Friday, June 10, 2011

Live from Today's Dialogue with Leadership

Our Dialogue with Leadership is a big part of the MBA Women's Conference, and a great opportunity to hear candid insights directly from senior women executives. This afternoon, Pattie Sellers, editor-at-large at FORTUNE magazine, joined us once more to host the conversation with our two guests, Kristin Peck, Executive Vice President, Worldwide Business Development and Innovation, at Pfizer, and Uta Werner, Chief Strategy Officer at Xerox.

Uta, who came to the US from her native Germany, knew as a young person that she wanted to be financially independent. "From there, I concluded that I needed a job that would sustain that independence." Her ambition led her to various academic pursuits in the search for a good career fit. She holds three master's degrees. She started out studying math in Germany, where the distinction between undergraduate and graduate degrees is more fluid, and earned a master's in math and physics. She went on to earn an MBA in Germany and then applied for a scholarship to Harvard, where she earned an MPA.

Kirstin, who earned her MBA from Columbia, spoke eloquently about the capacity for business to change the world, and the fact that she was drawn to business as a way to make a difference. Today, she is often the only woman in the room, a fact that she says she would like to see change. In the meantime, she advised the crowd not to hesitate to own their place at the table: "Own your space. Don't sit off to the side, or wait to be asked," she said. Kristin certainly speaks her mind freely in her role overseeing business development: "I know what I think we ought to do and I know how to convince people of that," she says.

Kristin earned her MBA at Columbia; over the course of a very successful career since, she says she has learned that having a plan but maintaining flexibility is key. "Life is not a straight line," she said. "Have a sense of where you want to go, but be open-minded as to how you might find those experiences. I spent my career following people; if you can find someone who inspires you in an industry that you're passionate about, you learn so much. I've worked in industries I never thought I'd like, but I worked for inspiring people and that made all the difference."

Pattie echoed Kristin's point regarding flexibility. "The world is so unpredictable today," she observed. "You have no idea what the hot job is going to be tomorrow, or next year." Pattie chairs FORTUNE's Most Powerful Women Summit and has profiled top business leaders across industries. Her experience suggests that to succeed in today's business culture, it's important to stay nimble. "Keep your peripheral vision and swing to the next opportunity," she advised.

The Dialogue was full of interesting insights. Uta talked about the need to develop "a deeper empathy" in order to understand various perspectives on a business issue. Kristin talked about "watershed moments" in one's career, and the importance of trusting your gut if you have the sense that your pace of learning has slowed and its time to move on - to another division, another company, or even another industry. "If you're too comfortable, change is good," Uta added. "Don't be afraid of change."

We'll bring you video interviews with Uta and Kristin soon - watch this space for more.

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