The Glass Breakers

The Glass Breakers

Countless women have seen farther in business on the shoulders of these giants. Now the women they’ve supported return the favor – and push them to the top of PINK’s exclusive list.

By James Burroughs

If it’s true, as Madeleine Albright once said, that there’s a place in hell reserved for women who don’t help other women, then it seems only fitting that the corollary be true as well: Surely there’s an exalted seat in the sweet hereafter for the women who do.

We like to think so. In today’s business world especially, the idea of women helping women has become something far more heartfelt and deeply meaningful than the old-boy network and its ancient essence of You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. For women, upholding other women rises to a passion – a selfless art form, really – but in practice it’s less common than you might expect.

So for PINK’s fourth annual list of the Top Women in Business, we’ve given special recognition to the “Glass-Breakers” – 15 remarkable women who not only have achieved great personal heights in their own careers, but also have worked diligently to advance hundreds of other women in business. “They’ve turned their battle scars into a positive,” says Ernst & Young partner Billie Williamson, Americas inclusiveness officer. “Each of these women reached back and helped other women rise through the ranks. That’s the sign of a true leader.”

But a “glass-breaker”? Certainly the concept of the glass ceiling is as outdated as the secretarial pool and shoulder pads. Women’s career trajectories face more of a labyrinth today, one full of twists and turns and dead ends but with the ultimate prize there for the taking at the end (see Eagly and Carli’s “Welcome to the Labyrinth,” May.June 2008). Yet it’s hard to give up the old metaphor entirely when there’s still something from that bygone era gnawing at us, something left to be smashed: a lingering pay gap and unequal numbers for women in boardrooms and C-suites, to be sure; but more importantly, the toxic idea that ambitious women should somehow feel threatened by – and even try to vanquish – other ambitious women working toward the top.

The 15 women on the pages that follow have fought that idea throughout their storied careers. They know that women’s success is contagious and self-sustaining. It empowers rather than imperils. (The numbers back them up, too: U.S. companies headed by women tend to have more women in executive positions and board seats, according to new research by Corporate Women Directors International.) Put another way, they know that when one woman wins, we all do.

So to tell these decidedly personal tales of women helping women, we looked beyond the stellar résumés and individual achievements alone and asked 15 other women – each remarkable in her own right – to tell us straight from the heart how our Glass-Breakers have helped them. (You can read their full bios here.) The result is a single emotional portrait in 15 brush strokes of a uniquely feminine altruism as beautiful as it is inspiring. It’s a portrait we all would do well to imitate.

Shaunna F. Black
, Vice President and Manager, Worldwide Facilities
Texas Instruments Inc.

Manages the design, construction and operation of facilities worldwide for the $13.8 billion technology manufacturer.

By Dr. Judy Zimny

As a newly assigned principal to a high-need elementary school in Dallas, I wasn’t sure I really had time to engage in a school-business partnership with a Texas Instruments executive. Shaunna Black had similar misgivings at our polite introduction. But when Shaunna asked me what I thought would most help the 1,300-student school become a better place, I said, almost without thinking, “I need to improve myself.”

That was the beginning. Committed to developing female leadership, and intrigued by the challenges of public education, Shaunna soon began showing me how the same strategies that drove results in worldwide corporate settings could also lead to success within urban school environments. Over the last 14 years, the lessons I’ve learned from her have contributed to my success and guided me through various leadership roles, including my current position. Shaunna helped me build upon my belief that all people want to be great by helping me understand that as a leader, it is my job to identify and remove barriers to others’ success. She taught me to use questioning effectively to help people create their own solutions instead of counting on me to provide the answers. She even followed me around the school’s hallways one afternoon, gently tugging on my sleeve whenever she heard me giving an answer when I should have been using questions to help others produce their own answers.

Perhaps most importantly, Shaunna developed my ability to be the kind of leader who builds heroes – instead of being the hero.

Judy Zimny, Ed.D., is senior vice president of product development for Higher Ed Holdings LLC.

