April 5, 2015 | last updated April 5, 2015 5:09 pm
Women In Business 2015

Seizing opportunity, Jones takes off within Pratt's ranks

PHOTO | Steve Laschever
PHOTO | Steve Laschever
Mary Ellen Jones, vice president of sales for Asia Pacific and China for Pratt & Whitney, shown with two individuals she is mentoring: Eric Brenson, customer support engineer for the KC-16 tanker, and Julie Cabrera, communications specialist — P&W Global Supply Chain.

Who is your mentor and why?

I had two key mentors at the start of my career with Pratt & Whitney. I began with P&W in Washington D.C. as the assistant to the director of government relations. Both he and his boss, the VP for P&W Washington Operations, gave me a lot of latitude to enhance my role and take initiative. I attended and reported on congressional hearings and participated in meetings with members of Congress and with P&W executives visiting Washington. The responsibilities and visibility there opened the door to my next opportunity at P&W headquarters in Connecticut. My mentors put a lot of trust in me, which built my confidence and instilled a great deal of company loyalty.

How do you mentor your staff?

I try to be as accessible as possible and provide real-time coaching and feedback. Mentoring also means empowering my team, which is important in overcoming the challenge of our travel schedules and various time zones. I also mentor a number of people outside of my organization and always counsel them to seek opportunities that will make them excited to come to work every day, not just something to check a box. Networking is important, as is stepping outside of your day-to-day responsibilities to engage in initiatives such as employee satisfaction teams, charitable activities and other areas that let you use different skills and expose you to a different set of people.

What advice could you offer to people thinking about being a mentor?

Be available, share what worked and didn't work for you in your career — because it isn't always smooth sailing — and be prepared to provide honest feedback.

Mary Ellen Jones, vice president of Asia Pacific and China sales for Pratt & Whitney Commercial Engines, stands out in business, is an extraordinary person and an inspiration.

That's how Megan Torrey, executive director of the World Affairs Council of Connecticut, describes Jones, who assumed her current Pratt role in January, where she's responsible for selling engine products and services in one of the fastest-growing parts of the world.

"In all of our contacts that we've had with her through the World Affairs Council, she's always stood out as someone who is a strong example of a leader, not just a woman, but … someone who has the ability to excel in business, succeed in their chosen career but also stay extremely grounded and very relatable and really set that example that you want to follow …," Torrey says.

Jones, 55, has been a guest speaker for the World Affairs Council and speaks occasionally on leadership, particularly women's leadership roles.

"The prime message that I get across is that it's OK to not necessarily be liked or to be popular all the time," said Jones, who has been with Pratt since 1983 in myriad capacities, including president of the Engine Alliance, a joint venture of Pratt & Whitney and General Electric, and working as a Pratt & Whitney vice president in Toulouse, France, where Airbus is headquartered. "I think women sometimes feel that we're really looking for consensus and we want people to like us. But the respect function is just as or more important. So … you kind of have to fight for what you think is the right position. That may make you unpopular and people may complain about you, but that's what you have to do. It can't always be consensus. ... I think not being afraid to recognize that is important."

Other advice she offers, to men and women alike, is to ask for what you want or figure out a way to get it.

"There's no benevolent angel out there who's going to tap you on the shoulder and let you know when the right job comes along," says Jones, who also chairs the Connecticut Airport Authority. "It's something you have to be on the lookout for, you have to network, you have to observe and then find somebody who can be a mentor or a sponsor for you and help you kind of figure out a path. I think too often in the past … women would kind of expect to be rewarded, rather than realize you really kind of need to go after what you want."

Mentors influenced Jones' career when she joined Pratt & Whitney as assistant director of government relations in its Washington, D.C., office. Now, Jones formally mentors about a dozen company employees, more informally.

Her government affairs position exposed her to Pratt & Whitney's customers in government and to company executives who visited Washington. That visibility led her to work as a speechwriter for the company's president and brought her to Connecticut.

Her Washington experience taught her she enjoyed external contact with customers and she morphed into a communications manager working with media. That position also required contact with the company's commercial sales and marketing team, understanding and dealing with the product, she says. That led to a role working with customers on contractual issues and eventually into sales.

She travels extensively and had been to Asia three times this year through February. Having a son in 1996 as she was entering sales, her husband, Steve, helped provide balance.

"My husband … is the hero of all of this because he's just been extremely flexible and supportive," Jones says of the logistics and packaging engineer at Pratt & Whitney. Their son, Michael, is a freshman at the University of Michigan.

Her first year in her current role went well with the company garnering about 56 percent market share of the Airbus A320neo family engine market in 2014 sales in the Asia-Pacific region. That's a function of a strong sales team and excellent product, she says.

What's worked for Jones? A positive outlook for one, something she seeks in new hires and mentors.

Also key: being respectful, inclusive and giving proper credit. Nobody accomplishes anything alone, Jones says.

And roll up your sleeves.

"You can't skim on the surface, you can't just delegate, I think you have to be willing to get your hands dirty as well," she says.

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