Survival Skills for Equity Compensation Professionals

December 18, 2014 Pam Ellis

Pam Ellis, CEP, recently loaned her expertise to a panel discussion at the 21st Annual NASPP Conference on back-to-basics skills for both new and seasoned stock plan administrators. We spoke to her to get the post-panel scoop.

Q: Why are survival skills in our industry so useful?

A: Our industry is unique in that it’s highly specialized but easy to get into, and very small and close-knit. It’s also very easy to advance in our field without having a ton of experience or a lot of degrees or certifications, which means you control your own path and make your own opportunities. Some of the skills we discuss in this session will help you do that. Also there is a great deal of risk inherent in our industry; mistakes can be very costly (not just financially), so having certain skills will help you to mitigate that risk and protect you and your company.

Q: What were the top survival skills discussed?

A: In our session, we discuss three must-have skills and three long-range skills. My favorite from the first list is Educate Yourself. This is the equivalent to finding food and water in our industry: knowledge gives you power. There are many places to obtain it and you should seek it out on an ongoing basis. It’s absolutely critical to maintain your information supply in order to keep your knowledge base healthy. My favorite skill from the second list is Perfect Your Social Game. If you’ve ever watched the show “Survivor,” you know it’s impossible to win without getting other players to vote for you. The same applies to our industry. Equity compensation involves so many different individuals, all with different priorities, experiences, and perspectives. Often the equity plan manager is responsible for bringing these people together to work towards a single goal, so the ability to build positive relationships and get people on your side is extremely useful for a successful career in equity compensation.

Q: What were concerns raised by the audience?

A: One audience member asked the panel how to document what they learn. We discussed several ways to do this. Policies and procedures should be documented formally anyway for Sarbanes-Oxley 404 audit purposes. Interestingly, we took an informal show of hands to ask who has end-to-end procedures documented, and maybe 20% of the room had those in place. For other education and learning, you can keep an informal notebook or some system to help organize your notes for reference. An advantage of keeping your notes digitally is that they are both safe and “searchable.” The key thing is not to keep it in your head if you can. If you find a way to document what you’ve learned, you can then reference the information easily in the future and hand off your notes to someone else so they can benefit from what you’ve learned.

Q: Where can stock plan administrators go for further learning?

A: One of the great things about our industry is the huge variety of resources available to help you build your skills over time. First, figure out what areas you need to develop.

  • If you lack regulatory knowledge, consider enrolling in the Certified Equity Professional program
  • If you want to network with people in similar jobs, participate in a local chapter of the NASPP
  • If you’re looking for ideas on next steps for your career, find a mentor who can give you support and open your eyes to new opportunities. It’s very easy to get help and people are always willing to share their knowledge with you.

About the Author

Pam Ellis

Pam has been a part of the US equity compensation industry for the last 25 years, serving on both the issuer and service provider sides in multiple capacities. Currently she leads our community-focused efforts to engage clients and employees in our Global Learning & Development programs, as well as internal HR communications for the Shareworks organization. She is the Western Regional Representative and serves on the Executive Advisory Committee for the National Association of Stock Plan Professionals, where she continues to promote the benefits of the industry. Pam earned her Certified Equity Professional designation in 2001 and her Shareworks Associate certification in 2012.

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