Simmons School of Management 25th Annual Conference
May 1, 2004
© Copyright 2004 Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P
All rights reserved. Do not use without written permission from HP.
Thank you, and good morning.
Well, it is a great honor to be with you this morning, especially because there are so many of you here in the audience who could tell compelling personal stories about your own journeys, and your own accomplishments and leadership. One of my great privileges in being one of the first speakers you will hear from this morning is that I get to be among the first to congratulate Simmons School of Management on 25 great years of this leadership conference. That is quite an accomplishment.
And in some ways, the history that we celebrate today may seem like it has kind of a short arc. After all, the road that America has taken to become a more perfect union - particularly for women and minorities - has been long. But the roots are deep, and as you heard, I actually started out as a history major, so I tend to think about history, and one of the things that you'll find if you go back in American history is there have been women who have been leading this nation's commerce for 220 years. In fact, one such woman at the top of her trade was Mary Alexander, whose son, Lord Sterling, won fame in the Revolutionary War. And from the 1720s to the 1760s, Mary Alexander was a powerful merchant in New York City, and her business was worth upwards of 100,000 pounds which was real money then and real money now. Although based on my own personal experience, I'm quite sure that the reporters of that day wrote mostly about her fashionable powdered wigs and her lovely dresses - probably talked a little bit about her shoes as well.
Now the same went for Philadelphian, Elizabeth Meredith who ran a leading tannery. She negotiated contracts, and she managed the books from 1742 to 1799. And then there was another, probably among my favorites, a young woman named Belle Otis, who wrote a diary shortly after the Civil War. And in one entry she wrote, "I am told that it is not genteel or fashionable for young ladies to work, but necessity demands it. The question is, do I go on salary, or engage in some business of my own?" And she decided on the latter, because she was, as she said in her own diary, "as capable of managing a business and obtaining all the profits of it, as the one who might employ me." Though frightened - and haven't we all been frightened? She was happy. And I quote, "Because business will be independence."
Now I hope that someday that America's history books see fit to remember women like Belle Otis and Mary Alexander, but I am quite sure that in the meantime their spirit is alive and well in this conference today here in Boston.
I'm going to spend a little bit of time talking with you and then I hope I'll be able to answer your questions. I have been to a lot of conferences, truthfully, in the past year, and every single one of the conferences has their own message, but I don't think there has been a theme recently that I like as much as I like the theme of this year's "Owning your own destiny." And as I look around this room today, I see women at many different stages of their careers, and I think especially about the young women in the audience today, who perhaps look at that slogan and think it odd perhaps that there was ever a time that any of us thought we did not own our own destiny. But the slogan and the theme, for it is much more than a slogan, speaks directly to me and my life because there was a time when I was one of those people who did not think I could own my own destiny. And for me it took a very long time to own my own destiny.
As you heard and as you know, I did not begin my career as a technologist. Although I have a passion for technology because of what I think technology makes possible - it can unlock the potential in people; it can enable and empower people. But I didn't begin as a technologist or a business person. As you know, I studied medieval history and philosophy at Stanford. And on my graduation day, I was quaking in my boots quite literally. I was afraid of the future; I was afraid to fail; I was afraid to disappoint. I was afraid because I was on my way to law school, for even then what I sensed were the wrong reasons - not because it was a lifelong dream, or it seemed particularly me, or because I thought I could change the world - but because I thought it was expected of me.
So I went off to law school, as you heard. I did make it through a semester, but it did leave me cold immediately, and for those first three months in law school, I barely slept a night. I had a blinding headache every day. And I can tell you exactly which shower tile I was looking at in my parents' bathroom when I came for a weekend to visit them, and all of a sudden, staring at that shower tile it hit me like a bolt of lightning. This is my life. I can do what I want. And it was literally an epiphany for me. The headaches literally disappeared. I got out of the shower, I walked downstairs and I said, "I quit." It was probably the toughest thing I've ever done, but with that one decision I began to own my own destiny.
I will give my parents credit in some ways. That was 1976; they could have said, "Oh well, you can get married." Instead, they said: "We're worried you'll never amount to anything." My father denies that to this day, but he did in fact say it. And it took me quite a while to find that destiny. You know, going off to Italy and teaching English sounds kind of romantic in a way, but in truth I didn't do that right away either.
