Jun 27, 2024 | 24 min read

Best Of: Engineering Your Career Progression with Deborah Spence-Cummings

By: Patrick Emmons


We had a fascinating conversation with Deborah Spence-Cummings in late 2022 and are excited to reshare it in our “Best Of” series. Originally published 12/01/22.

Only an exceptional innovator would look at a burgeoning career in operations and pause to examine their reputation and evaluate their goals. With the help of an executive coach, Deborah Spence-Cummings did just that and now serves as the Director of AI/ML Operations at Apple.

Deborah shares how she used an engineering mindset developed at MIT and Northwestern to drive her career progression through positions in operations, planning, project management, sales, and now, artificial intelligence and machine learning. In this conversation with Pat and Shelli, Deborah also discusses her contributions to the innovative processes at Apple and NAVTEQ and how she navigated her career when obvious opportunities did not appear.

  • (01:27) – Machine learning and AI
  • (08:09) – Studying material science
  • (11:38) – Journey to NAVTEQ
  • (18:14) – Taking on different roles
  • (21:45) – Working with an executive coach
  • (26:51) – The engineering of sales
  • (28:33) – Approach to leadership
  • (30:27) – Advocates in your network

About Our Guest

Deborah Spence-Cummings is the Director of AI/ML Operations at Apple. She has previously held executive and senior roles at HERE Technologies and NAVTEQ across operations, planning, program management, and sales. Deborah earned a bachelor's and master's degree in materials science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an MBA at the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University.

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Full Show Transcript 

Patrick: Hello, fellow innovators. This is Patrick Emmons. Today we're resharing insights from our previous guest on the show, Deborah Spence-Cummings. She's a director of AI/ML operations at Apple. She's recognized as a leader who effects successful organizational transformation through strategy formulation, organizations management, business intelligence, and program management, while still retaining a pretty good sense of humor. 

When we published her episode, it was such a hit, so we're sharing it for those who haven't tuned in yet or those who would like to hear her insights again. I really hope you enjoy. So let's dive right in.

Hello, fellow innovators. This is Patrick Emmons.

Shelli: And this is Shelli Nelson.

Patrick: Welcome to the Innovation and the Digital Enterprise Podcast, where we interview successful visionaries and leaders giving you an insight into how they drive and support innovation within their organizations. Today we're welcoming Deb Spence-Cummings to the show. Currently, Deb is a director of AI/ML operations at Apple, where she leads a global team of about 200 employees. She's a dynamic outcome-focused strategy and operations executive with 20-plus years of progressive exceptional experience leading global organizations.

Deb is recognized as a leader who effects successful organizational transformation through strategy formulation, operations management, business intelligence, and program management. She is a change agent who drives agile change management by instilling true authentic team collaboration, developing learn fast teams to sustain employee engagement to rapidly transform. She also has a bachelor's and master's degree in material science and engineering from MIT and an MBA from Kellogg Graduate School of Business here in Chicago. Really excited about having you on the show.

Shelli: Welcome to the show, Deb.

Deborah Spence-Cummings: Thank you so much, Patrick and Shelli. Thanks for having me.

Patrick: Our pleasure.

Shelli: Of course. And Deb, can you share with our listeners a little bit more about your role with Apple?

Deborah Spence-Cummings: Yeah. So first off, I have been with Apple just over a year and it's been a fantastic experience thus far. Huge learning curve, leading a couple of support functions within our artificial intelligence machine learning operations organization at Apple. And so the functions that I lead include business planning, program management, quality and learning and development. So a couple of support functions for the AI/ML operations organization.

Patrick: Very nice. And if you could go a little bit deeper on that, what does that mean to be the support functions?

Deborah Spence-Cummings: So we talked a little bit, Patrick, prior to the podcast, about this notion of human-in-the-loop. And if it's anything that Apple excels at, it's also ensuring privacy for their customers, but also making sure that Siri, when you engage with Siri, works and recognizes what you request, what you ask for. And some of the critical things that are needed for that are training data.

So I would say that for machine learning to happen, in order to power Siri, you need humans, right? And that's the whole notion of human-in-the-loop, where there is the strategy of combining human and machine intelligence in applications such as Siri that enables AI to do what it does, which is either to increase the accuracy of machine learning models, to reach a target accuracy for a machine learning model, and to combine human and machine intelligence to maximize accuracy, and then assist human tasks with machine learning to increase efficiency.

