Anika Michelle Penn ’99, Co-Founder/CEO of Frontier Health 

“If you’d told 18 year old me that at 40 I’d have a masters in International Economics in China studies, it would have been outside of the realm of what I understood at the time were my possibilities. But this is what’s so special about Smith; it opens doors to things you didn’t know were possible.”

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by: Kathryn Stuart ’08

Smith Major: African American Studies; East Asian Languages and Literature

Q: Can you tell us about your company, Frontier Health?
A: Frontier Health has pioneered a platform to connect innovators with purchasers across the globe to increase access to frugal health innovations and increase access to markets for small medtech companies.

Q: What do you see as the value of your Smith education?
A: One of the great things about Smith is that you can study almost anything. I chose to study subjects that were disparate and unrelated to a specific career path I had for myself at the time, but that ended up leading me in a direction that has been transformative for my life. As an eighth generation Ohioan, I decided to study Chinese and spend junior year abroad in China, not because I thought China would be the next superpower, but because I wanted to see how far away from Ohio I could go. With the exception of Toronto, I’d never been outside of the country. But I didn’t study Chinese again until I went back to school for International Affairs ten years later. If you’d told 18 year old me that at 40 I’d have a masters in International Economics in China studies, it would have been outside of the realm of what I understood at the time were my possibilities. But this is what’s so special about Smith; it opens doors to things you didn’t know were possible. Additionally, my studies as an African American History major led me to work briefly in the Civil Rights Movement. I’d say I’m a great example of a liberal arts major who did not study business or economics, but who managed to use her truly liberal arts education in ways I never imagined. I simply chose to study these things that were fascinating to me.

Q: How did Smith help you prepare for your career co-founding an organization?
A: One of the beautiful things about going to Smith and then going out into the world is realizing that nobody knows what he or she is doing and the world is run by people who are not as competent as you’d think. I may feel that I don’t know what I’m doing but neither does anyone else! It’s freeing once you realize that. I was surrounded by hardworking women at Smith who worked way harder than a lot of the people I’ve encountered over the years working in healthcare, so I know that my Smith experience certainly helped me prepare by setting a high standard for work ethic. Something my mom always told me is that people will always help you; having that approach and then having that reinforced at Smith really is crucial.

Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges for women in business today?
A: Without a doubt, the biggest challenge for women and pretty much all minorities would be access to capital. The amount of money you raise as a female entrepreneur is so much lower to begin with and, on top of that, I’m an African American woman so I see this on many levels. I attended a women’s entrepreneurship conference hosted by my grad school and heard a shocking statistic that the average amount of wealth for a white woman in the US is $30,000, while the average amount of wealth for a black woman in the US is $100. When you start a company, you start with your own money, along with contributions from friends and family. That discrepancy in wealth leads to a situation in which only some ideas get to see the light of day. White men don’t have a monopoly on great ideas; they have a monopoly on access to the capital that makes those ideas possible, so we end up with bad ideas getting funded at a rate good ideas don’t.

Q: What unique skills do you see women bringing to the table? 
A: I don’t necessarily think women have or need unique skills; more importantly, I think everybody needs to be at the table. I might have this view because I’m coming from healthcare where most of the medical devices are designed by men and not in a way to best benefit women. Look at the speculum for example. The more women we have at the table, the better quality products we have for everybody. It’s more about equal representation. Cecile Richards is retiring from Planned Parenthood Federation of America this year. I remember watching her being grilled at a Senate hearing, comprised mostly by old white guys basically yelling at her, and one of the things that became clear during the hearings was that these men had no idea how women’s health care is delivered. If you’re in a place of power representing everyone and you don’t understand what women do or what they need when they come in for their well-woman visit and exam, you’re not able to do your job effectively. Everyone should have a place at the table.

Q: What should Smith College be doing to best prepare students for successful careers in business?
A: What I loved about Smith is that you were able to take whatever classes you wanted, but I actually do think there should be some sort of a core framework of classes and then you can make your choices within that. First and foremost, I believe firmly that every student should take Economics at Smith. I did not, and I later got a masters degree in Economics. I didn’t know what I would do with my career without it. Every student, whether getting an MFA in poetry or going to music school or becoming a doctor or running a startup should take Economics because it’s absolutely fundamental to the way our society runs and without that basic foundation, you’re really at a disadvantage. Writing is just as important. If you don’t understand writing and economics, life will be difficult for you. And if you’re trying to change things for the better, you need to understand the system that we have now, perverted as it may be.

Q: What’s one piece of advice you would give your younger self upon graduating from Smith?
A: Take Economics! But besides that, I think I would have told myself that you are going to have a lot more crappy jobs than you think you will, and the important thing is that there are takeaways from even the worst job or the worst boss. If you can keep your eye on the prize, even when you absolutely don’t see a way forward, there is something to be gained or learned from all of it. There is value in the negative experiences you just have to trust.

Q: What would you say is the most satisfying aspect of your career?
A: Knowing I have built a company that will have made a positive impact on peoples’ lives, no matter how big or small the scale. That is satisfying.

Q: What are you reading right now? 
A: For fun I’m reading The Sellout by Paul Beatty. One of favorite classes at Smith was African American Literature with Emily Bernard, and we actually got to meet Paul Beatty who won the Man Booker Prize for this book. He’s also the first American writer to win the Man Booker. His books are irreverent, poignant, and at times this is a completely rollicking, ridiculous read. For work I’m reading The Creative Destruction of Medicine by Eric Topol about the digital revolution in healthcare.

