“Challenging the status quo is part of growth on all levels.”
Jennifer Ruscelle Petersen
Senior Account Executive // Lead, SAP Business Wo/Men’s Network Denmark
SAP

Facts

  • Jennifer Ruscelle Petersen
  • 1983
  • Masters of Economics (Game Theory)
  • Senior Account Executive // Lead, SAP Business Wo/Men’s Network Denmark
  • SAP
  • Married
  • No kids
  • Is a Pilates instructor and teach weekly

Could you outline your career journey?

I have done some very different things in my life. As a student I was originally on the pre-law track, worked on Capitol Hill and then for the former U.S. Assistant Attorney General, before I shifted to the tech space when I was recruited by IBM. Amongst this I also set up and ran three spas and salons, before I moved to Guatemala and volunteered for a micro-finance organisation. It was in Guatemala that I decided to pursue a master in economics, as this was where I saw the biggest opportunity in terms of how much I could learn and push myself academically. I chose to study in Copenhagen because there was a strong focus on math, rather than just theory. Since my master I’ve worked in Pharma, Finance, Consulting, and now with SAP.

What career advice would you give a younger version of yourself?

First, be patient – it’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s great to be ambitious and eager, but things will (probably) take more time than you want them to. Set-backs are inevitable (and necessary) to get to all the places you want to go, and it’s important not to become disillusioned because things are not going fast enough. So just be patient.

Second, throw out your 5-10 year plan. In University and in my early carrier, I had a plan that I was sprinting after – and at times it led to disappointment when I felt like things were not falling into place how I expected them to. When you become fixated on a path, and what you think you are supposed to do, you’ll miss other opportunities coming your way.

Who has been your role model – and what have they taught you?

My father has been my biggest role model; rather than telling me, he showed me what hard work and perseverance looks like and gave me my entrepreneurial spirit. He was a single father, and though we sometimes struggled to make ends meet, my father would somehow always find a way.

He taught me that being entrepreneurial isn’t just about having good ideas, it’s also about taking risks and trying again when you do fail.  Failure can take many forms, from a bad pitch to a failed investment, but it’s inevitable – and you need to learn how to rebound and keep trying. You just keep showing up and pushing forward.     

What has been most crucial in getting you to where you are in your career today?

When I was younger, my grandmother told me “you don’t have to be the smartest person in the room, you just have to work the hardest.” My work ethic is what help me graduate from Cornell with top marks, provided a fully funded scholarship for my master and opened many professional doors along the way. I’ve done well, not because I’m any kind of genius, but rather because I work hard and put in the time. The tech industry can be intense; the pace of innovation and change is both exciting and daunting – and this requires a certain degree of stamina and resilience if you want to be successful.

What is it important to pay special attention to in your career?

I’ve always been in a constant pursuit of progress, but I’m learning to pay attention to the moments that should be celebrated. It’s easy to get caught up in chasing the next goal, the next opportunity – and in the long run it’s not sustainable if you don’t also take time to recognize what you have accomplished. Acknowledging the successes – big and small – are going to be what propel you through the next challenge.

Do you think that the lack of women in leadership could be due to women lacking confidence?

I don’t believe that women are lacking confidence, I just believe that women are held to a different standard. Women are scrutinized far more than men – on their appearance, their stamina, what they say and how they say it – and women therefore spend a lot of time trying to avoid being perceived negatively;  that isn’t the same thing as lacking confidence. We have a harder road to navigate, because the roadblocks have been laid out for us already.

What does it take to become – and be – a good leader?

I believe integrity and honesty are the pillars of leadership. This is the difference between getting people to do what you tell them to do and getting people to follow you and trust your judgement, even when it’s difficult. You can rebound from making mistakes – and people will respect you for acknowledging when you do – but it’s extremely difficult, and at times impossible, to rebound from being dishonest.

My boss and my mentor are two examples of great leadership; they are honest with me and equally provide space for me to be honest with them. This means that even if I disagree with a course of action, I trust that they have my best interest in mind.

What particularly surprised you in your career?

It surprises me how many people just accept the status quo. In business, it can be tempting to make your life ‘easier’ by accepting the way things have always been done. But when I see something that is broken or simply not good enough, I want to fix it. Challenging the status quo is part of growth on all levels. I see the most successful organizations and people as those who continually re-evaluate the standard. If you are willing to put in the time to finding a better solution and have the dedication to carry it through – then no matter where you are in the organisation, you can have a positive impact. 

How and when do you feel and use your influence?

I use my influence – and feel the impact of it – when I’m informed and educated on the subject. Influence is dependent on credibility, so if I want to positively use my influence, I make sure I know what I’m talking about first. If one lacks the knowledge necessary to empower someone or something, then exerting influence is just arrogance.

What is most important to you, in terms of achievement?

Feeling like I’ve made a positive impact on this planet in some way. I’m in the tech industry because I honestly believe in the solutions I’m working with and the impact they have. The positive ripple effects on the planet when big organisations make sustainable, socially responsible decisions are huge.  I honestly believe that it is innovation is going to save us – help us be more sustainable and socially responsible, develop new cures, help lift people out of poverty, etc– and to be some part of those solution is what motivates me more than anything else.