Joe Kurtis '87 Accounting major
"The liberal arts education that I received at Puget Sound afforded a degree of intellectual nimbleness and diversity in perspective that is unique among my peers."
CES: What are your duties and responsibilities in your current role?
JK: Currently, I’m director of retail business operations for Russell Investments. My teams engage in early client lifecycle activities including contracts and negotiations, client on-boarding and product launches. I do work in strategy and business development. I also do selective executive coaching.
CES: Tell us a bit about your career path:
JK: I started with Russell after graduation and worked there for ten years. I wanted an adventure so I headed off to Zürich Switzerland where I was executive director of strategic business development for UBS Private Bank. I did extensive strategy work at UBS, product development, mergers and acquisitions and was a private banker in Switzerland—very James Bond.
I left Switzerland about ten years ago and returned to Russell to gain life balance. I have held many roles at Russell including director of compliance and risk management, client executive and various director level operations and strategy roles.
CES: What other early jobs enabled you to build skills that help you with your career today?
JK: For a couple of summers during college, I commercially fished in Alaska—think Deadliest Catch. Fishing in the open ocean taught me that I could perform at a high level under environmentally demanding and physically challenging conditions. I learned to work as a team, to trust others and that I can overcome any challenge.
I had enough of Alaska and went to work at Nordstrom while still at Puget Sound. Working retail teaches you to read people quickly, develop tolerance, and diplomacy, and strengthens your interpersonal skills with diverse groups of people. These skills have served me well in my career and life.
CES: How did your Puget Sound education prepare you for your career?
JK: I received a degree in accounting and business administration that provided me a lot of choices when I graduated. The liberal arts education that I received at Puget Sound afforded a degree of intellectual nimbleness and diversity in perspective that is unique among my peers.
CES: What about classes? Any advice for students?
JK: Pursue your passions—follow your dreams! Choose the classes and subjects that you like; not the ones that you believe your parents or friends expect you to take. Be a director of your life not an actor. You perform at your highest level when you are passionate and engaged in what you are doing. Take classes that build upon your passions and career success and happiness will follow. A career can be a lifelong pursuit of your passion or a life sentence. Choose wisely.
CES: Did you leave Puget Sound with confidence? If so, what contributed to that?
JK: I think of confidence more in terms of self-efficacy (belief in ability to perform at a particular level) and self-esteem (perception of self-worth). Confidence is a product of both of those. Confidence is a function of building belief in your abilities through life experience and realizing that you have something to offer that no one else has. My life experiences at Puget Sound helped me realize these things.
CES: What tips would you offer students interested in breaking into the work world?
JK: I have hired a lot of people and what I look for is a person who plays well with others in the sandbox. Work and pretty much everything else in life is a social experience. If you have good social skills, genuinely care about others, and are willing to collaborate; you will do well. Task skills and competencies, especially early on, are learned on the job.
I would seek to demonstrate genuine skills in teamwork, collaboration and the ability to work well with others. No one wants a gunslinger.
CES: Any advice for students—closing thoughts?
JK: I think a lot about choices and talk about them with executives that I coach. Choices about authenticity; “this is who I am” versus “this is who I believe you want me to be.” Choices about pursuing your passion and building the life you want—choices that lead to a happy life. Of course, this is easier said than done but these choices define the direction of our life.
Alice came to a fork in the road. “Which road do I take?” she said. “Where do you want to go?” responded the Cheshire cat. “I don’t know,” Alice answered. “Then,” said the cat, “it doesn’t matter.” Lewis Carol, Alice in Wonderland.
Invest some time understanding your values i.e., what is important to you. Focus your attention on what has meaning for you and relegate the rest to its proper place.
Choose to take career risk early and do it fearlessly. If you wait too long, the cost of switching careers becomes too high as the demands of family and financial obligations make these decisions seemingly impossible. Work overseas if you can; it is a wonderful experience and one that will influence you for the rest of your life.
The best piece of career advice that I received was “be nice to everyone because you never know who will be your boss.” This has proved to be more valuable than I could have ever imagined.
Work should be fun. I had my staff watch the TEDx talk "A manifesto for play, Bulgaria and beyond” with Steve Keil and asked them to come up with ways that we can incorporate more fun at work. Perhaps Bulgaria should be removed from your overseas opportunity list.
At the time of this interview, unemployment is hovering around 9.1% which means 90.9% are able to work by choice. Do not become discouraged. Pursue your passions and never compromise on your values. The opportunities are out there. Take some risk and call the shots.