“The most innovative ideas come from conditions that are constrained or set.”
I’ve always thought of myself as more of a task manager than an innovative, creative person, and those words from ShareThis CEO Tim Schigel, subject of this month’s cover story, resonated with me because not knowing where to start is a familiar experience.
At first glance, it seems counterintuitive to place limits on innovation.
Wouldn’t keeping all options available lead to more possibilities? That, in turn, would be expected to produce better results, since you’re able to select the best solution from among a larger pool of ideas.
As Schigel says, without rules you wind up floating around in this ambiguous space. Only with constraints does innovation occur.
That comment made sense to me. When there are no rules, there also are no boundaries or ways to keep projects on track. It sounds like a way to rack up some huge expenses with no assurance you’re on a trajectory toward success.
At ShareThis, the starting point for development was to restrict ideas to working within the Amazon Cloud. Designers also had to ensure that their solutions didn’t use up too much computer power and slow down websites.
For many companies, I’m sure budgetary constraints are a large consideration that employees must work within. That’s certainly one of the reasons ShareThis stayed within the cloud rather than invest in a data center. But they were able to find a way to make the seemingly impossible work.
Ignoring the crowd
Clearly part of Schigel’s success stems from being a contrarian: “I like to go where the puck is going.”
As a hockey player, I appreciate any analogy connected with the sport. But it does make good business sense. All that he’s really saying is that better results come from anticipating changes.
Talent can make up for a lot of shortcomings when it comes to reading and reacting to a situation. But companies, like hockey players, can certainly maximum their potential by analyzing where things are going and taking steps to arrive there ahead of the competition.
In the case of ShareThis, that meant getting away from being dependent on a Facebook platform and developing an open model approach to sharing.
Hitting home runs
Many engineers at Google and other West Coast companies are from Midwest colleges like The Ohio State University and the University of Michigan, says Schigel, who grew up in Cleveland. Schigel says they often don’t have the same belief that it’s OK to change the world that you find on the West Coast. As a result, many business plans focus too much on incrementalism, he says.
“They just want to make something 20 percent better, instead of changing the rules,” Schigel says.
He says the key is to build up confidence within your organization and encourage people to ask questions. Remember, however, to stay focused as well.
“If they are just asking, ‘What if?’ and are not accomplishing anything, that gets a little old,” he says. “You want to not only ask the interesting and penetrating questions, but then go try and do it.”
Sounds like the perfect balance of task manager and innovator to me. ●
Roger Vozar is associate editor at Smart Business Northern California. If you have an interesting story to share about a person or business making a difference in Northern California, please sent an email to email@example.com.
I’ve read hundreds of great quotes from amazing leaders describing “leadership.” One of the simplest comes from Fuchan Yuan, who identified three essentials: “humility, clarity and courage.” Humility seems to be a character trait that people either have or don’t. Although many people perceive CEOs to have large egos, great leaders know that leadership is NOT about them as individuals.
Clarity is highly valued by most organizations. “Why do we exist?” “Where are we going?” and “How will we get there?” are essential questions that leaders need to answer if they are to build high-performance organizations.
Courage is expected of our leaders. Few things that are worth doing in life are easy, and followers must know that their leader will stay the course even in the toughest situations.
All three traits are important. But while I believe humility is a personal trait that doesn’t disappear overnight, clarity and courage can sometimes be lost in an instant and can be difficult to regain.
When a leader has a clear and compelling vision and a well-conceived strategy, the path ahead seems to unfold effortlessly. Sometimes the right path isn’t so easy to find, and even the best leaders experience an occasional crisis of confidence or a feeling of being “stuck.”
So what do great leaders do? Based on lessons I’ve learned from great leaders, I recommend the following:
Start with “why”
Simon Sinek’s TED talk, “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action,” is one of the most popular TED talks of all time. Sinek spoke about how people act according to their beliefs. Is your mission still compelling and crystal clear? If not, think about what has changed since you began your leadership journey.
Spend time with customers
Really listen to what your customers say. Do they truly appreciate what you do? Or, are you simply a commodity to them?
Spend time with employees
Listen to what they tell you about your customers and what they do and don’t enjoy about the company. Do they have a clear sense of the mission and strategy? What would they do if they were CEO?
Get outside perspectives
I founded the Alliance of Chief Executives in 1996 to enable leaders to discuss their most sensitive and deepest challenges in confidential, private meetings with other CEOs they respect and trust. All of us get into thinking and behavior patterns, and we typically need others who think differently to identify fresh approaches.
