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Women of Isenberg Conference Highlights Diverse Perspectives
“Leadership is a state of mind. Take responsibility—you don’t need a title,” urged keynote speaker Karyn Schoenbart ’78at Isenberg’s annual student-run Women of Isenberg Conference, on February 25. The UMass alumna is President and Chief Operating Officer of The NPD Group, a top 25 marketing research company, based in Port Washington, New York. “[After graduation] you’ll be the youngest person in the room,” she told Isenberg students in the well-attended gathering of 350. “Age doesn’t matter. Get over it.”
Karyn’s remarks headlined a full day of panels, workshops, and networking. Forty-nine business professionals—many of them Isenberg alumnae—offered insights in separate panels devoted to startups, leadership styles, careers in media, and personal finance. Additional panels explored networking, negotiating skills, career challenges, mentoring, and “having it all.”
Distilled from Schoenbart’s 30-year career in marketing research, much of her advice, she noted, had been road tested in conversations with her daughter, who has followed in her mother’s footsteps into a marketing career. Later this year, Karyn’s first published book, Mom.BA, will offer aspiring career women many of her career-focused insights. The inspiration for the book: “my daughter—totally.”
Echoing Mom.BA’s themes, Karyn discussed the dynamics of first impressions and emphasizing authenticity over quantity in networking and personal relationships. There is no substitute, she said, for empathy in those relationships and in being true to one’s own “brand,” i.e., oneself. That includes, she said, coming to terms with your own work/life balance. “For me, that has always been about career and children.”
Schoenbart offered advice on “managing up” and in leading and motivating others. She discussed “skilling up,” i.e., identifying and learning what one needs to succeed, and overcoming the imposter syndrome, where accomplished professionals “feel like frauds.”
“I never took a business course in my life,” confessed the once wannabe school teacher, who encountered a squeezed market in the late 1970s. Instead, she pivoted to computers and then to marketing research as a project director. In the 1980s, she excelled as an account executive and sales rep in a company later purchased by NPD. Staying on with NPD, she became president of its tracking services for beauty, fashion footwear, and housewares. In her current role as the company’s president and COO, she stays close to NPD’s clients, mentors employees, and teaches four career development courses each year. “What is a typical working day like for you?” asked an Isenberg student. Karen’s decisive response: “I don’t have a typical day.”
More Leadership Insights
Leaders who communicate with inspiration and clarity “help others to succeed and grow.”Following the keynote speaker, four experienced executives discussed leadership issues in the workshop, Leadership Styles. Diane Holman ’85 fosters diversity and inclusion of thought in high-performing teams. “It’s about the team—people who can drive change proactively and collaboratively,” observed Holman, who is Senior Vice President and Chief People Officer with athenahealth, a cloud-based services provider to the healthcare industry. Heidi Bailey ’87, Brand and Community Relationship Leader with LEGO, cited the Danish company’s consensus-based decision-making style. The mantra, she said, is “LEGO before ego.” Still, within that culture, Bailey views herself as a transformational leader who instills “vision, empowerment, and change.”
Communication is critical, remarked Margery Piercey ’84, Boston office partner-in-charge of the accounting firm Marcum. Leaders who communicate with inspiration and clarity “help others to succeed and grow,” she said. But to consistently succeed, the leader must learn to adapt her communication and delivery of ideas to employees with different work and communication styles.
“You need to go slow to go fast,” quipped MassMutual Financial Group’s Michele Equale ’13 MBA. Michele is Assistant Vice President of Continuous Improvement. “You need to ensure common collective purpose—purpose on every level,” she continued. It’s all about respect for people. . . moving them from “I to we.” That respect, she emphasized, allows you “to move them from the comfort zone to the learning zone.”