Most of us hear words like taxation and either groan, panic, or doze off. But not Roslyn Brooks. This leader of PwC’s (PricewaterhouseCoopers) Government Regulatory Affairs & Public Policy office in Washington, DC, built her career in the firm’s tax practice, making a mighty impression even as a neophyte. More than a dozen years ago, Brooks leapt into the government and public policy arena where she continues to have high impact—and helps lead the world’s second-largest professional services firm.
How did she reach the top, and more importantly, how can you? Brooks wasn’t taxed by the question at all. She fired back with these tips:
5 Secrets from the C-suite
1. Don’t pick a lane—do you!
Brooks’ educational background demonstrates a passion for literature, science, and finance, as well as a refusal to pick just one. She holds a bachelor’s in English and Psychology from Stanford, a J.D. from the University of Michigan, and a master’s in taxation law.
2. Go with the flow.
By the time Brooks weathered the inherent transitions that came with the 1998 merger between accounting firms Price Waterhouse and Coopers & Lybrand, she had already shifted from a practice office to a technical office; from client service to internal firm service; and taken on assignments that required her to relocate from Detroit to New York to DC. In a global corporate universe driven by constant disruption, adaptability can be your most valuable skill. “My demonstrated ability to adapt to change has been instrumental to my success – and my sanity!” she says.
3. Do the extra credit.
Intellectual curiosity is an asset—use it! As a new associate tasked with preparing a tax return for a business with 10 subsidiaries, Brooks could have simply followed the template from the previous year. However, she wanted a detailed understanding of the numbers, even though that would take more time than the assigning partner had budgeted.
When he asked to meet with her, Brooks didn’t know what to expect. “He asked me to walk him through the return and questioned the rationale behind certain numbers,” she recalls. “When I was able to, he was surprised and wanted to know how I knew what I knew.”
After Brooks explained, that partner took an interest in her career development and became a much-valued sponsor. “Success takes more than just hard work and intellect,” she says. “It takes recognition, encouragement, and sponsorship. I don’t believe [he would have become my sponsor] if I simply had gotten it right but didn’t care to know why.”
4. Be a trailblazer.
Brooks didn’t set out to be one, but she didn’t blink when her consistent record of performance and leadership at PwC earned her a coveted place as the first black woman on the firm’s U.S. executive management team.
5. Stay ready, and stay hungry. No matter what you’ve achieved, you can always level up. It sometimes happens, however, that the higher we go, the more self-limiting we become. Picture the EVP who starts to coast, believing that the CEO slot is unattainable. Or the company founder who has a news-making exit and never starts another company, believing that lightning can’t strike twice.
“Once you obtain a promotion or hit a career milestone, it may be tempting to think, ‘I’m at a good place, I can relax,’” says Brooks. “This may be true especially as you juggle other commitments and interests that are important to you in life.” But fight the feeling, she insists, and stay focused on the biggest picture your imagination can concoct. “I think it’s just as important to keep your mind and eyes open to new opportunities that excite you. Stay ready and never give up on your own growth.”