Take time for yourself
Leaders must take the time to slow down and reflect on their lives and current activities. Are you working to your full potential? You should explore these questions in-depth until you truly feel clear and energized by your decisions.
While leaders can sometimes lose clarity and courage, these traits can be restored. Once you’ve regained clarity, you will be able to move swiftly and confidently to communicate your vision while being open to ideas that will enable your organization to achieve your goals. When your mission is absolutely clear, you will also be able to muster the necessary courage to do what is needed. ●
Paul Witkay is founder and CEO of the Alliance of Chief Executives, the most strategically valuable and innovative organization for leaders anywhere. The Alliance strives to provide creative environments where breakthrough ideas happen.
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Most organizational change efforts, large or small, life-saving or mundane, are destined to fail. Generally, they don’t fail because of a weak concept but because of poor execution, often stemming from a lack of buy-in from the people who have to actually change their attitudes or behavior — your employees.
In this inaugural column on organizational leadership and change, I will suggest a simple rule of thumb to strengthen any change effort. In future columns, I will expand on the idea and offer additional tips.
In most pre-change situations, your staff will fall into a pattern something like this: 20 percent are way ahead of you, wondering why it took management so long to figure out what needed to change; 60 percent are open to change, if they can understand what exactly you have in mind and if it feels safe; and 20 percent are unalterably opposed to the change, even seeing it in apocalyptic terms.
Your firm’s proportions may vary from time to time and issue by issue but this formulation is solid; my firm has seen it in action dozens of times.
Where to focus?
If you are like most leaders, you spend 80 percent of your change-related energy trying to persuade the 20 percent that are unpersuadable. It is human nature to want to convince these naysayers of the rightness of your thinking, and they can form a very effective squeaky wheel.
Let’s face it, simply by distracting your energy, the naysayers can derail the change effort, causing you to waste valuable management time trying to solve the wrong problem.
Instead, try to focus 80 percent of your change-related energy on the 20 percent of employees who are ready for the change. Instead of gripe sessions with resisters, find ways to showcase early wins produced by these risk-takers, give them stretch assignments and feature their successes in internal company communications. The benefits of this approach are manifest:
- A cadre of change-makers who will form a ready group of allies for future change efforts.
- A visible alternative to the naysayers that the large, silent middle can adhere to as models.
- Less frustration.
Deal with naysayers
But what about those naysayers? Won’t they derail your change effort? Here is a three-step process for dealing with them:
First, ignore them. Some will grow quieter and even acquiesce if they are not given management’s attention and “air time.”
Second, marginalize them. By focusing on the early adopters, the power of resistance is moved to the shoulder.
And finally, if all else fails, remove them. Some will leave on their own, seeking a better fit for their values and thinking, while a few may need to be encouraged to find work elsewhere. You may also be surprised that when the tide clearly turns in favor of a successful change effort, some naysayers may turn out to be part of the 60 percent in the middle and are supportive. ●
David La Piana is founder and managing partner at La Piana Consulting. David’s strategy firm helps those in the philanthropy and nonprofit sectors effectively collaborate, create and accelerate change. He is the author of six books and numerous articles on topics ranging from mergers to competitiveness.
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I am privileged to work for and honored to lead an iconic, lifestyle brand that satisfies the growing consumer demand for healthier foods and beverages, a brand that is rapidly growing from a nationally recognized symbol for health and wellness to a global one.
Getting Jamba Juice to such a great place was no easy task — the company had its share of challenges when I came on board. I have always been inspired to do my best work against the biggest challenges and the opportunity to lead Jamba’s turnaround has given me the chance to put into practice lessons I have learned from 30 years of working for and with great leaders, great brands and great companies.
Building great teams
I’ve learned from and been inspired by legendary CEOs like Roberto Goizueta at Coca-Cola, Bill Stiritz at Ralston Purina, Jim Kilts at Gillette and Steve Burd at Safeway Stores. These leaders all shared a common trait: They recognized that by developing others in their organizations into great leaders, they were building teams which could create great brands and great companies. It is a strategy that has served me well in my own career.
The best leaders invest heavily in people, building leaders and creating processes that empower each person to do his or her best work. The varied approaches, styles and personalities of the above named CEOs have allowed me to take the best from the best, which I have distilled into five key principles:
1. Customer first — Adopt a mindset to always be externally focused on the consumer, creating solutions for known and unknown consumer needs.
