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Insights From 2009 WEST Leadership Awardees
June 10, 2009
The four women honored by Women Entrepreneurs in Science and Technology at its second annual WEST Leadership Awards Celebration* last month shared their stories and insights. Common threads included the importance of balancing personal and professional life, relating to employees, and learning from mentors and children alike.
Elizabeth Friday is IBM Vice President, Worldwide Client Support, and executive sponsor of the N.E. Women’s Network at IBM. She revealed that her first post was simply “the only job I could get” and not one she had anticipated. But she gave it her best and moved ahead rapidly. Friday feels it’s important to give oneself many experiences, and to approach opportunities with an “I can try this” attitude. She recalled an “Aha!” moment when she realized that any problem is solvable, if you keep an open mind and aren’t afraid to try new things. Friday also encourages people not to shy away from technology, but to use it to solve business problems. And her advice on leadership is simple: it’s all about people. She suggests not letting other people’s bad behavior keep you from moving forward, and that by learning to relate well to people, you can succeed. “If they believe you’re working for them, they’ll go to work for you,” she said.
Adele Perkins, President and Chief Business Officer of Infinity Pharmaceuticals, would agree. She said one important lesson she learned from the long-running medical series E.R. was: “Be generous with your time and talent, with your love and life.” As a biotech executive working on treatments for cancer and related conditions, Perkins is grateful for the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives. She also does that by encouraging employees to use their own talents to the fullest. Perkins notes that we admire “passion” at work, but “love” is not a word often heard there. She urges us to love what we do, and love the way we do it. Rather than disguise the “near disasters” we encounter in life, we can bring hope by sharing them. A little everyday humor also helps. Erma Bombeck inspired Perkins with her quote: "When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, 'I used everything you gave me.'"
Beth Marcus, PhD, is an inventor and serial entrepreneur who has founded four technology firms, including Zeemote Inc., and has supported a dozen other startups over the past twenty years. However, she claims to have experienced true incompetence just five years ago, when her daughter was 3 months old. One lesson she emphasizes for aspiring leaders: don’t get discouraged and don’t be afraid to try over. Her first firm created a popular game controller and was acquired by Microsoft. Another was not so successful, but Marcus learned valuable lessons about the challenges of onshore manufacturing, and the intricacies of bankruptcy. She stresses the importance of hiring good people and treating them well (giving stock to protect employees in the event of a sale, or providing outplacement services to ease transitions). Over the long run, these are investments in valuable relationships. Marcus summarizes her advice in three simple points: see risks; solve problems; lead others to success. But she also quotes the wisdom of her 5-yr-old: “Life is a gift. Sometimes you can’t make a change. You just have to feel good.”
Janet Wolfe, PhD, President and Founder of Wolfe Laboratories, views her career as a journey, both physically and metaphorically. Coordinating her work and studies with her husband’s meant moving from Pennsylvania to Kansas, Washington, Tennessee and Boston – while raising three children. She gained entrepreneurial skills while running an academic laboratory at the University of Tennessee, so when the journey took her to New England she was confident she could find a market for a contract research lab, and Wolfe Laboratories was born. Wolfe notes that “you must choose your priorities, or they will choose you.” Family clearly comes first in her mind, but she also knows she loves helping to create drugs. Believing that “you get out of it what you put into it,” Wolfe encouraged us to focus on commitments, even when we don’t know exactly what the rewards might be. Some rewards come quickly; others only emerge over the long-term. Wolfe also credits faith with helping her succeed, especially when dealing with difficult decisions.
*The second annual WEST Leadership Awards Celebration was held on May 28th 2009 in Boston, MA. More Info.