Q: What was your favorite class at Smith and why?
A: Literature of the African Diaspora with Emily Bernard. We discussed everything from the writing to the business of how books get published, who decides on the cover art, etc. I even helped her with a speaker series on the business of literature, where she invited a literary agent to come in and explain the publishing business to us.

Q: Did you (or do you) have a strong female mentor?
A: Not, officially (and I would love one). I think that’s all I’ve wanted my whole life. But this also depends on how you define mentor; I grew up with an incredibly strong mother who at one time was the only African American woman to run a commercial real estate company in Central Ohio. Additionally, I have a group of women who are older and more successful that are pulling for me that I’m connected with through my graduate program, which doesn’t have many women. I have another group of female peers who are our own support group – many are Smithies, but not all. Smith is a great foundation for amazing women and peers but there are other women who did not have the great fortune of going to Smith who are amazing and can be so helpful as well.

Margaret Nyamumbo ’11, Founder & CEO Kahawa 1893

“The opportunity to make a difference in world and being in control of my career. I look forward to waking up everyday and driving this dream of creating better opportunities for African farmers. Despite the challenges, the mission keeps me motivated.”

 

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by: Kathryn Stuart ’08

Smith Major: Economics and Statistics

Q: Can you tell us about your company, Kahawa 1893?
A: Kahawa 1893 is a socially conscious coffee company that is building a better supply chain to empower the women that cultivate coffee in Africa. My mom who is a coffee farmer in Kenya inspired the idea. I am devoted to helping her and other farmers — particularly women — reach sustainable, living wages.  With little direct access to global markets, East African coffee farmers contend with a dozen or more middlemen and sell at unfavorable prices that barely cover production costs.  Women shoulder the lion’s share of farming labor, but as non-landowners, they reap little reward for their efforts. Currently, Kahawa 1893 allocates 25% of profits towards supporting female farmers in Africa. Going forward, we are working on a fully transparent supply chain using blockchain and AI to connect consumers directly to farmers. For instance, if you enjoy your coffee and would like to tip the farmer, we will make that possible through a blockchain enabled platform. 

Q: What do you see as the value of your Smith education?
A: A diverse student body and challenging academics sharpened my critical thinking skills and widened my world. I grew up in a small village in Kenya where women’s education was undervalued and we all had a singular point of view. Smith was my first experience outside of that world and it provided a diverse view of the world that has gone on to shape my current outlook on life.

Q: How did Smith help you prepare for your career founding a company?
A: A well-rounded liberal arts education meant that I had a 360 view on the world and the business and gave me the ability to think outside the box.

Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges for women in business today?
A: Oh my, so many! As a black immigrant woman, most times, it’s hard to isolate the effect of being a woman from the other limiting disadvantages that come with my background (black, immigrant, accent, low-income etc.). I think as a woman, the most limiting is the exclusion from the boys’ club. While working on Wall Street, a lot of business deals are done from relationships, and women make a small part of that network, limiting access and potential.

Q:  What unique skills do you see women bringing to the table? 
A: I think women are great multitaskers, which is an essential skill in today’s world where things are changing overnight and the ability to stay ahead is a competitive advantage. Personally, I think women are great at balancing risk / reward, being practical in essence, but we often get punished for not picking the most optimistic scenario and running with it.

Q: What should Smith College be doing to best prepare students for successful careers as entrepreneurs?
A: I think with entrepreneurship, experience is crucial, and so any opportunities for students to practice is crucial. My understanding is that they currently have an entrepreneurial focused program that does that.

Q: What’s one piece of advice you would give your younger self upon graduating from Smith?
A: To embrace risk as part of success. As an international student, I had the added complication of only working for organizations that could sponsor my visa, limiting what I could do. I was lucky to find a job in my chosen field, but I think that restriction affected my ambitions in terms of what I went after. There is not much I can change there, but I would have been more aggressive with chasing opportunities that seemed out of reach, instead of settling for the sure path.

Q: Have you ever experienced self-doubt at work or the impostor syndrome? If so, how did you manage it? 
A: All the time! When I was given so much responsibility at work, I would freak out about messing up and exposing my inadequacies because I felt like I wasn’t there yet and that they assumed I had all these abilities that I wasn’t comfortable with yet. But now that I run my own startup, that imposter syndrome has disappeared! I think it is a mental state where I am in control of the operation and I have accomplished so much now that I don’t feel inadequate anymore. I think I was afraid that I was not living up to someone’s standard, and now I control that standard, which relieves the pressure. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t lower the standards, I am merely evaluating my abilities in a more rounded way, vs. the ability to be perfect in one specialized task.

Q: What would you say is the most satisfying aspect of your career?
A: The opportunity to make a difference in world and being in control of my career. I look forward to waking up everyday and driving this dream of creating better opportunities for African farmers. Despite the challenges, the mission keeps me motivated.

Q: Additionally, I’m interested in hearing your thoughts about Smith starting a network specifically for business professionals; is it something you would have used (had it been available) when you were starting your career? 
A: Absolutely! I think having a network is crucial for support and growth. I have enjoyed being part of the Smith FB group where we support each other, and I think a more formalized forum would be even better. It’s something I would have used and will still use.

Q: What are you reading right now? 
A: Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office: Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers by Lois P. Frankel, which my Smith BFF is reading in parallel. Fun fact: we bought our copies together at the Amazon store on 34th Street in NYC. When we were checking out, we discovered the cashier was also a Smithie! Although, I am no longer employed, I am learning about the things that hold women back.

