Former CFO of Towers Perrin. She currently serves on the boards of Cubic Corp., Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp., Ally Financial, Inc.
What interested you in Cubic?
I had never heard of Cubic. I found out they do two things. They’re in the urban transportation payments business and they develop and offer training technology for the military, such as virtual reality products.
I had experience in the payment industry and had been the CFO of Visa for a subsidiary that built and ran Visa systems. I’m a member of the National Association of Corporate Directors and they selected my name out of list of resumes that met their search criteria. NACD initially reached out to me and asked me if I’d consider talking to them. I was on the board of Heartland Payment Systems and they had been sold in April of that year, so I had capacity for one more board.
I flew out to San Diego and I liked the board members and thought the products were interesting, especially the military aspect. It was something new and different for me. I like to learn new things.
The other two boards I sit on are highly IT-dependent, or IT providers. It rounded out a portfolio of technology companies for me. I thought, and it has been true, that the ideas I get from and learn from one board have applicability for the other two without creating conflicts of interest. There’s a synergy among my three boards, a nice portfolio.
What did you do to become an executive who is sought-after for boards? Did you network, build your personal brand in some way, something else?
I have a strong personal network, by virtue of executive roles I’ve played in business. No matter whether an executive recruiter is involved or not in the process, it tends to be all about the network. The recruiters are calling people they know and those people are calling people they know.
My first board was ING Direct. The CEO happened to be sitting next to a woman from Deloitte at an event and he mentioned they were looking for a director. I knew her personally and she told him “I have the perfect person for you.”
And when Cognizant was looking for a director who could chair the audit committee, someone with a technology background, they reached out to the retiring CEO of Watson Wyatt whom I had worked with through an insurance company. He couldn’t do it so he recommended they call me. I had a strong fit. That’s how the magic happens. There’s a lot of serendipity involved here.
Were there career choices you made that ended up leading to your board success?
When I started with Transamerica, I started in a finance role. There were opportunities in the technology area for consolidation and cost control. This was the early days of Internet commerce. We didn’t have a corporate CIO at the time so I suggested we hire one, and management said, “We’re going to put you in charge of centralizing technology services and you can control the things you complained about.”
My first thought was total shock. My husband and I had a ritual of getting in the hot tub at night and going over our days and I told him what had happened. He said, “Do they know you can’t even program a VCR?” I told him I mentioned that.
But it wasn’t a problem for management. They were looking for someone with relationships who could solve business problems. I joined a Gartner CIO peer group and we decided to set up a tech boot camp for me. I functioned as a quasi CIO, probably from around 1997 to 1999.
It was a fabulous experience for me. After Transamerica was sold, I took a year off to remodel my house, and then I got a call from Visa. I had the finance background and the technology background they were looking for. And, later, Cognizant was looking for someone with a finance and technology background.
Are there books or other resources you used and would recommend to people interested in joining boards?
I founded the Philadelphia chapter of Women Corporate Directors to build a peer group to help other women get on boards; we help men too. Belonging to professional organizations, joining your local chapter of NACD, serving on a non-profit board you have passion for and playing a leadership role in are good things to do. There are databases you can put your name into, and there are two books I recommend, both written by friends and colleagues: Women on Board: Insider Secrets to Getting on a Board and Succeeding as a Director by Susan Stautberg and The Board Game: How Smart Women Become Corporate Directors by Betsy Berkhemer-Credaire. There are also boot camps you can attend to become board-prepared.
Serving in a C-suite role is an absolute requirement, but the three most important things a woman or anyone can do are get bottom-line profit and loss responsibility, develop strong mentor-sponsor relationships, and build and nurture your network.
What advice can you give to other women embarking on a career in a male-dominated industry like IT?
I’m 63 years old, and in my whole career there’s never really been women above me, I’ve never reported to a woman. I have had women who outranked me in companies but no reporting relationship. I have gotten pretty used to being the only woman, and don’t even think about that. It’s really not something I dwell on. It’s really nice, however, to have other women on the board. I think it does empower your voice, and the camaraderie makes some difference. I think having diversity of thought is the healthiest thing for boards — different industries, genders, and different geographical representation if you’re in a global industry.
Women of my age have all encountered bias during their careers, but I’ve had very supportive male mentors and sponsors in my career, that I still stay in touch with. The way I’ve handled bias has been to find face-saving ways out of awkward situations and just keep on plugging. I tried never to let it be an excuse. I had a wise nun in school who told me, “If you have a problem, you have to decide whether to curse the darkness or light a candle.”
|My Board Journey is an ongoing feature profiling top corporate board directors and their journeys to the board room. If you would like to submit a candidate for the section please email Eve Tahmincioglu: firstname.lastname@example.org.|