Four Rich Women: How They Did It
Kay Koplovitz, Joni Evans, Anne Sutherland Fuchs and Karen Pearse have proven that the world of self-made billionaires is just as good for women as men. These four women billionaires recently came to the Philippines for the forum, “Leadership Voices” held at the Shangri-la Hotel, Makati.
The mega women spoke at the forum, “Leadership Voices”, organized by The Asia Society Philippine Foundation and Women’s Business Council Philippines, with help from global fashion icon Josie Natori. Television newscaster Karen Davila was the emcee.
Here’s what the women said about Female success and leadership today.
Koplovitz said every woman has an authentic leader inside of her, but not everyone discovers it. Sometimes, women discover it late in their lives. (Many women launch their first business in their 50s). Koplovitz said there are three stages to arriving at one’s authentic leadership style. They are:
- Finding your passionate moment. Koplovitz’ heroes are Arthur C. Clarke and Ray Bradbury. She discovered her passion when she attended a seminar on the subject of geo satellites. The latter are satellites above the equator in orbital positions, approximately 22,235 statute miles (35,784 km). They are consistently synchronized with Earth’s revolution. Koplovitz stressed that this was before cable TV, satellite television and the internet. However, all of them eventually became offshoots of geo satellites.
Koplovitz was determined to get cable TV off the ground, but she needed money. The prevailing economic model at the time was to buy television airtime, and then pay for it through advertisements. To launch cable TV, Koplovitz decided to reverse the economic model. She got the cable systems to pay her and when they accumulated enough hours, she got the advertising that she needed.
In this way, Koplovitz became the first woman president of a TV network, and later, a billionaire – through her passion for geo satellites.
2. Empower others. Although it is commonly believed that leadership is about self- empowerment, Koplovitz believes otherwise. She said that when you empower others, you gain the power of many, as opposed to simply having the power of one.
Koplovitz turned down the first job President Bill Clinton offered her, which was to chair the National Business Council. Instead, she wanted to empower women through capital formation and distribution. Clinton offered her the post of chairman of the National Women’s Business Council (NWBC) in 1998, and she accepted, precisely because that was the council’s function.
Before then, she had learned that $100 billion dollars was available to fund business – but less than two percent of the money went to women. With the NWBC she formed Springboard 2000 for women. Through Springboard 2000, women were trained in technology, biotechnology and fund raising. Today, Springboard has generated over $750 million in investment capital to fund female – owned businesses.
3. Leading from the middle. Koplovitz learned that billionaires don't always lead from the front. Sometimes, you must lead from the middle. She saw the importance of leading from the middle when she was placed on a board that was comprised of too many leaders. The result was that the group ended up going nowhere.
Koplovitz learned how to handle the situation by reading two books: Ed Sander’s The Art of Possibility (which said the power of a conductor is to make perfect music without playing a single instrument), and True North by Bill George (A book about authentic leadership). From these books Koplovitz decided to steer the board from the middle, rather than going too far out front.
Koplovitz is more than a billionaire. Her work is influencing the world. Satellite dishes, for example, came from geo satellites. Many Middle Eastern countries are emerging with people – powered movements, seeking more freedom. This is because of their exposure to more information from satellite dishes and the internet. “All people want freedom of their minds, and if they are shown how (and allowed it), they will fight for it,” Koplovitz said.
Evans is the founder and CEO of The women on the Web (wowOwow); Director, Dreyfus Strategic Municipal Bond Fund, Inc.; Principal, Joni Evans Ltd.; and Board member of 26 other investment portfolios managed or administered by The Dreyfus corporation. Evans is one of the most prominent figures in publishing and media due to her work at Random House and Simon and Schuster, and her stint as Former Senior Vice President, William Morris Agency.