So that is the whole concept of human-in-the-loop, and where the AI/ML operations function is on the human side where you need to annotate, label raw data in order to feed these machine learning models. And so in terms of what support functions do, for example, for quality, it's to ensure that whatever our operations teams do in terms of labeling and annotation, that it's done in a consistent manner. What is it that, for example, a training organization would do?

Well, it's to ensure that we have the requisite guidelines and instructions in place so that our operations teams can do what they need to do in a repeatable and reproducible way. And then, of course, our business planning teams are responsible for ensuring that we collate the different requirements from our wonderful, great engineers who require this data, and making sure that we have these effected in the form of projects with the requisite budget that's needed to get all that work done within the operations team.

So that's pretty much, in a nutshell, what those functions perform. And then our program office function ensures that any kind of related initiatives, either for our people, or any initiatives related to serving our internal customers better, that we can drive those requisite initiatives accordingly. So that's what the support functions do in a nutshell.

Patrick: That's awesome. I think for many people, and I'm a software engineer at heart, there's so much black box around this concept. Personally, I always think of that... Remember the '70s version of the Batman show where they had the Batputer and you'd throw a bunch of stuff in it, and this little ticker tape would come out and it's like, "X equals four," right?

And I know that's not what it is, but I can't get that mental image out of my head. So this idea of the support system and structure around the actual AI and ML, it seems a lot, I guess the term I would use is cleaner of what that has to look like. Is that a fair thing to say, that it's really, like you said, what goes in, what comes out?

I know that's always been an important element of software development, software applications, but it seems like it's even a higher level of criticality of making sure that that information is clean, accurate, documented, annotated, unbiased, supported, consistent. Am I hitting important issues here?

Deborah Spence-Cummings: No, I would agree. I think this is where the function of human annotation and annotation operations, it's producing that data, but for you to get the requisite result that you need, it has to be done in partnership with our engineers who craft the requirements, who take a look at the output of what the operations teams produce. 

And then discern whether this is... Exactly, it meets the requirements that they have asked for or there is opportunity for improvement. This is also where, for example, we have functions like a quality or a training function when there are indeed opportunities for improvement, where there is some action that's taken in order to do just that.

Patrick: What does the feedback look like to improve the models? Is that something that you're involved with, managing and monitoring the models to see if they... And then from an accuracy standpoint or confidence standpoint?

Deborah Spence-Cummings: That usually comes from our engineers, but of course, we do obtain feedback in terms of how things are done, whether there is more opportunity for consistency or some other pieces of feedback that may come back to a need for us to clarify our guidelines better or some other method by which that work is done.

Patrick: Very cool. I'm also curious, I know that you worked at Navteq and HERE before this, but if we could go back even a little bit further with your degree in material science, how did you go from material science into AI/ML?

Deborah Spence-Cummings: Oh, my gosh. So that's quite a lengthy journey. I'll make sure I do it in a way so it doesn't make me sound as ancient as I really am. So the first couple of degrees I got that was just a result of being super interested in chemistry, in understanding how to look at materials and understand how we need to exploit and utilize materials for different types of applications. And so I had the opportunity to certainly drive to do that, working in semiconductors for a number of years.

And then a few years in, I determined that, "Boy, it would be great to be more on the technology strategy side." And that's why I decided to go get an MBA. And then, of course, I capitulated to the lemming effect after business school and followed a whole bunch of other people into consulting. And that in itself was a very interesting experience, not because I killed it at consulting, because really, I sucked at it. But it was a great learning experience in of itself.

So outside of burning through passport pages and having my passport look like a game of checkers, the consulting experience was one where certainly, there was stuff to learn about employing strategy, but I also started to understand that being in an organization where there is a cultural match is so important. And the bottom line is that while I went into what I thought was very sexy at the time, which was consulting, it really wasn't a match, culturally, for that specific consulting company. I think they were trying to do a little bit more in terms of diversity and inclusion.

And so they probably started to nail it on the diversity, but not so much on the inclusion. And the bottom line was that I left after two years. And what was awesome though about that experience was while it smashed at the ego a bit at saying, "Boy, now I have to leave this organization," what it actually did for me was it made me understand that the possibilities are endless. At that point, I actually did some consulting on the side while I was trying to find another job. And this was something that, quite frankly, I was not that entrepreneurial in nature. So because I had to now look for a job, I had to now look at other options just to make sure I could still pay my mortgage. So that in itself was a great learning experience.