LaVerne H. Council, Corporate Vice President and Chief Information Officer, 
Johnson & Johnson

Responsible for managing information technology and related systems for the $63.7 billion Johnson & Johnson worldwide enterprise.

By Yolanda Conyers

I heard someone say once that Oprah Winfrey was her “Mama Moses” because of her ability to guide people so they can achieve their greatest lives. LaVerne Council is my “Mama Moses.” LaVerne often says, “We don’t live in this world by ourselves; we don’t live for ourselves; we live for others.” And she validates this every day.

I first met LaVerne at Dell 10 years ago. At the time, I was a senior manager with dreams of becoming an executive. LaVerne was the company’s first African-American vice president with a technical background, so I was eager to meet another woman like me who was a “first” at breaking barriers. As I was vying to be promoted into the executive ranks, I was offered a bigger role with the chance for promotion six months later – after I had “proved” myself. LaVerne helped me find the courage and words to stand my ground and advocate for the promotion first, and I got it.

A few years later, I was early in my second pregnancy and leading a new global team when I learned that a medical condition would complicate the pregnancy. LaVerne again gave me the courage I needed to go on bed rest and feel OK with my decision. My son was born full term. And six months later, when I had to leave the company for personal reasons, she supported my decision and reminded me that I was taking care of my health and family – that everything else would fall into place. It did.

I feel truly blessed to count LaVerne as my guide, my Mama Moses and, most of all, my friend.

Yolanda Conyers is vice president of global integration and diversity for Lenovo U.S.

Barbara Cowden
, Executive Vice President, 
State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.

One of three women on the Chairman’s Council at the $62 billion insurer.

By Helene Lerner

My first conversation with Barbara Cowden, in 2000, was a cold call. At the time I was hosting several television shows about women in the workplace, and we immediately bonded as I sought her support. She was deeply committed to advancing women at State Farm; a few months later, the company sponsored one of my shows.

I remember connecting with Barbara again during the week of September 11, 2001. She took the lead in reaching out to State Farm employees and external groups. Barbara’s true concern for what people were going through and how she could help was foremost on her mind. When I pitched sponsorship for a program to empower girls, she was there once again – and we later won an Emmy for Proud to Be a Girl. Barbara keeps an award statue in her office.

Barbara is tenacious. When she knows something is right, she will take on the good fight – not in a way that offends people, but that brings them together. And she has taught me about the importance of right timing. She takes action when the timing is most advantageous. That has contributed to how well-respected she is among her male counterparts too.

When you walk into Barbara’s office, you feel like you’re in her home. When you see her at an event and talk with her, you feel like you’re in her home. You get that you’re in the presence of someone special, and that makes you feel special. I wouldn’t be where I am today without Barbara’s professional support and personal friendship.

Helene Lerner is CEO of Creative Expansions Inc., a multimedia company, and founder of

Julie Gilbert, CEO and Founder, WOLF Means Business

Taking the landmark WOLF program she initiated as former SVP at Best Buy to companies around the world.

By Leslie Grossman and Andrea March

Our lives changed when we met Julie Gilbert. She is a rare breed in the corporate world – a woman who has achieved so much, yet still seeks to change business for women not one person at a time, but thousands of women at a time.

We first met Julie because we thought our business, Women’s Leadership Exchange (WLE), a national leadership development and marketing company, could help with the groundbreaking program she founded at Best Buy called the Women’s Leadership Forum (WOLF). Right away we were overwhelmed and impressed by Julie’s charisma and her passion for women’s business success. She invited us to become part of the first WOLF Omega program, designed to help Best Buy better serve women customers. We both participated as presenters in the 90-day program, then were invited to Best Buy’s headquarters in Minneapolis to meet with top executives. Thanks to Julie’s introduction, we got to share how WLE could help Best Buy get its message out to businesswomen. After several meetings, Best Buy became one of our national corporate partners.

Julie is the strongest advocate that thousands of women professionals and consumers could ever have. “We inspire others to believe in themselves,” she says, “and become someone they never dreamed possible.” When we attended the WOLF conference in Boston last August, we witnessed firsthand how women crowd around her – thrilled to have a few moments of face time, thanking her for all she has done for them. As she continues to spread WOLF’s influence, there’s nothing stopping Julie from changing the world for women.

