Thursday, July 11, 2013

Find Your Space, Take Your Place

Tanya is a member of the Tuck Class of 2015 and a Forte Fellow. Tuck is a proud sponsor of the Forte Foundation, which works with major corporations and top business schools to launch women into fulfilling, significant careers.  As a Forte Fellow, Tanya is presented many benefits including participation in the Annual MBA Women’s Conference.  Below, she shares her experience.
In June, I had the opportunity to attend the Forte MBA Women’s Leadership conference in New York City. For me, the conference was a great transition from working (I had wrapped up my job the week before) and a fantastic opportunity to spend time was other T’15s and over 300 MBA women from other schools. It was also a chance to network and learn from female leaders from companies including Bain & Company, Fidelity, Pepperidge Farm, Deloitte, IBM and Goldman Sachs.
Here are some of the main points I took away from the conference:
1) Women can “have it all” - it’s about defining what this means to you.
Many of the discussions throughout the weekend came back to the question of work-life balance and how to manage personal priorities while having a successful career. The theme I heard over and over was that you need to determine what is important to you and focus on that, even it means letting some of those lesser priorities take a backseat. As entrepreneur Frida Polli explained during the non-traditional careers panel, it is definitely possible to build a business and raise a family. Your limited time forces you to focus on what’s really important and makes things that used to be important seem trivial. Towards the end of this Saturday morning panel, her young daughter got antsy in the audience and came to join her mother at the front of the room. I was impressed with how Frida naturally and comfortably continued the conversation and was not at all distracted by her daughter’s presence.
And of course, work-life balance isn’t just about having a family. During the time management session, the discussion turned to other priorities. The advice was to identify the “non-negotiables” to you - whether that’s getting exercise regularly or cooking at home, and to slot those into your weekly schedule first to avoid time sinks (like the 4 hour Real Housewives marathon on Tuesday night) which are not fulfilling in the long run.
2) Staying passionate and continuing to learn are keys to a fulfilling career.
It was amazing to meet so many women who were passionate about their work over the course of the weekend. When someone is invested in what they do, it comes across immediately in how they describe their work, and often, this excitement is contagious.
The speakers during Friday’s keynote leadership lunch, Irene Chang Britt, President of Pepperidge Farm, and Kathy Murphy, President of Personal Banking at Fidelity, radiated this passion. Both mentioned the importance of staying fascinated and curious. They came back to the point that if you’re feeling comfortable, it’s probably time to move on. Have faith that you will be able to handle new challenges - however steep the learning curve is.
One of Kathy’s personal anecdotes was that she listens to an hour of customer service call recordings during her daily commute. Through this, she is able to learn from her customers and run the business with their perspective and challenges in mind.
3) Finding your place is about defining your key principles while being flexible enough to seize unexpected opportunities.
This last theme was particularly welcome to me as I sometimes feel like recruiting starts the moment we get to campus (or before) and that if I haven’t decided exactly what I’m going to do after business school, I’m already behind.
Many of the more senior women cautioned against narrowly defining the path you see for yourself and instead identifying your “core principles” and the things that bring you fulfillment. This way, you can stay true to what matters most and remain open to opportunities outside of your original plan. And these opportunities may turn out to be the most rewarding decisions of your life. The key point: find a balance between staying focused on your goals and exploring new interests and challenges. The job you get right after business school, while important, is not the definition of the rest of your career.
Overall, the Forte conference was a great experience and I left feeling even more excited to start Tuck this fall!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Is Business School the Right Place for an Entrepreneur?

The panelists at today's session on entrepreneurship say yes. Laura R. Walker, President and CEO of New York Public Radio led a discussion with four visionary young founders and business leaders: Elena Bajic, founder and CEO of Ivy Exec; Alexa von Tobel, Founder and CEO,, and Danae Ringelmann, Co-founder, Indiegogo.

Ringelmann found her co-founders at business school. In fact, she pursued an MBA to exploit every resource she could get her hands on to help start her business. Bajic too found that access to professors, students, and alumnae provided fertile soil for nurturing her fledgling business idea. Von Tobel left Harvard Business School after one year, with her 75-page business plan in hand, so eager was she to start up

The passion each of these women have for what they do energized the room. "The most important thing you can do is think about the products that you want that are missing from your life, where you're customer number 1 and you're passionate about what you're doing," says von Tobel. "I'm passionate about financial planning. It really shouldn't be a luxury. I read customer feedback every night." Ringelmann said the same: early on, she worked raising money for theater and film. Frustrated by the inherent difficulty of raising money for the arts, she realized that she wanted to revolutionize the way people with good ideas get access to funds. Driven by her idealism about "democratizing finance," she enrolled in business school, and started gearing up for what eventually became Indiegogo. "I spent the next two years in business school milking it for everything it offered - every class I took was about Indiegogo. We used incubator space. We launched my second year of business school."

