There is no “one-size fits all” approach to professional growth or becoming a leader. Leadership is best forged from people from diverse paths, experiences, and identities.
Clif Conley, director of account management for personal care products, started his career in shipping and receiving, which put him on a path to where he is today, in a senior customer-facing role. Now as seasoned leader with a two-decade tenure at Flex, Clif has a wide-ranging skillset and passion for partnering with lifestyle customers to deliver products that provide seamless and connected user experiences that enhance the way we live.
We connected with Clif, who shares his journey from warehousing to strategizing with lifestyle leaders and offers his insights on the importance of learning and development, authentically building connections, and giving back to the community.
You’ve been at Flex for almost 20 years. Tell me about your first role and career journey to a director of account management – personal care products today.
I started a part-time job in shipping and receiving at a smaller company that was actually a supplier to Flex. So, I started my relationship with Flex from the perspective of one of its suppliers, stocking shelves and driving delivery trucks.
Then Flex acquired the company I was working for to help strengthen its industrial capabilities in large form factor semi-conductor capital equipment, aerospace, and more. We also co-developed a gold plating application for medical applications. By the time of the acquisition, I was able to become a subject matter expert of plating and anodizing for metal finishings.
But, a big shift in my career came when we partnered with one of our largest consumer customers. Overnight, my life changed. My role transformed into lead program manager for this account since I had the anodizing and surface finishing skillset, energy, and passion for learning a new industry. I started working with engineers to develop and implement a pilot in the Bay Area and about a year later, helped set up the customer’s operations in Austin. It was an exciting time, and it felt like a whole new era for Flex.
Since then, I’ve been a lead program manager for several large scale, high velocity new product introductions (NPIs) throughout my time at Flex, where my mechanical background really helped. It was one of the most exciting, dynamic times of my career, traveling, and driving innovation with our customers. But, when my daughter turned 12, I realized it was time for a shift.
My boss at the time was very understanding in evolving my role and I ended up taking a position as a global account manager (GAM), working in the cloud space that allowed me to be at home more and most importantly, be a dad. In this role, I learned even more about the operational and financial side of the business. Working in the cloud business unit was a great learning experience for me, but I didn’t feel the same passion as I did for lifestyle and the end markets served, like appliances, audio, floor care, and smart home monitoring and safety products, to name a few.
But, through an internal recruitment process, I made the transition to a GAM role in the Lifestyle business unit, which consists of my responsibilities today.
What exactly drew you to the lifestyle unit? And what does a day-in-the-life of account management look like?
Lifestyle has a personal and a professional tie to me. I get to interact with lifestyle products every day – in my bathroom, garage, backyard, kitchen. It allows me to personally identify with these products, and I love making those connections whether I’m shopping or at home.
Plus, when I transitioned to lifestyle, I hit it off immediately with my manager. She’s the best mentor I ever had because she was such a skilled people person and highly skilled in all aspects of people development. She focused on the human aspect of what we do day in and day out.
In terms of my day to day, I interact with customers whether it be for future or current business reasons. I also interact with Flex factories to solve complex manufacturing and supply chain issues, which involves working with internal teams. Managing relationships and being open and transparent with people is key to making the connections I need as an account manager. Authentic connections allow me to have difficult conversations that lead to innovation or problem solving. I even tap into my personal relationships to bring expertise to my job.
"What I also really love about lifestyle is how the technologies have horizontal applications across product types, which means I can become an expert in different capabilities and functions. I understand the needs of system architects, supply chain partners, and beyond to better collaborate with our customers."
For example, human-machine interface (HMI) is being integrated everywhere from refrigerators to electric toothbrushes to curling irons. For one of my favorite projects, I was closely engaged with the customer’s CEO and was able to have conversations about a cordless product design and provide market feedback on a personal care product. As a result of the relationship fostered with this leader, I played a part in the early stages of development in addition to what I usually do as a GAM, which focuses on scaling and sustaining a product.
Starting as a plating and anodizing subject matter expert and growing within the organization to where you are now, how have you approached professional learning and development?
My approach with my teams is always to show up as your authentic self, which creates a culture that allows your team to learn and grow. Mentorship is really important to me, and authenticity is key to building those relationships and opening yourself up to learning, development, feedback, and candid discussions about where you are and where you want to go.- Clif Conley, Director, Account Management
In my experience, Flex offers upskilling opportunities to grow and prepare for that next role. For example, McKinsey & Company’s Management Accelerator Program was amazing. The program helped break down the business management processes in a way that helped me think more strategically. I’ve always had a strategic mindset, but the program helped me understand how to structure strategic thinking. It was also incredibly valuable to meet Black employees from different Fortune 500 companies. That community is still alive, we’re still connected. I was able to move to a manager position shortly after completing that program, which helped me hone my skills as a leader.
And the learning never stops - I started stocking shelves and now I’m working with senior leaders and continuously exposing myself to new technologies and ways to problem solve.
How have you seen the company culture evolve? How have you gotten involved?
At Flex, the culture is changing, even with something as simple as me showing up to work in a t-shirt and showing my tattoos.
Through my time at Flex, I’ve learned to be comfortable in my own skin, in my background, and in sharing my story and journey. There was a point where I was embarrassed about not going to college or starting in shipping and receiving. But as I matured, I realized how profound that was. I encourage everyone not to only think about representation as color, gender, religion, etc. But also think about how you add to the success of humanity, people, and the human race. If we think that way, we’ll be in a much better corporate environment and world.
"Also, a huge part of Flex and corporate culture is embracing mentorship. Whether you’re a mentor or a mentee, I think it’s important to pay it forward because there is going to be another person on a similar journey as you."
I’ve had many mentors in my professional journey (officially and unofficially) who have helped me along the way.
I’ve tried to mentor as many people as possible, and one way I do that is by being one of the founders of the Black Flex Network, which is a company employee resource group. As Black people, there’s a huge amount of diversity even within our community but I love that we have space where we can come together and support not only each other along our personal and professional journeys but also give back to the community.
Outside of work, what do you enjoy doing?
I’m associated with Street Code Academy, a Bay area non-profit organization in east Palo Alto, where I spent much of my childhood. In response to the need for a deeper investment in communities of color, Street Code Academy acts as a bridge between black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities and the technology they need to thrive in a tech economy.
Their mission is to empower communities of color to achieve their full potential by introducing the mindsets, skills and access needed to embrace teach and innovation. In a community bracketed by both wealth and poverty, Street Code Academy offers culturally relevant programming delivered by members of the community who are reflective of the population.
By providing access to digital tools and industry expertise, the organization helps develop effective digital skills, and cultivate the mindsets that make innovative career paths possible.
Flex’s Black Flex Network ERG has collaborated with Street Code Academy to create an internship program. In 2022, we hired an intern in the IT organization through Street Code where they learned IT through a corporate Silicon Valley experience.
When I’m not working, I also love to work with dogs, work out, and record music. I even record my own music in my down time.