Leslie Grossman and Andrea March are co-founders of Women’s Leadership Exchange.

Béatrice Guillaume-Grabisch
President, Germany Business Unit
The Coca-Cola Co.

Leads The Coca-Cola Co. in Germany, one of Coke’s leading markets worldwide with 12,000 people working for the Coca-Cola system.

By Lydia Lux-Schmitt

I’ve known Béatrice Guillaume-Grabisch since the early 1990s but began working closely with her in 1998, when we were part of the management team for Johnson & Johnson’s consumer division in Germany. What always struck me about Béatrice is her professionalism, which remains constant even in challenging times. She exemplifies leadership, in part, because she is universally revered as very balanced and team-oriented. She’s a phenomenal relationship-builder with the ability to shape opinions. People like to work for and with her.

Béatrice and I formed a friendship in those days, and that friendship and mutual mentorship has had an immeasurable impact on my career. She has been my sounding board, a source of constructive feedback and my champion. Many women go to her for support and her honest opinion. She also has a passion for developing young female talent and goes out of her way to provide coaching and mentoring. Already, in her short time at The Coca-Cola Co. (since 2006), Béatrice has fostered networking, leadership and mentoring opportunities for women associates in Germany, Europe and across the globe. She’s an active part of the company’s 15-member Women’s Leadership Council, a new advisory body sponsored by President and CEO Muhtar Kent, which is designed to help The Coca-Cola Co. accelerate the global recruitment, development, advancement and retention of women, particularly at senior leadership levels.

Many people inspire with words, but Béatrice has a unique ability to inspire with her actions. She leads by example – and helps other women enjoy their own taste of success.

Lydia Lux-Schmitt is European senior finance director for Bristol-Myers Squibb Germany.

Linda Heasley, 
Chairman and CEO, 
The Limited Stores Inc.

Rejuvenating the half-billion-dollar apparel retailer after its sale in 2007.

By Leslie Faust

We had an expression at one of my former companies that was the basis for an award and was meant as the highest compliment. The expression was “Whole Person.” When I think of that benchmark, the most inspiring whole person I’ve ever known is Linda Heasley.

When I first met Linda I was the new SVP of merchandising at Bath and Body Works. She was the SVP of planning. I was awed by her command of the business and her deep and broad contributions across the $3 billion organization. I knew immediately that she was pivotal to the success of the business – not only by financial performance measures, but culturally as well. I thought, I want to know this woman. Linda became my mentor overnight. After quickly chatting about our career backgrounds, she understood and anticipated the transition I would be going through. Linda was my chief source of information and inspiration throughout our time at Limited Brands.

Four and a half years later, she and I are both CEOs: I’m a brand new CEO at GoSmile, a beauty smile company, and Linda is well-established as the successful CEO of an independent, privately owned Limited Stores. She is still there for me. I call her often and ask her my “new CEO” questions, and she gives me wise, practical and objective advice. Before I started, for example, she warned me that legal issues and non-value-added issues can take up most of your time, and she was right. Her warning has helped me stay focused on revenue-building and profit management.

Linda is an exemplary mentor to me, both professional and personal, and I know we’ll be friends for life.

Leslie Faust is CEO of GoSmile.

Hala Moddelmog
, President and CEO
, Susan G. Komen for the Cure

Commands the fight against breast cancer – and pledges $2 billion more in aid over the next decade.

By Melinda Ennis-Roughton

I first met Hala Moddelmog 24 years ago when we were both starting out at the same company, Arby’s Restaurants. After leaving Arby’s, she came back a few years later and worked for me. More recently I was her chief marketing officer when she was president of Church’s Chicken. Even in those early years, a key to her success was her ability to be competitive and ambitious without the Machiavellian tendencies that too often accompany those traits.