I had to pay the rent, and so my first job was with a company called Marcus and Millichap that still exists today, and in fact, it is one block from my current office at Hewlett-Packard. Now, I had a title when I went there. It was not "VP." It was "receptionist." I sat in the front lobby and I answered the phones. I typed, I filed, I took messages, but I learned something from that work as well. One day, a couple of brokers there decided that they were not going to be put off by my receptionist title, or the obvious stereotypes that might accompany it, and they asked if I wanted to try something else. And because of that simple gesture, that simple and small act of leadership, that is, somebody believing I could do something else, I was able to get closer to my own destiny.
And then I did that for a year, and I went off to Italy to teach English. And in the course of all this, surprisingly, I decided that I liked business - that I liked commerce, that I liked the pace of it, I liked the people of it; I liked the problem solving pragmatism of it. And so eventually, I got to where I am today, although it was never my goal, it was never what I set out to do. I never set out to become a CEO. And truthfully, it probably wasn't until I was 38 or 40 that I stopped being afraid.
And one of the things I think I finally realized is that leadership isn't about money, or connections or what people think you can do. Leadership isn't about title, or hierarchy, or how many people report to you, or the size of your budget. Leadership is about capability and character. Those are the two things that you cannot fake in life. And ultimately, capability and character are the things we can control for ourselves.
Now one of the disadvantages to not knowing women like Belle Otis - or schools like Simmons - early in life is that women of my generation got a pretty narrow view of our capabilities. If we didn't want to be a teacher, or a nurse, or a housewife - those are all incredibly valuable and demanding roles, but nevertheless traditional ones. It wasn't really clear when I was growing up, what else we could do. And publicly, the role models were not that great and not that plentiful.
Now, we meet today at this incredible conference, but it was just 40 years this summer actually - when I was a young girl - when women in the Boston area were lining up to see a movie that portrayed the first strong female leader on the screen. In fact, this movie portrayed the first woman president of the United States. Now, you don't have to hear more than the title to get a general idea of how she was portrayed. The movie is entitled "Kisses for My President," and it starred Polly Bergen as the President, and Fred McMurray as her helpless, hapless spouse.
Now, as Eleanor Cliff recounts in her excellent book, Madame President, from the very first moment that she takes office, the husband of Madame President is a study in wounded pride. Sex is interrupted by phone calls from the Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense. His career takes a back seat. He complains that "I am the First Lady with a background in electronics and they don't know what to do with me."
As the movie goes on, the President becomes more and more oblivious to the needs of her children - who by mid-movie have been transformed from really wonderful children into spoiled brats, and her husband is soon tempted to have an affair. The viewer is left with the distinct impression that a woman cannot possibly keep her marriage intact and be President.
Just when you're left wondering how it is all going to end, the President faints. - Just remember, I was about ten at the time this movie came out.
A bit later, the press secretary announces: "Not to worry, the President is pregnant," and in the next scene, the president stands before the country and announces that she must either give up the strenuous duties of President or she will risk losing her baby, and therefore she is resigning.
The movie ends with a smile from Fred McMurray who says: "It took 40 million women to get you into the White House, and one man to get you out." Now, if you would somehow manage to harness the energy from all the screams this movie has evoked over the years, you could power the Hancock Building.
By the way, for the record, my husband is nothing at all like that.
We know we have come a long way since then. We begin a new century with more women able to work, more women who vote, more women who go to college, and more women who own their own businesses than ever before. But when we think about the progress we have made in this country, when it comes to the rules we live by and the standards by which we are judged, the truth is, we have not come far enough from that Polly Bergen movie at all.
Here in America, there are certain things that everyone, men and women, assume about women - especially women with children; about what kind of employees they will be; how hard they will work; how driven they will be to succeed, and how far they will be able to get before their children slow them down.
The assumption, as Susan Estrich has pointed out, is that a man with children will work harder to support his family, while a woman with children will work less so that she can be with her family; that men are more ambitious; that work matters more to them, and that women are more concerned with balancing their lives.
