Noreen Beaman | Crain's

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

Noreen Beaman

Background:  

Brinker Capital is an investment management firm based in Berwyn, Pa., that serves individual investors, advisors and institutions.

The Mistake: 

When I was in my early to mid-30s, I was CFO for Brinker Capital and [then] went into a sales position. I had made a large sale with a client, and instead of putting all our deal terms in a contract, I did a handshake. I was overconfident, and I wanted to make the sale.

Because I was a CFO prior to going into the field, I was given a lot of latitude. I felt that I didn’t need to follow the rules; I thought that it would all work out. I was naïve. Everyone knows you should never make deals on handshakes, especially a long-term commitment in the investment business.

So I closed the deal, and as luck would have it, it blew up. After that, I had to go back and clean that up. I had to face the client and tell them that we couldn’t do what I had promised all along, and they weren’t doing their side of the street either, so we had to part ways. More importantly, it put me in the penalty box.

I should have been fired. No one would have thought that I would have made a decision on a handshake.

I had to face the client and tell them that we couldn’t do what I had promised ... I should have been fired.

The Lesson:

There aren’t any shortcuts. I had expected sales to be easier from an outsider’s view looking in. Thinking that the role was easier, I created a shortcut. I had to actually work hard at sales.

The skillset you have in one role doesn’t always translate into the same skillset that you need in a new role. You have to constantly be a student, and you should have humility as you approach different roles.

If I give someone a new role or responsibility, I ensure that we put the right resources around them. I don’t make a judgement that, because they were successful in their prior role, they don’t need the same rules and structure that any new professional would need in their new role.

As I approach new opportunities, I ensure that just because I’ve been successful at something else doesn’t mean that I don’t need to do some more homework. I’ll approach it as a learning opportunity. You have to approach your interactions with others from a position of being open to new ideas and, more importantly, input.

Follow Brinker Capital on Twitter at @BrinkerCapital.