2. Over invest in people — Strong companies and brands are enabled by skilled teams that are highly engaged in the mission and strategies of the company. Your investment in people has a high ROI.
3. Leadership courage is paramount — You must be willing to stand alone in your beliefs and not be swayed or distracted by those who would take an easier or more popular path. Go out on a limb … that’s where the fruit is.
4. Leaders must be teachers and active learners — Great brands and companies actively learn, adapt and adjust quickly to marketplace opportunities and challenges.
5. Company culture really matters — I’ve learned that the company culture matters more than the strategy. It’s been said that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
It’s a great honor and responsibility to lead a wonderful brand like Jamba Juice, and I work each day to apply the principles above and try to “squeeze the day!” ●
James D. White is chairman, president and CEO of Jamba Juice Co. James has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri and an MBA from Fontbonne University.
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Being an entrepreneur is probably one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. There is very little room for error. Therefore, it is important to learn as much as possible from other people’s mistakes and try not to repeat them.
In the past three years as an entrepreneur, I have accumulated a long list of “lessons learned” from my own experiences as well as from what I’ve observed from other entrepreneurs. Here are my top five things to avoid when doing a startup:
1. Having team members with identical skill sets and backgrounds when your company has fewer than five people. Startups are hard and you need people with the most diverse skill sets to be able to drive your company towards a product/market fit.
2. Hiring anyone who is not a rock star. It’s often hard to judge whether someone is an “A” player or not, especially if you are a first-time entrepreneur. That is why you need experienced mentors and advisers to help you assess candidates and hire only the best.
3. Raising too much money too early or raising too little money too late. Both of those scenarios are deadly for a startup. It is critical to raise the right amount of money at the right time.
For every business, the “right time and amount” is different. So make sure to talk to your advisers who have done it before to figure out what’s right for you.
4. Being afraid to pivot/not listening to customers. The path to success is never linear, and it is important to be able to recognize if and when you need to pivot. This doesn’t always mean a big overhaul, but you need to keep your finger on your users’ pulse to know if you need to make adjustments.
5. Not firing fast enough. You are small, you don’t have a lot of funding or time. Every person on the team who is not a top-notch performer or a cultural misfit is having a negative impact on your company’s progress (directly or indirectly). You need to be able to identify that fast (have a review process in place) and address it right away.
Sometimes you can find ways to mitigate the process and not have to let someone go, but figure out fast whether it’s a salvageable situation or not.
If you keep mindful of these pitfalls, your venture has a better chance of succeeding. I am now lucky to be leading an incredible team that built a beautiful product and has a big vision for addressing a true pain point in the market. ●
Aigerim Shorman is founder and CEO of Wist, a personalized local discovery that recommends top five places for you on the go that you’d actually be interested in. Previously, she was a Teach For America corps member and investment banking analyst. For more information, visit www.getwist.com.
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You know that you need to harness your data to stay competitive, but where will you find these data scientists? Before rushing to hire an army of computer science candidates with doctorates, understand what successful data science teams do.
Data scientists write code that applies complex algorithms to analyze and transform data into actionable insights, and help IT departments determine optimal structure for data storage. But transformation and storage are only pieces of the larger data life cycle.
Data science teams also need to do the following:
- Identify with business stakeholders what initiatives will solve a real need.
- Visualize and communicate the data intelligibly to business stakeholders.
- Design intuitive data products used by business stakeholders.
- Advise business stakeholders on the political and legal context for the data.
Finding an individual with expertise in everything is nearly impossible, but you can combine candidates that have the full breadth of knowledge with expertise in one or two of them. Diverse teams will yield the greatest return for your organization.
Recently, Booz Allen Hamilton hired a diverse group of experts to help synthesize a pharmaceutical client’s adverse-drug-reaction, social media, and lab and molecular data with research notes to reprioritize their drug research pipeline. For smaller companies lacking resources to hire or develop a team, use the questions you hope to answer to guide hiring. Sometimes the most challenging phase of the project has nothing to do with the computer programing.
Fit the team to the challenge
Stylitics, a startup that uses individuals’ closets to help designers and fashion houses predict fashion trends, wanted to answer the question: How can we learn the last 50 things you bought and the last 50 things you wore?
