I first met Heidi McGuire three years ago through a mutual friend. She was referred to me for a potential piece of business with Thermo King (at the time). After a couple meetings, Heidi and I were working together. That work ended a couple years ago, but I knew I wanted to stay closely connected with Heidi so I invited her to be a part of a corporate communicator mastermind group I manage. Through that group (and the fact that we live just two blocks away), I’ve gotten to know Heidi a bit better over the years.
What I’ve always admired about Heidi is her willingness to learn and her ability to be a strong team member, but also a team leader. That’s not a skill everyone possesses, but it seems almost second-nature to Heidi. And, it’s served her well–in her 10-plus years with Ingersoll Rand, she’s moved up from communications specialist in 2007 to communications lead for Thermo King, and now, Trane, in the last few years. Let’s hear more from this Rock Star.
You’re a communications business partner at Ingersoll Rand, for the Trane Commercial business. Tell us more about your current role and what it entails.
Thanks Arik for the opportunity to chat with you. I always enjoy reading your interviews with other communications professionals, and I am humbled you asked me to participate.
As the communications business partner, I’m accountable for leading Trane’s communications strategy, spanning internal and external communication responsibilities across multiple regions of the world.
My current role is a very unique and interesting position because I am able to collaborate with many different people across the company and create connections.
Every day I get the opportunity tell our company’s story about where and how we are breaking new ground in the building and energy industries. Buildings are one of the leading causes of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, and I work alongside the business leaders, engineers, marketers and others who want to solve this problem. My job is to help communicate about how we can create a positive impact on the efficiency and sustainability of our world.
You’ve been with Ingersoll Rand in various communication roles your entire professional career. That’s amazing! What’s kept you with the company for 10+ years now?
Easy – my team! Communications is a team sport, and I am very fortunate to work with a “small but mighty” crew of hustlers…who also have a sense of humor and support one another. I feel privileged to work with talented, smart and scrappy professionals who continue to impress me and stretch my own thinking daily.
Beyond the people, I also believe in the company and respect the leaders. The company has evolved and changed so much during my tenure, and I feel lucky to have been part of the journey. Corporate social responsibility and ethics are important to me, and I am proud to work for a company where I believe in its values, which I think should be a non-negotiable when you are a corporate communications professional! It’s so much easier to do your job if you truly believe the company’s mission.
And lastly, I keep learning and find new ways to stretch myself. Organizations are constantly evolving, and as communication professionals, this is when our skills are needed most. I’ve had fun stepping up to this challenge in every role I’ve had with the company.
Many jobs in the comms world require you to manage a broad mix of internal AND external communications. In your roles at both Thermo King and Trane you held responsibilities for both. Do you think that’s benefitted you earlier in your career as opposed to being in a role where you just focus on media relations, social, etc.? What do you see as the pros of this type of role?
Absolutely, in fact I think it should be core to any communicator’s background. There is no such thing as an internal only or external only message. I may be bias, but I think the integrated communications role is more rewarding – not just because of the variety of work – but because you can add more value to the business when you have a more well-rounded perspective.
I am very grateful that early in my career my wise mentor and long-time manager, Perri Richman, encouraged me to tackle the basics of both. No doubt the function keeps changing, and our roles as communicators look very different than 10, 15, +20 years ago – but the basic skills and principles for all disciplines of communication remain highly relevant.
Over the last 10 years, you’ve also worked your way up to a more senior communications role at the company (starting as an intern years ago, moving to a manager roles, and now in your “lead” role). What were your keys to success in moving up the corporate ladder? And, what advice would you offer up to younger folks today looking to take a similar approach?
My favorite inspirational quote is “Go the extra mile. It’s never crowded.”
I think in order to be successful with a career in communications, you really have to believe in the value of the function. It’s hard to demonstrate ROI of what we do, which means you have to always prove your contributions are important. Failing forward, and doing the non-glamorous part of the job is so important to understanding the value of the function.
Beyond the grit of working hard, you also have to be grateful for every opportunity you have to learn – no matter how small or insignificant you may think it is. Take advantage of being thrown off the deep end into uncomfortable assignments.
I almost didn’t go to my internship interview because I had to drive 2.5 hours each way during my final summer vacation before college graduation. My life would be so different today if I had taken the lazy way out. After graduation I took another chance and moved New Jersey. During this experience I learned more than I ever thought possible.
