Alumni / May 11, 2020

Removing Fear from the Equation

People with a global mindset have spent time understanding, accepting and leveraging similarities and differences among cultures and business practices. For Ernst & Young Managing Director, and Global Service Coordinating Partner, Ellen Polansky ’87, developing this mindset starts with breaking down stereotypes and barriers and for some, fear. No one’s success equations should be based on fear. As a Maryland Smith graduate, success comes from being “Fearless” exclaims Polansky.

Polansky started her career in corporate banking for an AAA-rated international bank and since has worked in financial services and for an IT research company before landing her current role at Ernst & Young, one of the largest most prestigious global professional services firms. The key to her success she states is “I wasn’t afraid to take on change, I wasn’t afraid to move companies and work in new industries and it made me more experienced and powerful, than I would have been had I stayed in one role and had one trajectory.” Polansky says not having a linear career trajectory afforded her the opportunity early in her career to travel internationally and meet new people. “I was fortunate to see places and be with amazing people from different cultures and I was influenced by many others very early on in my career,” she states.

During her career, Polansky achieved a number of awards and “firsts” …one proud moment was completing the first debt lead acquisition of a technology company. She says, “By understanding how the company operated, where they operated, and the value proposition to its customers, structuring something unique enabled a “first”. Another “first” was when she and a team of colleagues stopped a shortage of generic penicillin in the U.S. market. That is another case study for another time. She also started a jewelry design company in 1989 called Mon-Sai Jewelry which is still in business today serving private clients including celebrities and executive women after selling through Saks Fifth Avenue for 20 years. Polansky’s fearlessness when taking on a new job or entering a new industry has helped to shape her global mindset. “What it really taught me is that we all need to be curious, open-minded, and adaptable, understanding that people come from different places and cultures and have varying thoughts and views, and if you are open-minded, people will teach you something every single day.” Acceptance is the key to diversity and inclusion.

Polansky says her time at the University of Maryland taught her the importance of teamwork, “As a leader, I have to hold myself and members of the team accountable. Everyone has an important role (and she does not believe in titles on the teams she leads) and needs to be accountable for delivering on that role or you can’t succeed. There is a saying that an individual can go fast and a team can go far.” Polansky now takes a very humanistic approach to business. The teams I lead are diverse and inclusive. With the increased dependency on technology, machines learning, AI, access to levels of data, we can never ever, ever lose sight that people are at the foundation of these advancements. Technology is an enabler but behind every aspect of technology has been an idea and people bringing that idea to fruition.

Polansky is still active in the Maryland Smith community and currently serves on the advisory board of the Center for Global Business. Polansky believes an open mindset, free from fear and bias leads to success. She advises students and fellow alumni to “Go for it. Be Fearless!! Our world is global; our business is global. Be open-minded; and be prepared, no one should ever go into something with a preconceived notion. The world is a beautiful place when you are open to accepting new experiences.”

Special note – May 5, 2020: This interview was written pre-pandemic and while Polansky’s views remain the same, she has spent a lot of time thinking about how we emerge stronger and the lessons to be learned from this … one of which would be to have countries and companies develop stronger resilience plans in order to better support the needs of people and to better enable our healthcare system, manufacturing, and supply chain. She also thinks that technology will be critical as we develop new ways to work. She believes that we should never lose sight that all people that are the world’s greatest asset as we move from a "me" to a "we" society. "BE FEARLESS!!"

–By Terqueasha Wooten, first-year MBA.

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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and flex MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, business master’s, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.

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