A Director at Pandora on Staying Present, Celebrating Others, and Learning From Failure

This article by Jacqueline McElhone originally appeared on Career Contessa. It is republished with permission.

Shalya Forte has worked at Pandora for almost ten years. In 2007 as an account executive, and now, as Pandora’s Director of Sales, Southeast, she continues to look forward to her work, each and every day. Her unique outlook on the opportunities of growth in failure, selfless leadership, and authentic vulnerability are no doubt integral assets to the company, and reasons for her steady ascension to the “corner office”. 

After graduating from Georgia State University, Shalya’s career began at Katz Media Group, where she then transitioned to a role at AOL, followed by a move to Trier Media Group before she ultimately landed at Pandora. And now? She gets to “help companies tell people about their products, services or what they do—[and] in a creative way, for a cool company that allows people to listen to music anywhere and everywhere they are.” Forte’s tenacity, combined with a poised sense of self-assurance and willingness to ask for what she knows she deserves, truly make the sky the limit in regards to her potential. Here she is:

I interned and worked my way through college, so I thought my post-grad position at Katz [Media Group] would be an easy transition. The role involved a lot of studying to become proficient in market knowledge to set strategies around why media should be placed with the stations I represented.

Early on, there were many times I would get into a pitch situation and I would not know everything or I would make a mistake, despite how much I prepared. In those situations, I could not let “perfect” be the enemy of “good”. I had done good work/preparation, but not perfect work/preparation. Each time that happened to me, I learned. My advice to recent college grads is [to remember that] your mistakes will make you better, they are an asset in facilitating growth.

On Her Career Trajectory, From AOL to Trier Media, and Eventually—To Pandora

AOL was my introduction to the digital world. Prior to AOL, I was in radio. While I was working with ad agencies, the conversation and media conversations were very different. Learning all things digital at AOL prepared me for the consulting I did at Trier Media for Pandora. My background in radio and digital perfectly primed me to help introduce the new way to listen to music anywhere and everywhere to advertisers, agencies and listeners.

As a consultant with Trier Media, I had the privilege of working side by side and learning from my mentor Chris Trier. Together, we would represent startups and some established publishers in the southeast. We started helping Pandora establish its position as a viable advertising partner in the Southeast. As soon as I started telling the Pandora story and working with advertisers to get their messages out on the Pandora platform, I knew Pandora was different. I decided that I wanted to get on [the] rocketship and continue to contribute to the change in music consumption.

On Making Mistakes, And How to Grow From Them

Early on in my career, I missed a deadline that ending up costing me and my company a big account. There were a ton of factors that contributed to missing the deadline, but I ultimately, I was the one who dropped the ball. That experience was a real punch to the gut, but I reflected on what I could have done better. I concluded that I was not nearly as organized as I thought I was—so I immediately went to my boss and asked for suggestions on how to improve my organizational skills. A few months later I was in the exact situation again, I made the deadline and won the account.

My advice? Be coachable—it’s okay not to know everything, you’re not expected to. Take advice, soak it in, and use it all to get better and progress.

On What She’s Learned In Being a Leader

I have learned to be vulnerable. Share your wins, but most importantly, share what your growth areas are, share when you fail, share how you bounced back, or what you learned from your experiences. Nobody wants to work with—or for—someone that projects perfection. Lead by example—don’t ask people to do things you would not do. Help find the solution, but do not do it for them. I believe in helping your people to lead themselves through situations.

[And] celebrate others. Recognition is something everyone needs. It’s important to know how each person you are working with and managing receives [it]. Recognition for their hard work and dedication is a huge motivator.

On Standing Up For Yourself

Always remember that you are in the room and have a seat at the table for a reason. Your voice as a woman or underrepresented person in the workplace needs to be heard, because diversity of thought is what truly pushes work forward.

And consistently challeng[e] [yourself] to be present and give 100 percent. I believe your consistency says a lot about your commitment. I am committed to constantly learning, failing, and learning from those failures to improve. I have also asked for opportunities to grow—if I saw a need for a role, I wrote the job description and pitched myself for [it.] I believe in making your own opportunities.

On What Keeps Her at Pandora

The culture. I look forward to coming to work every day and being with my team and everyone in the office; I truly enjoy the environment. I also come back year after year as the job constantly changes. The digital world moves fast—Pandora has been malleable and [continued to] evolv[e], which satiates my need to constantly learn.

On What’s Next

With Pandora establishing a second headquarters in Atlanta, I want to continue to tell the story of why I’m proud to work at and represent Pandora personally and professionally as we continue to inspire people through listening. Pandora is experiencing an exciting moment in time—audio has become a part of daily life. We saw this early on, and quickly redefined the new era of audio as we know it now. Pandora will continue to innovatively push effortless listening experiences tuned for the moments we all live in fueled by innovations in technology and ad products. What’s good for the listener is good for the advertiser.

What’s your morning routine?

5:00 am: Alarm goes off—one of two things can happen. I roll over an proceed to send a few emails on my phone until 5:40 am, or I roll over, turn the alarm off and proceed to meditate, aka fall back asleep, until my real alarm clock my cat Debo starts to touch my face with his paw and meow loudly.

5:40 am: Get up in a panic, run to the bathroom and get dressed in a hurry to run out of the door to Crossfit…this literally happens every day I work out at 6 am…my clothes are often on inside out.

7:10 am: Done with my workout and now I’m walking up the steps to my house. I see my dog and cat staring at me with looks of hurry up and get inside to feed me. I work for them.

7:20 am: I ask Alexa to turn on NPR and I hit the shower.  I also read Skimm and check out my Flipboard while brushing my teeth deciding what to wear. I need to know what’s happening in the world right.

8:00 am: I’m dressed and in the kitchen getting my breakfast and lunch for the day.  I count my macros daily so I go to work with a packed lunch box or a week’s worth of food. I literally eat all day, ask anyone around me.

8:10 am: Leave the house to dive into the crazy ATL traffic….once in the car I turn on Pandora and blare music all the way…typically rap or trap music.

8:25-8:30 am: Arrive at the office. I plug in my headphones and listen to “Bach That Thing Up” radio, I named it myself. It’s a classical station I started with Johan Sebastian Bach that helps me to focus. I begin to answer early emails and organize my day and calendar while eating whatever I brought for breakfast.

9 am: The day commences—let the fun begin!

Q: Saturday evenings or Sunday mornings?

A: Saturday evening.

Q: Best advice you’ve ever received?

A: “Let it rip.” I was told that to stop me from showing up as my full self each and every day. Be vocal, be courageous, be authentic.

Q: Your favorite Pandora stations to listen to?

A:

  1. Solange Radio
  2. Van Morrison
  3. The ATL

Q: Favorite happy hour spot?

A: My Fro-Po, short for my Front Porch.  I was a bartender after I graduated from college. I can mix any drink and love a good glass of wine.

Q: Guilty pleasure?

A: Popcorn. I eat it EVERY DAY…with hot sauce.

Q: The most important woman in your life?

A: My mother, she is my best friend.

Q: What do you look forward to, each day?

A: Waking up. Each day is not promised, opening my eyes each and every day is a special moment.

Q: Hardest lesson learned?

A: You have to be your own cheerleader, don’t count on others to do it for you.

Speak up, track your accomplishments and ask for more money—I’m talking to all my ladies out there! Don’t assume that your company will notice your talents and reward you. It does happen, but don’t rely on it.

This article by Jacqueline McElhone originally appeared on Career Contessa. It is republished with permission.

Written by Career Contessa

Career Contessa is the only online career advice site exclusively built by and for real women, to guide, inspire, and empower them to create careers they love, on their own terms.