Don’t fear that daunting assignment; it can pay off

In Marty Petty’s highly successful career – which has included roles as publisher at the prestigious St. Petersburg Times (now Tampa Bay Times) and Hartford Courant newspapers – she’s seen the value of taking risks.

 In a talk to more than 90 Tampa Bay area business professionals at the Vinoy Business Alliance in December, she offered two key takeaways on risk-taking.

 “Embrace risk and pivotal or daunting career assignments, even if you think your boss is crazy,” she said. “She or he may see something in you that you don’t see in yourself.”

 At the same time, remember that no one is perfect, including you. “As long as our work is a human endeavor, mistakes will be made,” she said. “Our job is to not make the same one twice.”

 At numerous times in Marty’s career, she told the crowd, she’s taken risks that would provide key turning points in her career. Here are several of note:

  • Shortly after getting married, Marty and her husband Mark quit their jobs to move to Carville, Louisiana, to document the untold stories of 325 patients at a leprosy hospital.

New Orleans’ afternoon newspaper, The State-Item, ran Marty and Mark’s documentary package, “No Place for Cowards,” and the experience helped convince Marty that journalism would be the best path for her. (After earning a journalism degree from the University of Missouri, she had spent the first few years of her professional career in marketing roles.)

  • As a young editor at the Kansas City Star & Times, she ended up playing a key role in the coverage of the 1981 collapse of the skywalks at the Kansas City Hyatt Regency, a tragedy that caused 114 deaths. Until the September 2001 tragedy at the World Trade Center in New York, the Kansas City accident ranked as the most deadly structural collapse in the nation’s history, 

 Thrust into a high-pressure situation, she had to hold her own with editors and reporters many years her senior, and did so well that her editor tasked her with being a leader on the team that would get to the bottom of what happened, coverage that led to a Pulitzer Prize for local reporting.

  • Moving from Kansas City to Hartford, Connecticut, she learned how to be a CEO and  publisher on the fly while bringing the newspaper back from an ill-advised move away from its longstanding focus on local news.

 In addition to correcting some major strategic mistakes, she had to fight sexism left and right, whether it was standing behind the Courant’s female baseball writer, or dealing with getting kicked out of a Connecticut Newspaper Editors Association meeting at a country club’s bar that was men-only.

 Marty continued to thrive after she moved to Florida, first as the publisher of the St. Petersburg Times, and then as the Chief Strategy Officer of the University of South Florida’s Center for Advanced Medical Learning & Simulation (CAMLS), before starting her own consulting company, The MPetty Group.

 Through it all, she has learned plenty of important lessons, she told the crowd. Among them: Embrace risks and challenges, no matter how difficult they are. Don’t underestimate the power of a hand-written note. And understand that you need both mentors (who you ask for advice), and sponsors (people who speak well of you when you aren’t in the room).

 All this requires a deep understanding of those you work with and those you report to, which ties well with Marty’s current role, helping companies develop and retain their rock stars – a critical piece of any business’ success in 2019 and beyond.