Mover and Shaker: Peggy Watson, Vice President, Product Management, North American Fleet for WEX

peggy watsonBy Cathie Ericson

Peggy Watson believes that respect and relationships are the cornerstone for success. She has found that it’s vital to take the time to know what matters to people: Whether you’re trying to close a deal or get the best from an employee, if you know what makes them tick and address it in a genuine way, you will be successful.

“Being genuine and having respect will allow you to build relationships that will help you move forward together,” she says.

A Successful Career at WEX – With One Detour

Watson has spent the majority of her 30-year career in marketing, starting with a position in high school doing management and marketing for a pizza chain. It not only sparked her love for food, she jokes, but also gave her the business bug and an enduring curiosity for how businesses tick and promote themselves.

She joined WEX in 1998 where she has held various roles for the past 18 years with only one brief departure.

“I loved my job and got a lot of energy and satisfaction from it, but at one point after I had reached a director level position, I had the opportunity to try something totally different which I thought was my calling – that would allow me to combine my love of business with my love of food,” she says. She joined a small catering business, working with the owner to expand its reach; although she wasn’t sure it would be the right fit, she told herself to be bold and take a chance because if she didn’t try it she would always wonder what might have been.

The wonder ceased soon after she joined as she realized that she was better suited to corporate marketing. “I have always enjoyed cooking and entertaining, but I realized my joy comes from doing it for people whom I love, and the job took me away from that.”

Her boss at WEX had encouraged her to return if her other opportunity didn’t work out so soon she was back, feeling more confident and bolder in her career after the learning experience. “It was an amazing experience, from which I learned a lot, and have no regrets.”

After she returned to WEX she eventually moved into a role where she was overseeing both product and marketing and supervising a large team. “That’s one of the benefits I’ve experienced while working at WEX. There’s always a new challenge.”

Overseeing the Challenges of the Future

Backed by a company always looking to increase the speed with which it moves and innovates, Watson enjoys building teams and is now relishing the challenge of building a repeatable and scalable process for taking customer insights and turning them into valuable products solutions for customer.

One important industry innovation she is tracking is the intersection of payments, mobile technology and the connected car, which has the potential to have a major impact on their business model going forward. “I believe that the concept of a driverless car will be a reality within my career,” she says.

Realities of the Corporate World

When reflecting on what she expected in the business world, Watson shares a vision common among young professionals – the glamour of corporate travel. While she appreciates the opportunities she has had to go interesting places and meet people, she soon found out, as many do, that on the whole travel takes its toll.

Mentors Helped Her Achieve

Over the years Watson has had a number of advocates who have helped with both visibility and building confidence. Along with multiple positive role models, she had one in particular who showed her what not to do — a boss early in her career who seemed to enjoy working in a chaotic environment and would create fire drills to watch the staff respond. Watson quickly learned that when there is actual deadline stress, you want the team to take it seriously and be at their best, rather than having it be a regular occurrence.

On the other hand, she mentions a boss who offers two traits Watson tries to emulate. “She was the smartest person I’ve ever known, but she used her knowledge to be inclusive rather than exclusive. She was the smartest person in the room, but she never made anyone feel less so. “Her knowledge was deep and wide, and she was generous with it, rather than imperious.” Watson says that she learned that sharing information leads to strong, trusting relationships that will positively impact your career.

Watson also appreciated the team perspective her mentor offered, understanding what each person brought to the table and how it fulfilled the whole picture.

“She brought me on the team to fill a gap. She herself was a very talented writer, and once when I struggled for days trying to write a piece she stopped me and said, ‘Don’t struggle with that, as I can do it easily. Instead, I need you to manage the production of the publication because I’m dreadful at that.’” That’s when Watson says she learned to look for complementary skills rather than clones when pulling a team together.

Watson appreciates the educational opportunities she’s been offered at WEX, including an integrated leadership development program of which a significant component was working with an executive coach. “That relationship has been enormously helpful in developing my career and refining my future goals and how to achieve them.” Watson notes that she’s often been tapped for a positon even when she wasn’t certain she was ready, but the rapport she’d developed with the coach allowed her to see the possibilities and embrace the challenges by taking the risk and putting herself out there.

In one instance, she put her hat in the running for a bigger job that she wouldn’t have considered without her coach’s encouragement. Though she didn’t end up in the position, the process was extremely empowering and built a feeling of confidence for the next opportunity.

A Love of Cooking Permeates All Aspects of Her Life

When not working, Watson continues to indulge her love of cooking and entertaining; in fact she says it’s not unusual for her and her husband to have dinner guests two or even three times a week. “I learned a lot in the short time I switched careers, and now I can whip up a dinner party for 20 in two hours,” she says with a laugh.

And although her catering venture wasn’t a good career fit, she continues to help friends with special occasions. Using cooking as a creative outlet has threaded throughout her career, even to her philanthropic pursuits, where she delights in helping in soup kitchens and food drives.

Career Lessons

There are two important lessons I’ve learned over the course of my career, she says. “First, take risks – you always learn something from them, and the more you do it the less scary they are. And second, respect people: Understand where they are coming from and understand what they do well and give them the opportunity to use those skills.”