And when it's clear that a woman is perhaps equally ambitious as her male counterparts, then she is too driven, too hard-bitten. In short, we may not like her. We would call a man aggressive and commanding - we frequently call a woman domineering and demanding. To be honest, I have mixed feelings about lists of powerful executives that compare women to other women. Leadership in any field isn't like tennis - there isn't a men's ladder and a ladies' ladder. And the more we continue to play into those stereotypes and be judged by a different standard and apart from everyone else, the more we allow ourselves to be defined by what makes us different, rather than by what makes us the same, I think we limit ourselves.
I worry at times that the more we allow ourselves to be defined by gender, the more we say our capabilities are different - the more we limit our impact, and the more we limit what we can do. I look around this room, and I am proud to be a woman, and I am proud to be in the company of so many accomplished women. But when I look around this room, what I see is not about gender, it is not about power, it is about leadership.
True capabilities, true leadership, I think cannot be defined by gender or limited by gender. Now, I say all this knowing that not everyone agrees with me, and I say all this as well, not because I am naive or inexperienced. I know what it is like to be an entry level or a junior level manager in a male dominated company. I spent 20 years at AT&T and at Lucent as you heard, and I began my career as a first level sales person within AT&T's long lines department. Now, "long lines" is what we used to call the long distance business, but I used to refer to the management team at AT&T as "the 42 longs" - that was their suit size, and all those suits looked the same.
I'll tell you a story. When I first started to work at AT&T, I was put in a program at the time called the Management Development Program. It was sort of an accelerated up-or-out program, and I was thrown into the middle of a group of all male sales managers who had been there quite a long time, and they thought it was their job to show me a thing or two. The truth is they wanted me to fail. And I was given a group of accounts. One of the accounts that I was given was the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and so I can tell you more about the Indian reservations in this country than most people. I've traveled to most of them.
I was actually quite successful in selling to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and it was making my colleagues quite nervous. So one day, we had decided that we were getting together for lunch. My more experienced male colleagues and I - we were getting together for lunch for the purpose of introducing me to a very senior level official at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and we'd had it arranged for some time and it was an important meeting for me.
Now the day before this meeting was to occur, one of my male colleagues came to me and said, "You know Carly, I'm really sorry. I know we've had this planned for a long time, but this customer has a favorite restaurant here in Washington, D.C., and they really want to go to that restaurant, and we need to do what the customer wants, and so I don't think you'll be able to join us."
"Why is that?" I asked. Well, the restaurant was called the Board Room. Now, the Board Room back then was a restaurant on Vermont Avenue in Washington, D.C., and it was a strip club. In fact, it was famous because - and you did go to lunch at strip clubs in Washington, D.C. back then. It was very famous because the young women who worked there would wear these completely see-through baby doll negligees, and they would dance on top of the tables while the patrons ate lunch.
The customer wanted to go there, and they were going there, and so I thought about it for about two hours. I remember sitting in the ladies room thinking, oh God, what am I going to do? And finally I came back and said, "You know, I hope it won't make you too uncomfortable, but I think I'm going to come to lunch anyway."
Now, I have to tell you I was scared to death. So the morning arrived when I had to go to the Board Room and meet my client, and I chose my outfit carefully. I dressed in my most conservative suit. This was the early 80s, and some of you may remember that was when we wore those little bow ties. I had a really conservative suit on, I had a great bow tie, and I had a crisp white shirt buttoned all the way up tightly to the neck. I carried a briefcase like a shield of honor, and I decided to go the Board Room. I got in a cab; I told the taxi driver where I wanted to go. He whipped around in his seat and said, "You're kidding right?" I think he thought I was a new act.
In any event, I arrived, I got out, I took a deep breath, I straightened my bow tie, and went in the door - and you have to picture this - I go into the door, there's a long bar down this side, there's a stage right here and my colleagues are sitting way over there. And there's a live act going on on the stage, and the only way I can get to them is to walk along that stage. I did. I looked like a complete idiot. I sat down, we had lunch.
Now, there are two ends to that story. One is that my male colleagues never did that to me again. But the other end to the story, which I found inspiring at the time, is that all throughout lunch they kept trying to get those young women to dance in their negligees on top of our table and every one of those young women came over, looked the situation over and said, "Not until the lady leaves." Yes, they deserve a round of applause.
