Throughout this academic year, the University’s Jepson Leadership Forum has explored the theme “Game Changers: How Women Lead and Change the World.” Speakers in the series have included award-winning authors, scholars, athletes, historians, and activists.
The forum’s theme is very much appropriate at Richmond, where the rich tradition of preparing women for the responsibilities of leadership extends from the founding of Westhampton College to the present day. The many alumnae who have distinguished themselves as leaders exemplify that tradition. In that spirit, here are the stories of six women leaders who got their start at Richmond.
Melanie Liddle Healey, B’83, who today is group president, North America, for Procter & Gamble, first got interested in marketing when she was a student in Thomas D. Giese’s marketing class. “His classes were inspirational. He would always ask provocative questions at the beginning of each lecture and would always push for the consumer insight,” she says. “This is where I developed a passion for marketing.”
Healey, who was recently ranked 13th on Fortune’s list of the “50 Most Powerful Women in Business,” joined Procter & Gamble after working for S.C. Johnson & Sons and Johnson & Johnson in Brazil. She oversees P&G’s largest market, with 41 percent of the company’s global revenues. Her responsibilities include go-to-market execution, customer business development and top-to-top relationships, business logistics, the launch of new initiatives, and multi-brand scale innovation such as a 10-year deal to sponsor the Olympics. “It’s a great way to activate the scale of our company,” she says, adding that the campaign will be themed “Thank You Mom.” “We have a lot to do with moms. They buy our products every day.”
Her approach to leadership is to “inspire, not inspect,” with a focus on energizing the organization. “I like to get people motivated, excited, and happy about working on what they are passionate about,” she says. “As a leader, you have to remember that at the end of the day everyone is watching you. You need to remember the victories, re-energize the organization, and make sure you stay confident and have the courage to take the calculated risks you need to take to grow the business.”
Healey learned some of her most valuable lessons when she left her home in Brazil to attend the University. It was her first trip to the United States and it was an eye-opening experience. “There was a lot to absorb,” she says. “Everything was so new to me.” Coming to Richmond from a military dictatorship with a closed economy, Healey found a different culture and a multitude of choices. “I realized that people grow up in different environments and just because someone doesn’t know something only means they had a different experience. It was my goal to understand what that experience was and learn from it,” she says. “I learned to never take people or anything for granted.”
The campus is different today than it was when Healey attended school. “I was one of five international students,” she says. “This year, the University had 9 percent international students in the entering class.”
Like many successful executives, Healey strives for balance in her life. “You have to reinvest in personal relationships, family, and friendships that provide support. When all that is balanced I refer to it as my ‘happy meter.’ If I am happy, I can keep going. If I am unhappy, I know it’s time to make a change.”
Last year, Healey became an American citizen. She credits the University with playing a role in making her fall in love with this country. “Richmond is an eternal part of my life,” she says. Indeed, the busy executive made time this past February to visit campus and speak with students.
Jennifer Pogorelec O’Sullivan, ’96, credits networking and a sports-related internship for steering her to Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS), where she serves as the league’s chief executive officer.
“I was incredibly lucky,” she says. “My first job in the sports industry was an internship for David Falk, Michael Jordan’s agent. At the time, he represented all the major players in the NBA.” O’Sullivan used that experience and a law degree to cultivate a network that led to positions with the National Football League, the Arena Football League, and the Constituency Management Group. “Networking is so important,” she says. “But it’s really about building good relationships and cultivating those relationships.”
Challenges she faced when the Arena Football League fell into bankruptcy made her a stronger leader. “I started to see that I could do other things in business and not just have to be a lawyer,” she said.
In her current role overseeing the business side of WPS, she has the chance to empower women in sports. She relishes that opportunity. “It’s a tremendous amount of responsibility,” she says. “It’s important for me to help provide an opportunity for women in sports. It’s exciting.”
O’Sullivan describes her style of leadership as “relaxed and down-to-earth.” She believes in leading by example. “I try to relate to people on all levels,” she says. “I don’t always look at myself as a CEO. Everybody’s role is critical and I appreciate the people in every role. As a leader, it’s important to do that.”
She began developing her leadership skills at Richmond with the help of her professors and participation in Kappa Kappa Gamma and heading up campus intramurals. “I clearly made the right decision in where to go to school,” she says. O’Sullivan was on campus in February sharing her career experiences as a panelist on a student program titled “Spiders in Sports and Sports Management.”