Q: What was your favorite class at Smith and why?
A: Intro to Macroeconomics. It made me change my major to Economics from Pre-med and made me realize that I wanted to use Economics to solve world problems.

Q: Did you (or do you) have a strong female mentor?
A: No, I am looking if you know one!

 

Michaela LeBlanc ’07, Investment Analyst for Midstream Energy Companies, Goldman Sachs International, London 

“Immediately upon arriving to meet with Donna, I realized that she was both very senior and probably very busy, and was absolutely in awe that someone of her level would spend 30 minutes talking about career options with a fresh graduate.  Donna helped me connect with some professional contacts which kick started my path to a new role and I will always remember her generosity.  I try to pay it forward when Smithies reach out to me for career advice and I think Donna’s actions speak to the power and spirit of the Smith network.”

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by: Kathryn Stuart ’08

Smith Major: Government; Minor: German
Dartmouth Tuck School of Business MBA ’15
House: Gardiner

Q: What do you see as the value of your Smith education?
A: Perversely, my time at Smith really helped me prepare for working in the financial world, and I think this is because at Smith you’re taught to stand behind your work and speak your mind when you have an opinion. I’ve noticed that a lot of female finance colleagues who are successful come from all women educational backgrounds. I think this speaks to the quality of education you get from a women’s college and how it really prepares you to succeed in a working environment that tends to have a general imbalance between men and women.

Q: How did Smith help prepare you for your career in business?
A: Smith taught me strong presentation skills and the value of expressing your opinion. In my current role, conducting analysis and presenting to internal and external stakeholders, public speaking is so critical, and I developed those skills at Smith. I would also say that being in such a diverse environment at Smith with so many different backgrounds and opinions was a really valuable experience for me because I’ve worked in three different international locations: first a Fulbright in Germany, then Hong Kong, and now London.

Q: What unique skills do you see women bringing to the table?
A: Strong problem solving skills, a team oriented mentality, the ability to form strong client relationships, thoughtful analysis, and good risk assessment.

Q: What should Smith College be doing to best prepare students for successful careers in business?
A: There is a lot of fundamental financial learning that’s helpful to complete (even at a liberal arts college) to have a foundation as a fresh graduate in the financial sphere; having access to those fundamental finance classes at the other 5 college campuses is so important. I know that Mahnaz Mahdavi (Professor of Economics at Smith) is doing a lot, bringing speakers to campus and giving students the tools to understand that even if you don’t want to be an accountant, there are a million different options for a career in the financial world to consider based on your skill set.

Q: What’s one piece of advice you would give your younger self upon graduating?
A: I would have taken accounting as a 5 college course at Amherst my senior year!

Q: Have you ever experienced feelings of self-doubt professionally? If so, how do you manage those feelings?
A: There are times that I have felt overwhelmed by a project at work, yes. What has worked for me is to break down the task at hand into more manageable pieces. I find that that strategy can help get things off the ground.

Q: What is the most satisfying aspect of your career now?
A: One of the key things that I do in my current role is running work analysis on companies and publishing my findings. I enjoy client interaction, so the most satisfying aspect is discussing my findings with the clients and companies, sometimes with different views, and giving them constructive feedback.

Q: What are your thoughts on the launch of the Smith Business Network?
A: I always try to be helpful to fellow Smith alums that reach out through LinkedIn or the Smith directory, so I think formalizing the process through the Smith Business Network is great. I’d love to help people be a little more educated and prepared for their roles coming out of Smith than I was. I also know that a lot of Smithies in similar roles at my level do a lot of recruiting; if we can be helpful to maintain and grow the pipeline of Smith women coming into the industry, it would be great.

Q: What are you reading right now?
A: I just finished reading WHAT HAPPENED by Hillary Clinton, as a historical marker, and for fun I’ve been reading a lot of Bill Bryson because he’s written about traveling in England (I just moved to London at the end of August from NYC).

Q: What was your favorite class at Smith?
A: Reenacting the Past: History of a Hypothesis with Professors Ernest Benz and Patrick Kobe. It was hilarious and such a good time. We reenacted the French Revolution.

Q: Do you (or did you) have a strong female mentor in business?
A: I haven’t had just one; there is a laundry list of Smith alums and colleagues who have really helped me, first during the fall of senior year when I was trying to find out who was recruiting and when, and then when I was at my first job. The Smith network has been really consistent as far as personal and professional support – hence why I was looking up Smithies in London upon arriving here. I hope to keep that going! Additionally, one of my early professional mentors was a male boss I had who was really supportive and helpful; something I always encourage women who are starting out is to not limit yourself to mentors who are women.

A personal anecdote I’d like to include here is that in Spring of 2009 I was included in a mass layoff at Bank of America Securities (the investment banking arm of Bank of America at the time) as part of the firm’s merger with Merrill Lynch.  As a fresh analyst with only 10 months of experience, it was particularly terrifying to be so new to an industry and searching for a new role during the height of the financial crisis. With the help of the CDO (now the Lazarus Center for Career Development), I reached out to a bunch of Smith alumnae who worked in finance. Donna Milrod, then working as Deputy CEO of Deutsche Bank, wrote back immediately and invited me for a meeting at her office. Immediately upon arriving to meet with Donna, I realized that she was both very senior and probably very busy, and was absolutely in awe that someone of her level would spend 30 minutes talking about career options with a fresh graduate.  Donna helped me connect with some professional contacts which kick started my path to a new role and I will always remember her generosity.  I try to pay it forward when Smithies reach out to me for career advice and I think Donna’s actions speak to the power and spirit of the Smith network.