It’s an inner strength and certitude that allow Hala to achieve without measuring herself against her peers, especially her peers that happen to be women. Men build networks in the workplace, but I believe women build communities. And Hala’s professional community has never been one based on status, income or titles. When Hala was at Church’s, she would walk into a restaurant and be greeted with warmth by everyone from the dishwasher to the fry cook, but especially by the women employees. She was a wonderful role model because she was so down-to-earth, and they personally related to her achievement. Mind you, there were more than 1,600 restaurants, but I know there were women employees at the store level (often single women raising kids) who would call her for advice and help. And she always knew their names and recalled their stories.

Whether it’s a young woman who is just starting her path, or a peer who has fallen on hard times, Hala sees beneath the surface and remembers her own start, or her own hard times, and reaches out on that basis – woman to woman.

Melinda Ennis-Roughton is executive director and CMO of Brand Atlanta.

Karen B. Peetz
, CEO of Issuer, Treasury, Broker-Dealer and Alternative Investment Services
, The Bank of New York Mellon

Responsible for more than 30 percent of the corporation’s $15 billion in revenue.

By Sarah Diamond

When meeting Karen Peetz, you’re struck by her gentle grace and elegance – qualities unexpected in someone who leads 10,000 employees in more than 70 locations around the world. Karen and I became friends through our shared interest in supporting and sponsoring women’s careers. A few years ago, I invited her to the annual Merit Award dinner of the Women’s Bond Club of New York (WBC), one of the most influential organizations for women in financial services. Karen quickly determined to use the WBC as a platform to launch a women’s initiative for The Bank of New York Mellon, and the Women’s Initiative Network (WIN) was born.

Karen has since been the driving force behind the success and rapid expansion of WIN. Its official membership now stands at 2,000 in the U.S., and as a result of Karen’s guidance, WIN has become the template for three other affinity networks at the company. Her hectic job notwithstanding, Karen ensures that some time on her packed schedule each day is set aside for the important task of thinking. It’s a practice that, after listening to Karen, I too have tried hard to adopt.

Last April, I was delighted to watch Karen receive the WBC’s 2008 Merit Award, recognizing her contributions to the industry and women’s advancement. As Karen said when accepting the award: Women can best support their careers by setting clear goals and regularly evaluating their progress. She not only demonstrates these tactics herself, but also goes out of her way to help other women do the same.

Sarah Diamond is head of Strategy and Global Industries for IBM Global Business Services.

Laurie N. Robinson, Vice President and Assistant General Counsel, CBS Corp.

Manages legal affairs for more than 150 CBS radio and television stations nationwide.

By Teri McClure

I first met Laurie Robinson in 2004 when she was developing an organization to connect women attorneys of color – now called Corporate Counsel Women of Color, which Laurie leads as CEO on top of her legal career. She was planning her first conference that year, so I reached out to her. Right away I found Laurie to be a dynamic young lady who is committed to improving opportunities for women of color. She doesn’t do this to further her own career, but genuinely wants to help others. Today the CCWC has more than 2,300 members. Laurie also manages an e-mail list that allows other attorneys to find job opportunities, and she speaks at college-level programs to help aspiring attorneys understand the practice of law and what it takes to be successful. Even at a relatively young age, Laurie has the profound wisdom to know that, as professional women, it’s never too late for us to do something different. You just have to get started and take it one step at a time, she says.

Together we have a mutually inspiring relationship. I’m encouraged by her energy and drive, and her vibrant conferences have created a valuable new network for me. In turn, I encourage her in her own career by sharing advice, such as the importance of drawing boundaries and maintaining a spiritual life. Laurie’s help of others will continue to drive her own achievement. In whatever she wants to do, she’ll succeed.

Teri McClure is senior vice president of legal, compliance and public affairs, and general counsel and corporate secretary, for UPS.

Elaine A. Sarsynski, Chairman and CEO, MassMutual International LLC;
 Executive Vice President, Retirement Services, 
Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co.

Directs both retirement and international business with more than $63 billion in assets under management.

By Debra Palermino

If you asked me why I decided to leave a successful management consulting and leadership development practice three years ago, two words sum it up: Elaine Sarsynski.
Elaine and I worked for another financial services company two decades ago. Although I didn’t know her personally at the time, she had a reputation then as a rising star in our investments division. Some 17 years later, a former mutual colleague asked me to help Elaine “think through a few things” in her new role at MassMutual. My plate was full at the time, but that’s when I learned that it’s hard to say “no” to Elaine. You just don’t want to.