To be sure, it wasn't easy:  "I was one of those people in college who was obsessed with getting an A," says Ringelmann. "But when you start a business, it's not like that - there are no pats on the back, sometimes for years. I went to business school knowing that I was spending lots of money. I didn't care if I looked stupid. I asked any question I needed to ask."

All three founders are "past startup mode" as Walker put it. But they recall very vividly the lessons of that fairly recent startup phase. "You're making a lot of decisions, fast, every day," said Alexa. "In the first year-and-a-half, I couldn't tell you exactly what was going to happen in the next year. Now that we're in a different phase, I can tell you exactly what's going to happen over the next three years."

Surprisingly, all three gave the sense that raising investment funds wasn't the most challenging part of founding a business. In fact, Ringelmann recalled that, by the time the money started flowing in from Silicon Valley venture capitalists, she and her co-founders had just one slide: "All it showed was the numbers, going up and to the right - that was all we needed." But a lot of muscle went into building things to that point: focusing on brand, partnerships, and customer experience. Bajic shared a similar story: "It took us awhile to raise funds," she recalled. "We finally got an angel, but by that time, the business had already grown that year 300% and we were profitable. We took in the funding and it helped fuel the growth and stabilize. Since then we've grown 1300%." And she, like the others, admits: "The first years are tough. You're really boot-strapping the business. You're doing everything yourself." But as von Tobel put it "It's the best ride ever!"

We'll cover the discussion with these inspiring entrepreneurs in more detail in our upcoming newsletter. Meanwhile, thanks to ALL of our phenomenal speakers at the 2013 MBA Women's Conference, and to our engaged and engaging audience of talented MBA women! Share your favorite memories of the 2013 MBA Women's Conference at #ForteMBA.

Making Time to Make Time: Tips from Laura Vanderkam, author of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think

This afternoon, our 2013 MBA Women's Conference participants are spending their time in concurrent sessions ranging from Checking the Rearview Mirror: What I Wish I had Known as a 1st Year MBA to Passport to Pursuing a Global Career. With so much going on, it's easy to wish for more time to take it all in. If that sense of wanting for time is familiar to you, you might enjoy the work of author Laura Vanderkam, who led a sesssion called 168 Hours: Time management strategies for work, school and life.

Vanderkam suggested that we give ourselves a "time makeover." How to do that? Start with a time log. Figure out what's filling your days. Then take inventory of your priorities, and start making a schedule that clears space for the things that are really important to you. Having a list of dreams helps too, so that you can ascertain what activities feed your real ambitions.

"Time is elastic," she noted. "When something is important to you, you make the time happen. So the trick is to figure out what's important to you."

What can you do best at work and at home? And how can you spend less time on everything else? Vanderkam terms this "playing offense" - taking charge of your days. Here's how:
  • Think in terms of 168 hours, not 24. Things do not need to happen every single day in order to be part of your life.
  • Use your mornings. Time has a way of getting away from you. Willpower is like a muscle - it gets fatigued by the end of the day. If you schedule something late in the day, it's a lot easier to come up with a good reason not to do it.
  • Do not multitask. If you need to check email frequently, you're better off being on for 20 minutes, then off for 40.
  • Pay attention. "It can take hours to rebuild the connection you burn in a two second glance at your phone while someone is talking to you," Vanderkam observed.
  • Ignore, minimize, outsource. If something isn't nurturing you, your career, or your relationships, get rid of it.
  • Use bits of time for bits of joy: a quick walk, a phone call to a friend, writing in your journal.

For more tools and tips, visit

Tell us what you heard at the 2013 MBA Women's Conference! #ForteMBA

MBA Women: You Have What You Need (live from this morning's keynote with Fawn Germer)

"So much has happened to open the world up for women, and you're right here to take advantage of that!" began Fawn Germer, this morning's keynote speaker. Germer is an author and speaker with a background in journalism. One day at the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, she got what she called a "brand-new bosshole." He told her she'd never be a columnist, would never rise above the ranks of reporter. "You have mentors? I had a tormentor!" she recalled.

"The whole magic of what happens to you in the here-on-out comes in the obstacles," she went on. Not finding a book that could give her the guidance she needed in a time of crisis, Germer set out to write it herself. Today, she's the author of several well-known books, including Pearls, Hard Won Wisdom, Mustang Sallies, and The NEW Woman Rules, that include interviews with hundreds of women leaders, from Hilary Clinton to Olympic athletes, CEOs, and more. What did she learn? She learned that even amongst the world's most established women leaders, self-esteem is a perpetual issue. "If I could hear every negative thing you've said to yourselves about yourselves, there would be so much noise in the room!" Germer said to the crowd today. "What matters most is how you see yourself. You are saying things that are meaner to yourself than you would say to a stranger. Yes or no? If you were a mother, and somebody said those things to your kid, what would you do? Understand that your imperfections are fine. You're fine as you are. Don't fixate on the negative. Work what you've got. You have everything you need; it's enough."

