Nation & World

‘Power session’ for women held at the Business School

4 min read

“You guys are going to rule the world, mark my words,” Janet Hanson told a captivated audience in the Harvard Business School’s Burden Auditorium. “I’m so bullish on your generation, it’s not funny.”

Hanson, CEO of 85 Broads, an online network for women, publisher of 85 Broads Magazine, and founder and chairwoman of Milestone Capital Management, opened the 2008 Dynamic Women in Business Conference at the Business School on Jan. 26 with a keynote address that was part inspirational speech, part biographical sketch.

In a humor-filled talk, the gravel-voiced Hanson offered the diverse crowd insight on her own journey through the business world, which included a career at Goldman Sachs, the birth of two children, a battle with breast cancer, the creation of a $2 billion start-up, and the launch of her Web-based network of more than 17,000 women.

Her key advice: Watch for start-ups as opportunities for women; invest in a great team; collaborate with smart people; and remember that family comes first.

To highlight the last point, she brought her grown up daughter Meredith on stage to close her address.

“I spend a lot of time investing in what I love,” said an emotional Hanson.

Sponsored by the HBS Women’s Student Association, the yearly event connects influential women in the business world with alumni, students, and professors from Harvard University and beyond for a daylong series of panels, discussions, and networking opportunities. This year’s conference included 120 panelists and more than 800 attendees.

In one of the first sessions of the day, “Decoding the Secret Language of Stock Picking: Female Perspectives on Asset Management,” a panel of women in the money business discussed their varied careers and offered practical tips and insights into how to make it in the traditionally male-dominated world of high finance.

According to the group convened in Aldrich Hall, the secrets to success include a passion for the subject, a love of research, and an underlying confidence.

“You can’t be a portfolio manager if you don’t have that passion in you,” said Margo L. Cook, a senior managing director at Bear Stearns Asset Management. “You need to take the love of research and translate it into performance on behalf of your clients.”

The panel agreed that though they still encounter the old-boy mentality, being a woman is an advantage that often helps them stand out in a crowd, as well as allowing them to network differently. One speaker encouraged the audience to ask for help if discriminated against.

“Remind the women who are senior to you to reach down and help you,” said Brenda Gray Reny, director of private wealth management for Deutsche Bank. “You don’t have to rethink the wheel on this one. There are women who have been through this before.”

In an afternoon session about coming back to work after taking a break to have children, a group of executive moms related their own experiences and offered advice on balancing motherhood with a successful career.

Some said they chose to start up their own businesses to allow in part for greater flexibility and control, while others advised the crowd to have a long-range plan and maintain networks in that could help when returning to work. Keeping in touch with junior-level employees, remarked one panelist, was an effective way to stay in the loop.

“When you’ve been out for a long time, these junior people are moving up,” said Carol Fishman Cohen, HBS ’85, co-founder of iRelaunch, a Web site that connects employers with professionals reentering the workforce.

Collectively the speakers acknowledged the need for each woman to find her own path and reassured the audience that it is possible to have a professional life and family.

The day’s other sessions included talks on managing as a woman, negotiation tactics and strategies, the role of women in a changing technological climate, and how to build a career in healthcare. The event ended with a second keynote delivered by Ann M. Fudge, HBS ’77, former chairman and CEO of Young & Rubicam Brands.