So I am not naïve, and I am not inexperienced, and like all of you, I can tell a million stories. But I think we have to focus on the possibilities, not on the limitations.
Fast forward 20 years. Looking back at my first day at HP, I was surprised by a lot of things. I had so long ago stopped thinking of myself as a woman in business and rather thought of myself as a businessperson who is a woman, that truthfully, I was completely unprepared for the amount of attention that was paid to my gender. I was all prepared for the question, "How do you feel being the first non-engineering chief to run HP?" It never came. I was all prepared for the question of "What do you hope to accomplish, what are your dreams for HP?" It never came.
I was all prepared for the "How does it feel to be the first outsider to run HP, and what obstacles do you think that will create?" None of these questions ever came. I was totally unprepared for the focus on my gender. "How does it feel to be a woman?" Later, I learned to answer that question, "I don't know I've never been a man."
But because perhaps I was so unprepared for that question, I made a statement early on in that crush of interviews. I said something to the effect that the glass ceiling doesn't exist. And I made a lot of people mad with that statement actually, because I think a lot of people thought I mean that I didn't understand that prejudice exists, and barriers exist, or that I didn't understand that we haven't yet arrived. But that wasn't what I meant. What I meant by that statement is I think women have to reject, and minorities have to reject the idea that there is a glass ceiling - some invisible barrier that will prevent us from doing whatever we choose to do.
As a woman, a minority, any of us can get bogged down focusing on the limitations. Of course there is prejudice. Of course I and you have been harassed. Of course, women get pigeonholed. Of course, there are people who believe we are not capable and that we will fail, but we cannot focus on it. I think a woman, any person - a woman, a minority - any person can do anything they choose. And I know people who focus on possibilities over time achieve more than people who focus on limitations. I think young women should get up every day and say there is no barrier, no ceiling, no one that will prevent me from doing what I choose to do. I am just as capable as any one else.
Day in and day out, I see people who have had to overcome a lot. Those people achieve more than people who had to overcome just a very little. And so what I would say to you is that when people think about you, when they have prejudices about you, those things are their problem, their limitation, their ceiling. Do not let those things became your problem.
The bottom line is in today's economy, the companies that are going to win cannot afford the luxury of bias, or prejudice, or discrimination. The most basic truth facing companies in today's economy is organizations that operate on a true meritocracy, the companies that recognize talent - regardless of the package it comes in - the organizations that place a premium on diversity, not because it's nice to do, but because they realize it's a must do. These are the organizations that ultimately lead and win in the marketplace.
So those are some of my thoughts on capability. What about character? What about leadership? I believe when you come right down to it, there is no male or female way to lead in the 21st century. Whether you are fighting your way up the corporate ladder, or fighting a proxy battle, or fighting to keep a family together, there are fundamental questions of leadership that are always the same. I think one of the most important qualities a leader can bring is the ability, the energy, the desire to unlock potential in others. I think leadership is ultimately about helping other people achieve more than they think is possible. It is about helping people see a different set of possibilities for themselves.
In preparing for this, I thought a lot about the lessons I've learned in life about character and leadership. And I think there are three lessons that I've learned that continue to instruct me to this day, that I hope continue to guide me in both business and life.
The first is, you need to know who you are and what you believe and rely on that. Be true to that. For those of you who are just graduating from Simmons, many of us in this room will tell you that you will find in leadership, as perhaps in life, the most important decisions you make and the toughest decisions you make, are often the decisions you make alone. And when you make those decisions, there is so much opportunity to be buffeted about and confused by all kinds of things. You can be confused by conventional wisdom, by popular emotion, by cynicism, by doubt. By pessimism even. Of course, all of those things were in play during our merger with Compaq. Most conventional wisdom said it would never work. Popular emotions said the same thing, it would fail. And of course, there were many real cynics who thought quite literally I was out of my mind.