The second learning experience out of that, and I know this is a little bit of a segue, was that despite the fact I had all these fancy degrees, I really had not exercised my ability to network. And when I'm saying network, I'm not just like, "Call a fancy friend to say, 'Hey, do you have a job?'" It's like, "Oh, I'm going to have to cold call some people to see what's there." So it's pound the pavement network. It is cold call network. It's, "Oh, I'm a friend of a friend network. Please don't reject my invitation for a call." And how I ended up at Navteq was random and unexpected.

I was in church one Sunday, and I met a previous college friend. We weren't close. And she worked at McKinsey here in Chicago, and she was like, "How are you doing?" And I said, "Yeah, the side consulting gig is about to wind down, and I'm looking for a job and it's eight months, nine of looking for a job." And she goes, "Where have you been looking?" And so I reeled off some companies, which included Navteq. And I said, "I've sent in my resume several times, no response." And she goes, "Well, my partner," her husband, "is a vice president at Navteq. Let me introduce you because I know they're looking for people." And I tell you what, Patrick and Shelli, within two weeks, I had a job.

Patrick: Nice.

Shelli: Wow.

Deborah Spence-Cummings: Power of the network.

Patrick: No argument.

Shelli: Yeah.

Deborah Spence-Cummings: Yeah. It was incredible. So within a week, I got a series of interviews, and within the next week, I had an offer. And that's how I started at Navteq and its various reincarnations of itself, which ended up being HERE. That was the start of a 17-year career with that company.

Patrick: That's awesome.

Shelli: Wow.

Deborah Spence-Cummings: Yeah.

Patrick: Navteq and HERE is such an integral part of Chicago's technology history, right?

Deborah Spence-Cummings: Yes.

Patrick: It's right there with the Motorolas and Bell Labs and those types of places. So that's really exciting. I think, again, not to age you or myself, when all that was occurring, there wasn't this thing called LinkedIn that you could go and connect with people.

Deborah Spence-Cummings: No.

Patrick: Just even finding the people to connect with was actually pretty hard, right?

Deborah Spence-Cummings: That's right. I ended up... I had a wonderful lady. Anne Browning, that was her name. She was at Kellogg at the time, and she was so helpful to say, "Okay, look at your alumni network. Look here, look here." Because literally, I was like a spoiled toddler. I came out of MIT with my little fancy degrees. I came out of Kellogg with a third little fancy degree, and I was expecting the heavens to open and rain opportunities. But that was not going to happen.

Patrick: It's so true. And the thing is that it really comes down to is they'd like to rain the jobs on you. They don't know how to find you either.

Shelli: Right.

Deborah Spence-Cummings: That's right.

Patrick: And that's half the battle is like, "Okay, we're looking for... Two meteorites are going through space, and somehow we've got to create a collision where the mathematics of that are pretty terrible." So to your point of get out there and find more meteorites and let's make some collisions happen.

Deborah Spence-Cummings: I love it.

Patrick: You got to do something to interrupt those patterns of... Horrible story of somebody that... I heard this second-hand, so who knows if it's true. But somebody used to say that when they got a stack of resumes, they'd cut it in half and then throw half away.

Deborah Spence-Cummings: Oh, good Lord.

Patrick: And somebody asked, "Well, why do you do that?" And he was like, "Well, I don't want to hire anybody who's not lucky."

Deborah Spence-Cummings: Oh, my gosh.

Patrick: I don't know if that's true. I have no idea if it's true.

Shelli: Wow.

Patrick: But mathematically speaking though, it's just as smart as going through each one of them. It's a messy business. It's messy. And Shelli does this professionally, trying to connect talented people with great opportunities. And it's really hard to find that kismet moment for both entities that at this perfect moment, the right job for the right person at the right organization.

Deborah Spence-Cummings: Right. But this is why it's so important that now that people have all of these tools at their disposal, the LinkedIn's, all of this good stuff, to maintain your network, whether it's a coffee ever so often or something like that. And not to be disingenuous about it, but don't wait until now you're faced with, "Oh, my gosh, I have to find a job in X time to now try and do all of this reaching out."

