University of Southern California

Great Heights
Inaugural Marshall MBA Women’s Conference Highlights what it Takes to Lead
February 14, 2014 • by News at Marshall

The first annual USC Marshall MBA Women’s Conference brought together top women executives, Marshall faculty, MBAs, alumnae and prospective students to discuss how women can excel in business today. The conference, created by Marshall’s Graduate Women in Business (GWiB)—a student-led organization—and the Marshall MBA Career Resources Center —focused on women’s leadership and featured presentations by respected female executives from myriad corporations, including: Warner Bros., Credit Suisse, PepsiCo, Northrop Grumman, AT&T, Toyota, PwC, and Deloitte.

The conference also included an inaugural New Venture Seed Competition that awarded $40,000 to three enterprises led by female Marshall MBA students.

Panel discussions during the January 24 event at USC’s Davidson Conference Center highlighted key areas of development for women seeking advancement in both corporate and entrepreneurial environments. Talks touched on the importance of serving on corporate and nonprofit boards, challenges and rewards of international assignments, effective networking and negotiation strategies and leadership skills necessary to run organizations. Attention was also given to the ongoing challenge of balancing personal and professional obligations.

The panel, “A Seat at the Table,” featured women executives who rose through the ranks of what had traditionally been male-dominated industries, like Peggy Turner, vice president, Lexus Customer Services at Toyota Motor Sales, who outlined how women gain guidance and support through an extensively developed network, what she termed her “personal board of directors.”

Others highlighted the need to be in the rooms where decisions are made to learn how to lead effectively.

“You need to be like a heat-seeking missile and go where the power is,” said Diane Brooks Dixon, principal of Diane Dixon Global Consultants, on the panel “Vision and Influence” moderated by Judith Blumenthal, professor of clinical management and organization, Marshall. “Being at the center of the action, working with three different CEOs, I watched how others who were successful worked behind the scenes to navigate conflicts.”

A discussion moderated by Deborah MacInnis, vice dean of undergraduate programs at Marshall, meanwhile, addressed the ongoing issue of whether women can use the same techniques as men to lead and offered students advice on navigating situations that stymie their effectiveness

During the conference’s cornerstone keynote address, Trish Devine Karlin, vice president, Global Business Planning for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation MBA ‘11, passed along several key lessons she learned during her 20-plus years in a leadership role.

“Never estimate the power of a dedicated group of women to change the world. Our global organization started with three women around a kitchen table trying to save the life of one HIV-infected child,” she said. “Stay true to your mission and your vision. Don’t get hung up on what you think you know. You will always need to adapt and accept new ideas, especially in a global context. Don’t let the critics get you down. If we had listened to everyone who told us we would never succeed, we never would have started and I wouldn’t be here to tell you the story.”

Karlin spoke about the ongoing challenge for business women to balance their work and family obligations. “Many of us carry the extra workload with family and career. I can’t tell you a perfect way to manage that. What worked for me was to determine the family priorities that I refused to sacrifice and I filled my work in around those.”

She also counseled finding a mentor who can offer career guidance and also mentoring others, a point that was reiterated in discussions on effective networking and leading with authenticity that followed her presentation.

Speaking about the inaugural conference, Marshall Dean James G. Ellis, "I am proud of our school's efforts to bring this forum to campus to engage prominent alumnae, executives, the campus community and prospective students to champion women's leadership in business."

The second day of the conference featured the Women’s New Venture Seed Competition, which offered monetary support for enterprises helmed by female Marshall MBAs. Shana Elson MBA ’14 took first place and $25,000 for Top This Chocolate, a customizable chocolate retail business venture. Activate, an entity to help elderly lead an active and independent life created by Arielle Ferscht MBA ‘14, Sharifa Haye, MBA ‘14 and Francesca Sweet MBA ‘14, finished second and was awarded $10,000; Minterview, a peer-to-peer technology platform that allows students to practice interviewing through video-recording, envisioned by Stephanie Schwartz MBA’14, Amanda Yodowitz MBA’ 14, and Alina Efford MBA’ 14, earned third place and $5,000.

About the USC Marshall School of Business
Consistently ranked among the nation's premier schools, USC Marshall is internationally recognized for its emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, social responsibility and path-breaking research. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, one of the world's leading business centers and the U.S. gateway to the Pacific Rim, Marshall offers its 5,700-plus undergraduate and graduate students a unique world view and impressive global experiential opportunities. With an alumni community spanning 123 countries, USC Marshall students join a worldwide community of thought leaders who are redefining the way business works.