Top Women CEOs On How Bold Innovation Drives Business
To gain perspective on leadership that I could share with you, I recently moderated a discussion with four top women CEOs in accounting, healthcare, insurance and digital. Below are actual quotes of what they shared.
- Karen Abramson, CEO, Wolters Kluwer Tax and Accounting
- Sandra Fenwick, CEO, Boston Children’s Hospital
- Lori Fouché, CEO, Group Insurance, Prudential Financial, Inc.
- Gail Goodman, Chairman and CEO, Constant Contact CTCT
Teeing up the discussion, Denise Evans, VP Market Development, IBM IBM, and a frequent keynote speaker on women in leadership, shared insights from IBM’s recent research on advancing women, saying, “ Women need to be visible, plan their career, and integrate work and life. They should also build cultural intelligence and have a career advisory team.”
What advice do you have for women advancing in leadership?
Karen Abramson, Wolters Kluwer: “At Wolters Kluwer, we’re very fortunate that, as a result of our efforts to bolster the senior team with women, today 50% of our senior team is female and we really try to promote and foster female leadership. In accounting, 40% of the people coming in to the field are women, but they account for only 14% of the people who have partnership and executive positions in the industry. The question is why. I think what we do differently at Wolters Kluwer is we foster general management skill by giving women P&L responsibility. It’s really important that women take the jobs that are going to get them noticed. Those are always the jobs that have clear P&L responsibility.”
Sandra Fenwick, Boston Children’s Hospital: “Have passion, be nimble and be bold. There’s really no substitute for hard work, dedication and consistent high performance, but you must have a vision for what’s possible and a commitment to leading with honesty, humility and courage. Have courage to take risks, both for yourself and for your organization. At Boston Children’s, women lead in business development, finance, marketing and philanthropy, as well as across clinical and research areas. To advance in leadership, women must have an understanding of the whole business across all elements.”
Lori Fouché, Prudential: “Confidence is really important. Confidence is required when one chooses to be courageous and to be bold around what they want and believing they can do it. So, frequently I hear about the Impostor Syndrome around, “Well, I don’t have all of the qualifications or demonstrated competencies that I need for a job, or for an opportunity.” Having confidence in yourself and your abilities helps overcome that. Also, you can’t say yes to everything. There are some things that you have to say no to which is essential to staying focused. I recommend women do take on the more challenging assignments, as they will help you grow, add value and build more confidence.
I read research from Russell Reynolds Associates on the path to becoming a CEO. Certainly, profit and loss responsibility is one component of it, but increasingly, CEOs who’ve had responsibilities in multiple parts of the business so that they’re more well rounded and have a better way of making holistic decisions is increasingly becoming important. But P&L is definitely part of that equation.”
Gail Goodman, Constant Contact: “The piece of advice that I give emerging women leaders is to understand and drive business outcomes, not just complete tasks or assignments. It’s important to make sure you understand the context you’re operating in, then go beyond the task you were given by learning and understanding the business outcome that the task is connected to, and then seek to drive that business outcome further, without asking for permission to lead. Don’t wait for permission. Go ahead and do it, with a focus on the business outcome.”
How does your organization think about its business and growth?
Sandra Fenwick, Boston Children’s Hospital: “First and foremost, we never lose sight of our mission—everything we do is for our patients and families, to create a brighter future for the kids. We are relentless in pushing the boundaries within Boston Children’s and beyond, to take on the questions that need to be answered. Is there a better way to diagnose a problem, to treat a problem, to prevent a problem? How can we make the impossible possible? How can we cure the incurable? We are innovating across all levels, with a deep willingness to collaborate and partner for the benefit of children everywhere. Leading pediatric innovation is not only our responsibility, it’s our competitive advantage.”
Lori Fouché, Prudential: “The way Prudential thinks about things is truly around “bring us your challenges.” And so, we really work on understanding what the challenges are of our customers, both today and what they will be tomorrow. So, for me, it’s certainly tied to mission. We have three areas of focus: first is implementing insights from research and an understanding of what the issues are; second is a mindset to openness that there’s a better, more effective, more efficient way; and third is creating an environment where partnership and collaboration aren’t just encouraged, but are expected.”
Karen Abramson, Wolters Kluwer: “In a recent customer survey our customers told us, “We use your information and your software when we know we have to rely on something and we have to be right.” So, we’ve embraced that notion through our 3-part innovation program. One is a global innovation program sponsored at the Board level where individual teams collaborate and then compete and then we develop the ideas that win the contest; two, we promote ‘Contextual Design,’ within business units where we go out and spend usually two-hour blocks of time watching the client use the product or do some part of their workflow, to uncover potential breakdowns or improvement opportunities. Three, we have ‘The Code Games.’ This is a two day internal event where we bring together about 30 developers and nine submitted ideas and then we have them actually code the ideas right on the spot. Then the ideas are judged by a panel of customers, and also by the broader organization from all around the globe who participate in this event by voting through WebEx and participating online. We do all of these things in what I would call a constant eco-system of innovation across the organization.”
