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Ecolab Director Beth Pritchard (right) was among the high-profile speakers April 14 at the Kellogg Women's Business Association Conference. Kellogg Assistant Dean Michele Rogers (left) delivered the introduction.

WBA Conference

‘The passion to succeed — and to be different’

The Women’s Business Association conference highlights women’s leadership across work, family and the globe

By Amy Trang

4/22/2010 - Seizing opportunity with passion and leadership was a prevalent theme throughout the Women’s Business Association conference, organized by students and hosted at the Kellogg School on April 14.

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 The annual event gathered students, alumnae and business professionals to learn from top women business leaders on leading in all aspects of one’s life.

Discussions surrounding the theme “How Does She Do It? Leading Across Work, Family and the Globe” focused on issues that included finding one’s leadership style and running a dual-income household.

Keynote speaker Beth Pritchard, director of EcoLab, shared that her career path had never been mapped out. Because she wanted to work internationally, Pritchard began her career as an employee at the Central Intelligence Agency. But after realizing that government work wasn’t for her, she embarked on a successful business career. Pritchard has held a number of high-profile positions, including president and CEO at Bath & Body Works and Dean & Deluca.

“Be opportunistic. Leadership is about risk-taking,” Pritchard said. “It’s all about the passion to succeed — and to be different. Let your curiosity guide you.”

Pritchard added that her work colleagues played a significant role in her success. She quoted her mentor’s rule of thumb on hiring people: that the successful candidate should be someone you could sit next to on a six-hour flight to Europe.

“You don’t have to best friends with them, but you have to like the people you are working with,” Pritchard said. “If you cannot laugh at work, you will be bored.”

In a panel discussion about developing leadership styles, the women panelists said that they all took a gamble to attain their goals. Bonnie Chan ’08, director of brand finance at the Sara Lee Corporation, said that she took a risk and moved to America from Hong Kong after graduating from college. Nancy Sharp, co-founder and CEO of Food for Thought Enterprises, took over the company after her husband died in 2004.

“I don’t think there are any greater barriers than the barriers we put on ourselves,” said panelist Cecilia Kimberlin, vice president of quality and regulatory affairs at Abbott Laboratories. Kimberlin lived in Iran for three years, a period that included the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

Chan said she puts mementos of her successes in a box that she pulls out during challenging times to remind her that she has overcome obstacles.

“You need to follow a dream and listen to your heart,” Chan said. “Be persistent. Don’t let those setbacks pull you back forever.”

During a discussion on balancing dual-income households, the alumnae panelists let attendees in on their secret to balancing the family schedule — Microsoft Outlook.

“My husband and I use Outlook to let each other know if we have early-morning or late-evening meetings, and we’ll put the kids’ activities on it or even date night,” said Angela Cobb ’00, chief diversity officer for Teach for America. “We also have weekly family meetings to talk about vacation or who is doing the car repairs. It sounds mechanical, but it reduces the tension.”

Flexibility and a willingness to outsource things such as housekeeping or babysitting are also key to a successful work-life balance, said Kelly Howe ’00, partner and managing director at the Boston Consulting Group. All the women panelists added that partnering with their spouses on parenting makes it easier for them to have successful careers.

“Define ‘successful’ for yourself in your career and family, and be at peace with that,” Cobb said. “We believe we can have everything all the time, but there are trade-offs.”

Other notable events at the conference included a keynote speech from Carrie Teffner, vice president and CFO of Timberland, and panel discussions on goal-setting and navigating careers across geographic regions.