 

Sara Bacon ’02J, Founder, Command C

“As a woman in tech, the confidence I gained by being at a school where I was told I was smart and was trusted and honored for who I am has been the keystone to entrepreneurship for me. ” 

 

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Smith Major: Studio Art
MFA in Photography from Tyler School of Art

by: Kathryn Stuart ’08

Q: Can you tell us about your company, Command C?
A: Command C is an ecommerce development and optimization agency. We work with retailers generating between $1mill – $50mill in revenue to build and support their digital commerce efforts.

Q: What do you see as the value of your Smith education?
A: The leadership skills and confidence it instilled in me. 

Q: How did Smith help prepare you for your career as an entrepreneur?
A: As a woman in tech, the confidence I gained by being at a school where I was told I was smart and was trusted and honored for who I am has been the keystone to entrepreneurship for me. Entrepreneurship is an experience with extreme highs and extreme lows. Knowing and trusting who I am has been the foundation that’s enabled and supported me through that journey. 

Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges for women in business today?
A: The default gender bias we’ve inherited. Subtle and overt. 

Q: What unique skills do you see women bringing to the table?
A: Awareness and attunement. Communication. Power in the form of knowing who we are and what our value is outside of what we do.

Q: What should Smith College be doing to best prepare our students for successful careers in business?
A: Exposure, internships, real world experience. 

Q: What’s one piece of advice you would give your younger self upon graduating from Smith and preparing to enter the business world?
A: Figure out your values and everyday take stock of how you can act in accordance with them.

Q: Have you ever experienced self-doubt at work or the impostor syndrome? If so, how did you manage it?
A: Would I be human if I didn’t? That foundation of knowing and trusting myself despite all forms of doubt has been what I come back to time and time again. That, and meditation.

Q: What would you say is the most satisfying aspect of your career?
A: The external manifestation of my values through the work we do and the workplace my business creates. 

Q: Is the Smith Business Network something you would have used (had it been available) when you were starting your career?
A: It’s a great idea and I totally would have used it.

Q: What are you reading right now? 
A: BORN TO RUN by Christopher McDougall and TRACTION by Gino Wickman

Q: Did you (or do you) have a strong female mentor in business? 
A: I have a few people, women and men, as well as some organizations what support and mentor me.

Nikita Bhargava ’14, Associate Attorney, Reavis Page Jump LLP

“I credit Smith for helping to make me fearless. I switched careers five months after starting in investment banking, and it was terrifying because I was doing something completely unrelated in switching to law. My Smith experience helped prepare me for that challenge.”

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by: Kathryn Stuart ’08

Major: English Language and Literature; Minor: Economics
House: Cushing

Q: What do/did you see as the value of your Smith education?

A: Let me borrow from Sheryl Sandberg here when I say that Smith really taught me how to “lean into” a challenge. On top of having to balance extracurricular activities with a rigorous curriculum, I was fortunate to have some great internship opportunities as an undergrad to figure out what I wanted to do and not do. I’m indebted to Smith for fostering that hunger in me and the attitude of “Yes it’s hard, but let’s see what I can do.” Smith is a great place to learn that lesson because there is so much support; it’s sort of a foolproof place to fail because you’re in this wonderful safety net while encouraged to reach higher. I left Smith with the attitude that I can do anything.

Q: How did Smith help prepare you for your career in business?

A: I credit Smith for helping to make me fearless. I switched careers five months after starting in investment banking, and it was terrifying because I was doing something completely unrelated in switching to law. My Smith experience helped prepare me for that challenge.

Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges for women in business today?

A: I think women will always face challenges, but on the other hand I think we’re fortunate to live in a time when people are conscious of that and talking about it. I love seeing women championing each other, making progress together, and breaking glass ceilings. The challenges we face are manageable with each other, and I believe it will only get better.

Q: What unique skills do you see women bringing to the table?

A: In my experience, I’ve noticed that women are much more aware of each other and willing to do things to help one another reach their professional goals. There’s a camaraderie that I think is really special, and I know it’s helped me.

Q: What should Smith College be doing to best prepare students for successful careers in business?

A: When I saw this question I laughed because when I was at Smith there was a business competition on campus and I remember thinking “Wow, do people really start businesses like this? Is this how it works?” Smith already does so much to put its students ahead of the game. Of course, I’d love to see continued alumnae engagement and more opportunities for networking going forward. The network is so helpful; I know I will never leave a Smithie email unanswered because mine were always answered. If someone is looking for help, I will do what I can to help, and I feel like that is the general attitude amongst Smith graduates, which is special.

Q: What’s one piece of advice you would give your younger self upon graduating?

A: Yes, it’s scary. Do it anyway.

Q: Have you ever experienced feelings of self-doubt professionally? If so, how do you manage those feelings?

A: Anyone who starts a job, whether it’s entry level or not, there is that level of “Oh my goodness; I don’t know this!” or “How will I ever do this?” or “Did I do it wrong?” There’s no way to avoid that because it’s how you learn. I’ve definitely experienced those feelings of doubt and I’ve been in situations where I genuinely didn’t know the answer, but I have always had mentors I could ask for advice or help, and learning something new is part of what makes it fun.

Q: What is the most satisfying aspect of your career now?

A: It’s satisfying when I can help a client really come to a resolution when they came to us for help. Another thing is wrapping my mind around a new concept; I’m happy if I’m able to grapple with something new.

Q: What are you reading right now?