While O’Sullivan knew the career path she wanted to take when she was in college, she recognizes that’s not the case for everyone. She encourages students to volunteer, participate in internships, and talk with people about their careers. “See what you like and what you don’t like,” she says.
For O’Sullivan, the mentoring relationships she’s had throughout her career are essential to her success. “It’s nice to have another woman you can talk to about what is going on in your career and your personal life,” she says. “Someone you can go to for advice.”
She finds it encouraging that more and more women are stepping into leadership roles in the competitive sports environment. “It’s hard for women to make inroads,” she says. “I’m seeing more seasoned women taking women under their wing and helping to provide opportunities for them to be successful. We need to make sure we continue to provide younger women with the resources they need.”
As a student, Gayle Goodson Butler, W’73, found that she had a knack for writing and worked on The Collegian. “[Journalism professor] Joe Nettles was so influential in shaping my journalism skills and helping me believe in myself,” she says. “He was a great advocate and mentor.” That strong foundation continues to inform Butler’s work directly—today she is editor-in-chief of Better Homes and Gardens magazine and executive vice president and creative content leader of Meredith Corporation’s National Media Group.
In that role, Butler oversees all editorial content, including the magazine’s website, digital editions, mobile apps, special interest publications, and books. The magazine has a circulation of 7.6 million and a monthly readership of 38 million. She also serves as the chief editorial spokesperson and advisor for all 22 of the magazines that Meredith publishes.
The publishing industry, she says, is moving quickly from a print focus to a media mix. “There is always something new,” she says. “You’re learning new skills and using new parts of your brain.”
Her collaborative style of leadership serves her well in that fast-paced environment. “In an organization like ours, with so many different types of media platforms and outlets, you have to surround yourself with very smart people and empower them to reach our goals,” she says. “We work as a team to create a consistent consumer experience and great content.”
Butler believes strongly in helping people on her team reach their full potential. “You want to tap into what others have to offer,” she says. “That helps you reach your goal.”
She describes herself as an “honest listener,” a skill she acquired after attending an active listening seminar when she was a rising junior at Westhampton. “I found that so valuable,” she says.
As a first-year student, Butler was shy and had a difficult time expressing her interest in leadership. Her experiences on campus helped build her confidence. “There are so many ways to step into leadership at Westhampton,” she says. “It was instrumental in helping me find my voice and my feet in leadership.”
Given that career paths for women today are much less defined than they were in the past, Butler says “that old ladder where you step up the rungs is not there anymore. You have to be flexible and look where your field is going and move with it. You have to take more ownership of your career path.”
Amy O’Neill Richard, W’87, and her peers at the U.S. Department of State view human trafficking as “modern day slavery.” As an alumna, she is proud that the Jepson School of Leadership Studies had the insight to hold a forum on Abraham Lincoln’s Legacy of Leadership regarding emancipation. “We feel strongly that Lincoln and his legacy are really important,” she says.
The issue of human rights, especially for women and children, has always been close to Richard’s heart. She knew as a student that she wanted to pursue a career with a world focus. Her interest grew after working as a study abroad advisor and studying in London for a semester. After graduation, she spent time in Switzerland, Spain, Guatemala, and Kenya, and has now traveled to 50 countries. “Each experience reinforced my interest in people, culture, and travel,” she says.
As senior advisor to the director in the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Richard develops strategies to counter human trafficking, establishes public/private partnerships, and promotes research. Her groundbreaking report on international trafficking was used to support the drafting of U.S. anti-trafficking legislation.
Richard’s leadership style draws out and leverages the expertise and talents of her colleagues. She is an advocate of building consensus. “That translates to greater buy-in and sustainability over the long run,” she says.
She credits her solid foundation of writing, analytical, and briefing skills, as well as her understanding of people and cultures, to Westhampton College. “What I love about Westhampton is that it stresses the importance of being a lifetime learner and global citizen,” she says. “It instills the value of learning outside of the classroom and seeing everything as a teachable moment.”
Richard loves her work and believes that passion has fueled her success. “If you love what you do, you will want to know everything about your subject matter and become an expert in the field,” she says. “People seek experts because they possess information and can distill options and make recommendations.”
When faced with challenges, Richard grounds herself by putting things into perspective. “I really try to look for the lesson or silver lining in every situation,” she says. “At work, if I have a problem I consult a colleague. I get some additional advice and break the issue into manageable parts. When all else fails, I know I’m coming home to my husband and kids.”
She believes there is more support and recognition of strong female leaders in government today. “They are found at all levels,” she says, adding that some of her greatest heroes are female trafficking survivors who have gone on to help other women. “All of these women take such strength in feeling they are part of a movement and that they are not alone.”