Shelli: You're right. We have all the technology in the world now, but it still goes back to relationships.

Deborah Spence-Cummings: Exactly.

Shelli: And trust. Yeah.

Deborah Spence-Cummings: Exactly. But Patrick, going back to your question about how you come from a material science degree to whatever, the bottom line is that those degrees, ultimately, they teach you how to think, and they teach you how to learn and how to get up to speed with new stuff.

And that's just so important. For those of us who have been in the workplace for X number of years, technology has changed significantly. Hell, when I interned and worked for Intel, I don't even want to tell you what x86 I was working on. That's going to...

Patrick: Yeah, I think I can guess.

Deborah Spence-Cummings: Oh, my Lord.

Patrick: That was pre-PowerPC chips.

Deborah Spence-Cummings:

Patrick: Was it? Yeah. Okay.

Deborah Spence-Cummings: It was. Oh, dear Lord. Yeah. Well...

Patrick: I remember the PowerPC was going to dominate the world. Just going to take over. And so I think it's a really interesting component of... One other thought that you touched on that I think is really great is getting out into the world of seeing what potentially exists, getting out of your silo and that preconceived notion of, "This is your direct path to your next step."

And I think that's really very exciting to hear you say that of that moment when you were doing consulting, even though it wasn't exactly for you, it did give you a sense of there's such a bigger world. And I think from an engineering stand, I have a CS degree, and there's a lot of, "This is your path." So tell us a little bit more about how that happened.

Deborah Spence-Cummings: Yeah, so let's talk a little bit more. So let's rewind back. I joined Navteq in product management, focused on voice recognition of all things.

Patrick: And the data on that is amazing, to think about voice in 2003, 2004. I know I'm a big voice advocate. I still think voice is going to take over because I believe Star Trek is actually the indicator of all things that are going to happen.

Deborah Spence-Cummings: Oh, I love Star Trek.

Patrick: They don't look at the communicator. They speak to it, right?

Deborah Spence-Cummings: Yes.

Patrick: But anyways, I hate to interrupt, but for our listeners, I just want to give some context of sometimes when we hear these technologies like voice is such a normal thing to hear right now, but back then there were some really bad solutions.

Deborah Spence-Cummings: Exactly. If you had an accent, could it recognize what you were saying? Or is the application just purely text to speech? So this was voice recognition for mapping. So now you can have any kind of wonderful voice telling you to turn left, turn right, you've reached your destination and all this good stuff. But at the time, we were in five countries and then over time, we expanded as Navteq.

But just to go back in terms of the progression, I did product management, then I did time in mapping operations, then I started focusing more on planning. And I took on a bunch of different roles, which, over time, went from mapping operations to quality, back into operations and planning, then sales operations.

And then, when I left Navteq here, I left in leading a product operations function. And what was great about that experience was that I was just able to transition into very different roles and was given the opportunity to really come up to speed. Like sales operations, I didn't know a bloody thing. I didn't know a pipeline from long-term revenue.

Patrick: Yeah, your definition of a pipeline was literally a piece of concrete that had fluid going through it.

Deborah Spence-Cummings: Made out of material. That's right.

Patrick: It was made out of materials. And there was some science there because there's material and science. They always go together.

Deborah Spence-Cummings: Exactly. And so there was actually some method to the madness. And so I want to talk a little bit about what prompted that progression. So over time, I figured operations is my thing, and one day I want to be... I concluded, with the help of an executive coach. So a few years into my career, I determined that, "You know what? It would be great to get an executive coach for two main reasons. One, just to have somebody who can kick my..." Can I say it? "Kick my behind into thinking-

Patrick: Oh, yeah. No, you-

Deborah Spence-Cummings: ... through what it is that I wanted to do with my career and to spend some time thinking about that. And the second reason was from a personal transformation perspective, I was reputed to be very smart, but super confrontational. And so there were some things I needed to fix with myself, be a little bit kinder, gentler in terms of my delivery."

Shelli: I like how you lowered your voice when you said that.

Deborah Spence-Cummings: I know, right? And to frankly fix my brand. So that was the motivation to really have someone to really help be that external guide. And so I'm so thankful I had a phenomenal coach, Trudy Bourgeois, who really just told me about myself and taught me to be a lot more introspective. I can't give her the full credit. I also had a boss, who was a phenomenal coach, and he's actually still at HERE, Luther Siebert.

