3 Predictions from Women Leaders for 2017

Over last year’s holiday season, I visited Mary Ellen Brewington, a friend of mine, who along with her brother, runs a large beverage distribution company called Cherokee Distributing. As I was leaving, she walked me out, and I noticed some pretty gifts wrapped under the Christmas tree in their lobby. Asking her about it, she said, “Oh, I bought something for each of the women who work here.”

Mary Ellen’s care for the women in her organization got me wondering what other women leaders might do to help others of us in 2017, so I polled 100 of you, and here’s what you told me.

1. It all starts with you.

Diana Reid, EVP at PNC, says she’ll push to be seen for the value she adds, not as some diversity statistic. And, in turn, she’ll be working hard to treat “every employee of mine as individuals, not stereotypes.” I know firsthand the work Diana does to support and uplift women; it sounds like in 2017, she’ll be doubling down on her efforts. Anisa Telwar, founder of cosmetic accessories company Anisa International, and Elisa Camahort Page, BlogHer co-founder, are both looking to dig deeper for meaning and insights that can come from regular practices, like morning meditation, or doing a self -review of where their innate skills meet their passions. Anisa’s hope is to “blend real strength with genuine softness” so she can better support her teams in meaningful, teachable ways.

2. Use Your Influence

Beth Bronfman, CEO of NYC’s View Agency, says 2017 is the year she will help women stand up for themselves by “taking charge of their personal brand,” focusing on their messages and spreading their thought leadership. Angie Chang, co-founder of Women 2.0 and VP of Hackbright Academy, agrees that this is the year we should expand our influence by writing for publishers like Forbes and Huffington Post.

Julie Fasone Holder, board director of Eastman Chemical, observes that the Women’s March on Washington will empower all of us and that we should join organizations like C200 and Paradigm for Parity, whose missions are to support women every day. She asks each of us to have strong voices and not fall victim to “manterrupting.”(Great word). Media executive Angie Epps agrees, urging women in 2017 to express ideas as openly and proudly as possible. “Be declarative,” she counsels us.

3. Choose Hope, Not Despair

Great leaders embrace hope, so it’s no surprise that your feedback reflected that, even in the face of the election overhang. CEO Tena Clark, DMI Music, will be taking more risk –not less – in 2017 to push us all forward. Sandy Carter, CEO/founder of Silicon Blitz and Chair of Girls In Tech, says women’s solidarity in 2017 will “leapfrog a drive for both intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs, accelerating products for women, funded by women. Diana Reid feels strategic opportunities are sure to surface in this time of uncertainty and disruption. We just need to keep our eyes open for them. Silicon Valley CEO of Metric Stream, Shellye Archambeau, says what we all hope will be true: In 2017, we “will be seeing more women getting a seat at the table.”

All of your feedback tells us to act. To take charge of our personal brand. To march. To join. To write. Go for it ladies! You inspire me every day.

By |January 31st, 2017|Leadership|0 Comments

A Holiday of Hope

A Holiday of Hope

I find myself still staying away from election news, since I can’t understand any of it.  But I was forced to take my head out of the sand.  I run Communications for a non-profit senior women’s organization, and I was asked if we’re going to address this strange election-what it means for women, how to address the fear many of the members’ company employees are expressing, how to communicate what some women are doing to mobilize their communities.

The thing is, our women span the globe, and span political ideologies too. Anytime you volunteer for a membership-based organization, your mission is to serve all members. So what to do?  I penned a letter for the Chair of our organization in trying to keep that in mind. And in doing that, it occurred to me that regardless of what side of the argument you’re on, there are things we can all do, but they may require a little attitude shift.

  1. Choose Hope.  Think about the greats who gave us hope-Lincoln, JFK, Madela, Ghandi.  In the toughest times they chose hope and marshaled countless people toward a common purpose.  Make that common purpose unity, and healing.
  2. Begin with Respect.  This is going to test your mettle, but just try–one person at a time.  The thing is, we don’t know the backstory to most people. There’s a tale Covey tells in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People about a dad with two little kids riding a subway, and he’s letting them run riot in all the cars.  Finally a guy is watching all this and he’s had enough, and he asks the dad to get control over his kids!  The father looks up, lost, and apologizes, explains they’d all just come from the hospital where his wife had passed away. You don’t know the backstory to why most others behave or believe the way      they do.  Begin with respect.
  3. Help others, especially women.  I’d like to believe things are getting better (See #1) but our progress is so very slow.  If you’re in a position to do it, give women who are coming behind you your time, and your guidance.  I love women!  We’re lifelong learners, we’re passionate. We’re unifiers.  Stretch out your hand to a woman today.
  4. Follow in Gwen’s footsteps. Gwen Ifill, legendary broadcaster and hero to so many, died a couple of weeks ago, and this was her credo: “I try to bring light, not heat, to issues.”  We could all use this advice, especially as the holidays are upon us.  Family will come together, and political discussions may get inflamed.  Try to be the one who sheds light on the debate, not heat. Be the teacher, not the preacher.  

