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One CEO's advice on climbing the corporate ladder

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Posted: Monday, October 14, 2013 11:22 pm

DreamWorks CEO Stacey Snider talked to The Atlantic yesterday in a video segment titled “Advice to a Younger Me” about her climb from an entry-level position in the entertainment industry to chairwoman of Universal Pictures to her current position as CEO.

She went from being assigned to pick up $50,000 worth of gold chains for Mr. T to overseeing the production of blockbusters such as “Lincoln,” “Lost in Translation,” “A Beautiful Mind,” the “Bourne” series and “Erin Brockovich” — to name just a few titles. Now, she is partner alongside Steven Spielberg and is considered the reason for Universal’s comeback within the movie industry in 2001.

“The first job is easy if you’re willing to check your ego at the door,” she said in the video interview.

Although being Mr. T’s personal bling handler may sound way better than data crunching or managing social media for an entry-level job, at the time, Snider had earned degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and UCLA’s law school. None of those prepared her for working in a mailroom.

“I have always felt that my career was not going to be a straight shot up, but more of a kind of rolling wave, so that I could raise my children,” Snider told The Atlantic. “So I got pregnant when I was the head of production at a studio, and I became chairperson at a bigger studio when I was pregnant with my second daughter. You just do it!”

It took time for her to realize this, however.

According to a New York Times article from 2001 following her promotion to chairwoman of Universal, she interned at a Manhattan law firm and hated the work. During her twenties, she married and divorced twice.

The takeaway from her interview with The Atlantic is, essentially, for young people entering the workforce to calm down.

Success comes in waves, and it’s by no means a straight shot upward — especially for women who wish to have children.

While college students are faced with a dizzying amount of career and life advice — especially women, who have to deal with zeitgeisty phrases about “leaning in” and “having it all” — it’s nice to hear something so straightforward: Check your pride and “just do it.”

As Snider discussed, having a college education, and even an Ivy-League education like hers, doesn’t automatically guarantee you a desk job.

Sometimes you’ll be faced with impossible tasks: Snider, for example, was once told to find Marlon Brando’s phone number in Tahiti.

“You just have to gulp and wait until the agent leaves,” she said. “Then say ‘WTF,’ and you do it.”

“You can’t do everything, at the same time, always, and forever,” she said, “but if you look at your life and your career as a long, winding river, you can get to your destination.”

A version of this editorial ran on page 6 on 10/15/2013 under the headline "Started from the bottom: A CEO’s advice"

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