Winston Churchill characterized courage as the “first of human qualities because it is the quality that guarantees all others.” My journey to corporate leadership is steeped in the courageous lives of my grandparents, who survived the horrors of genocide and war. Through their epic life stories, they instilled in me the value of setting a purposeful vision and the power of hard work and discipline to succeed despite obstacles.
Surviving mass deportations and exile, they had the wisdom to focus on the essential in the midst of uncertainty as their families perished and worlds collapsed around them. Rebuilding their lives with few, if any, material possessions in foreign lands, they continually adapted to make a difference in an ever-changing reality.
Throughout these experiences, they maintained the humility to subordinate individual wants for a greater mission, whether that mission was wartime survival, raising a family, or serving their communities and profession. In this way, they modeled the art of leadership, of which courage is the foundation.
These inspirational lessons have guided me through pivotal milestones, such as my decision to leave academia for the corporate world with the goal of someday leading a business. With a background limited to research scientist, I needed to define a trajectory to achieve that goal. I summoned the courage to assume challenges beyond my experience, seeking roles of increasing breadth in engineering, program management and corporate strategy.
In 2005, I became general manager, building and leading a team that turned an unprofitable acquisition into a profitable strategic business. This experience led to yet a greater opportunity to support ITT’s CEO as the director of CEO operations.
While each new challenge thrust me into uncertainty accompanied at times by fear, I relied on these lessons to accomplish my goals. My advice to young women is to set an inspirational vision and boldly embrace the uncertainty of challenges that advance you toward that vision.
Remember past lessons, while always looking forward. In doing so, you will inspire yourself and your teams to achieve beyond what you ever believed possible.