From Wall Street to Williams-Sonoma: The Head of Strategy and Business Development Shares Her Career Trajectory

There’s no right or wrong way to build a career, and Anddria Clack-Rogers Varnado knows this. Her career trajectory — one that began on Wall Street and has now led her to Williams-Sonoma — was not a pre-planned set of steps. Rather, her valuable experiences, strong passion, and genuine talent for what she does led her to lead Williams-Sonoma to its largest ever acquisition and its foray into retail and tech expansion. As if this incredible feat weren’t enough, this is certainly not the end of the road for Anddria — read on to learn more about her inspiring career journey, the lessons she’s learned along the way, and the word she’d like to add to her job title next.

 

Name: Anddria Clack-Rogers Varnado, Vice President, Head of Strategy & Business Development at Williams-Sonoma, Inc.
Hometown: Houston, TX
Current Location: San Francisco Bay Area
Education: MBA, Harvard Business School; BA, Clark Atlanta University

 

What was your first job, and how did you land it?

 

My first job was as an intern for a career coach during high school. I attended a business camp where I learned about career preparation and I became very excited about getting a business internship, which was uncommon for high school students at the time. One of the presenters offered me a part-time summer internship in her office. She was an inspiration through both her entrepreneurial work and her willingness to work with me. In addition to sowing the early seeds for business principles in her office, she taught me the value in helping others through my work.  

 

Your career began on Wall Street. What lessons did you learn there that you still carry with you?

 

As an analyst on Wall Street, my job was fast-paced and demanding. This job provided me with foundational business skills, such as financial modeling and strategic communication, and aided me in developing a problem-solving and “get it done” mindset that I still carry with me today.

 

When you were in college, what did you imagine your future career would look like? Would you have ever guessed you’d be doing what you’re doing?

 

Steve Jobs once famously said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future… Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well worn path, and that will make all the difference.”

I have always appreciated business as a career since college – the ideas, the numbers, the changes, the impact on customers. Today, I appreciate business and its intersection with industry even more in this incredibly fulfilling role at Williams-Sonoma, Inc. as I can truly leverage each of my previous roles to complete and grow in this one. Across functions, retail, e-Commerce, and technology have been consistent themes in my work. My dots connect, even when I didn’t know that they would.

 

I appreciate business and its intersection with industry even more in this incredibly fulfilling role at Williams-Sonoma

 

 

Please describe your role in your own words.

 

I often describe my role as putting together the pieces of a puzzle. You know what you want the result to be, but there are many paths you can take to put it together, which makes the process both exciting and challenging. In leading Strategy & Business Development, we are often tasked with executing on new business ideas – things that we may not have ever done before. During my first year at Williams-Sonoma, Inc., these tasks helped me to lead the acquisition the digital imaging company Outward and launch our newest brand, Robin.

 

Tell us about a typical workday in your life.

 

My work is usually project-based, which means that I work on a number of projects concurrently, with each project spanning anywhere from two weeks to one year. As a result, each day is different. I generally start my week by reviewing the status of all of my “live” projects and those that are coming soon. I outline my deliverables for the week, and then plan each day towards completing those tasks. On any given day I could be doing anything, including building a financial model to understand a new business opportunity, developing a presentation for our board, or testing new products for a brand.

 

 

What do you like about your job? What’s your favorite part?

 

My work is incredibly meaningful to me. I am delighted to know that what I am doing can enhance the quality of someone’s life, consistent with our company’s mission.  

 

Additionally, what challenges does your job present you with? What lessons are you still learning?

 

In keeping with the puzzle analogy, the challenge often arises when you can’t find the exact right piece at the right time. I enjoy learning different ways to frame problems and explore new solutions, consistent with the “fail fast and often” ideology. For me, this currently means applying design thinking principles to my work in new ways.

 

 

You recently led Williams-Sonoma to its largest ever acquisition and foray into both retail and tech expansion — what an incredible accomplishment! Tell us what you can about the process, as well as what you learned from it.

 

Thank you! As partners, Williams-Sonoma, Inc. and Outward Inc. shared a unified and impactful vision for the future of our businesses. In pursuing the acquisition, we worked backwards from this vision tactically — valuing different streams, organizing the business operations, understanding synergies and risks, and developing an understanding of the competitive landscape. Each acquisition has its own operating culture, and in this one, we were fortunate to be partnered with a company that shared our willingness to adapt and our energy towards the future of our industry.

In transformative work like this, there can be long nights and difficult conversations. It is truly the people – their attitudes, their passions and their capabilities – that keep things going. This acquisition reminded me to always bring the best version of myself because it does make an impact.

 

What does it take to work in mergers and acquisitions? What skills are necessary to hone to go into this field?

 

Financial analysis is certainly important, but in environments like this, creativity, communication, conviction, empathy, and adaptability also play a significant role bringing a deal to completion.  

 

What would you say to someone interested in going into M&A? What type of career trajectory can one expect?

 

There are many paths to getting into M&A, and the best thing you can do is to develop an expert-level knowledge or, if applicable, execute one of the many workstreams required for a successful transaction. Financial rigor is an important aspect of deal execution, so one might expect to spend some time in a finance-related role prior to M&A.  

 

 

Do you have any professional mentors? Tell us about your own experience with the value of women in business working together, collaborating, and teaching each other.

 

I am fortunate to work with a number of women that are both formal and informal mentors. While my formal mentors provide specific feedback and advice, I learn from my informal mentors by observation and collaboration.    

 

 

What’s next for you and your career?

 

I hope to expand my work by launching new businesses that bring real, true value to our customers in how they live. “Chief” would be a nice addition to my title.

 

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?

 

Unless you are told an issue is about you, don’t assume it is. In short form, don’t take it personal.

 

Additionally, what advice would you give to your own younger self?

 

Use your superpower. We all have something that makes us unique, special or interesting. You are better at what makes you special than what makes someone else special.  

 

 

Unless you are told an issue is about you, don’t assume it is. In short form, don’t take it personal.

 

 

Anddria Clack-Rogers Varnado is The Everygirl…

Favorite way to work out?  
Zumba. I love dance fitness classes with great music.

Go-to afternoon snack food?  
An orange, but not at work. It’s hard to get the smell off of your hands!

Ideal Saturday?  
Sleep in. Morning Hike. Morning read. Late brunch. Early dancing in the evening. Glass of wine to end the night.

If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and why?  
Oprah.  I think (well, hope) that we could really connect.

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