Ms. Nooyi counted many successes in her 12-year run, defeating an activist investor’s attempt to break up the company and pushing PepsiCo chips and sodas to healthier snacks such as hummus and kombucha.
Since I became President and CEO of USG Corp. November 1, 2016, I regularly receive requests to tell the story of my journey to become CEO of our 116-year-old American manufacturing company, the leading manufacturer of building products and innovative solutions around the world.
When I spoke at the 2016 Annual Women’s Day Forum at the United Nations, I encouraged women to “Do the Math”, words made famous by Matt Damon or rather his character Mark Watney in the movie “The Martian.”
“You do the math. You solve one problem then you solve the next problem.”
I tell my audience that’s what business leaders do: solve problems. Whether you’re on a hostile planet trying to get back to Earth, or facing a business challenge, you do the math. You solve one problem at a time.
My Illinois public school gave me a great STEM foundation, where I also had the benefit of female classmates who competed with me for top honors in math, chemistry, and physics. I may have been one of the few women pursuing an honors math curriculum at Notre Dame, which enabled me to easily move to computer applications. By the time I was pursuing my MBA at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, I continued to build on a foundation of confidence.
I believe math opens a world of opportunities. Demand for employees with programing and engineering skills continue to outpace the supply. Technology continues to advance and change everything. For women, developing the ability to use technology to solve problems and to innovate is essential in improving our quality of life and securing the future.
I was one of the women interviewed by Korn/Ferry’s Jane Stevenson and Evelyn Orr as part of their research project called the CEO Pipeline Project, which included 57 female CEOs, 41 from Fortune 1000 companies and 16 from large privately held companies, supported by a Rockefeller Foundation grant.
As Stevenson and Orr point out, organizations should identify and develop promising female talent early in their careers. To that I would add my own story of how IBM identified me as a high-potential leader in my first job out of Notre Dame. IBM created additional learning opportunities for me. They paired me with senior executives for mentoring.
When one of the vice presidents said, “You could run this place” a light bulb went off. That was a real confidence builder and affirmation that I was a leader.
I might not have seen my path as clearly had I not heard the term leader. It filled me with hope and responsibility.
I also think it’s important for women to understand and demonstrate that they know where organization is going and how their work advances the company. Knowing how each role contributes to achieving the company’s financial targets is also important. Ideally, she sees how each assignment not only builds her success but the company’s success as well.
Thank you, Rockefeller Foundation for bringing attention to the important issue of advancing women. By 2025, my daughters will be setting out on their careers and I hope they see an unlimited path unfolding before them. In the meantime, I plan to tell the story of my journey, answer questions and give advice to help other women move forward.