Elaine has accomplished so much since joining MassMutual three years ago. But what has impressed me most about her is that she brings the same zeal, energy and passion to helping others succeed, especially women, as she does to her job. She has a unique blend of respectfulness, humility and earnestness that enables her to connect with other women, whether it’s in the office or community, or when she’s traveling the globe.

Now I really know why I said “yes” to Elaine three short years ago – “yes” to help her initially, and later “yes” to join her full time at MassMutual once she made it clear it was the right career move for me. Elaine remains impeccably focused on the end result while having fun on the journey, and she attracts the trust and respect of others very quickly – just like she did with me.

Debra Palermino is senior vice president of corporate human resources for MassMutual.

Ann Sherry, CEO, Carnival Australia

Recently led Australia’s largest cruise operator through its biggest season ever, serving 168,000 passengers on 12 ships.

By Irene Natividad

Ann Sherry has a killer smile that envelops anyone she beams it on. It hints of warmth and mischief at the same time, and it never fails to charm and disarm simultaneously. This smile reflects her ability to connect with all kinds of people, particularly other women – a trait that has stood her well throughout her career.

Ann began in government, where she eventually advised Australia’s prime minister as first assistant secretary of the Office of the Status of Women. Her commitment to advancing women stayed with her as she moved into banking, becoming the first woman CEO of the Bank of Melbourne and, later on, the first to lead Westpac New Zealand.

Ann doubled the bottom line at both banks, but perhaps her signature triumph was instituting paid maternity leave at Westpac, which resulted in a 94 percent return rate after childbirth among women employees. Mentoring other women is a given for Ann, who never fails to find opportunities to grow her employees’ talents. And since 1998 she’s been part of the yearly Global Summit of Women, too, where she gives me advice as part of the International Planning Committee. Often it’s not just the advice but also the warmth in which it’s packaged that I look forward to most.

In 2004, Ann was awarded the Order of Australia for her promotion of corporate management practices that embrace gender equity, social justice and work/family partnerships. “I guess my life philosophy is focused on the sort of footprint you leave behind,” she says, “and I don’t think that a banknote is the sort of footprint I want to leave behind.”

Irene Natividad is co-chair of Corporate Women Directors International and founder and president of GlobeWomen Inc.

Laurie A. Tucker
, Senior Vice President, Corporate Marketing, 
FedEx Services

Leads the creative team that makes the $38 billion business services provider a household name.

By Dr. Shirley Raines

As woman executives and Tennessee natives, Laurie Tucker and I connected almost instantly after I was named the first woman president of the University of Memphis. Early in my tenure, I was able to draw upon Laurie’s professional experience, her amazing instincts and her deep relationships, as well as her spirit and infectious enthusiasm.

When I first came to Memphis, I didn’t know many people, but Laurie made sure she introduced me to key people across the city. She opened doors for future partnerships and friendships, all of which have benefited me professionally and personally. As an expert in branding and image management, for example, she was able to help me through a difficult time as our university struggled with building its own image and reputation. Not only did she give me personal advice, but she also connected me with two national firms with whom we then formed a business relationship.

My friendship with Laurie runs deeper than the fact that we are two executives who share a deep desire to help other women excel. Laurie is also an alumna and board member of our university, so her passion for our success runs especially deep. She was integral to the development of the FedEx Institute of Technology, the FedEx Center for Supply Chain Management and the FedEx Scholars MBA program, all of which have positioned us to attract the best students, women and men, from around the world. She continually reaches out to me to find out what she can do to make a difference.

Shirley Raines, Ph.D., is president of the University of Memphis.

Lisa M. Weber
, President, Individual Business
MetLife Inc.

Combined operating earnings for her business units have doubled under her watch to nearly $2 billion.

