Sally Crawford

"From Shoulder Pads and a Support Role to CEO"

When did your rookie story take place? Set the scene of the time you were in.

The year was 1982, when the female fashion statement was the shoulder pad, and the widespread office technology was the dedicated word processor. I was working for Xerox Corporation and had been promoted four times in four years into my current Regional Market Support Specialist role. Despite being on a fast track, I hated big company politics and the glacial speed at which decisions were made.  So I did something impetuous: I just quit my job without having another one lined up. When asked at my exit interview where I was planning to work, I made something up: “I’m going to start my own business.”  I’ll never forget what the District Manager said then: “I don’t think you could possibly be successful.” I figured she was right, since this whole start-your-own-business idea just came to me while sitting there.

What were you nervous or worried about?

I was worried sick about simply quitting my job without having another one lined up, and I thought it was ridiculous to start a business because I didn't know the first thing about it.  In fact, for the first couple weeks I was so depressed that I sat around in my pajamas watching daytime TV.  I knew I had to do something different when I started getting good at Jeopardy.

What was the outcome?

Ultimately I grew my business into annual sales of $12 million with marquee global clients and a staff of 40, and I sold it in 2006.

When I think back to those early days, it’s like the cartoons where an angel is on one shoulder and a devil is on the other. The angel kept saying, “You can do anything you put your mind to.” The devil said, “Yeah, but you are clueless.” Somehow that made my angel competitive.    

The first thing my angel had to prove was what this business was all about. That came as a result of desperation. One of my former Xerox customers called me at home to ask what was I doing. Truth be told, I was watching Jeopardy in my pajamas because I was rather morose about quitting my job. But rather than admit that, I said, “I am helping people do their jobs better using technology.”

Next came sales – I was clueless here, having been in a training and market support role for four years. I quickly reached out to every sales person I knew at Xerox. I learned how to write proposals by actively experimenting on potential clients. I found out quickly what worked and what didn’t. 

What would be possible in your current job if you could re-invigorate this same rookie self?

As I think about my Rookie self, I realize I was both fearless and fearful, but somehow the fearlessness won out because I was unencumbered. As we mature in our jobs, we realize there is more to lose.  Through Liz’s book, and a community of aspiring “Rookie Again” professionals, I’m hoping to regain the part of me that said “why not” instead of “I can’t because…”

  • “Wiseman masterfully shows why novices can outdo veterans, expertise blinds us to fresh ideas, and the brilliance of newbies remains untapped. With sage insights and fascinating examples, Rookie Smarts is a must-read.”
    ADAM GRANT
    Wharton professor and author of Give and Take
  • “As a company grows, nothing is more important than retaining a culture of innovation. Rookie Smarts shows how even a big company can take risks, innovate, and operate like a challenger.”
    MARC BENIOFF
    Chairman and CEO, Salesforce.com
  • “If you want to be a learning machine, improving and growing every year, this is the book for you.”
    LASZLO BOCK
    SVP of People Operations, Google, Inc.
  • “Wiseman (co-author: The Multiplier Effect: Tapping the Genius Inside Our Schools, 2014, etc.) provides a big boost for first-time employees and others who refuse to be bound by arbitrary limits. . . .An exciting promotion of lifelong discovery and enthusiasm as answers to routine and business as usual.”
    Kirkus Reviews