Jane Howze | Crain's Houston

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Jane Howze

Background:  

The Alexander Group is an executive search firm specializing in C-level talent, board members and diversity. It is based in Houston, Texas, with additional offices in New York, San Francisco, San Diego and Park City, Utah, as well as one in London.

The Mistake: 

I went to law school on a whim. I was recruited by a law firm after graduation, and it didn’t take long to realize being a lawyer wasn’t for me. I never sat back and asked, “Is this what I want to do? Is this bringing me joy?” But I spent five years trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. 

I was working as a banker in Houston and my bank was willing to pay for me to go to either graduate school or law school. I thought law would be fascinating and interesting. I wasn’t thinking I actually wanted to be a lawyer or even what makes a good lawyer. It was an unthoughtful process.  

After graduating from the University of Houston School of Law in 1977 I went to work for a big law firm. Out of the 50 to 75 attorneys in the office, only two were women. I was one of them.  

Probably within 90 days I figured out I didn’t like being a lawyer, but I kept telling myself I needed to work harder and do more. It caused me a tremendous amount of angst. It didn’t come easy to me, and I went home most nights in tears. 

I thought the job might just be a bad fit so I took a position as a corporate lawyer for a financial institution in California, but I still didn’t enjoy the work. My “aha" moment came when I read an article in a magazine on the Korn Ferry executive search firm.  

I remember thinking, “People do this and get paid?”  

Around that time, I went to a career counselor who pretty much confirmed that law was not my thing. It made me feel there was nothing wrong with me and I learned that there was a difference between intelligence and aptitude. It wasn’t that I didn’t work hard, but law just wasn’t my passion. 

When you’re doing something you love you don’t care how long you work or how many Saturdays you spend working. 

The Lesson: 

Going into law was a knee-jerk response. I believe no “mistake” is a mistake if you take something from it and move forward. If something isn’t working, especially when you’re young, you should try something else. It doesn’t mean change jobs every week, but the end goal should be to find something you are both good at and brings you joy. 

After reading the article on Korn Ferry, I decided to pursue a career in recruiting. I joined Korn Ferry in 1981 and in 1983 started The Alexander Group with two other women.  

A lot of people enter the executive search business and don’t make it. When you’re doing something you love you don’t care how long you work or how many Saturdays you spend working. 

Even now there are good days and bad days, but I still love what I do. I feel like I’m the luckiest person in the world, even on my bad days. It’s why I’m still working at 65 years old while lots of other people are looking forward to retirement at 62. 

Follow Jane Howze on Twitter at @janehowze

Photo courtesy of The Alexander Group.  

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