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“Just say yes!” An Old Navy Employee Shares Her Experience on Why One Short-Term Assignment Changed Her Career

PeopleSara Hill, Gap Inc. bloggerComment
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Sometimes, relocating for a job involves months of deliberation, endless discussions with your significant other, and an agonizing amount of planning and foresight.

And sometimes… it doesn’t.

When District Manager in Training, Irena Schultz, got the call asking her to move from Pittsburg to San Francisco for a short-term assignment, she didn’t have to think twice. “It was an instant YES!” she says. “I initially forgot to talk to my husband – I was that excited!” Just ten days later, Irena landed in SF for a career-making opportunity: overseeing all top three stores in Old Navy’s East Bay District.

Now an Acting District Manager in Cleveland, OH, Irena is as motivated as ever. On the eve of her three-year anniversary with the brand (March 17!), we talked to her about her experience building a career at Old Navy, and how she’s seized opportunities for growth every step of the way.

What was your short-term assignment like?

During my short-term assignment, I oversaw the top three stores in the East Bay District – San Francisco Premium Outlet, Hacienda Crossings and Willows – as the Acting District Manager, where I reported to the Senior District Manager, Eric Larson. Before that, I was a District Manager in Training (DMIT) in the Central Territory. This was a huge opportunity for me to take my career to the next level.

Did you plan to end up where you are today?

Absolutely! I joined ON for exactly that reason – to end up where I am today. What drove me to join the organization was the opportunity for growth. I was inspired by others’ tenure at the company, the vision for the future, and most importantly the intentional opportunities for growth. Not many places can offer this level of exposure and career-expansion.

How has Old Navy supported your career growth?

I started my career with the brand as the General Manager of Ross Park Mall in Pittsburgh, PA. From day one, Old Navy has supported my growth at every level, in big and small ways. Over the past three years, I’ve had the opportunity to take numerous leadership courses that have not only helped me grow as a leader, but have also impacted me personally and inspired me to do more outside of work. I graduated from ICON (Gap Inc’s high-potential GM program) in June 2017 and shortly after became a DMIT, where I continued to report to Laura Fox, but also had the opportunity to work with Robert Watkins – two incredible (but very different) leaders. With their influence, I was able to establish my leadership style as a future District Manager.

What did you enjoy most about your short-term assignment, professionally and personally?

Being able to work in Old Navy HQ’s backyard was incredible. I had the chance to work with leaders that, prior to my assignment, I only saw at our Store Manager Conference or heard during conference calls. My second week in East Bay, I had the opportunity to host Courtney Hawkins, Steve Stickel, Sonia Syngal, Art Peck and several other executives at two of the stores I was overseeing. That kind of direct exposure to leaders from across the organization is absolutely invaluable, not to mention incredibly exciting!

Beyond that, the opportunity to work with SF’s Senior Distric Manager, Eric Larsen, also impacted my career tremendously. During the busiest time of the year, Q4, Eric made time for my professional development and ensured I had the best experience during my assignment – introducing me to business partners at HQ, inviting me to promo walks, town halls at Old Navy’s headquarters – the list goes on! The hands-on mentoring here is something I appreciate more than I can say. I learned a lot of lessons from Eric – not least of which was his crucial advice to never take the Bay Bridge to HQ at 8am on a Monday morning!

What piece of advice would you give to somebody who’s interested in an assignment like this?

Just say yes! Take the time to explore the opportunities and reach out to leaders in the organization that can help guide you in finding a short-term or long-term assignment that makes sense for you, and where you want to take your career. You’d be amazed at how many opportunities there are out there. And beyond that, there’s more room than you may think to create opportunities where there aren’t any that may be what you’re looking for. Either way, raise your hand, say yes, and lean on your leaders. It will take you to places you never imagined.

What’s the thing you love most about working at Old Navy?

I made some incredible friendships while in East Bay, and I learned a tremendous amount from not only the leaders I worked with, but also the store teams. The desire to learn, and the the enthusiasm our employees have to come to work here at Old Navy (and nowhere else) is truly inspiring and motivates me every day.