I wish you all a beautiful holiday season, and a 2017 filled with hope.


By |December 9th, 2016|Career development|0 Comments

Four Words To Live By

“You can do it!” Those four words have a lot of power. We all need cheerleaders in our life to spur us on, to keep us in the game. But the best cheerleader you can have? You. I learned this from my Aunt Ray, the role model who taught me more about being a woman in business than anyone.

Aunt Ray was the first female vice president for Revlon. She was on the frontier of women not just working, but seeing their work as a career–as a vocation. She lived a glamorous, single life in Manhattan, shopping at Barneys and Bloomies and taking in first -run Broadway plays before anyone else. She’d come back to her second home in Detroit on weekends, and when she’d swing by with her Revlon samples I’d force my way through my sisters to sit next to her. She claimed I was always glued to her side, asking about marketing and sales and customers. I don’t remember any of that, but her mind was like a steel trap, so I have to believe it’s true.

I was the favorite of all her nieces, she told me. It turns out, she told plenty of her nieces that too. It didn’t detract from our love, and it didn’t make her urging me on—“You can do it Su-Su!” (her nickname for me) any less real. She set a bar for me to achieve, and when I reached it, she just reset it. I wanted to make her proud.

She was a walking contradiction in some ways, loving to watch and order from QVC but then calling to cuss out management for their skimpy hostess dresses. She urged me to save every penny but spent weekends at Detroit’s Greektown in the casinos. As she aged, she could be cranky on the phone, so when I called to wish her a happy 90th birthday, I was taken aback by how happy she sounded. “Su-Su!” she gushed, “I found a life insurance policy that says if I make it to 90, I collect $100,000!” Always playing the odds, that was Aunt Ray. And onto the casinos she went.

She showed me all the ways I could be my own cheerleader, especially in the really hard times. When I lost my mom and sister within a month of one another, she was there, whispering in my ear, “Tell yourself right now to never, ever give up!” And so I pressed on. One of the mom’s best friends, she kept the pilot light on for my mother’s memory after she passed, always entertaining me with funny stories. “Did I tell you about the time we were both working together, and a guy named Jim complimented your mom on her burgundy dress? She said ‘Jim, it’s not burgundy. It’s corduroy!” Mom had a little Edith Bunker in her, which we all adored.

Lukewarm relationships were impossible for her; she was fierce expressing love. At 90, Aunt Ray’s heart was failing. Of all the parts that could quit on her, I thought that oversized heart of hers would live on forever. I was many states away by this time, and my cousin Lisa dropped in a lot to help her. Lisa told me that with her failing heart, with every stubborn, painful step from TV room to kitchen, Lisa could hear her whisper “You can do this Ray! You can do it!” Cheering herself on, as always. She made it to 98 years and passed away this summer. Two weeks before she passed, wheelchair-bound, she was at the casinos.

And so, these memories of this incredible woman still urge me on today. The most lasting is a reminder that when times are good, or the chips are down, your best cheerleader in life is the dealer herself. It’s you.

By |September 23rd, 2016|Friendship|0 Comments

Working for a Predator

You may have read about the notorious firing of Roger Ailes last week. Most in media know Roger, but if you don’t, he was the founder of Fox News, and he ran it from a throne of unfettered power for the past twenty years. He wasn’t challenged by his boss Rupert Murdoch because he made gobs of money for Rupert–like billions. In early July, one of the female anchors for Fox News, Gretchen Carlson, came out publicly with a lawsuit against Roger for sexual harassment. His castle began crumbling the day after the suit was filed, as Rupert’s sons, who are now co-leaders of Fox, hired a law firm to investigate the claims. They turned up enough evidence that Roger quickly resigned.