Gail Goodman, Constant Contact: “We have a team of folks who believe deeply in helping small businesses and we consistently hear that’s what gets our amazing team of employees up in the morning. Anchoring everyone in a mission-driven organization is actually the starting point of innovation because you want to innovate to achieve that shared mission. We help small businesses grow (and I mean small, as 66 percent of our customers have less than 10 employees). Every one of our innovations is designed to fuel that growth. For example, we can help our small business customers interact with, and engage, more customers by making it easy for them to create a marketing campaign on a mobile device in 60 seconds.”
Wait Gail, … how can someone create a marketing campaign in 60 seconds?
Gail Goodman, Constant Contact: “One of the great ways for small companies to engage customers is to show them something fun, interesting or new that is happening right now. Say it’s a beautiful fall day and pumpkins just arrived at your store. Take a fun picture. Put it into an e-mail and a social post. Constant Contact has a great mobile app to let you do that. We call the process, ‘A Picture, a Paragraph and a Call to Action.’ So in this case it’s as simple as writing, ‘Come in now to get your perfect Halloween pumpkin,’ and just hitting send. Sixty seconds to customer engagement.”
What’s an example of a recent innovation at your company?
Lori Fouché, Prudential: “To help employers improve the financial health of their employees, we’ve partnered with Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research to develop behavioral economics around understanding how people choose. The outcome is a technology- based tool that guides employees in the right direction when they’re enrolling for their benefits. When there’s a life change for someone, whether it’s a pregnancy or taking care of aging parents, it helps them think about their financial wellness perhaps differently. This is a big step in innovation around just getting into your customers’ heads around how they do things. It’s not about insurance. It’s really around understanding how and when people choose. It’s a great marriage of psychology, technology—meeting the financial services world.”
Gail Goodman, Constant Contact: “We’ve created two-day “Innovation Jams” for all of our employees, from every department. While the theme is usually is focused on enhancing a part of our customer experience, people can really innovate on anything. The first day starts with people saying, ‘I have an idea. Who wants to join my team?’ Those teams then work for two days, taking time away from their everyday jobs, to focus on and hopefully build a working prototype. We end with a science fair-structured event where teams literally put up a three-sided cardboard view of their innovation, usually accompanied by a live demo. We invite all employees to come to the science fair and vote on the best ideas. The top five ideas go into the Shark Tank, where the teams are given a month to develop that idea further. They then present to the sharks, which is a group of internal executives. The top idea gets implemented. We’ve done nine Innovation Jams to date. The participation has been great, with 30-plus teams and over 150 employees jumping in, and we’ve done them across four offices. It’s been a wonderful way to surface and develop ideas both big and small. In most Innovation Jams a set of ‘just do it’ ideas have come up that don’t even go to the Shark Tank. We say ‘Great idea. Put it in the roadmap’ and it happens. And, of course, there’s a lot of recognition for the folks who participate. It’s been a great way to integrate innovation into our culture.”
Sandra Fenwick, Boston Children’s Hospital: “Innovation is the core of our culture. When it comes to our patients and families, we never settle for ‘good enough’. Dr. Pedro del Nido, our Chief of Cardiovascular Pediatric Surgery believed that there was a faster, safer way to patch a child’s heart than the traditional needle and thread—we’re talking about hearts that are the size of grapes in newborns. He found willing partners in healthcare with Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in academia with MIT, and in the private sector with Gecko Biomedical. Together they developed a safe medical adhesive that cures within five seconds of exposure to light. They took long accepted best practice—and made it better.
Another example is how Boston Children’s is increasing the ability of our doctors and nurses to respond to daily requests for consultations and second opinions. We created a partnership with IBM where we launched our platform called OPEN Pediatrics—a cloud-based social learning platform that provides training simulation, a library of expertise, as well as the ability to self-train and self-attest. We’re moving beyond traditional medical training, and connecting physicians, nurses and caregivers around the world with best practices for the critically ill child. OPEN Pediatrics is now actively in use in more than 100 countries on 6 continents. We’re expanding this to other specialties beyond the critical care setting throughout the hospital and even what’s possible in the primary care setting.”
Karen Abramson, Wolters Kluwer: “15 months ago we launched CCH Access, which pioneers Cloud based accounting document management, billing and workflow. Built on an open integration platform so it can easily work with a firms existing systems, CCH Access captures client data entered into a tax return once, and then can populate information throughout the suite. That’s really revolutionary for accountants because they used to have this data in seven or eight different places. It’s being reported by our clients that they are seeing 15% to 30% productivity improvements when they’re using this product, and CCH Access has already received multiple awards, including the CPA Tax Advisor award and one of Accounting Today’s top products of the year. Today CCH as a whole does about 30% of the professional electronic filings in the United States.”