And he runs quality at HERE. He was my boss for about seven years. And that person, the currency of being able to provide feedback, that is certainly a learning that I even have taken and I do with my teams and do with people that I mentor as well. So that was just very critical. But just to go back to the whole career progression piece, when Trudy started kicking my tail-

Patrick: You can say behind. You can say behind.

Deborah Spence-Cummings:
Okay. When Trudy kicked my behind into thinking about what it is I wanted to do when I truly grew up, I determined, ultimately, I want to be a chief operating officer. I'm not there yet, but that's ultimately where I'd love to be at some point. And to do that, I had a ton of operations experience, a ton of cost side experience, but not a lot of revenue side experience.

So after all of my stints in quality and operations, I determined, "You know what? I probably should try and do a stint in sales. But how am I going to do that? How? How? How?" And thanks to my network, there was a colleague of mine, Olga Selina, who I think you know, Patrick and Shelli.

Patrick: I do. Yeah.

Deborah Spence-Cummings: Yes. Awesome Olga, who always had her ear to the ground while she was at HERE. And there were some changes coming, and she pulled me aside and said, "Hey, you've put it out in the ether that you're looking for some sales side experience." I told us such to our chief operating officer at the time. And she said, "Well, you know what? There's an opportunity to lead sales operations. And while you don't have sales operations experience, you have a lot of knowledge about the business. And the GM who is coming in for the Americas, she will help you with the sales operations side and help you get up to speed, but you need to tell her about the business."

And so that was how that partnership was forged and how I ended up getting that role and being in sales operations, not only for the Americas, but then ultimately leading global sales operations for the company for the better part of three or four years before moving on to my final role with HERE. So look, long-winded point is that it's making sure people understand where you want to go. It's cultivating and continuing to cultivate your network, whether you're in a company, whether it's external or an internal search, so that people understand where it is that you want to go.

And I think the third thing is you continue to work on your brand. So if I was still the super spicy person that I was when I was younger, perhaps it wouldn't have worked out. But just working also on some of the things I needed to work on, and being very introspective about that was also a big factor as well. I don't even know if I... Did I answer your question? I talk so much.

Patrick: Absolutely. Yeah. No. And I think it's what we were talking about, getting out of your comfort zone and trying new things. And I think your point is totally valid in that being on the value creation side, not the cost control side. But then, as you know, and many people don't, sales is still a series of processes and operations that need to be-

Deborah Spence-Cummings: Oh.

Patrick: Right?

Deborah Spence-Cummings: Yes.

Patrick: It's still engineering.

Deborah Spence-Cummings: I would look at those sales guys, and I would think they're swanning away on the golf course, swanning here, flying there. It is tough work.

Patrick: It's a grind.

Deborah Spence-Cummings: It is tough work.

Patrick: For the good ones. The bad ones are brutal. They're just god-awful. But to be good at it, it's a performance art. Really, it takes a lot of physical and mental discipline. It's a very-

Deborah Spence-Cummings: Yes.

Patrick: As an engineer, I liked my desk, I liked my chair. I would do the same thing all day long. And if I got it wrong, nobody noticed, right?

Deborah Spence-Cummings: Yeah.

Patrick: Nobody was aware that my while loop was not the most efficient while loop I had ever created from a sales standpoint. But still, to your point, it's still a flow of value and it requires engineering and removing of barriers and friction. And it's still an engineering question. It's still applying the scientific methodology and mindset. Like you said, what you get out of an engineering degree is really that engineering-

Deborah Spence-Cummings: How you think.

Patrick: Right, mindset.

Deborah Spence-Cummings: How to learn and how to think.

Patrick: Take big problem, tear it into a series of little problems, analyze little problems. It's really, find the biggest bottleneck, defeat biggest bottleneck. Move on.

Deborah Spence-Cummings: Yeah.

Shelli: I was just going to say thank you for sharing all that. And with your experience with the executive coach and with the great boss that you had, has that changed how you manage and interact with your team?

Deborah Spence-Cummings: Oh, absolutely. I view the managers I've had and the good, the bad, the ugly, certainly have really taught me how I want to engage, how I want to lead, and in some cases, what not to do. And as I had indicated before, focusing on the leaders that really, I just got really fantastic examples and I was incredibly fortunate.