A: Two Smith friends work in different publishing spaces, and I text them regularly asking for book recommendations. In law school I had no free time, so I’m catching up on two years where I missed out on reading for pleasure. I’m currently reading Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue.

Q: What was your favorite class at Smith?

A: Every class I took with Prof. Marni Anderson on women in Japanese History.
Seminar in English with Prof. Ambreen Hai about representations of servitude in South Asian and diasporic literature.

Q: Do you (or did you) have a strong female mentor in business?

A: I’m lucky to have had many mentors. In general, I like to think of the whole Smith network as my mentor. I’m fortunate to work for two awesome women who mentor me daily, and I’ve met several Smith guardian angels along the way that have connected me to great opportunities and to each other. I feel very fortune to have that and I hope to someday get to return the favor to another young Smithie because I don’t think a lot of people have that opportunity.

Meghan (Greenhalgh) Moin ’08, Operations Manager, Google

“Smith gave me a toolkit that I could bring into any role or situation at work. I know how to think about problems from all angles and clearly articulate the root issues and potential solutions… I can get things done with colleagues even when we don’t agree.”

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by: Kathryn Stuart ’08

Major: Art History
House: Comstock

Q: What do/did you see as the value of your Smith education?

A: Smith pushed me out of my comfort zone, exposed me to different types of people and ideas from what I’d encountered before and taught me how to think critically and communicate effectively.

Q: How did Smith help you prepare for your career (in business)?

A: Smith gave me a toolkit that I could bring into any role or situation at work. I know how to think about problems from all angles and clearly articulate the root issues and potential solutions. If I’m in a new situation, I can quickly synthesize information to get up to speed, and know how and when to ask for help. I can get things done with colleagues even when we don’t agree. And I develop relationships with other women (friends, mentors, sponsors) for support and coaching.

Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges for women in business today?

A: I can only speak for my own experience, but one challenge I’ve faced and have seen many female friends and colleagues deal with is learning to love criticism. I find myself re-reading this article a few times a year. As the author says, “Many women carry the unconscious belief that good work will be met mostly – if not exclusively – with praise. Yet in our careers, the terrain is very different: distinctive work, innovative thinking and controversial decisions garner supporters and critics, especially for women. We need to retrain our minds to expect and accept this.” Smith gave me confidence, but I’m continually working on growing a thicker skin.

Q: What should Smith College be doing to best prepare students for successful careers in business?

A: I think Smith can help students understand that your hobby or passion is not always the best career path for you. I studied art history and had internships in the art world, but soon realized that just because I loved art did not mean I’d love working in a museum or auction house. I wasn’t considering a job in tech until Google recruited on campus (I showed up for the free t-shirts, assuming they only hired engineers). Most of my friends were looking at jobs in non-profits or going to grad school. I didn’t really understand what kinds of jobs existed in business until I worked with the Career Development Center and started reaching out to alums whose jobs sounded interesting. As a student, it’s hard to wrap your head around what different jobs actually look like day-to-day and evaluate the trade-offs, so the best you can do is get hands-on experience (via Praxis or regular internships) and work the Smith network on and off campus to talk to everyone you can.

Q: What would you say is the most satisfying aspect of your career?

A: This is hard to choose, because I’ve had an incredible journey at Google. I’d have to say it’s tied among constantly learning and growing, building relationships with amazingly smart, passionate, kind and talented people and getting to see the world by working on global projects that required close collaboration with teams in many different countries.

Q: Additionally, I’m interested in hearing your thoughts about Smith starting a network specifically for business professionals; is it something you would have used (had it been available) when you were starting your career?

A: Yes, I think I would have definitely liked reaching out to other alums in business and having an easy place to find local people who could give me good advice. This would have been very useful, both when I was starting out and when I’ve hit bumps along the way. It would also have been a good way to make new friends when I moved to New York.

Q: What are you reading right now?

A: “Meetings With Remarkable Manuscripts” by Christopher De Hamel, which is bringing me back to my medieval art history courses.

Q: What was your favorite class at Smith and why? Did you learn something valuable that carries through today?

A: It’s hard to name one – there were so many great classes. I find myself thinking back to Craig Felton’s survey of the history of western art, which taught me how to really see art and draw a thread linking art across different places, genres and times.

Q: Did you (or do you) have a strong female mentor in business?

A: Yes! I’ve been lucky to have many strong female mentors. Some of them are Smithies, some are Googlers and ex-Googlers, but I try to think about it as a constellation of mentors who I can go to for advice depending on the situation.

Kate O’Brian ’80, O’ Media Strategies, Founder

“Smith taught me how to think and how to write. I was given an incredible foundation upon which to grow. If you can write and think critically you are already on the path to success no matter what you do.”

 

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by: Kathryn Stuart ’08

Major: English Language & Literature
House: Gardiner

Q: What do/did you see as the value of your Smith education?

A: I see an internal value and an external value of a Smith education. Internally, the freedom to explore different subjects and different kinds of thinking without having to become narrowly focused right away with your studies is so valuable. I can’t say how important that has been because life is not linear; it’s all over the place. Externally, there is value in having a Smith degree because it’s an indicator that you are well educated. This may seem superficial but it isn’t always superficial.

Q: How did Smith help you prepare for your career in business?

A: Smith taught me how to think and how to write. I was given an incredible foundation upon which to grow. If you can write and think critically you are already on the path to success no matter what you do.

Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges for women in business today?