I worked for Roger when he ran CNBC, before his Fox News stint. My boss had been terminated, so I reported directly to Roger. He was at the corporate office in Ft. Lee, NJ, and I ran a territory out of the Midwest office, so I didn’t interface with him too much. But when I came to Ft. Lee I’d drop by his office, and we’d talk. I told him I’d like to be considered for the national job my boss had just vacated. It turns out I lost to a good guy, David Zaslav, who now runs all of Discovery Networks. David and I have remained friends over the years.

In my book I told the story about losing this promotion to David, and how it’s always important to be a good sport in those situations. If you can keep your head up and are on right side of providence, something redeemable will come from such a loss. For me, it meant taking HGTV founder Ken Lowe’s call three months later, to become employee #2 for HGTV. That was pretty darn redeemable.

But maybe there’s another lesson here, one that keeps rolling through my head. What if I’d offered that job, and moved the Packard unit to Ft. Lee? Roger never made advances, but what if he had? The fall-out from his firing has pulled back the curtain to show many other women who were victims too. And the most recent reports revealed a woman who’d had a consensual relationship with him (PS did I say Roger has been married this whole time?) over the years, while she worked for him. When asked about it she said she feared him, and felt dependent upon him for her career. Then there’s a woman who was a Fox News lawyer, and who paid to hush money to victims.

How did we get to this place as women, feeling that to keep our jobs we had to relinquish our self-worth in the bargain? If I’d made that move to Ft. Lee and was subjected to his advances, I hope I would have been a fighter, like Gretchen. But at what cost? Ugly headlines, lawyers, and the whole mockery of Roger’s severance payout –$40+million. Ailes seems to be the only winner here.

I write this with a sad heart for all the other Gretchens out there. I may have dodged a bullet, yet every day women in every job, in every industry, are still battling.

By |August 8th, 2016|Leadership|0 Comments

Memories of an Icon, Pat Summitt

About a dozen years ago, when Pat Summitt was collecting one NCAA Championship after another, her son Tyler and our son Andrew were playing together on a soccer team. Pat would come to Tyler’s games whenever she could, just wanting to watch her child play, but the adults would invariably swarm about and ply her with questions: How are your new recruits? What about ESPN’s coverage? What are you planning to have for dinner? She was our resident celebrity here, in Knoxville, Tennessee. I could tell all she really wanted to do was just watch her child play ball. But Pat knew her celebrity came with responsibility, and she was always kind to adults and the kids she didn’t know, but who knew her. I recall at one soccer game a bunch of kids were hanging around her, and one of them asked her how her next class of girls was looking. “Terrible!” she replied. Classic Pat Summitt. A fierce stateswoman for womens’ athletics, and relentless when it came to her girls.

I ran into her at many non-profit events. Pat knew what it meant to give back to Knoxville, a community which embraced her and celebrated her. This particular event for the local YMCA was held at a private home, and after she and I had spoken a bit on the back porch veranda, we were all called in to begin the evening’s program. Pat walked in front of me up five or six steps, and I noticed every step was painful for her. She said it was just “a little” arthritis. But in classic Pat style, a little joint pain wasn’t going to get her down. Those itsy bitsy steps? No problem.

I didn’t have the opportunity to sit with Pat when I wrote my book about how to express your competitive spirit at work, as she was in the final stages of dementia. I did have the opportunity to interview her longtime boss and dear friend, former University of Tennessee Athletic Director Joan Cronan. Joan’s story is the first one in the book. She struck me as having as much competitive fire as Pat, two competitive warriors who turned women’s college basketball upside down and showed how even this ‘girl’ sport could make money. Joan will take little credit for all those years of the program’s success, but I know if Pat were still with us, she’d say she couldn’t have done it without Joan. Two women, both from small towns in the most gender- challenged part of the country– the South, casting their footprints on women’s athletics forever. These women brought passion and the will to win to young women everywhere. They were both gamers in the finest sense of the word. Joan has also written a great book about the value of playing games, Sport Is Life with the Volume Turned Up, and she too spreads the good word about the benefits of gamesmanship.

The national media have covered Pat’s passing this week, and maybe it’ll trickle over into the next. But the town of Knoxville, where she made her home and where she touched all of us in some unforgettable way, will be grieving her and celebrating her for months and years to come.

