C-suite Females: Three Successful Women s Views. By: Shannon Stith, CPA, RP, CGMA, MBA. February 2012

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1 C-suite Females: Three Successful Women s Views By: Shannon Stith, CPA, RP, CGMA, MBA February 2012 The percentage of females in the C-suite has increased from less than 5% in the 1960s to almost 16% in In addition, the success for females has been defined by exhibiting some key characteristics 2, including confidence, determination, and innovation. This cultural change and success of women to the ranks of the C-suite has been a journey that can be fondly looked upon by the three women who contributed to this article. Each woman has entered the C-suite from differing motivations, career paths, and educations. For example, Leslie Kelly Hall was raised to thrive on success and to disregard gender barriers. An instance of perseverance is demonstrated by Bernadette Madarieta, who learned worth ethic, discipline, and drive while growing up on a dairy. Another example is with Lori Smith who, with luck on her side, patiently climbed the corporate ladder while the change in the way society viewed females as executives was occurring. These are truly amazing women who were willing to share their experiences and provide a glimpse into their C-suite journey. Is successfully arriving in the C-suite determined by the aspirations set out as a young child, a major chosen in college, or the first position after college? Leslie Kelly Hall, Senior VP of Ix Solutions at Healthwise, Inc., pursued a degree in English literature from San Diego State University, but had been raised to have business sense by 1 Catalyst, Women in U.S. Management, (July 2011) 2 Women Presidents Organization, Marsha Firestone, Ph.D., Personal Characteristics of Successful Women Entrepreneurs, Entreprenuers (July 2011) 1 P a g e

2 her parents, who were Vice President of Marketing and Sales for Magnavox and a computer programmer. After college, Hall joined Harris/Lanier where she became a standout by using her business knowledge to quickly develop a marketing plan to sell computers to GE and Pacific Bell., which allowed her to be a standout for Harris/Lanier. After conquering technology marketing/sales, Hall moved into the healthcare field at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center, where she served as VP of Marketing and IT and VP and Chief Information Officer for over 11 years. She then moved to Healthwise, where she has worked for over 4 years in various C-suite positions, including VP of Products and VP of Policy. Bernadette Madarieta, CPA and VP & Controller for Boise Inc., had always wanted to pursue a career in business. Madarieta acquired her passion for learning and drive during her youth, where she developed a strong work ethic growing up on a dairy. Out of high school, Madarieta pursued a degree in Accounting from Boise State University to help her gain the knowledge and expertise she felt was necessary to pursue her career path. After college, Madarieta worked at large public accounting firms, including Arthur Andersen and KPMG, as an auditor and progressed through the ranks to Assurance and Business Advisory Manager. She was approached by Boise Cascade Corporation to join its financial reporting department in late After having been with Boise Cascade for several years, in 2004 she was promoted to Director of Financial Reporting, and in 2008 became a part of Boise Cascade s C-suite as VP & Controller. In 2011, she joined Boise Inc. as its VP & Controller, where she now manages the areas of accounting and tax. Lori Smith, CFA, VP and Chief Risk Officer for IdaCorp, Inc. and Idaho Power, obtained her degree in information systems from Boise State University. After college, Smith began working her way to the C-suite through the accounting/finance departments at Idaho Power until, 2 P a g e