I am so grateful Perri, and other communications executives over my tenure, took chances on me, invested in me and offered me opportunities. Answering this question has been a good reminder for me in my current role to appreciate where I’ve grown, but to keep running those extra miles.
You’ve traveled domestically and internationally quite a bit during your tenure with Thermo King and Trane, which is not that unusual for a lot of people in our field. But what tips would you suggest to others looking to better manager work-life balance when traveling?
Business travel can be tough on your mental and physical health. But one thing that always keeps me motivated is taking my husband’s advice. When I leave for a business trip, he always says the same thing to me: “Make the most of your time away.” This means, if you are going to take a business trip, take advantage of the opportunity. Learn. Add value. Experience something new. While not always easy, changing your mindset can give you the boost of energy to make it a meaningful trip.
Speaking of work-life balance, you have two little guys at home. How are you attempting to balance a full-time career in corporate communications and also your family?
Coffee J (only half joking). Work-life balance is really just “life” and we constantly challenged to figure out how to spend our time. While I’m not perfect at these, here are a few principles I use to help guide me when work-life balance is off course.
Pick the top things you won’t sacrifice – and hold yourself accountable it.
Determine what is non-negotiable for you to give up. And then hold yourself accountable for staying on track. For me, I spend as many evenings with my kids as possible. This means I’m always up very early to either work out or go to the office before most people wake up. But this allows me to pick up my kids every day at preschool, and we spend the evenings playing, reading and eating dinner together.
Build your village, and appreciate them.
I am one lucky lady, and I recognize how privileged I am to with my support network. My husband (who also works full-time) is a true partner and he is my #1 fan. We are also VERY fortunate because our immediate family members are local and enjoy spending time with our boys as much as they can (thank you Mom, I am eternally grateful!) …and we live on the best block in South Minneapolis with neighbors who we have been able to rely upon in a pinch (#community). Full disclosure – our village also includes the Instacart grocery delivery service, Amazon Prime and a regular home cleaning service.
Recognize when you’re off-balance…and then give yourself some grace and reset. A career in public relations / corporate communications is frequently listed on the top of lists for “the top high stress jobs” because our work is very visible, fast paced and complex. When you find yourself off-balance, you have to take a pause and reset. We are not perfect – but our work is expected to be. If you need a lifeline, ask your team for help. Give yourself grace (thank you Ginny Mackin). And when you’ve caught your breath – get back to it.
What’s the number one challenge and opportunity you see in working on the corporate side in comms/PR?
The growing expectation for organizations to be transparent regarding their views on social, health and environmental issues is changing the game. Our strategy must balance the art of “always being prepared” , yet we need to be “nimble and ready to adapt” because no situation is the same.
As a profession, we should hold ourselves to high standards to understand the issues that impact our organization. And we then must be able to help our leaders (and employees) articulate it. We also must be strategic and thoughtful about when / where / how our company choses to voice those opinions and be ready to make decisions quickly.
This is the time of year we see trend posts galore! What 1-2 trends do you see really impacting PR/comms pros work in the year ahead?
One interesting trend is the desire for people to simplify their lives. The word “busy” has become meaningless. This term is the new norm and it quite mundane. Professionally, people are being asked to do more with less. In our personal lives we have become so over scheduled, over committed and over synthesized with news and information.
For communications professionals, I think really means if it’s not simple, or easy, or creates an immediate feeling driving people to act, it will be lost.
I think the future is not about more – but about the higher value stories and opportunities. This shift will a definite challenge, because we also have to balance the need for finding and telling the more meaningful stories, while also being repetitious and visible so your brand remains top of mind.
I think 2018 will be an innovative one for the function, and I look forward to what my team and other professionals in this space come up with.
Now that 2017 is in the books, what were your personal and professional highlights from the past year?
Professionally, I am really proud of the work our team delivered related to our energy efficiency and sustainability content strategy and thought leadership work. Ingersoll Rand was the first diversified industrial company to make a bold commitment a few years ago to increase energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emission related to our operations and products. We are walking the talk, and the progress we’ve made as company to tell our story was a big highlight.
Personal highlights include the many adventures taken and memories made with my husband and our two boys. We took our first big adventure as a family of four to Florida in the spring. And thanks to our village, John and I were able to sneak away for two weekends, once to Napa Valley and then later to New York for the holidays.