Martha Goldberg Aronson: Taking on Added Responsibility

Martha Goldberg Aronson
Courtesy: CONMED Corporation

In her early years at Medtronic, Martha Goldberg Aronson developed a reputation as a high-potential leader. She joined the company’s acquisitions group and was selected two years later as a Medtronic Fellow to attend business school. Rejoining Medtronic as product manager, she was soon promoted to run a start-up venture and eventually became general manager of the business. As her business grew, Martha’s career prospects brightened.

One day, she was home alone with her two children when the phone rang. Medtronic’s head of human resources asked her, “What would you think about an international assignment?” Martha recalls, “I hemmed and hawed and told her this wasn’t the best day to talk about a move.” Martha was skeptical about whether an international move was right for her career or her personal life. Being far from the support of her parents and siblings with a baby and a toddler was not part of her game plan. She also balked at walking away from her current job before it was done and worried about the impact on her husband’s career.

When she discussed the European opportunity with her husband, Dan, his immediate reaction was, “Let’s go,” although it meant a break in his career. So she accepted the job, realizing it was a unique opportunity to live and work overseas. Martha flourished in the European environment. She grew from the daily exposure to the wide range of cultures in her region as her multi-country team produced significant results. She took the risk when an opportunity came, willing to learn more about leading in a complex geographic environment without knowing the next step in her career.

After three years in Europe, she was pregnant with her third child and felt she needed to be closer to her family in Minnesota to continue her career and support her family. Her husband was also eager to resume his career. She called Medtronic CEO Art Collins to explain her dilemma. Art immediately offered her the position as head of investor relations. Just a year later, she was promoted to the company’s executive committee as head of human resources.

Eager to return to line management, Martha left Medtronic three years later and became national sales manager for a Chicago-based healthcare company. Recognizing that constant travel was keeping her away from her family, Martha reconsidered her latest move, and accepted a position at Minnesota-based Ecolab to build its fledgling medical business. She is thriving both at work and at home.

Martha’s story offers some important lessons. All leaders have to face difficult questions about work-life integration. Martha’s European role proved to be a formative experience for her career and her family. However, too many sacrifices for your career may be a signal you’re out of balance. Although there is no perfect balance between career and family, you have to put boundaries around your work decisions, or you may find that work takes over your life—and then you will not be effective in either domain.