Sonja Brisard earned a BS in Accounting from the UIC College of Business Administration and began her career as an associate in the Financial Management Development Program of Navistar, a Fortune 500 company. After successfully completing the development program, she rose through the ranks of Navistar as a financial analyst, a senior financial analyst, finance manager, and director. But when the opportunity came to be her own boss, Sonja took the leap and became a business owner at BookKeeping Express. We caught up with her recently and she shared insights learned from her experiences.
How did you find yourself at UIC?
I attended Whitney Young High School in Chicago. When I was selecting colleges, I was looking for schools with Colleges of Pharmacy. At the time, I didn’t know you had to apply to that college separately. Since UIC had a pharmacy program, I chose the school, but eventually ended up becoming a business major.
What are some of your best UIC BUSINESS student memories as an accounting major?
I was involved with the Accounting Club and the National Association of Black Accountants, Student Chapter. I remember going to the meetings where professionals gave advice about working at the company they represented. I got to know those people. It was really helpful when it was time for me to look for employment.
I also remember studying with other NABA members. Some of those people are still really good friends today. The faculty adviser was Barbara Peck. She gave me a lot of advice about the importance of having good grades, internship experience and how to go about choosing the right job at graduation. I’m still in touch with her today, as well.
How did you land your first job after graduation?
I always had a job while I was in school. After I had a few accounting classes under my belt, I was told by the corporate recruiters and my adviser how important it was to get an internship. Well, I didn’t have an internship. Instead I worked part time, but the company I worked at hired me after graduation.
You worked in a corporate environment for many years and then became a business owner. What was that transition like?
Sometimes I miss the corporate world, especially, when I need IT or legal support. It was just a phone call or email away. Now, I have to find someone, pay him or her and hope they know what they are doing.
The biggest challenge is time management. In corporate, someone else sets your goals and priorities. When you own your own business, you have to decide where to spend your time. You can spend time on the wrong things and be very busy but not effective.
Describe the challenges/advantages of being your own boss.
Owning your own business has its ups and downs. You end up working WAY more than in corporate. However, it is very exciting to build a business. When I try something and it is successful, that is a very good feeling. On the flip side, when I do something that was not successful, I learn from it and adjust. It is very challenging to find good people to work with you.
I do enjoy the flexibility I have with my schedule. I can work at night vs. during the day if something is going on at my kid’s school.
What advice would you give to alumni considering a career change?
Do something that you enjoy. You don’t have to know EVERYTHING about it. You do need to surround yourself with people/resources to handle the tasks or duties that you either don’t know how to do or don’t want to do. Otherwise, Go For It!
Share several tips for success with current UICBUSINESS students.
1. Build relationships with positive people. I have a couple of friends that I call my Personal Board of Directors.
2. Learn how to prioritize and delegate.
3. People buy from people they know and trust. It’s very important to create and nurture relationships with people.
4. Know what motivates you.
5. Always be on the lookout for good people who can work in your business. You never know when you will need them.
Cordelia Callaway contributed to this story.