Katie Cordova

July 25, 2006
Posted in interviews
July 25, 2006 Terkel

It’s funny how we can become so blinded by responsibility that we don’t realize how out of wack our priorities have become. Katie had her epiphany when she realized that she was rushing her daughter back to bed so that she could return to her open e-mail account. She realized then and there that she was putting Corporate America ahead of her own family. She needed a change.
Born into a “Beaver Cleaver” type of family in Iowa, Katie was raised by her parents, both of whom were public school teachers. Although careers in education had many benefits, large financial gains were not one of them. Deciding that teaching wasn’t for her, Katie opted for a career where the money was; accounting. Katie attended two colleges before finding the University of Northern Iowa accommodating. Majoring in accounting, she found that her college pushed students towards public accounting, a similar theme at most business schools.

But Katie wanted something different. She wanted to travel. She entertained interviews with public accounting firms, but found what she was looking for with Honeywell. The company is a diversified technology and manufacturing leader in aerospace products and services. They offered her a job with 80% travel. Her first Monday on the job she was on board a flight headed to Scotland. This trip would be the first day of a 13 year stint in Corporate America

She loved the competitive culture at Honeywell. She soon became addicted to the competition and became obsessed with outdoing those around her. Her career became her number one priority. She became so submerged in her work that she found herself unable to spend quality time at home with her family. Katie’s commitment to her status and sales number allowed her to excel with Honeywell.

She soon became addicted to the Honeywell culture, where achievement is paramount. After five years of loyal service, she left Honeywell for a job that paid a little more. Five months later she found herself on the Honeywell doorstep five begging for her job back. She was now back in the corporate life that she had grown so found of.

Whether it was her parents’ influence or growing appreciate for it, she found herself wanting to teach. Everyone she talked to told her that she had to go and get her PhD first., but the opportunity never really made it self available to her.

There’s a saying that Katie told me about how she came to be a teacher. She said that “when God closes a door, he always opens a window. But the hallway leading to the window is sometimes really long.”

Well, Katie went down the hallway and eventually exited out of the window. She was having lunch one day with an engineer, who expressed how he found accounting so difficult to understand. Katie volunteered to teach him accounting once a week during lunch. The engineer found it so useful that he brought his whole team of engineers along with him to these sessions. Katie was now teaching 20 engineers the ins and outs of accounting.

These sessions led to an official class, which Honeywell now offers their employees. A professor from Duke University was brought in to teach the class full-time. Katie and this professor communicated about the direction of the course, and in their discussions she found that he knew the department head of the business college at the University of Arizona, which, like Honeywell, was located in Tucson, AZ. She asked the professor for a letter of recommendation, the planets aligned and she now found herself an adjunct professor teaching a graduate level auditing class at the university level. Talk about a change!

She was still working at Honeywell and doing teaching on the side. She was told that it would be three years until she could be offered a full-time teaching position. But six months later, after receiving the Undergraduate Faculty of the Year Award in ‘05-’06, she was offered a full-time position teaching Governmental Non-Profit Accounting at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. I guess that window was wide enough to dive headfirst through!

Author’s Notes:

Back to the thought that people can become addicted to their careers. I find it funny because it seems like most people I’ve talked to have been addicted to their external accomplishments in their job, not the job itself. When I ask people about their careers, they tend to first point to their “accomplishments.” To an outsider like myself, these accomplishments are impressive, but they say tell me that you’re only as good as what you’re up against. And if you’re up against the other employees in the company, then your accomplishments are only good within that circle. Outside of that circle, what do people care that you were the top salesperson when it comes to KDR 610 weather receivers?

The point that I am trying to make with Katie’s story is that she came to realize that internal accomplishments outweigh and outlast external accomplishments. The way she kicked her job addiction was by finding that teaching satisfied her personally, unlike the monetary and competitive accomplishments she had while working for Honeywell.

And I hate to be cliché, but it seems like if we just let our conscience be our guide sometimes, we would realize what we want to do. After Katie decided to leave Honeywell, they offered to cut her hours down to 40, then 30, then 20, finally offering her consulting jobs to stay with Honeywell. But she just couldn’t do it. She feared that she would fall back into her routine and allow herself to be engulfed in her work again.

She didn’t talk to anyone from Honeywell for six months after she left. One month ago, she finally allowed herself to be exposed to the corporate culture again, when she went to a cocktail party to see some old friends. In comparison, it was like returning home to find your friends in high school still doing the same things they used to do.

Katie now feels as if a huge weight has been lifted from her shoulders. She does not regret staying with Honeywell and is thankful for the experience. When she talks about teaching though, her tone and expressions say it all. She has turned a new page in her life and has found the window at the end of the hallway. No longer do her summers consist of 60-80 hour work weeks in 110 degree desert heat. Instead, her summers are spent with her daughter, traveling to California’s Disneyland or back home to Iowa to visit the family.

Her advice to students:

“When you are deciding where to work, you are told it is a life decision, but it’s not. You’re young and if you don’t like what you’re doing then you can get out of the situation and still be 24 and have your entire life ahead of you.”