I never had a plan for my life. In the mid-1960s, even an honors graduate of Radcliffe had few options. Classified ads were still segregated by gender: “Help wanted–men” and “Help wanted–women.”
After six years working in the emerging computer industry, I entered the MBA program at Harvard. We were 34 women in a class of 800; “solid” representation according to Fortune magazine. Many of my professors and classmates wondered if I was attending business school in order to better understand my husband. Thirty years ago, there was no such thing as a career ladder if you were a woman. You just had to make the most of every opportunity you found, wherever you found it … or it found you.
In the volatile high-tech industry, change was the constant. I loved the challenge to think outside the box and act boldly to achieve a new vision. In the early ’90s, my global product development team at Lotus figured out how to simultaneously deliver new products in 16 languages, including Japanese and Chinese—capturing over $100 million in incremental revenue by beating our competition to non-English speaking markets. Just as my early bosses had taken chances on me, I trusted talented people who were different, and they responded with outstanding performance. It doesn’t have to be harder than that.
Approaching a new situation, I look for 50% of the job that I can do with my hands tied behind my back and 50% that is totally new. Thus, I leverage my knowledge, skills, and experience—half in my comfort zone and half beyond it, alternating ease with exhilaration. I assume every member of the team can do his or her job better than I can. Then the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Relationship-building is the key to business success in today’s global economy. Your network is not a database of contacts gleaned from collecting business cards at networking events; your network is your reputation for integrity, reliability, leadership, and fairness. It’s how people think of you when a difficult problem or great opportunity surfaces—and what compels them to seek you out. I have been very lucky: my parents gave me the gift of agreat education which in turn opened doors for me. Ialways worked hard and tried to make my own good luck. But I owe every opportunity and break to those who encouraged, helped, and believed in me along the way. My advice: Honor your sponsors, and pass it on