When she was a Westhampton student, Karen Wimbish, W’75, knew only one speed. “I was a very driven, motivated student,” she says. “I always wanted to get an A.”
Still a hard worker, Wimbish leads Wells Fargo Retail Retirement, part of Wells Fargo Retirement. She believes her double major in math and economics was the perfect foundation for her current position. A math major at first, Wimbish found economics to be a dry subject until she enrolled in Russell Warren’s labor economics class. “I absolutely loved it,” she says. “It helped my career. That shaped where I was going.”
Prior to joining Wells Fargo, Wimbish spent 17 years at United Virginia Bank, now part of SunTrust, and found it was difficult for women to stand out. She gained momentum when she moved to the investment side of her field. “I had to get all my securities licenses and the Chartered Financial Analyst designation in mid-career,” she says. “I picked up a lot of new technical tools. It was a great situation.”
In her current position, Wimbish focuses on implementing strategies that engage customers in retirement planning, products, and services. Her situational leadership style requires her to be a hands-on leader. “You have to lead in a direct way and go shoulder to shoulder with employees,” she says. “My job is to encourage, motivate, and lead.”
She has never shied away from stretch assignments. “It’s all about being intuitive, paying attention to what’s around you, and taking risks,” she says.
If there is a bump in the road, she leans on her support system, which includes friends she made at Westhampton. “I believe in having family support and making sure you have a group of friends that can help you see yourself more clearly in a kind way,” she says. She also believes in having a mentor at work. “A mentor who has more visibility and line of sight in the organization can help you develop your skills,” she says.
Working in the community and serving on boards is important for anyone in a leadership position, Wimbish believes. “I learned so much from being on boards. It’s all about influencing and convincing people through persuasion.”
Who you are is more important than what you do, she adds. “Don’t let yourself be defined by your job,” she counsels.
Westhampton, she says, was the launching pad to her career. “It was a comfortable place to be. I knew my professors and they knew me. I wasn’t just a name and number,” she says. “It all led to a very blessed life.”
When lawyer Patricia M.C. Brown, W’82, was first tapped to be president of Johns Hopkins HealthCare LLC in 2000, she called the job a temporary career diversion. “In the last year or two I have recognized that this is my career,” she says.
Brown oversees the administration of all Johns Hopkins managed care products for more than 300,000 individuals enrolled in self-funded employer, Medicaid, and Department of Defense health benefit plans. She also provides legal advice in managed care and regulatory compliance as well as health care reform in her role as senior counsel for The Johns Hopkins Health System.
She became interested in health care law when she first started working at the Maryland Office of the Attorney General, where she later served as assistant attorney general in the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
A problem solver, Brown describes her leadership style as “mission and fact driven.”
“In order for me to feel confident that my decisions are good decisions, I am attentive to the facts,” she says. “I take responsibility for knowing the details of the business.”
Brown believes in delegating responsibilities to her team. “I spend a lot of time working on team dynamics,” she says. “It’s important for me to work on the culture of the organization. I take personal responsibility for that.”
Each month, she holds town-hall-style meetings to share news, introduce new employees, and recognize employees for their good work. She is known among her staff as a hugger. “We have fun and that is important,” she says. “This is what you spend the majority of your time doing. It needs to be enjoyable and fulfilling.”
A political science and sociology major at the University, Brown also took many anthropology classes, which she believes helped prepare her for a legal career and strengthened her commitment to the public. “When you are in college and have the luxury of taking courses that really interest you, it’s not unusual that those learnings would help direct you,” she says.
In 2010, Brown served as Leader-in-Residence during the spring semester at the Jepson School of Leadership Studies and was fascinated by the school’s program. “I wish it had been there when I was there,” she says.
Brown doesn’t consider herself ambitious but she is very focused and not easily intimidated. “You have to pay attention to what is going on,” she says. “You have to be thoughtful about the road you are on. I am definitely in a transition. Health care is changing and my role is expanding. As I go down the road, each corner I turn I am fully aware of where it’s taking me.”
In 2012, the halls of the University abound with young women who are developing their own leadership skills. Clearly, the many future women leaders who are now studying at Richmond are following in the footsteps of the alumnae— including the six women profiled here—who blazed a path before them.
The University welcomes news of alumni; email relevant information to email@example.com. In addition, we encourage alumni to register through SpiderConnect at cdc.richmond.edu/resources/career-network.html for Richmond’s Career Network so that students may contact you for career advice.
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