A: I think for most it’s moving up the ladder and getting and staying in leadership positions. It’s amazing to me that it’s still an issue today, but sadly it is. I was at Smith in the height of the heady women’s liberation era in the late 70s; we all left Smith thinking things were changing with women fighting for parity and pay. We’ve won a lot of battles since then, but it’s highly discouraging to see how much we still need to be fighting. I know that growth is still happening and women are getting ahead, but it’s not fast enough.

Q: What was the general feeling when you graduated – optimism?

A: We were very eager and ready to take on the world. Just half a generation after Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan, we reveled in our young womanhood and what we could do and what fights we were fighting and winning. We knew there would be challenges but that we could face up to them. It was a time that nobody changed her name to her husband’s. There was no question that every one of my friends would continue working after having children. It was a very inspired generation, inspired by the women who came immediately before us and empowered us to carry on.

Q: How has the landscape changed for women in business since you started your career? How do you see it changing in the future?

A: The landscape has changed for the better in many ways with the exception of this last year, which has been a slap in the face. On a sort of governmental and legal basis things are better than when I graduated. On a final/bottom line basis I worry because of the anti feminist backlash; we’ve seen a lot of men this past year being able to say what they want about women’s lives without women being a part of the conversation.

Q: What unique skills do you see women bringing to the table?

A: I generally try to stay away from gender assumptions but I will say that I think women listen very well. A big part of being a successful manager is listening because that’s when you learn and can change the way things are done. To be clear, I don’t think it’s a zero sum game where women listen and men don’t; many studies have been done on this but there are of course always exceptions. But in general, I think being a woman gives you a different perspective on the world – whether its growing up learning what challenges lie ahead or through having children – women are able to look at things in a 360 way.

Q: What should Smith College be doing to best prepare students for successful careers in business?

A: Smith is already moving in that direction with the Lazarus and Connelly Centers which help to provide an understanding of what the business world is like and the basic skills that are needed, like excel and elementary coding. What I hope is happening is that young women are being introduced to all sorts of different businesses because it’s easy to think of business just as Wall Street or Silicon Valley when there is so much more out there. Getting women into a variety of internships is helpful; you have to know what you don’t want to do as well. If you don’t love what you do you won’t work really hard doing it. My internship at ABC News was a light bulb moment: not only do I speak this language but I really love it! That experience meant that I could focus. I knew I wanted to go into the news business.

Q: What are your thoughts on Smith starting a network specifically for business professionals? Is it something you would have used (had it been available) when you were starting your career?

A: It’s so important to reach out to people who can help. When I graduated there was no sense of how important networking is; we lagged behind men on that. Putting people together that have an intersecting point, and especially at a place like Smith where you do have a bond and a like-mindedness, it’s nothing except a benefit.

Q: What are you reading right now?

A: I just finished THE HOME THAT WAS OUR COUNTRY by Alia Malek. Alia actually worked at Al Jazeera and is a brilliant Syrian American journalist. She wrote a beautiful and important memoir about Syria today and her experience putting her grandmother’s apartment back together at a time when the war in Syria was in full swing.

I’m now into a novel by Korean American writer Min Jin Lee called PACHINKO, which was just nominated for the National Book Award for Fiction. It’s a sweeping multigenerational story starting in the early 1900s about a family on Korea and what happens to them over next 70 years. It’s a beautifully written novel. The great thing about not currently being in the news business is that I can read novels. It’s gorgeous.

Q: What was your favorite class at Smith?

A: I took a seminar senior year on the poetry of John Dunne taught by Joan Bramwell. It was just beautiful to be immersed in his poetry for an entire semester; it was like swimming in a beautiful golden sea. Since that time I haven’t had the experience of delving so deeply into a poet or author. I remember it so clearly. My other favorite was an Italian film class, which was really fun.

Q: Do you (or did you) have a strong female mentor in business?

A: Throughout my career there were women who were not overt mentors but they made a point to help me and other women. These women knew who I was and sometimes helped me without my knowledge by connecting me to other people, and I think that goes on a lot today. It’s so important for women to help other women, especially when trying to make your way in a challenging work environment. People don’t talk about it a lot but it’s there, the “this person helped me at this time and that person helped me at that time” kind of mentorship. Mentorship comes in so many different forms and that is something I tell young women I speak to – don’t necessarily look for one form because you will get something from different kinds of relationships in a myriad of ways.

Susan Goodall ’83, Freelance Editorial Development Consultant, Former Director of Editorial Development at Glamour Magazine

“My Smith experience gave me confidence. It taught me I could handle the rigor of hard work, and it taught me to be intellectually curious.”

 

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by: Kathryn Stuart ’08

Major: English Language & Literature
House: Northrop

Q: What do/did you see as the value of your Smith education?

A: I think it’s a mindset. A Smith education helps you cultivate your intellectual curiosity and your love of learning. It gives you a sense of possibilities and a sense of the power of the community; even now, you and I are talking because the Smith community inspired us.

Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges for women in business today?

A: Not surprisingly, I would say the biggest challenge is the wage gap, which is fueled in part by women’s reluctance to be bold and own their swagger before they feel they’ve earned it. This is something I think men tend to have an easier time with. Other than that, I would mention the challenge of balancing childcare and work, as well as the challenge of new technology for older generations.

Q: What unique skills do you see women bringing to the table?

A: Women are so often empathetic and take time to understand other points of view. Additionally, I’ve observed women being very collaborative in the workplace. When I started my career, I knew that working hard wasn’t going to be enough; I had to work smart. And I believe that women, personality-wise, have the inclination do that.

Q: What should Smith College be doing to best prepare students for successful careers in business?

