Master Class: Lessons in Leadership 

By Saiqa Anne Qureshi

Our 2023 Master Class: Lessons in Leadership event, held at the Salesforce Tower on June 7 in San Francisco, featured moderator Melissa Maquilan Radic (Managing Director Investor Relations & Capital Markets and IMPACT Community Capital) and panelists: Alice Cho, (Co-founder of AllRise San Francisco and Senior Advisor, Boston Consulting Group), Alana Knowles, (VP & Controller, Chevron), and Sonja Velez, (CFO, The San Francisco Foundation).


The conversation started with leadership and career decision-making, with all three panelists indicating that they had a general plan for their career, not a linear approach. All moved into finance, and around the financial space broadly, taking advantage of opportunities, being open, and being given chances. They reflected on having a plan, even when there was a change or a new opportunity, or a career break. There was discussion about the value of stretch assignments, and how the focus is on learning and being outside of your comfort zone, and that doesn’t necessarily correlate with the title of the role or the day-to-day duties.

The importance of sponsors and mentors was emphasized but with a focus on the informal, loose ties in a network that can actually lead to jobs. Indeed, it is those loose and informal conversations and moments that have provided more guidance than formal mentoring. As a mentee, they encouraged the audience to think about what they actually need and have a plan to utilize time/experience with the mentor to the fullest, however, not to be transactional and “use the mentor,” especially around network and introductions.


A really critical piece of the discussion, arising from an audience member's question, was about networking and approaches to doing so. Alana Knowles encouraged attendees to think about the long-term nature of building a network and past the immediacy of a “next role” or position, a sentiment reinforced by Alice Cho. Alana highlighted that at an FWSF event in 2015, she learned about impact investing, but it was several years later that her current role came up as CFO with a group that does that type of work. The interest was sparked as she was open to new ideas in general, not due to the desire for a new role or even working in a new area, and then the opportunity came up, with Alice echoing the idea that a “transactional” approach to networking was not effective.

Alice Cho also introduced the idea of “personal guiding principles,” that there was something at the core of the career choices she made, in her case being leading edge, and that was mirrored almost as a critical theme throughout the decisions she made in her career. They all also reflected on change and being new, and that in a new role, others will know more technically, so be humble and lead from a place of learning.

The overall discussion highlighted career transition, decision-making in terms of next steps, and reflecting on being open to change and learning. These were critical pieces in the overall narrative of the careers of the panel members and how they made decisions, especially around career transition.

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