By Jennifer Suarez

Instinct, courage and action. Those are three things about Lisa Weber that have influenced my career and have worked for me. And I’ve been fortunate enough to watch these qualities take her places. She inspires many women and men alike, both at work and in life. That’s what sets Lisa apart.

I first encountered Lisa in 1990 when I was at Accenture and she was at PaineWebber. Even back then, I knew she was on her way. Talk about instincts: Lisa quickly sizes up situations and recognizes what’s at the heart of the matter. She surrounds herself with the right talent and gets input from everyone involved. Then she uses her own instincts and judgment. I still remember her encouraging me to be totally prepared, trust my gut and then take a position. “Make a decision and speak for it!” she urged me. Through this style and leadership, Lisa builds high-performing teams who will knock themselves out for her.

She also coaches people to have the courage to take the right risks. Her advice still rings in my ears: “Get out of your comfort zone!” That’s exactly what she has done. Lisa stepped away from her role as MetLife’s chief administrative officer and her long-standing human resources background when she took her current position in 2004. She now directs an organization with almost $20 billion in annual revenue, a sales force more than 12,000 strong and 9,000 administrative associates. For 19 years I’ve watched Lisa “walk the talk,” and her example has helped stimulate my own success.

Jennifer Suarez is senior vice president of workforce development for CBS Corp.

Amy Whitley, Vice President of Human Resources

Oversees global HR systems for the world’s largest package delivery company.

By Joyce LaValle

When I first met Amy Whitley at a Human Resource Leadership Foundation (HRLF) meeting three years ago, I was immediately struck by her warmth and her ability to make the small group open up and share ideas and best practices. I was very impressed with Amy’s passion for the broader UPS culture and how she lived the ideals of that culture.

But Amy has particular zeal for the work of Women’s Leadership, a women’s affinity group at UPS that has helped many women at the company move into senior roles. As an HR leader within my own company, I quickly realized that Amy herself had set the stage at UPS for this enlightened, diverse culture.

Through subsequent HRLF meetings, my understanding and appreciation for Amy’s leadership has grown. At another meeting, after I shared my company’s sustainability vision, Amy and I spoke enthusiastically about all the ways in which women influence this movement. She then, in turn, became a strong supporter of The Women’s Network for Sustainability, an organization founded by a group of women over seven years ago to explore the important roles that women play in advancing sustainability within organizations. Now Amy’s understanding of both women’s issues and sustainability are tremendous assets to UPS – and to the Earth where her multinational company operates.

Great and even unexpected things can happen when women support other women. I know that through Amy’s leadership, she will be the catalyst of a strong sustainability movement at UPS in the future. As one woman to another, I admire and appreciate her for her passion, energy and leadership – altogether a great role model for women everywhere.

Joyce LaValle is senior vice president of associate and customer engagement for Interface Inc.

Virginia M. Wilson, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, Wyndham Worldwide Corp.

Directs financial strategy and compliance for the $4.4 billion hospitality company.

By Gwenn Carr

Gina Wilson and I met when she joined MetLife as chief accounting officer. At the time, I also was a relative newcomer to the company, which was in the process of going public. We all were devoting tremendous amounts of time and energy to assure a successful outcome, and during it all, Gina stood out for her professionalism and poised presence. As I spent more time working with her on projects, notably when corporate America was grappling with Sarbanes-Oxley, I noticed another special quality about Gina: She is unfailingly generous in sharing her wisdom and insight, especially with other women.

Finally, one or the other of us suggested getting together outside of the office with two other women from MetLife. Once we did, we had so much fun that we made it a point to get together to celebrate birthdays and promotions, or just to share a laugh about something that had happened to one of us. We would talk about fashion, the theater, books we had read, or cities or countries we wanted to explore – as well as our personal hopes and dreams. The friendship and the camaraderie were special, and being able to rely on Gina for advice and support helped me become a better professional.

Though she eventually left MetLife to take on new challenges, I can still count on her when things are not going well. Most importantly, I know that she will be there to celebrate my victories and be happy for my happiness.

Gwenn Carr is vice president and secretary of MetLife Inc.
This article originally appeared in the Q2 2009 issue of PINK Magazine.

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