Luther was one, certainly, the GM of the Americas that I worked for. Sandy Hogan was also phenomenal. And with Luther, for example, just learning how to coach, how to really understand when to get into the details, when I need to help with my team, and then when to operate at a higher level. And that was also just some phenomenal experience that I cultivate with his leadership. And then, with leaders like Sandy, for example, just understanding how to really develop that gravitas, how to communicate and over-communicate when needed in terms of goals, in terms of what key results you want to garner from your team.

And don't get me wrong, Luther was the same way. But the good leaders that I had really nailed how to coach, how to motivate their team, as well as keeping the team's eyes on the prize in terms of objectives and how to drive to those critical outcomes in order to yield value as an organization. And that was just phenomenal. I should also share just how I ended up at Apple as well, because that was also a fortuitous networking thing.

And so when I started looking for other opportunities where, "How can I continue to advance in operations, working on something new like AI/ML?" The opportunity really presented itself as a result of my current boss being part of my network. So she was someone that I worked with at Navteq, and we never worked directly with each other for a long time, but we knew of each other. She had reached out over a number of years just saying, "Hey, I'm scaling up maps. Would you want to come to Cupertino?" I was not interested in moving to California.

And then several years later... But she would check in ever so often. She would check in ever so often just in her phenomenal networking way. And then COVID happened. And with COVID, came the opportunity for the opportunities to morph a little bit differently. And in this case, by then, she was running AI/ML operations, certainly a distributed organization, and I had the opportunity to do this role while working from Chicago.

And thanks to her, she made that happen. And a myriad of discussions and interviews later, we were able to make it happen. So just thanks to the network again for yielding this opportunity.

Patrick: I agree with you. It's really important to build your network. But I also think you touched on something else about being a lifelong learner, you're constantly seeking other people's help. You're getting outside of your own box trying to figure out, "How do I improve?" And as somebody who, as you generally term spicy, definitely I would fall into that category. Generally, it was not spicy. It was some other term, "Gigantic jerk. Man, is that guy angry? What did his dad do to him?" The norm.

But the end result is being that lifelong learner and in pursuit of improvement, because you talk about it a number of times of the tangential relationships to the direct relationships that actually create that. So somebody else is out there saying, "You should meet Deb," right? Like you said, Olga advocating for you. That doesn't happen unless you are a hard worker, you're performing at what you're doing and that people see that you want to learn.

Because I think we can give off signals that we like to learn and that we're willing to take risks, and that jumping in the deep end of the pool doesn't frighten us. And I think that's part of... You're wired a little bit for those opportunities to happen. I think that's also part when we don't want to take credit. You're a humble person, and I think that's what people are also attracted to. You've clearly accomplished quite a bit, and there's a reason why they put you in charge of global sales. This wasn't some tiny little team off to the side over here, you get four sales dudes and that's it.

These are serious roles with serious, serious impact. And so I think it's also good advice for everybody that if you really want to accelerate the career, focus on being really good at your current job, and then people will start looking at it. If you're not willing to do your current job well... I had this manager at TGI Fridays. I know what you're thinking, "Where is he going with this?" I got that.

Deborah Spence-Cummings: I like it.

Patrick: I was working a lunch, and if anybody's ever worked lunch for a restaurant, you don't make any money at lunch. Nobody tips for lunch. You barely make enough money to come back for tomorrow's lunch. And so the manager's getting us all ready for the day. And he's like, "All right, everybody, come in, come in, come in." And I wasn't really that good at... You mentioned you're not good as a consultant. I was a terrible waiter. I couldn't do it. There was just something about having flair and having a positive attitude being required. I'm a happy guy. When you're required to for a job, I'm suddenly not a happy guy. It's a very weird dynamic.
But The manager said this critical thing as we're all kind of mulling around and nobody was paying attention. He's like, "Hey." And he stopped and he was very curt. He was always a very pleasant guy. And he's like, "Hey, I know you guys all think that this is a waste of a time for you, and this job is a joke. But the truth of the matter is, the way that you approach this job is probably how you're going to approach most of the jobs. And I know you think you're only going to care when it matters, but how you treat this job is probably how you're going to treat that job." And I remember instantly thinking-

Deborah Spence-Cummings: Profound.

