Amy Heisler graduated from Michigan State University in 1993, with a degree in Communications. She is a consultant providing internal communications support and expertise to growing companies. Prior to her consultancy work, she served as the head of Global Internal Communications at First Solar. Heisler is currently serving in a volunteer capacity on two boards: Friends of Public Radio Arizona to support Phoenix's two public radio stations, and the Arizona Spartans MSU alumni club.
We invited her to share her experiences with ComArtSci and Michigan State University.
Q. When you look back at your life and work so far, what gives you the most pride?
A. As an internal communications professional, my responsibilities center around engaging employees with a company's goals and mission. We spend so much of our time at work, and people who are inspired by and connected to the cause are more passionate about their careers and innovative in how they deliver on results. One of my favorite efforts to engage associates at First Solar was during the equipment retooling for manufacturing the company's next generation of solar modules. Production had shut down and our associates looked out on an empty manufacturing floor as they prepared for all new equipment. I called the head of manufacturing and proposed an idea: "What do you think about having an arrival ceremony for the first major piece of equipment?" The team recognized the value in giving employees a milestone to celebrate, which also provided an opportunity for our external media team to show the industry we were on target with our announced plans. Additionally, the timing aligned with the introduction of new internal social media platforms and every associate around the world could watch and take part. We then held arrival ceremonies at each of our plants in Malaysia and Vietnam, creating a feeling of belonging to one global team and driving excitement as we continued on our journey to lead the world's sustainable energy future together.
Q. What inspires you to work toward your goals and accomplishments?
A.There is always more to do, more needs to be met, and more ways to improve. I feel like I am always in competition with myself to be the best I can be and to deliver at the highest level of performance. Coupled with a desire to be of service, this drives me to keep seeking opportunities where I can make a positive impact.
Q. Could you describe a typical day in your professional life?
A. A typical day in corporate communications means making plans for how to reach your targets - but to be ready to move in a completely direction as needed. In internal communications, I am accountable for both my own goals and deliverables specific to the function while also serving in a support role for the goals and deliverables for teams throughout the company. Each initiative requires its own strategic communications plan with messaging that ties back to our corporate vision. My role is to create and execute those plans across our internal channels and coordinate the timing for greatest impact.
Q. What are some of the greatest challenges and opportunities working in your field?
A. Most often in my career I have been a team of one, maybe two in good times. I joke that an internal communications budget starts at zero and goes down from there. This means I've needed to be creative with the resources I do have - applying my skills and talents with the equipment and technology available and the relationships I've cultivated. When someone thanks me for 'making magic,' that's a gratifying sign of success.
Q. What would you consider to be the defining point in your life or career?
A. I think it's more accurate to say I've had many points along the way that have influenced my career path, rather than one big defining moment. It's so important to take stock of both your failures and successes to identify what went wrong, what went right, and what could have been better or differently. Having these insights has helped me define what I want and what I don't want. My position with First Solar was eliminated at the end of 2020 due to a restructuring, and that has given me an opportunity to reflect on my accomplishments and look toward my next adventure. I'm at a point in my career where I am able to create what is next. It's an exciting place to be.
Q. What is the most important lesson you have learned along the way?
A. If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. As I mentioned above, I was most often a solo practitioner, even in a large company. My ability to succeed was enhanced by creating and nurturing relationships across every part of the business. Find the people in different teams who can be your partners so you can succeed together. Be collaborative, be positive, and add value.
Q. What opportunities did you have at MSU or ComArtSci that helped you get where you are today?
A. One of my first ComArtSci classes had an introductory section on the different careers you could have with a communication major. When I learned about 'employee communications,' it clicked. I knew that's what I wanted to do, even though I didn't know that was a thing before then. (I also learned to never, ever say you wanted to be in public relations because you like people - because that's not a thing.) I had two excellent internships through ComArtSci, one for the American Heart Association and the other for Ingham Regional Medical Center. Both taught me a great deal about writing for various audiences and formats. Most importantly, I learned to not be shy about reaching out to people to talk about their jobs, ask questions, and propose creative ideas for how to tell a good story.
Q. How do you give back to your community or motivate others to work toward the common good?
A. I am currently serving in a volunteer capacity on two boards: Friends of Public Radio Arizona to support Phoenix's two public radio stations and the vital role they play in our community; and as the communications coordinator for the Arizona Spartans Alumni Club to engage our local alumni and friends in support of the university and our scholarship fund. I also personally promote our local arts and culture organizations and shop local as much as possible to keep my money circulating in the community. Small businesses and arts organizations make up a community's soul, and have been hit especially hard during the pandemic.
Q. What advice would you give to MSU and ComArtSci students?
A. No one else is looking out for your career - it's up to you to choose your opportunities and what you do with them. Talk to the people you work with to get feedback on your performance and identify where you can improve. Feedback is a gift - ask for it, accept it graciously, and most of all, use it. Take advantage of training within your company or through online courses to build your skills and knowledge that will get you to the next level.
Q. If you could offer a message of comfort or support, what would you say directly to students who are studying at MSU in these uncertain times?
A. Upheaval brings new opportunities. Your future is not in how things were, but in how things will be - and you can be a part of what that looks like. With more companies turning to remote work as a long-term business strategy, they are casting wider nets for top talent, regardless of location. We are in a time of major change in companies' people strategies for recruitment and retention. The world is opening up even as we are staying home.
Q. During the global pandemic and the transition to remote work, what is something insightful, encouraging or hopeful that you have discovered about yourself, other people, or your career?
A. When I became one of the so many who lost their jobs this year, the outpouring of support from my colleagues and network touched my heart deeply. It gave me the courage and inspiration to keep looking forward because I was surrounded by positivity, generosity and encouragement. People want to help - use your networks and if you don't have one, now is a great time to create one. Reach out to the alumni working in the field you are interested in. Remember - people love talking about their jobs. Ask questions. Learn. We really are all in this together. Spartans Will!
By Demetria Bias