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How expanding a personal brand can change the course of a career

At an EY Center for Executive Leadership roundtable, Jim Walsh shared how his agility led to an unexpected trajectory.

In brief
  • Each quarter a former C-suite leader joins a cohort of chief tax officers to share lessons learned and insights into having the greatest impact.
  • Jim Walsh, a former chief marketing officer for a Fortune 100 company, emphasized the importance of a strong personal brand.

Lessons in leadership with Jim Walsh

From scaling telephone poles to becoming a Fortune 100 company chief marketing officer, Jim Walsh’s unexpected career journey offers a crucial lesson for new and aspiring C-suite leaders: the significance of a personal brand. In a virtual roundtable hosted by the EY Center for Executive Leadership, Jim shared valuable leadership insights on his journey and the value of cultivating your brand.

Expanding your personal brand

The importance of brand and agility in one’s career cannot be overstated. Having a strong personal brand can open doors to new opportunities. Jim’s career started with a summer job scaling telephone poles. From there, he was promoted to management at the company, where he managed more than 800 individuals in the field, eventually running the entire operation. The role was extremely taxing, and after five years Jim decided he would rather be more proactive about his personal destiny and left his management position.

Impact vs. influence

Jim made the bold move to transition to a sales role where he was able to focus primarily on personal achievements. However, he quickly learned that success was about more than winning at the individual level and included leading and influencing others to do their best. Jim was an incredible asset to the sales team — so much so that his leadership team approached him about taking on the regional sales manager position. Jim was reluctant to lead a large team again but was eventually given an ultimatum, so he accepted the challenge, which proved to be a pivotal career move. In this new role, he embraced advice from a mentor to focus on executing through others and to move away from what Jim calls using his “dominant hand.”

A strong personal brand not only opens doors but as discussed below, can also help guide leaders through challenging situations. Jim needed to learn how to build and implement a strong strategy and accomplish tasks through his team. Over time, he learned the importance of balancing impact and influence, and how to leverage his personal brand to attract and retain top talent.

Making a decision

One key challenge when leading a business function is learning how to make difficult decisions without first-hand knowledge of all the details. Leaders must often make quick decisions that have far-reaching implications. It can be tempting to defer those decisions in a quest to gather more data. However, in Jim’s experience, it is better to make a bad decision that may need a course-correction later than to defer the decision or make no decision at all. In his opinion, without a decision, the team loses focus and more importantly, loses trust in their leader. In decision-making, it is important to obtain the available inputs and remember that perfection does not exist. 

The art of building great teams

The key to building trust and credibility as a leader, according to Jim, is being authentic and showing vulnerability. Jim was never afraid to admit when he didn’t know something and relied on the expertise of his team to fill in the gaps. He surrounded himself with people whose strengths differed from his. This approach not only earned him respect but also fostered a culture of collaboration and continuous learning within his teams.

With his tendency to move quickly, Jim appreciated having people on his team who would offer counter points of view. Building a team that was founded on trust enabled him to be his authentic self and provided opportunities for others to shine. He suggests that it is better to lead by example than to tell others what to do; people will go above and beyond when leaders admit that they do not know everything. It is also crucial to remember that as a leader in an organization, you are always being watched and are setting the tone for your team and beyond.

Many at the roundtable added their insights, having experienced similar situations and learning lessons along the way. One commented, “When leaders continue to ‘do’ rather than ‘influence,’ that can be a symptom of having the wrong team.”

The good news is, as a leader, you have the power to reframe your team. Shoring up what you may not be good at will help avoid blind spots. Drawing on a sports analogy about how he liked to round out his teams, Jim said he preferred to focus on hiring the best overall athlete as opposed to the one ideal for playing a single position. In other words, hire a great athlete and coach them to play the position you need filled.

Jim’s career journey highlights the significance of personal brand and being open to exploring new opportunities. The breadth of the roles that were offered to him were a direct result of personal brand and not necessarily his level of experience at the time. His advice to new tax leaders: transition from being an individual contributor to an influencer who fosters a culture of growth and development. The actions you take that build your brand as a tax leader — listening, learning and building diverse, talented teams — also can help drive your organization to new heights.


Jim Walsh shared that the opportunities he turned into a success story were a direct result of the personal brand he cultivated and not necessarily his specific experience.

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