Earning it: Lessons from Joann S. Lublin and female business trailblazers

Posted on: April 10th, 2017 by Amy Laski

Female business trailblazers

It’s not every day that a true trailblazer is in our midst. That’s why, when I heard that Pulitzer Prize winner and The Wall Street Journal Management News Editor Joann S. Lublin would be speaking as part of the Rotman Women and Leadership series, I jumped at the chance to learn from her. She shared not only her experiences, but also those of the more than 50 women she interviewed for her book ““Earning It: Hard-Won Lessons from Trailblazing Women at the Top of the Business World” (Harper Business, 2016).

Lublin shared some poignant and humorous anecdotes of her own, including how, early in her career, upon joining a male-dominated, pinup-calendar-clad workplace she prominently displayed a male pinup calendar of her own. I have to be grateful that while I’m certain that gender stereotypes do exist in today’s workplace, we have come a long way since those days! I also enjoyed hearing how she and her husband decided to balance out each other’s rising careers by alternating geographic relocations. For example, she had an opportunity in one city, so they moved their family to seize it, then he got an opportunity in another location so they moved for him and so on.

Lublin structured her talk with four reasons why — or rather how — the women featured in the book become business leaders:

  • Resilience: Hewlett Packard President and CEO, Meg Whitman, became Silicon Valley’s first female billionaire during her tenure at eBay. En route, though, she spearheaded FTD, a role that proved to be challenging, largely due to lack of fit. Whitman also ran unsuccessfully for Governor of California, famously investing a small fortune of her own money on the race. Of Whitman, Lublin said “you have to learn from your failures to avoid making the same mistake twice.” (Click to tweet)

“You have to learn from your failures to avoid making the same mistake twice.” (Click to tweet)

  • Innovation: Lublin cited the story of former DuPont CEO Ellen Kullman, who, earlier on in her career, was given the opportunity to start up the safety consulting business division of the corporate giant. Evaluating this as an opportunity to set herself apart from the pack and build a reputation as an innovator, she seized it, paving the way for her eventual rise to the top.
  • Persistence: Abbe Raven may have started at A&E Networks as a production assistant, but she went on to become the president and CEO. During her tenure, she tripled its earnings. Raven advanced by looking for innovative ways to circumvent apparent roadblocks, relating that everything has ups and down, it’s how you get through them that counts.
  • Empathy: As one of the highest-ranking women in the history of the auto industry, former Ford COO Anne Stevens, shared with Lublin the importance of collaborating and the desire to help the people who work for you succeed, since they in turn will help root for your success. You are only successful, after all, if the people you lead are successful.

I enjoyed Lublin’s sharp wit and keen observations tremendously, and dove right in to her book that continues in the same voice. One thing I would have liked Lublin to explore is women — and men, for that matter — who have stepped off the traditional career ladder and have built for themselves a successful life. Surely their stories would exude as much, if not more, character learnings than those who have scaled Fortune 500 companies. Different, yet hard-earned trails blazed to the top, whatever that “top” may be.