Stand up for yourself. Set boundaries. Don't settle for a bad relationship, with your work or at home. Own up to your ambition and don't be afraid to win. Advertise your abilities, skills, and achievements. When you see a need, volunteer to handle it. The promotions and money come as you elevate yourself. Don't let security be your dangerous anchor. Germer gave a frank rundown of the advice she gleaned from women who have already been there, and the lessons she's learned firsthand.

"I know a lot of people who spent decades learning that they have the power to end a bad situation and make good choices," Germer said. Today's MBA women have the opportunity to learn from each other, and from mentors like Germer, to be their own best version of themselves.

For more on our MBA Women's Conference, follow us at #ForteMBA.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Live from our MBA Women's Conference! A Candid Dialogue with Irene Chang Britt and Kathleen Murphy

Pattie Sellers, Fortune's Senior Editor at Large, and Executive Director of MPW/Live Content, Time Inc., is back for her fifth Dialogue with Leadership at our annual MBA Women's Conference hosted by Goldman Sachs. This year, Pattie is joined by Irene Chang Britt, President, Pepperidge Farm, and Senior Vice President, Global Baking and Snacking, Campbell Soup Company, and Kathleen Murphy President of Personal Investing, Fidelity Investments: two women business leaders who are truly at the top of their career game.

Interestingly, both Irene and Kathleen report to women who themselves are on the Fortune 50 Most Powerful Women in Business list. "We're getting there!" Irene said to the crowd of 400 MBA women assembled for the event. 

The Dialogue is always a candid conversation with women leaders willing to share their acquired wisdom. Kathleen (who grew up the third in a family of six kids, with "a lot of brothers") recalled that after graduating from college, she had no idea what she wanted to do, so she bought time by enrolling in law school at University of Connecticut. She knew she was interested in the intersection of law, economics, and social issues. "As a lawyer, I always gravitated toward the business side of law." She joined Aetna, where she learned to "get out of my comfort zone and take risks." In fact, at one point in her mid-twenties, she swore that she'd never work in financial services; yet, today, she oversees the retail business at Fidelity, including a group of more than 11,000 employees in charge of personal investments.

Irene, who grew up in Taiwan, was a self-proclaimed "nerdy cellist" at a teenager, and a competitive cyclist as a teenager, and studied anthropology at Queen's University. With her brother, a landscape architect, she opened a high-end bicycle store in Toronto. "It ended up being a profitable million-dollar business," she noted, with still-evident surprise. At the time, Irene was just a freshman in college. Her mother suggested she get an MBA, and "that started me in business," she recalls. 

"Business school went horribly wrong, at the beginning," Irene continued. "They probably never should have accepted me. I came in in Lycra. I had ridden my bike 20 miles to the orientation, and I still had stuff under my fingernails from fixing bikes." She failed her first semester, but eventually graduated on the dean's honor list. "I finally realized that business was business, and business is people, and I knew selling. It started to make sense to me." 

Both Irene and Kathleen talked about communication, and motivating a team. Kathleen noted: "Communicating to over 11,000 people is challenging from a number of perspectives. You have to get out there. I spend a lot of time on the road making sure I'm close to the field. I insist on candor. To me, candor is a form of respect. But once you invite candor, you have to do something about it. You have to act on the feedback you get."

Communication with the field flows both ways. When Kathleen joined Fidelity, her team handed her an iPod they had stocked with 20 hours of customer calls for her to review: "It was fantastic," she says. She still listens to recorded customer calls today, as a way to get closer to the day-to-day business in the field. "You're learning the business on every single call."  

Irene, too, responded to the idea of staying close to employees, and identifying the next generation of business leaders: "You have to have lieutenants," she said. "You grow leaders and they go out and listen too." "I absolutely agree," said Kathleen. "And people want to be part of something bigger than themselves. When you're out there, you have to paint a picture of something bigger than themselves that they can be motivated by."

Niether woman shrinks from competition. In fact, in response to a question from our audience about how you navigate sexism, both were frank: "Focus on what matters, which is winning," said Kathleen. "You can get distracted by a lot of other stuff. But what most companies want is people who can win."

"Kathleen and I are of an era when a lot of women went to non-line roles. Not enough women ran line businesses," said Irene. "If you can, go run line businesses," she counseled. "Have the P&L. In the worst moments, put up your P&L. That's the argument-ender." 