Turning Fear into an Asset
Evans grew up in a wealthy family and her parents had only one wish for her: to marry well. Thus, Evans said her path to leadership was driven by the fear of not achieving. She wanted to do well for herself, despite having come from a privileged world where men held all the power. Her advice:
- Make decisions. Evans says it is better to make a decision – even if it’s a wrong one – than to be held back by fear. In 1976 Evans, then 26, worked with a publishing house and had three bestsellers listed. Despite this, she was earning $17,000 – less than a male co-worker. She asked for a raise, but her boss said she was a single woman, while the male co – worker had a family. Evans decided to look for a new job, and landed one that paid double her salary.
- Trust your instincts. Evans has over 100 bestsellers under her belt, which she says she got by trusting her intuition. Writers she has handled include Christopher Byron, Ann Coulter, Marcus Buckingham, Peggy Noonan, James Patterson, Liz Smith, Fannie Flagg, John Stossel and Michael Weisskopf.
- Turn fear into strength. As earlier stated, Evans was driven to succeed by fear. One way by which she mastered her fear and turned it into a source of strength was through continuous rehearsal of what she would do or say during meetings or other important events. This was, for her, critical especially during “bad hair days.”
Anne Sutherland Fuchs
Fuchs is group president, Growth Brand Division, J.C. Penney Company, Inc. and chairperson, New York City Commission on Women’s Issues. Fuchs was the first female publisher of a major U.S. magazine, and the first female publisher of Vogue magazine. She launched O (The Oprah Magazine), Elle and Marie Claire. She sits on various boards including Pitney Bowes Inc., Gartner Inc., and The Chairman’s Council of the Whitney Museum Pointers in Leadership:
Lead like a woman
- Have a group specifically for innovation. Fuchs noted that many businessmen like to keep company information close to their chests. However, Fuchs works otherwise. She says it’s important to share ideas through a strong, innovative team. This is crucial in getting fresh ideas that are geared towards establishing sales targets and setting financial goals.
Fuchs said the team must be trusted with company information. Each team member should also be nurtured to feel a sense of participation by sharing a commitment to move the company forward.
1. Pivot. In times of crisis, Fuchs said it’s important to reinvent yourself. When you are going through difficult times, ask yourself, “How can we do things differently?” or “How do we drive towards growth?” Look at one or two areas where you are still earning, and focus on them for a start.
2. It’s okay to be a woman. Fuchs said she doesn’t believe that it helps for a woman to act like a man in a male-dominated business environment. Instead, she loves being a woman and dressing like a woman.
Fuchs also loves being a mother, and after she had children, she knew she had to make choices. Her choice was that her two sons would always come “first, second, third, fourth, and fifth.”
One thing a woman can never do in business, however, is cry, Fuchs said, adding, “Women who cry in business are eviscerated.”
Pearse is the founder and CEO, Innovative Stone, (among the leading high-profile global suppliers of stones and tiles for homes and businesses).
Pearse was never intimidated by the fact that she only has a high school education. She “learned by doing.” When she was 17, she worked in a clothing store where she managed 50 people. When she was 21, her father’s store, (which sold stone and tiles), burned down. He asked her to help him rebuild it.
She did more than that – she moved the store into high-end commercial supply for leading hotels and buildings in the U.S.; diversified the firm into several companies; and went global. This is her checklist on how you should head a start-up business:
- Take it slow but sure.
- Have a clear idea about what you are going to do.
- Check the resources you have on hand to see if you have everything or if you need to access added resources to carry out your plan.
- Put your thoughts down on paper, or on a laptop.
- Brainstorm with others.
- Solidify your business plan.
- Get the added resources that you need to get your business started.
- Network. Use your network as a means to always get feedback from others.
- Don’t be afraid to take risks.
- Take it slow. Always remember that it is more important to do your business well, than to do it fast. Be thoughtful when you put together your ideas and business plans and gather your resources.
- Always have a good advisory group that you can call on.
One thing all four women agreed on is, when they were young and in their teens, they never dreamed that they would achieve the success they enjoy today. But they all had one thing in common – from the start, they simply followed their passion. That is where it all begins.