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Guiding career paths with passion

June 27, 2013
by Kelly Burnett

David Small ('79) is proof that the path to career fulfillment isn't always straight, but can curve and twist along the way.

From auto parts runner, to counselor, to touring musician, Small has winded his way to the vice president of Global Talent Management & Skinner Institute of Leadership at McDonald’s Corporation.

After some time at Puget Sound University in Washington, Small went to work as an auto parts runner for a car dealership in Colorado. “I knew I needed to get back to college,” Small says. “I didn’t want to spend my life doing that.” After an associate’s degree from Orange Coast College in California, he received a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Colorado State University.

He worked as an employee assistance counselor for two years and discovered that being a clinical psychologist was no longer his passion.

Deep interest in psychology

For the next six years, he drummed his heart out in a contemporary jazz group called Images, toured the nation and recorded albums. “When I turned 30, I realized I loved music, but was burned out playing constantly and tired of moving drums all over the place,” he says. He also continued to have a deep interest in psychology, especially psychology as it applied to the workplace, which is ultimately what led him to pursue a graduate degree in industrial and organizational psychology.

He obtained a master’s degree from the University of Colorado in Denver and moved to Chicago to work for Ameritech as a manager for performance systems with a team of industry organizational psychologists. From Ameritech, he was recruited to McDonald’s as director of performance development systems. He and a colleague proposed the concept of the leadership institute, and once approved, Small was given responsibility to start the institute.

A job Small loves

As vice president, Small leads a team of 13 who work on global talent planning and performance management and succession systems and leadership development strategies focused on leadership transitions and accelerated development of high potentials. He loves working with a high performance team of talented individuals who have a passion for talent management and leadership development, watching them get job experience, delivering what is expected, and maintaining a good company reputation.

“I know it sounds cliché, but you have to find a job you love,” Smalls says.

And that may take time. “Take the time to get really clear, experience a lot of different things, and relate it to areas you have passion in,” he advises. “Guide your career decisions around things that energize you and you feel passionate about. The earlier you get clear on that, the quicker you’ll get aligned with work that you love to do, in which case it doesn’t feel like work.”

Article first appeared in AlumLine, a monthly e-newsletter for CSU alumni and friends.