Sometimes, the only thing that I had to fall back on, and the only thing that thousands and thousands of HP and Compaq employees who also believed in the merger had to fall back on, was what I call a strong internal compass. And I use the term compass because what does a compass do? When the winds are howling, and the sky is dark and you have nothing to navigate by, a compass tells you where true north is. And I think when a person is in a difficult situation, a lonely situation, a tough situation, sometimes you have to rely on that compass. Who am I, what do I believe? Do I believe I am doing the right things for the right reasons, in the best possible way I know how? And sometimes that is all you have. And there is no male or female way to do that.
A second lesson I've learned about character and leadership is that leadership is a journey - not a destination, and that is such a cliché, but it's a cliché because it's right. The only constant in any of our lives - whether you're running a company, or running a family, or running a country - is change. And change has never been as fast as it is today. To me, the dividing line between what will increasingly separate winners from losers, the dividing line between individuals who will truly make a difference and a contribution in the 21st century from those who don't, is the one between those who embrace change and those who run away from it.
It will be between those who seek to lead change and those who find refuge in the status quo or in their comfort zone. If Simmons College has taught is anything - and it has taught us many things - it has taught us that people who seek to lead change, can change the world. But again, there is no male or female way to lead change. It is a characteristic that unites or divides us all.
And the third lesson I learned about leadership is that the real power comes from the connections between things - lots of things. The connection now comes from the connections between technology, that's where the power in technology lies today. But most importantly, power comes from the connections between people. Power comes, not from those who stand alone, but from those who work best with others and reach out to others to achieve a desired outcome.
And finding those connections and recognizing those connections, unleashing the power of those connections between people is part of what leadership is all about. It was not me who ultimately made our merger happen. Leaders are paid to take the heat. It was my job to stand and take the heat, but the truth is I get way too much credit. It was not me who ultimately made our merger happen, it was tens of thousands of our employees who believed and who pulled together to show the world that we could do what we set out to do. And ultimately, all the resistance that we got just proved the adage that kites rise against the wind. That experience connected us as a company, and pulled us closer than we had ever been - which is why our merger has been a success.
I said at the outset that I don't think leadership is about money or power or title or connections. I think anyone can lead from anywhere at any time, which is to say that I believe character is a choice, and leadership is about making a contribution and anyone can make a positive contribution. Some acts of leadership are very large and happen on a grand scale, and some acts of leadership are very small. Like those people 25 years ago who thought I could do something more. But like a stone you drop in a pond that has ripple effect, sometimes even small acts of leadership have large consequences.
And of course, if anyone can lead, if anyone can choose to lead from anywhere at any time, then it is the role of leaders to find leaders and to unlock for them the possibility that they can lead, that they can make a positive contrition that they can change the world. And I do not think there is a male or female way to do that. There is no male or female way to have confidence and humility, and leadership takes both. There is no male or female way to be both persistent, even stubborn sometimes, and selfless. There is no male or female way to believe in people, to believe in their hopes, to share in their dreams, and to let them make their full contribution.
There is no male or female way to be responsible, to be respectful, to stick to your guns, and there is no male or female way to be proud of the people, to praise hard work, and to be true to a legacy. These things have nothing to do with gender, but they have everything to do with leadership and character in the 21st century.
I believe completely in the ability of people to get up every day and overcome barriers to success. I think young women should get up every day and believe they can do anything they want to do - that there is no barrier strong enough to keep them and you from doing what you choose to do. That we are, as Belle Otis wrote all those years ago, "just as talented and capable as everyone else." Will there be problems along the way? Absolutely, but will there also be people who realize that tapping the talent of all people is the only way to win in the 21st century? Absolutely.
At HP we say everything is possible. A pessimist, a cynic, a doubter, would say it's a marketing slogan. I actually believe that. I think when people use their full potential and work together and are inspired by a worthy purpose, that everything is possible and that the world can be changed.
My wish for the next 25 years is that we work for a world where women are not celebrated apart from the rest of society - confined to our own lists, defined by our gender and limited by it as well. That we take our unique differentiated voices, our capability, and our character, and work to become the change we want to see. That we work for a world where all women are able to go further, retire, dream bigger, and accomplish more than any generation before. And that it may be said, as Simmons teaches all of us that thanks in part to the leadership we provide, every woman was able, not only to own her own destiny, but able as well to change the world.
Thank you very much.