Not Her Father's Chief Executive
I don't use the word failure very often. It's more like "experiences that we learn from." But one is my junior year abroad in Geneva, Switzerland. I was asked to speak at a United Nations gathering and I worked hard on my speech in French and I was quite pleased. I thought it was quite innovative and clever. But it didn't go very well, and there was this huge silence. My professor said afterward, "Marilyn, your facts have to equal your passion." So I had a lesson in evidence-based decision making.
What are the obstacles and advantages to being a woman leader?
The obstacle is the lack of testosterone; the advantage is the lack of testosterone. On the one hand, women didn't have a lot of opportunities to play sports, and in my era, it was a real disadvantage. I watch my daughters compete, and their self-image doesn't go if they lose. They may be frustrated; they may cry; they may be discouraged. And I've seen men cry when they lost games. And I think being free to risk and win and lose is really important.
Another obstacle is representation. Studies show that if less than 20 percent of any group is represented in a larger group, they are vulnerable to stereotyping. At Carlson we're up over 30 percent, and nearly 40 percent of our executives are now women.
One of my concerns as a CEO is how can I support the women in our environment? How can I allow them to step out but come back? A lot of the studies show that women who achieve a certain position really on average only step out for two years. That's not very long, and when you think how much we invest in the training, in creating the culture of trust and inclusivity, these people are really valuable. So instead of saying, "You're leaving-how can you do this?" you say, "Of course you are! How can we stay connected? Could you do some projects? Can we help you keep updated?"
What drives you?
I just love my work. I see this enormous challenge: Can we compete successfully in a tough global economy and be authentic and have a meritocracy and attract enough capital to keep at least some core of our company private? I feel like it's a fight against time to do everything that I can. How does it go? "My candle burns at both ends/It will not last the night/But ah my friends and oh my foes/it gives a glorious light."
What is the legacy you hope to leave?
First of all, a family that is grateful for and believes in and is willing to fight for and, if necessary, die for democracy and freedom. I would hope that the organization that I've worked so hard to build would continue to stand for something-that we could create a culture where people are proud to have been because they have a desire to be part of the solution.
It discourages me that the majority of young women do not see business as a place that's consistent with their values. I am offended by that. Can you imagine a greater power for good than business? Could Bill Gates or Warren Buffett have done what they're doing to change the face of disease in Africa if it weren't for business?
There was a time, I had really enjoyed being a volunteer, and I was a bit attracted to the possibility of running for political office, and one day my father sat me down, pointed his finger at me, and he just said, "Marilyn, the best philanthropy on Earth is a job and never forget it."
What was your relationship with your dad? And how did it help and hinder you?
He was really demanding, really hard on me. If I was elected vice president, he wondered why I wasn't president. If I got an A-, he wanted to know why it wasn't an A. He was constantly raising the bar in terms of expectations. I used to say, "I'm first daughter, only son" because [my father] was constantly teaching me, but he was more likely to talk to me about business, and he was trying to teach me to throw a ball. And the worst thing he could say to me was, "You throw like a girl." Now, if he could come back, I'd like him to say, "You lead like a girl."