The chance to work for her alma mater was one Angela Riley couldn’t turn down. In fact, Riley, St. Catherine University’s executive vice president and chief financial officer since October 2016, hardly says no to an opportunity to challenge her professional skills — and to travel. On Tuesday, Riley shared both personal stories and career tips at an informational interview hosted Career Development.
Here are a few gems:
View each experience as a building block.
Riley changed majors twice — nutrition science to art history, before settling on accounting. “Internships are the best way to try things to see what you enjoy,” she said. “If you don’t enjoy your career, you won’t be good at it no matter how hard you try.”
Aim high and be prepared.
After graduating with an accounting degree from St. Kate’s, Riley kept learning. She holds a Certified Public Accountant certification and Master’s in Business Administration. “I always pursued the next level of credentials so I would be qualified for the next position, when it came down to me and another candidate.”
Try anything and everything.
“Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there,” she said. Case in point: Riley raced cars in Brainerd, Minnesota; waited tables in college and joined a Dragon Boat team in Hong Kong. “I’m fairly optimistic in general. I believe that if you do the right things, the right things will happen to you.”
See possibility and opportunity.
Early in her career, one boss asked if she would transfer to New York. Then another asked if she would move to China. Her reply was always: “When do I go?” “I thought I’d spend most of my career in Europe immersing myself in Renaissance art,” she said. Instead, Riley found herself living and learning across Asia Pacific. Riley was senior director of finance at Ball Corporation in Hong Kong when she met her ex-husband, an Australian farmer. Long story short: She ended up managing a third-generation, 5000+ acre family farm in Western Australia for seven years.
Know another language.
Riley took two years of French in school, and she picked up some Italian, Mandarin, and Cantonese over the years. “I’ve tried to understand the languages of the countries I work in. People will notice the effort that you spend to connect with them. Curiously, she experienced the most communication problems in Australia. Why? “When you speak the same language, people are more likely to stop listening and make assumptions.”
Surround yourself with good mentors.
Mentors are important people to seek advice from and share ideas with, but don’t limit yourself to finding people who are doing the things you want to do. Riley’s first mentor was a German history professor at St. Kate’s. “We had good rapport, and that’s what you want in a mentor — to feel comfortable so you can open up and really discuss what matters. Many people try too hard to make a mentoring relationship a ‘mentorship.’”
Listen to your gut.
“Gut instinct really is a culmination of data,” she said. And if you still find yourself agonizing over a decision, she added: “Imagine the worst possible outcome of taking a particular course of action; everything in the middle is manageable.”
Rahma Abufoor ’20, a sonography major, attended the event hoping to be inspired. She was — and left with pages of great advice.
“I think I want to minor in business and maybe open my own business someday, like my father and brothers. But I like variety and don’t like following a plan,” said Abufoor. “Angela is inspiring because she has variety in her career and will always go for opportunities. I never thought about that. Sometimes I want to try something, but I’m not sure I will actually do it. She says go for it! It’s okay not to check boxes or do what’s expected.”
For graduate student David Roemhildt MPAS’19, Riley’s remarks made him think of his mentors and people he knew on similar career paths. “It was wonderful to hear her perspective — definitely words I can take on to guide others, especially recent college graduates I know.”
Angela Riley (center) with event organizer Mary Stieber Reynhout, associate director of St. Kate's Career Development. At right is Amanda Lor '17, an intern in the career office.