The company recognized that the most scalable way to capture this data was to provide immediate value back to users and create a digital closet that tracks what they wear, when they last wore it and so on.
The biggest challenge was data collection, not complex programming. In your business, the solutions you seek may not all require complicated engineering solutions, but rather a team or individual with the creativity and diversity to find it.
So what should you do to help your company deal with your own data challenges? Some next steps:
- Look internally — Often, it’s easier to provide training to someone already familiar with your business’ goals and data. You may discover that your next data scientist is not in tech.
- Develop a diagnostic — HR should develop internal diagnostics to identify appropriate candidates. Additional guidance can be found in reports from O’Reilly Media and Booz Allen Hamilton.
- Keep them sharp — The field of data science changes rapidly and you should provide opportunities to learn new techniques and skills when necessary. Master’s degrees, including a degree in information and data science, and other resources are increasingly available.
- Give them company — The best solutions come from teams with diverse experts. Starting off with one data scientist is fine, but try to have a plan to grow the team and listen closely to feedback from your initial hire(s). ●
AnnaLee Saxenian is dean and professor in the School of Information and professor in the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of California, Berkeley. Her most recent book, “The New Argonauts: Regional Advantage in the Global Economy,” explores how the “brain circulation” by immigrant engineers from Silicon Valley has transferred technology entrepreneurship to emerging regions in China, India, Taiwan and Israel.
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Not long ago, I went to Wal-Mart with my daughter. The store had certainly changed from the days of Mr. Sam Walton. Piles of discarded clothes languished in shopping carts outside the dressing room. Items were in disarray aisle after aisle. It took several tries to get help from distracted associates.
Later that day, I went to Amazon.com to buy a book. Like Wal-Mart, the Amazon homepage was chock-full of products — everything from running shoes to watches to power tools. And yes, books. I did some searching, but still needed to wade through several listings to find what I wanted.
Wal-Mart and Amazon are two corporate behemoths, and I certainly expect that they will remain successful enterprises for years to come. But I believe Amazon, like Wal-Mart, is at risk of becoming increasingly irrelevant to shoppers. Why? Because Amazon has lost the essence of what it is as a company and what its brand represents. Someday, our kids will be amazed to learn that Amazon was once the world leader in books.
This, I realize, must sound like heresy. Amazon sells everything, at such a great price! It’s so convenient! I agree. But here’s the thing: Convenience applies to online shopping in general. And while Amazon’s efficient operations and scale will make it tough for competitors to beat it on price, its brand is so diluted it’s hard to know exactly what the company sells.
Provide focused convenience
The fact that Amazon feels more and more like Wal-Mart — a seemingly random selection of unrelated items — will make it increasingly easy for competitors to pick off pieces of its business by providing more convenient ways to shop for specialty items.
If that sounds crazy, ask yourself why Amazon couldn’t beat Zappos in online shoes. It wasn’t for lack of trying: Amazon pushed its own Endless.com fashion site for years.
But Zappos had figured out that people wanted an easy way to shop for footwear. They hired customer service representatives who were prepared to talk shoes and built a website tailored to help people find the perfect pair. Consumers came to think of Zappos not as a place to buy shoes but as the place to buy shoes — even without discount prices. Finally,
Amazon wrote an $850 million surrender check to buy Zappos.
There’s a lesson here for all of us. Brands are most powerful when they do a specific something for a specific someone in a specific way. Ideally, the brand comes to be associated tightly in customers’ minds with a unique combination of these three elements.
Identify your brand
Too bad, for instance, Amazon didn’t start a separate brand for e-books — and call the new brand “Kindle.” Imagine how focused such a website would be: A one-stop shop for readers to find the best electronically published books.
Marketed properly, e-books could have become known as “Kindles” in the same way that tissues are commonly called “Kleenex.” What a waste of a great brand opportunity!
Instead, the Amazon homepage has women’s clothing featured alongside Kindle devices. That approach may work for the world’s largest online retailer, but only by virtue of its sheer size. For the rest of us, Amazon’s experience should be a warning: Don’t spread your brand too thin. ●
Jerry McLaughlin is CEO of Branders.com, the world’s largest and lowest-priced online promotional products company.
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Not since the emergence of the cloud has information technology received more attention than the current buzz surrounding big data. As with cloud computing, it can sometimes be hard to decipher what big data really means.