3 in 2000, she was appointed Director of Strategic Analysis. In this position, she focused on starting and ultimately divesting unregulated subsidiaries. Lori made it to the C-suite in 2004 when she was appointed the VP of Finance and Chief Risk Officer, then became the VP and Chief Risk Officer in 2010, where she enjoys working with business unit employees at all levels in the risk and compliance discipline. Each of these women has been able to accomplish growth in her career and as a person to achieve the C-suite through various avenues. No matter where a person is raised, which major is chosen in college, or that first job after completing college, she can rise to the C-suite by setting and accomplishing goals and disregarding the potential of gender bias set out to accomplish your dreams while avoiding those who attempt to discredit accomplishments due to gender. What have been the greatest challenges as a female while pursuing the C-suite? Madarieta has had a great experience climbing to the C-suite. She has never perceived her gender as an obstacle. Being raised with strong values, she believes that "you can do anything, regardless of gender, with hard work and perseverance." Through this perception, she feels that she has always treated and been treated as an equal by other individuals throughout her career. This has allowed Bernadette to arrive at the C-suite with very little gender challenges. Hall has a similar view and sees challenges not as gender-based but as inherent to the role she is in. She firmly believes that gender should not be an obstacle and that anyone can successfully pursue and achieve a goal with zeal. She attributes this attitude to her parents desire to raise her without thought to gender. In addition, she was significantly influenced by her step-mother Joan Hull 3 a former executive of Celanese and a leader in the National Organization of Women, to remember to always strive for the best and never let gender stand in the way. 3 Hull et al. v. Celanese Corp. 3 P a g e

4 Leslie has used her step-mother s words of struggles for equality as a driving force to continually push forward in her career - no matter your gender you can accomplish great things. What have been the greatest accomplishments in the C-suite as a female? Madarieta has one personal goal that she works diligently towards in the C-suite to ensure personal and professional work-life balance through time management. She left public accounting for corporate America in pursuit of these goals. While she says it can be challenging at times, she has accomplished this in the C-suite by simultaneously balancing personal and professional goals. Madarieta indicates that sometimes the focus is on personal endeavors, while at other times on professional aspirations. She has accomplished this integration of the C-suite and personal life through the shifting of focuses, the support of her family, dedication and perseverance, and the belief that obtaining a balance is possible. What do you see as the difference in the C-suite today compared to when you first began your career? One of the key changes Smith has seen is that early women pioneers in the C-suite have encouraged more diversity. It takes a top leader to drive cultural change in this area, she says. She sees more leaders regardless of gender stepping up to drive that change within various industries. For instance, she has seen male and female executives in her local area that have further encouraged this change in the C-suite dynamics. Another key change Smith has seen is in tolerance of companies for women (and men) with families. Smith explained that she has seen this shift in companies that are becoming more flexible and allowing for better work-life balance. This flexibility has allowed many companies to attract and retain top talent at all levels, including the C-suite. Do you have any words of wisdom for women embarking on the path to the C-suite? 4 P a g e

5 You can be anything you want to be if you set your mind to it, work hard to meet your goals, value others and help them along the way, and always be true to yourself says Madarieta. She also suggests that in addition to working to master your job responsibilities, learn the roles of the person immediately above you. Through this focus on the duties of the role you wish to obtain, you will attain the skills necessary to succeed to the C-suite. Don t take things personally, set realistic goals and have a little luck, says Smith. Taking her own advice, Smith has always thrived on her journey to the C-Suite by not taking things personally in that she has always remembered that when things don t go as planned or another person gets the new job, it s important to keep focused on individual goals. This choice not to take things personally has shaped her attitude and allowed her to achieve the C-suite. Smith states that each person needs to work together to better the company. This teamwork approach is driven by feedback. The C-suite female that can take this feedback and act upon it can climb much more quickly. The key acting upon feedback is to not take it personally. By removing emotions from and the personal aspect of feedback, the ability to portray positive energy versus focusing on negative energy results in greater success while striving for and working in the C-suite. Smith notes that luck involves not only being in the right place at the right time, but also factors that you can control, such as anticipating the skill sets that will be required to fill a future need and sharing your accomplishments with others. There is some luck in each opportunity, but it s recognizing the need and the confidence to raise your hand and step up to the opportunity that leads to success, says Hall. While confidence is a key leadership quality, she notes that confidence alone will not drive career growth. Hall suggests being confident in what you want and standing up to accept a challenge 5 P a g e

6 are what will help bring leaders to the C-suite. She has found that her confidence, along with her direct approach and intelligence, has allowed her greater success in the C-Suite. As can be seen in each of the responses from these extremely accomplished C-suite women, climbing the corporate ladder is a journey that has many paths, with each being very rewarding. Take the time to learn from these and other women while moving through your career. 6 P a g e

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