could ask for: great schools and universities, terrific parks and recreational areas, tons of restaurants, the ocean, the mountains.  Third, I strongly believe that the Sacramento region is going to see accelerated growth in the number of companies located here over the next ten years, leading to more job opportunities for our young professionals.  This region is ripe for the expansion of small and large businesses if we can collectively work together as a community to highlight the economic, educational, and quality of life benefits.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell the 40 and under business professionals in our region?

Yes, below are a few thoughts and recommendations I believe younger professionals should consider as they develop themselves and their careers:

  • Don’t take shortcuts in an attempt to move up the corporate ladder.  Learn and gain as much experience as you can in a position.  Set goals for yourself to be the most valuable person you can be in your position, rather than a goal to get promoted.  Let your job performance dictate your success and future promotion opportunities.
  • Don’t sacrifice your career for short-term gains, such as leaving a company you enjoy working for because someone might pay you slightly more money.  If you are really good at your job, the money will be there.  Give it time.
  • Don’t play favorites.  That goes for peers, managers, or employees you may manage.  Interact and treat everyone equally and respectively; it shows an organization you have both the integrity and the judgment needed to become leader.
  • Always do what you say you are going to do.
  • As SAFE’s CEO always says, “Do the right thing for the right reason.”  You’ll never regret making that kind of decision.
  • Under promise and over deliver.  It shows you know how to manage your workload and that you can be relied upon by the organization.
  • Never leave an organization on bad terms.  It’s bad business and likely to catch up to you at some point in the future.
  • Take calculated, not reckless, risks.  It’s important for employers to see that you can think strategically and add value by executing your own ideas without being asked.  They don’t always pay off but when they do, it can boost your career.  And if they don’t, be accountable.  Figure out your mistakes and make the necessary improvements.
  • Don’t follow the crowd.  I always chose the path I believed gave me the best chance for success, even if that path, in hindsight, wasn’t the best choice.  But I was okay with making mistakes because I knew I’d learn from them.