By |July 4th, 2016|Relationships|0 Comments

One Skill That Helps Both Work and Life

My husband loves stand-up comedy and we were watching Ron White recently. I noticed something he did that I’d never thought about before. Right before delivering the punch line, he paused. Like, drumroll, please. Then bang! That got me noticing others in media, like newscasters, politicians and musicians who perform, and how the good ones used pausing in an impactful way. Classic pianist Arthur Schnabel said this:

“The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes—ah, that is where the art resides.”

At the height of my career with manic days of jam-packed schedules, I sometimes forgot to breathe, let alone pause. I even forgot to pause for restroom breaks and just ignored Mother Nature. (Is it possible to break your kidneys? Time will tell.) I just pushed ahead to get through another crazy day. Many of us do this, but I’m here to tell you there’s a better way. Press the pause button. When you do, you can think better, listen better, and problem-solve better. Good problem-solving is a creative art, much like playing piano. When you pause, you can absorb the whole picture, instead of jumping in with a knee-jerk half-baked answer.

In the building days of HGTV, we had something we called ‘going to Abilene.’ This was when we were trying to wrestle an issue to closure, and suddenly one or all of us went to Abilene, meaning we went far astray of the issue.Going to Abilene was pretty frequent behavior for us since building a business from scratch finds you in rush mode so often. We used ‘going to Abilene’ as code for slow down, regroup. I was probably one of the worst offenders. As HGTV’s chief operating officer, I sure got my fair share of “Susan, I think you’ve gone to Abiliene on that one.” But if we slowed down enough to pause, the best solutions always bubbled up.

There are lots of ways to learn how to pause. Take walks. Say a prayer. Breathe, in and out. Meditate. If you have an office, close the door for a few minutes each day to settle, before jumping into the next thing. At home, pause to listen, really listen to your loved one. Show them that respect.

Arthur Schnabel was right; it’s the pauses between the notes that are the real art of life.

One Key (and Often Overlooked) Leadership Skill

Ben Zander, the famed conductor of the Boston Philharmonic and author of a sweet little book, The Art of Possibility, wrote of teaching kids music. He chipped away at his students’ anxiety over performing by doing something really radical—he gave everyone an “A” grade when the class started. His only requirement was that in the first week of class, each student had to write a letter to him envisioning what their growth would be at the end of the semester– what they thought they’d learn– that warrants the A. He reported that it worked amazingly well! Without worrying about competing with others for grades, and by setting goals, the students relaxed and improved their performance skills. All of us in leadership roles are teachers. But how effective are we in guiding and grooming our folks to realize their potential? It’s one thing to deliver a performance review once a year. It’s another entirely, to offer feedback regularly—and to do it by giving that person an A. This would sound something like this: “Here’s what you’re doing really well, and here’s where I’d like us to focus on in the next few weeks (or months).” You are in it together, and she starts with a reminder of why she’s valued by the organization. To grow your folks so that one day someone can step into your shoes, is an enormous part of your charge as a leader. Teaching and modelling is what good leaders do just about every day. Today, when I write, speak and mentor, I try to keep in mind this notion of giving an A. I’ve never heard a bad question in the Q&A parts of my speaking. I’ve not met anyone who isn’t inherently gifted, who might just need a little chipping away to realize her full-blown potential. As a leader, you can improve your team’s performance in many ways, so here’s another one. Make the extra effort to give out A’s whenever you possibly can.

By |April 26th, 2016|Leadership|0 Comments

A Snowbird’s Crash Landing: Lessons in Life

Bill and I rented a place near the beach for three months to try the “snowbird” lifestyle. In case you’ve never heard of it, the idea is to escape your crummy winter by heading south. We were serious about this test, so we brought our pets and about 100 lbs of luggage.

After five weeks, we’re back home. Recounting everything that wasn’t ‘in the plan’ is not productive. But: if I tell you the last time Florida had this much rain was 1932, you get a little sense of it. And if I mention that to get the front door of the place opened, it required not just a key but a swift kick, you begin to get the full picture. The door walls were so low, and my 6ft 5” husband hit his head so many times that he pretty much walked around in a state of concussed delirium. I ask you, what first- time snowbird knows to specify nine ft. doorwalls in the rental search?