Patrick: ... "What mistake made you come here? What thing happened in your life where you're the assistant manager?" Not to pick on assistant managers at TGI Fridays, but it was profound. And that stuck with me from that moment on of like, "He's right. You're not taking this seriously and you think it's beneath you." And the truth of the matter is you're always going to feel that way, and you're going to be stuck in that if you don't change your mindset of like, "No, I got to be great at this job to get the next one."

Shelli: Yeah.

Awesome. I'm glad I got to wrap up at the end because it's all about me, as everybody knows.

Shelli: Do you still have all your pins from TGI Fridays that you earned after that?

Patrick: I don't, but I'll tell you my little tip tray-

Deborah Spence-Cummings: I love it.

Patrick: House of Pain was a very large component of it because you had to put little things on there. And House of Pain, Jump Around was the hot song back then.

Deborah Spence-Cummings: Oh, I remember. Yeah, Jump. Yeah.

Patrick: Yeah. Well, as northwest suburban Irish kid, it connected in ways that just weren't really going to happen until Eminem showed up.

Deborah Spence-Cummings: That song translated everywhere.

Patrick: It really... And it still is very-

Deborah Spence-Cummings: Still a great song. Are you kidding?

Patrick: Well, Wisconsin still plays it every game. Yeah. There's so many good songs. We're not even going to get on that subject. Early '90s hip hop was, without a doubt, the best.

Shelli: I agree.

Deborah Spence-Cummings: I think I'm going to play it on my HomePod right now.

Patrick: Just a little young MC, right? If you're stone-cold munchin'.

Deborah Spence-Cummings: Oh, yeah. Bust a Move.

Patrick: That's right.

Deborah Spence-Cummings: Yes.

Patrick: Stand up on a wall like you're Poindexter. Everybody's done it.

Deborah Spence-Cummings: Now you really know how old I am.

Patrick: I think it's safe to say nobody got this far into the episode. This will be a little secret just for us. All right.

Deborah Spence-Cummings: I love it.

Patrick: So to wrap, Deb, thanks so much for coming on. Really appreciate it.

Shelli: Thanks, Deb.

Patrick: You're a tremendous person and what a great personality. It's not a shock you're a success.

Deborah Spence-Cummings: Thank you.

Patrick: You're bright and funny and really easy to talk to. So I would love to talk more about your leadership skills and how you deal with other spicy leaders, the younger yous that you run into, because I think that's a whole different dynamic.

Shelli: That's another podcast.

Deborah Spence-Cummings: Let's do it. I smell a part two coming. We should do it.

Patrick: Fantastic. Fantastic.

Deborah Spence-Cummings: Thank you for having me. This was great. It was so lovely talking to you, Patrick, and you, Shelli. I appreciate the invitation.

Patrick: Oh, our pleasure.

Shelli: Thank you, Deb.

Patrick: Absolutely. Just wanted to thank our listeners. We really appreciate everyone taking the time to join us. And a special thanks to those who hung out to get the rundown on the early '90s hip hop hit list. And if everybody wants a specific list, you can email Shelli at... I'm just kidding.

Shelli: Yeah. And if you'd like to receive new episodes as they're published, you can subscribe by visiting our website at dragonspears.com/podcast or find us on iTunes, Spotify or wherever you get your podcast.

Patrick: This episode was sponsored by DragonSpears and produced by Dante32.

About Patrick Emmons

If you can’t appreciate a good sports analogy, movie quote, or military reference, you may not want to work with him, but if you value honesty, integrity, and commitment to improvement, Patrick can certainly help take your business or your career to the next level. “Good enough,” is simply not in his vernacular. Pat’s passion is for relentlessly pushing himself and others to achieve full potential. Patrick Emmons is a graduate of St. Norbert College with a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science and Mathematics. Patrick co-founded Adage Technologies in 2001 and in 2015, founded DragonSpears as a spin-off dedicated to developing custom applications that improve speed, compliance and scalability of clients’ internal and customer-facing workflow processes. When he is not learning about new technology, running a better business, or becoming a stronger leader, he can be found coaching his kids’ (FIVE of them) baseball and lacrosse teams and praising his ever-so-patient wife for all her support.

Recent Episodes

We interview leaders from early-stage start-ups to billion-dollar enterprises who distill their lessons from their victories and their failures. Learn how these high-performing leaders organize their teams, establish a growth-minded culture, and leverage new technologies such as DevOps and Cloud.