Martina McIsaac, CEO of Hilti North America, shares her story and five pieces of career advice on how you can take the next step

How do you get to to that next step in your career?

Martina McIsaac, the CEO of Hilti North America shared her secrets during Local Profile’s annual Women in Business Summit presented by Baylor Scott & White Health.

After climbing the ladder with Avery Dennison, rising from a director of marketing and sales to vice president in her 10 years with the company, McIsaac stepped away from the prized role and away from the corporate world for five years to focus on her family.

Then, in 2014, she started a new role with the manufacturing company Hilti. After spending six years working for Hilti Canada as both a division manager and general manager, McIsaac was elevated to CEO in January of 2020 — a move which brought her to the company’s North America Headquarters in Plano.

Here are some of the things she learned along the way:

Start By Asking Yourself This Question

McIssac suggests you start by asking this question: “What would your career look like if there was nothing in your way?”

Once you get this out on paper she says it becomes easy to identify the work that needs to be done. So whether you are happy in your career or looking to make a change, reflecting on this question is the starting point in planning for the future.

Give Yourself Permission

What are the permissions you need to give yourself in order to become who you want to be?  What is holding you back? 

Martina McIsaac had her own crossroads moment as she was climbing in the corporate world when a coach pointed out she had something stopping her.

“What was holding me back was I have never given myself permission to earn more than my husband. And I didn’t want pass him on the corporate ladder,” she says. “I wanted to be the mother who served dinner on cloth napkins”

“I was holding on to one persona (mother/wife) and not letting the other one (businesswoman) free,” McIssac adds.

So ask yourself, “If I am to achieve this impact, what is holding me back?”

While this piece of career advice may be painful and self-reflective, the exercise can be incredibly powerful. 

Make Sure These People Are in your Network

Build your network, but build it with the right people.

“Everyone talks about having a sponsor and mentor, both important, but don’t just stop there.” McIsaac says to make sure you have these three types of people in your circle: 

  • The Critiquer. You will have bad ideas and your share of days with spinach in your teeth. Make sure you have someone who can give you critical and honest feedback when you need it. 
  • The Cheerleader. Things will go wrong. Find someone who will be there to lift you up when you stub your toe and everything is falling apart. 
  • The Boost. A little positivity can go a long way.  The right person with the right attitude and energy will be a big boost to your circle.  


You Can Overcome What You Don’t Know  

When Martina McIsaac first started at Hilti, a company that specializes in construction products, she admittedly did not know the first thing about construction. But what you don’t know can be overcome. 

“I had to buy a construction management text book and read it as I was traveling from place to place,” she says. “I had to go on job sites and ask people to do things so I could see what they were talking about.”

So when you find yourself in a similar situation, remember this piece of career advice from McIsaac: “If you don’t know it is okay. We are all constantly learning, just understand what you need to learn and catalog it”

Recognize Now Is Your Time 

“We are in a time where we are looking for compassion, empathy and inclusiveness,” McIsaac says. “This environment we are living in is giving us the opportunity to let all your characteristics come into play; leverage them as strengths.” 

Lumnina Learning’s “Gender Differences in Personality” report shows women are out-scoring men in characteristics that define leadership effectiveness most in need today. 

“The workplace has never been more in need of the competencies female business leaders bring,” she says. “We are looking and starving for connectedness and inclusiveness; we need people who care about those subjects to bring them to the forefront.” 

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