Behind the career: Lizann Prosser

President and chief executive of Crown Agents
USA, an international development company based in the District.

An environmental engineer, Prosser decided to
make the jump to business and found herself doing mergers and acquisitions on
Wall Street. After moving to a global accounting firm performing privatization
and private sector development work for Eastern European markets, she was bit
by the international development bug, where she’s been working ever since.

What distinguishes you from people in your
field?

Not anything unique. It’s a breadth of
experience. My business background has turned out to be very helpful. There are
a lot of people doing international development who are extremely well intentioned
but have difficulty managing budgets and people. My engineering background also
has been helpful.

How did you adjust to the transition from
engineering to business and international development?

My transition from engineering to business was
subtle. What gave me comfort in doing it was how I truly enjoyed the analytical
side of engineering and business. I liked it. It liked me. I liked the
challenge of going to a company and assessing the businesses that are
synergistic for their diversification or getting rid of divisions that aren’t
working well in a way that is amicable to everyone.

I think some of the skills in my engineering
career served me well in my financial career. Mergers and acquisitions is about
taking a problem, breaking it down into digestible pieces, analyzing it and
coming up with the best solution. It’s very similar to engineering. There are
different formulas and analytical tools, but in terms of solving problems, it’s
very similar.

I do, however, miss the cut-and-dry approach
to engineering. There’s a right answer and a wrong answer. In international
development, the perfect answer is more elusive. Sometimes I miss the
definitiveness of engineering. It’d be nice to just solve an equation and say,
‘Ah ha!’ In this business, you can’t do that. It’s much more multifaceted than
engineering.

You transitioned to three different
industries in your career. How has it been helpful?

A career path can meander and that’s not bad.
Some people say I have to go to this graduate school to get this job. I respect
this vision, but I’ve also learned you can meander. I’ve enjoyed every
experience I’ve had. It has all contributed to where I am today. I tell young
people not to worry if you’re not experiencing a direct path. Do what you love doing
because an indirect path can be just as helpful and enjoyable.

What about your job wakes you up in the
morning?

At a macro level, I believe in what we do at
Crown Agents. We’re helping people live better lives in developing countries.
It’s hard to see that directly because I’m sitting in Washington managing
projects and not in the field. I know there are people in the field counting on
me to help them get their jobs done better and implement business. Being able
to be helpful to those folks is very satisfying to me.

— Interview with Vanessa Mizell

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