A: There are so many great career development services at Smith now that weren’t available when I graduated. There are fantastic resources to help teach you how to manage your finances, dress for your first job, get the right internship; you name it. At Smith we learn how to be strong, capable, empowered women, but its sometimes hard to know how to transfer that from campus to the workplace. Learning things like how to negotiate and be good leader; that’s a different and valuable skillset that’s hard to come by without the hands-on experience at work.

Q: What are you reading right now?

A: I’m normally a fiction reader, but I’m currently reading ANTARCTICA by Gabrielle Walker. I started it before my recent trip to Antarctica and am finishing it now.

I’m also reading THE COMPLETE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF TREES AND SHRUBS by Eric Wasson because I’m working on my master gardener certification.

Q: Do you (or did you) have a strong female mentor in business?

A: I have had some amazing women colleagues. I had one colleague who went on to be the Editor in Chief of the magazine. She was always true to herself and held onto her opinion like a true leader should. She had a significant influence on me; she’s a great touchstone.

Sara Haines ’00, Co-Host of The View/Correspondent for ABC News

I’ve always been a hard worker, but Smith really nurtured and pushed my idea of work ethic. Being surrounded by amazing, driven, game-changing women inspired me and fed a fire within me that made me reach higher.

 

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by: Kathryn Stuart ’08

Major: Government
House: King

Q: What do/did you see as the value of your Smith education?

A: I’ve always been a hard worker, but Smith really nurtured and pushed my idea of work ethic. Being surrounded by amazing, driven, game-changing women inspired me and fed a fire within me that made me reach higher. This was paramount, especially because I was humbled at first by the academic rigors of Smith. I learned that I could do anything as long as I put in the work. I also gained a new perspective that the value is in the journey; it’s less about the letter grade you receive at the end and more about what you learn along the way that really matters.

Q: How did Smith help you prepare for your career in business?

A: I don’t know if it was generational or situational or something else, but I didn’t grow up in a time that I felt I was limited as a girl first or then as a young woman. But if there was a subconscious feeling of being limited it definitely was shattered when I walked into a new place with some of the most powerful, intelligent people I’d ever met, and they were all women; all Smithies! So, I think knowing that I would never set foot in that type of environment again and the mentality of “I survived the Navy Seals of Education” taught me that… I got this! I left Smith feeling empowered to take on whatever the business world brought my way.

Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges for women in business today?

A: I think that a man is more likely to apply for a job or ask for a raise when he’s only 50% prepared, and I find that women sometimes choose to wait until they are surer of where they stand before taking action or asking for what they want. This is just from what I’ve observed with myself and my female friends. Communicating and putting in motion what you want in the business world and knowing your self-worth can be a challenge. I’ve never been a fan of arrogance or ego but I feel like I almost need to channel that attitude from time to time because I find that’s the voice men walk around with more day-to-day. It’s almost that type a mindset and the hesitation of “am I sure I’m prepared?” Men are quicker to just go for it. Therefore, they are swinging the bat more and hitting the ball more. It’s a cumulative effect.

Q: How has the landscape changed for women in business since you started your career? How do you see it changing in the future?

A: I’m lucky because the business I’ve been in my entire career is generally female dominant, so I may have sort of a skewed view. Apart from when I started in the Page Program at NBC, which had more of a corporate feel, my experiences at ABC News, Good Morning America and The View, all very female dominant places, have been really uplifting and empowering for me. I find that with every decade, the differences people talk about for men and women at work are fading. Strides are being made every day.

Q: What unique skills do you see women bringing to the table?

A: One of the biggest things I’ve observed around female leaders in workplace situations is that they tend to be more collaborative. Something I’ve always loved about working in a female dominant environment is that it feels like more of a team effort and everyone benefits from that.

Q: What should Smith College be doing to best prepare students for successful careers in business?

A: I think it’s important that young people be given the resources and opportunities to discover what they’re truly passionate about instead of what they feel they’re supposed to do to become what our society defines as “successful.” It’s also important when you start out not to feel entitled. Realize that you are lucky to be where you are and have the mindset that no task is below you. Don’t put judgment on tasks being asked of you. Put your head down and do the best you can do with the task ahead of you and success will follow. And you will always succeed if it’s something you love doing.

Q: What are your thoughts on Smith starting a network specifically for business professionals? Is it something you would have used (had it been available) when you were starting your career?

A: I think all the alumnae services are beneficial. The four years spent at Smith are only the beginning. Those life connections take you forward, whether it’s advice, wisdom, experience, or guidance. What the school does for you the moment you leave is a real value investment.

Q: What are you reading right now?

A: SINCE WE FELL by Dennis Lehane

Q: What was your favorite class at Smith?

A: I have three that are tied: The American Presidency, Political Theory, Changes & Challenges in American Education. I still think about them and quote experiences from the discussions/readings.

Q: Do you (or did you) have a strong female mentor in business?

A: Two of my best friends, Amy Robach, News Anchor at Good Morning America, and Erin Grau, VP of Operations for The New York Times.

Marilyn Carlson Nelson ’61

First, Marilyn Carlson Nelson ’61 helped grow the Carlson Company into one of the most successful hospitality and travel businesses in the world. Then she took on one of the world’s biggest problems: child trafficking.

 

 

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Nelson says that when she graduated from Smith, there were no female Fortune 500 CEOs. “When I came to Carlson, we had two women executives,” she said. “I created a meritocracy that offered training and career development for both men and women. Sure enough, with equal opportunity, women succeeded in equal measure.”

