Jennifer Colosimo has the enviable and somewhat daunting title Vice President of Wisdom at DaVita Healthcare Partners. “It’s extremely difficult to live up to!” she jokes. The vision for the position began with DaVita’s CEO, who hoped to create a function that focused not only on learning, but also on quality of life for DaVita’s 60,000+ employees.
“Our definition of wisdom is this: things you can learn that can help you grow personally and professionally,” Jennifer explains. Wisdom oversees DaVita University, internal marketing and branding, corporate social responsibility, sustainability and green initiatives, to name just a few.
“I couldn’t have ever foreseen that there would be such a job,” she reflects. That said, her role today is consistent with her life-long interest in organizational communication, technology, and change management.
She started out at University of Utah as an undergraduate, focusing on organizational communication, and went on to earn a joint MS in organizational communication and business from Purdue University, which helped her round out her core interests with a deep knowledge of finance, operations, and business.
Right after graduate school, she joined Accenture, a place that championed broad exposure and mentoring. “At Accenture, people were always challenging you to do more than you thought you could do,” she recalls. She had the fortune of meeting a fantastic female mentor – something Jennifer notes was even more rare in 1994 than it is today.
During her time at Accenture, Jennifer worked on the merger between Franklin Quest, creators of the Franklin Planner, and the Covey Leadership Center, an initiative of the noted author Stephen R. Covey. After the merger, she joined as an employee of the company, and stayed for 15 years, eventually ascending to COO. She even co-authored a book with Stephen R. Covey called Great Work, Great Career.
Jennifer says she got where she is by seeking out new solutions rather than seeking promotion. “The way I think about it, when you’re at work, people have problems,” she says. “If you look at what you can do to solve those problems, and approach the conversation by describing what you’ve noticed, and suggesting what you might do to address it, you open up opportunities.”
She continues, “ ‘How can I get promoted?’ is the most boring question in the world. Are you trying to solve a need? Are you trying to do something you are passionate about? Or are you comparing yourself to your friends and thinking you should have a better title? If you look for the big challenges in your organization, and think about what you might do about those, and you deliver on your commitments, opportunities come your way.”
Jennifer joined DaVita, lured by the promise of contributing to a unique corporate culture and staying close to home after years of constant travel. Although that gave her more opportunity to have dinner with her two daughters and her husband, something they try to do most nights, it wasn’t an easy transition.
“When I traveled, my free time was forced. I’d go back to the hotel and read a book. I had cultivated my personal space by being on the road. Once I wasn’t traveling anymore, I had to remind myself to stop working, to go home, to make time for myself.”
She squeezes in personal time by doing things like getting up at 5:00 a.m. to work out with her friends. “I’ve chosen to make time for myself at a time that nobody else wants me!” she says.
Jennifer doesn’t shy away from talking about the challenges of being a woman in the business world. “I have had mostly male colleagues for my entire career, and many of the executives have a stay-at-home spouse,” she says. “I know everyone has challenges, but sometimes I envy what seems to be an ability to focus solely on work. They don’t do the kids’ activity schedule, they don’t pick up the dry cleaning.”
She says she defines true inclusion differently than diversity: “Diversity is being invited to the dance. Inclusion is being asked to dance.” And she’s worked hard to cultivate professional relationships that lead to inclusion. She recalls early in her career as a consultant being told by a colleague that he couldn’t have lunch with her because his wife wouldn’t approve.
She also realized that many business decisions were made outside of the workplace—on a golf course or at an after-hours dinner. “I had to figure that out and make sure I was at the out of office events,” she says. “As a woman in a mostly male business environment, I think it is harder to find the right balance between collaboration and strength.” That said, Jennifer says she is not aware of having been hindered in her career. “I feel like I’ve had every opportunity I’ve gone after, and I’ve had the good fortune of mentors and sponsors, both male and female, who helped make that happen.”
Jennifer manages to find time to promote the development of future women leaders, including the 10 years she spent as leader of a Girl Scout Troop. She devised a schedule that worked with her career, leading a monthly meeting on a week-night and a service-oriented activity every month on the weekend. She loves the opportunities for skill-building, collaboration, and healthy risk-taking that Girl Scouts cultivates in young women.
What’s the number one bit of advice Jennifer offers to people early in their career?
“Don’t assume that intelligence is enough,” she says. “Spend time on relationships, don’t just focus on getting to a result. You can learn how to handle difficult conversations, and how to negotiate. That can all be taught. But take the time to learn. Stay positive, keep your energy up, accept that things don’t always work out your way, but don’t give in to cynicism and criticism. Keep working at it.”