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Jane Melvin, founder and president of Strategic Innovations Group Inc.,delivered a keynote address at the Feb. 6 Kellogg School Women's Business Association Conference.

‘Kaleidoscope’ lets women see range of leadership options at Kellogg conference

Women’s Business Association convenes those ‘who are going to change the world’

By Adrienne Murrill

2/11/2008 - According to executive Jane Melvin, anyone can be a leader, if they cultivate the proper perspective.

“Leadership,” she told those attending her keynote address at the 2008 Women’s Business Association Conference, “is about living your ‘big life,’ using your time on Earth to impact the most people you can.”

The founder and president of Strategic Innovations Group, a Chicago-based consultancy, Melvin shared her insights at the Kellogg School conference, whose theme was “Through a Kaleidoscope: The Re-Exploration of Female Leadership.” The event was held Feb. 6 at the James L. Allen Center.

Melvin’s keynote brought energy and excitement to the McCormick Tribune Auditorium as she welcomed attendees: “You are surrounded by people this morning who are going to change the world. Some, like me, are maybe going to change just a small corner of it, but no doubt you are leaders who will touch lives, make policy, create ideas, change companies, build wealth, raise families and educate the next generation.”

The conference presented many related ideas on female leadership throughout the day. What every speaker seemed to agree on was the importance of a healthy work-life balance, being true to oneself and making use of mentors.

Ann Marie Petach, managing director and head of business finance at BlackRock, delivered a keynote address at the Feb. 6 Kellogg School Women's Business Association Conference.
Photo © Nathan Mandell
Melvin examined leadership through the lens of her profession, both during and after working in the corporate world, and through her hobby — ballroom dancing — which inspired her to “look forward, not back.” She said she grew tired of hearing how she had to change to survive in the corporate world, so she started her company, which helps individuals and companies figure out “who they are, what they do and how to do it better.” Melvin took this approach with herself and found success. “Combine your experiences, yourself, your gifts and your energy for something you’re passionate about,” she said.

Ann Marie Petach, managing director and head of business finance at New York-based investment management firm BlackRock, presented similar ideas about leadership by discussing career success and fulfillment. At BlackRock, Petach’s role includes oversight of global management reporting, forecasting, treasury and enterprise risk. “Do what you love and love what you do,” she said. “To excel you have to have a passion for it.”

Petach, who is the former treasurer of Ford Motor Company, emphasized that life, especially for women, is full of cycles, both long and short. There will be times in every leader’s life where work will come before personal life and vice versa. “I made choices that could have had adverse career consequences, but I was so at peace with them,” she said. One example was her decision to relocate her parents with her husband and children when she took the position at BlackRock. By clearly expressing her priorities to herself and those around her, Petach said she navigated difficult decisions such as these in her personal and professional lives.

Tara Gheib ’08, the speakers and panels chair for the WBA Conference, said she found Petach’s stories “extremely eye-opening.”

Other panels throughout the day addressed a range of issues: “Leaving and Re-entering the Workforce,” moderated by Northwestern University’s Weinberg College Associate Dean for Finance and Administration Catherine Grimsted; “Work to Live, Don’t Live to Work,” moderated by Kellogg Assistant Dean Roxanne Hori; and “Beyond Your Comfort Zone,” moderated by Kellogg Clinical Assistant Professor Mary O’Brien Pearlman. Kellogg graduates who participated in the panels included Joanne Scheff Bernstein ’92, Sara Patterson ’98 and Paula Smorynski ’02.

In “Carving Your Niche,” a panel on maintaining one’s individuality in the workplace, all three panelists shared their experience of navigating male-dominated fields. Moderator Angela Lee, the Mechthild Esser Nemmers Professor of Marketing at Kellogg, challenged them to discuss when and why women conform to workplace norms, and what are women’s strengths and weaknesses in the corporate world.

Panelist Christine Comaford-Lynch, the founder and CEO of business accelerator Mighty Ventures, told attendees, “As women, you must constantly build your credibility.” The reality, as she put it, is that women still must work harder to get equal footing with their male counterparts. She encouraged women to build their reputation by creating profiles and participating in Web sites such as LinkedIn and Technorati. Comaford-Lynch also championed the power of networking. She encouraged “palm-up” networking, which means finding out what people want and helping them get it. “This will change your career,” she promised. “Everyone out there does “palm-down” networking — ‘What can I get?’” Life, she said, equals who you meet plus what you build together.

The conference concluded with a 90-minute negotiations workshop led by Jennifer Jordan, a Kellogg School management and organizations research fellow and lecturer. Attendees participated in a case study and reviewed their results with Jordan, who presented common negotiations traps and how to overcome them both in the case and in real life. Afterward, participants mingled during a networking reception.

Kellogg student Joyce Lee ’08 said that, for her, the conference put her professional opportunities into perspective, something especially helpful as she nears graduation. “I realized I need to take more time to think about what I really want to do,” she said. “You can get to where you want to go, but it takes planning.”