The Carlson umbrella includes Country Inns and Suites and Radisson, as well as restaurant chain T.G.I Friday’s. As CEO, Nelson doubled the size of Carlson and became recognized for her commitment to corporate responsibility. In 2008, she published her best-selling book How We Lead Matters: Reflections on a Life of Leadership.

Carlson led her company to publicly commit to fighting human trafficking. She implemented training for all Carlson staff to recognize potential trafficking behavior happening in hotels.

“I have always believed that business in the right hands, operating in the right culture, can be one of the world’s most powerful forces for good,” Nelson said. “In the end, making the right choices where business and human rights intersect often comes down to courage and leadership.”

In 2014, Carlson was selected as one of the Oslo Business for Peace Award Honorees for her work abolishing human trafficking of children. The White House also awarded her the Presidential Award for Extraordinary Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Persons. In 2015, Smith College awarded her an honorary degree.

 

Shelly Braff Lazarus ’68

When Shelly Braff Lazarus ’68 graduated from Smith, she had only a vague sense of what she wanted to do next. Eventually, she pursued a master’s in business administration from Columbia University because she hoped a business degree might exempt her from a career as a typist. She was one of only four women in a class of 300 at Columbia.

 

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For a woman who wasn’t sure where she was going, she was already knocking on glass ceilings.

Several decades and many job titles later—none of them “typist”—Lazarus is now the former CEO and chair emerita of advertising giant Ogilvy & Mather. During her tenure, she was a leader in the advertising industry, building the brand images of such household names as American Express, IBM and Dove. She regularly appeared in Fortune magazine’s annual ranking of the 50 most powerful women in American business. She is also a recipient of the Advertising Educational Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

In an address at Smith in 2005, she said she fell in love with the advertising industry.

“I found advertising and I found a company that valued ideas over gender, that balanced hard work with humanity, a place that allowed me to be as successful as I wanted to be,” she said. “I didn’t go looking for the corner office. It found me.”

Lazarus, who has three children, has been outspoken about a work-life balance. Rather than asking, “Can I have it all?” she has urged women to ask, “What do I really want?”

 

Anita Volz Wien ’62

As a teenager living in postwar Germany, Anita Volz Wien ’62 navigated various languages, cultures and political ideologies. One could say she’s doing the same thing today.

 

 

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Wien is chair of the Observatory Group, a macro-economic and political advisory firm that monitors political and economic events on behalf of their investor clients. Wien guides investors to stay ahead of the curve on policy developments that may affect their investments again, working across languages, cultures and politics.

Wien, who is fluent in German and French, said that “understanding different cultures and speaking a foreign language are valuable tools both personally and professionally.”

These tools have served her well. Wien was a partner and vice chairman of the G7 group and served as senior vice president of Oxford Analytica. She led a 20-year career in brokerage, investment management and commercial banking, holding positions with European American Bank, Chase, and Lehman Brothers and was a partner of the merged firm Weiss, Peck and Greer.

At Smith, Wien majored in European history, and she said the college prepared her to succeed in business. “The richness of the environment and the number of individuals by whom I was surrounded for four years inspired me to find a field where I could grow and progress.”

Wien has sat on numerous boards and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Economic Club of New York and the Women’s Forum. She is a trustee emerita of Smith College.

Dureen Shahnaz ’89

When she was a young girl growing up in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Dureen Shahnaz ’89 was taught to always give to others when she could. This sense of social responsibility has stuck with her—and ultimately culminated into a career.

 

 

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In 2011, after years as an investment banker and a publishing executive for Harper’sMarie Claire and Oprah, Shahnaz founded Impact Investment Exchange (IIX), Asia’s first socially responsible stock exchange. Among the companies listed on IIX are those that give micro-loans to female entrepreneurs in rural areas and provide low-income housing or sustainable food security solutions.

The IIX has gained strong international support for its social mission, including a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. Shahnaz says her decision to focus on a social stock exchange rather than a nonprofit or charity organization was strategic.

“There is room for charities in the world, but I am interested in sustainable development, thus the interest in social enterprises—for-profit or not-for-profit companies focused on a social mission with a market orientation,” she said. “They need to be able to attract investments for which they can give a return and really show they can be financially viable as well.”

Mia Abruzzese ’87

Mia Abruzzese ’87 is always one step ahead. First, she popularized the walking shoe for New Balance in the early 1990s, just before the walking-as-exercise craze took hold. Then, while working at Stride Rite, she saw a gap in the children’s shoe industry for cute yet highly durable shoes. As a response, in 2003, she started Morgan & Milo, a children’s footwear company, and she hit her stride.

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“The children’s market was ripe for someone to address the needs of the successful, independent-thinking, fashion-conscious, thirty-something parent with young children,” Abruzzese said.

Turns out her instincts were right. The company’s shoes, which come in playful colors and designs and include clogs, boots and suede tennis shoes, are available throughout the country and even internationally.

In 2011, the company expanded into children’s apparel. In an interview with CircleUp, a crowdfunding platform for entrepreneurs, Abruzzese says the line has been growing ever since.

“We have really nice traction, great catalog accounts, and lots of independent retailers,” she said. “The apparel line has been very well received. And the apparel market is probably four times the size of the footwear market.”

She has strong advice for fellow entrepreneurs looking to dip a toe in the apparel market: “If you don’t love it, it’s never going to take off,” she told CircleUp. “You have to love what you’re doing and you have to love what you’re making and designing. That’s really what makes a difference, because it’s not easy.”