So we’re back, and as is true with all of life, we need to look for the lesson. My friend Anne once said, “Always have an escape plan.” I liked ours– go home. And we could laugh about some of the moments, like the ferry ride we took with the barefoot, smoke-dopin’ captain. The ride was billed as ‘Jupiter homes of the rich and famous’ and we did see some incredible homes from the view off the water. But our guy had a problem with Tiger Woods. I’ve got some problems with Tiger too so I could relate. I guess Tiger moved several trees endemic to South Florida onto his estate so he could build a barrier of privacy. We heard a lot about that.

And there’s a lot more to appreciate when you go through a rough patch, like our home dishwasher that hums when it cleans, not at all like the Florida washer that sounded like an atomic bomb exploding.

Wisdom from friends. Laughter. Appreciation. You’re ahead of the game if you can find a few nuggets of good, when life happens. Because mark my words, it will indeed happen.

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By |March 2nd, 2016|Friendship|0 Comments

The Only Skill You Need to be a CEO

I went through school terrified of math. I liked business subjects a lot, just not the numbers part, and somehow I avoided having to take any college math or finance classes. I remember breathing a sigh of relief when I got my first job. “Whew! I dodged that bullet.” So imagine my surprise when, in a middle management job, I got handed an income statement. Uh- oh. Sins of omission always seem to come back to haunt you. I asked to be sent to a finance course, and my company agreed.

If you’re in business, you can’t hide from numbers forever. Especially if you want to play a senior role one day. Finance is the most basic business language there is, and it’s used pretty frequently once you arrive into a role managing others. Whether doing budgets or reading balance sheets, it really pays to at least know the basics, because financial statements are your company’s scorecard.

The thing is—you can mostly learn this on the job. Yes, I took a finance seminar, but it was really basic and after that I just asked a lot of questions of our CFO or others in accounting. You sure don’t need to know the intricacies of accounting rules for reporting or any such detailed information. Just the finance basics.

Most every CEO is a composite of many skills, like sales, marketing, product development and operations. The only CEOs I’ve met who needed just one skill are those who grew up in finance. And most of them enhance their skill base beyond just finance to get operational experience too.

If you want an executive job someday, get some learning in the basics of finance. Either attend a course at your local college, ask to be sent to a seminar, and by all means become friendly with colleagues in Accounting and Finance. It’s worth treating them to coffee or lunch, and the time together will pay great rewards.
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By |January 25th, 2016|Career development, Leadership|0 Comments


I exhaust me.

Especially this time of year. So I need the meditative practice I began five years ago. It’s called Centering Prayer, and it’s been a life saver when my brain wants to begin ten things, right now!, or when I’m constantly re-enacting little life dramas that need to be quieted. Each year I make the pilgrimage to St. Mary’s Retreat House in Sewanee, Tennessee, high atop a mountain with nothing but views of the open sky and a few cows who graze peacefully nearby. I join fifteen or twenty others looking for the same thing as me: Silence. Solitude. Stillness. We sit in a circle in a prayer room in quiet, listening prayer. Centering Prayer is about listening, not blabbering away to God about all your aches and pains. This practice helps you to hear what’s important.

While this is a silent retreat—no talking with one another until departure day, there is always a new insight when I’m there. Here’s the one from last weekend. We start out as a speck, one of God’s bright ideas. We’re our own little Big Bang. We’re born innocent and pure and blissfully happy, feeling only love. Then the world invades. It hits us and bruises us and for some, crushes them. All the other little big bangs take our innocence away.

The irony is that we’re built for community. We’re not meant to live as solitary souls.
In moments of Centering Prayer we’re all united in one cause- restful, divine communion, so you only feel goodness and love. There are no masks. No pain. And with every sit together, the circle gets closer, tighter, more fiercely bound together in some indescribable way. In Centering Prayer, we’re all innocent again.

At our last session together before departing, each of us spoke of what we were going back to this holiday season. So many had stories that pulled at my heart. A young woman spoke of recently losing her sibling to suicide, and how she was going to support her parents this Christmas. A man spoke of losing his wife a few years back. He still wore his wedding ring. Another shared worries of rampant family addiction. So much pain. Yet in the circle, there is healing. We rise above the world’s dark edges. In Centering Prayer, we know we’re not alone.

There are many meditative practices out there. Some do it in yoga, others in a church, some quietly at home. Some, like me, come to a mountain top. It all works.

I hope your holidays are filled of peace and that 2016 shines brightly for you.

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