"When you're asked to be the expert every day, it's hard to say what you don't know, but you have to keep pushing yourself to learn," continued Irene. "I mentor a lot of women around the world who don't even work for our company, and I do that because I want to build great people."

On a similarly reflective note, Kathleen summed up: "I want to look back at the end of my life with no coulda/woulda/shoulda. I want to be satisfied that I committed to excellence: in business, in the philanthropic work I do, and, most importantly, with my family. I don't have any pre-determined course. I just want to have fun."

We'll post video of the Dialogue with Leadership soon. Meanwhile, stay tuned for more from our 2013 MBA Women's Conference!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Final Conference 2013 Reminders

To help get you ready for the MBA Women's Conference on June 28 and 29, we've included a list of things to know before you go. This important information will help make your experience at the conference a success!

  • Company Expo Information including company list
  • Networking and Profile of Attendees List (check your email – sent to registrants)


Goldman Sachs

200 West Street, New York, New York (Map)
Note: Please use the Main Building Entrance at the corner of West St. and Vesey St.

When you arrive, you’ll enter through the Main Building Entrance which is at the corner of West St. & Vesey St. You’ll check-in on the first floor. Make sure you have a valid ID available for the security check.

Attire for the conference is business casual.

  • Please make sure to bring copies of your resume, and if you have them, business cards. There will be plenty of opportunity for you to network with companies looking to hire future MBA graduates.
  • Please hold on to your name badge
  • Identification (you will need to this in order to enter Goldman Sachs)
  • An umbrella! It is scheduled to rain both Friday and Saturday.
  • Your cell or smart phone. We encourage you to be interactive and let others know what you're up to while at this conference. Post messages on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or other social media.
Photo Contest!
Join Forté on Instagram and you could win a gift card! Post pictures to Instagram using the tag #ForteMBA and you could win for Best Caption, Best Moment of the Conference, Best Group Shot, and Best NYC Shot. We’ll email the prizes to the best photos next week, so get shootin’!

See you in NEW YORK CITY!

Monday, June 17, 2013

How to Launch your MBA Experience at the Forté MBA Women’s Leadership Conference

by Jenn Ash, UNC Kenan-Flagler Forté Fellow, 2012

What would you do if you had hundreds of the brightest minds in the country together in one place for 48 hours? Think beyond building a longer contact list - to building ideas into action. You are a leader, a goal setter, a movement launcher.  Bring your whole self to the Forté MBA Women’s Leadership Conference and leave with more of what others have to offer. Here are seven ways to launch your MBA experience to a higher level at the Forté Conference.

Tell your story. In this distinguished group of women, we share common qualities of intellect and leadership, so what makes you different? Your experiences thus far have unusual moments, game changing decisions and interesting details. Share your best highlights, not just your hometown and career function.  The more you share, the more others can connect with you.

Seek out diversity. We learn most from others who are not like us. It’s comfortable to group with who you know.  Step out of your comfort zone for a few minutes and reach out to a friendly face who can bring you new perspective.

Know your goals. If you aspire to work in finance, think about the milestones that will help you get to that final result. These might include: insider knowledge of company culture, deadlines for required applications or possible team assignment options. Recruiters can help you with more than just qualifying for the interview.

Introduce others. In a mixed crowd, this puts everyone at ease and makes others grateful to you. It is also great practice for active listening and helps build connections for others. For example “Hi Katie, I’m Jenn and this is Tiffany. She worked in Energy because she has a passion for sustainability”.

Capture action items. As you absorb the great content from speakers and attendees, write down not what you hear but what you want to do about it. You’ll leave with a greater purpose and more than a notebook of great quotes.

Follow Up. This is the differentiator between those you aspire and those who succeed. Organize yourself to keep track of details and make time to build a connection after the event. Connect on LinkedIn, send them a relevant article or provide some value to the others you meet. Nice to meet you emails are easy to write and forget.

Engage. Like many things, you get out of it what you put into it. Listen carefully, pose a question during Q & A and ask others’ opinions afterward. The more you participate, the more value you will get on the time you’ve invested. During your MBA, the most valuable thing you have is your time, so push yourself to engage, lean in and reap the benefits.

These strategies will heighten your experience at the Forté MBA Women’s Conference.

As you embark on your first or second year of your MBA program, keep in mind the MBA bigger picture: the chance to learn more about yourself and others while growing your skills and expertise to serve the world. This perspective sounds like a lofty notion, but can keep you centered on the goal as the days fly by.  It’s a chance - an opportunity - that you can seize each and every day. Go get ‘em.

Jenn Ash is the Editor of, a blog about blending work and life. As a Content Marketing Strategist, she advises entrepreneurs on growing their business with dynamic marketing. To access her free creative marketing resources, visit She was a Forté Fellow at UNC Kenan-Flagler and currently lives in Charleston, SC.