Former SGI chief scientist John Mashey originally popularized the phrase, using it to describe the relentlessly expanding boundaries of computing — bigger processors, bigger memory, bigger networks and so on. Today, big data refers more specifically to harnessing value through analytics from a vast amount of data flooding business and government agencies.
Data is everywhere
Analytics and big data have become top 10 strategies among CIOs, according to a Gartner 2013 survey. Data is arriving in greater volume, at greater velocity and in far greater variety than ever before.
While data traditionally came from carefully structured business systems, it now pours in from online shopping, email, social media and countless other aspects of our increasingly digital lives. It arrives from a multitude of digital sensors in cars, factories, shipping containers, roadways, as well as video surveillance and many other machine-generated sources.
And it is largely “unstructured,” which means it doesn’t fit neatly in a conventional relational database.
Analytics lead to insights
Another reason for big data’s popularity is the rapid development of a new breed of data analytics tools that enable organizations to broadly mine the data, gain insights and capture value.
For example, marketing can uncover patterns in buying behavior to gain more customers and increase sales to existing ones. Manufacturing can better understand product performance to improve quality. Finance can more readily identify fraud to prevent loss. And physicians can utilize genetic profiles to treat patients more effectively.
From achieving competitive advantage to growing topline revenue to saving lives, the potential gains surrounding big data are far-reaching. They also present new challenges: How to derive value at greater speed, scale and efficiency.
Big computing for big imaginations
The magic behind big data lies in the computing environment, and much like solving big technical computing problems, big data analytics requires multiple computer processors — tens, hundreds or even thousands — all working in parallel. This is the world of high performance computing and, when leveraged effectively, it opens a world of possibilities.
In traditional HPC environments we start with a hypothesis, generate data and gain knowledge. Using HPC for big data analytics, we start with the data, then form the hypothesis and gain insight. The most common form of analytics utilizes a cluster of computers to essentially search across a broad data set for specific information. It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.
There is also a form of big data analytics whereby the objective is not one of search, but of discovery. Here we look for relationships within the data in order to understand what the data is telling us. This form requires a computer system with massive amounts of shared memory. Such a system can also deliver results in microseconds.
Once organizations recognize the power of big data analytics, its boundaries will rapidly expand. And with imagination it can not only transform the way business operates but also reshape the world we live in — which explains why big data has suddenly become such a big deal. ●
Jorge Titinger is president and CEO of SGI. Learn more about SGI Big Data Solutions at www.sgi.com/bigdata.
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Transitioning from corporate America to entrepreneurship takes determination and drive.
If you want to start a business but don’t know where to begin, you’re not alone. More Americans continue to leave the corporate world to start businesses.
A few years ago, I was a vice president at a Fortune 500 company, a divorcee and a single mom. As a child of divorce I was determined to make my relationship with my ex amicable, for the sake of my daughter. We had agreed on child support and would share my daughter’s other expenses.
I had no idea how difficult it would be to actually manage this arrangement. There was no platform available for parents to track, organize and manage child support and shared child expenses. In the U.S. alone there are more than 39 million parents struggling with this issue.
It was then that I decided to take an unforeseen turn in my life and created a startup — SupportPay by Ittavi, an automated child support payment platform built specifically for parents. As a founder of a thriving business, I’d like to offer some advice to budding entrepreneurs.
Don’t be blinded by a false sense of security
One of the first things I heard from others was, “Wow. It’s risky leaving the security of corporate America.” But there isn’t much security in corporate America either — you could lose your job at any moment for a number of reasons.
At least I’m in charge of the finances, the business plan and can control my schedule — the success of my company is in my hands.
Success doesn’t happen overnight
Every day you see stories of companies being bought for millions and valued for billions. The stories make it seem so easy — and quick. But in reality it takes time.
Fundraising is a full-time job — and takes much longer than anyone anticipates. If you remember you are running a marathon and not a sprint, adjusting to the demands of startup life become much more bearable.
Learn to separate work and home life
If you think you’ll have a better work/life balance after starting your own business … think again. It’s better to set boundaries from the start.
I shut down my computer at 6 p.m. every night and dedicate 6 to 9 p.m. to my daughter. Three hours of quality time every night is better than more hours of being partly present.
Never delegate unless you know what you want
Coming from a career in product management and marketing, I knew nothing about coding or product design. The first thing I did was learn the technologies so I could define what was desired and tell if outsourced work was quality and if time spent on it was realistic.
There isn’t room for a backup plan
You can’t go into the startup field thinking you can always go back to your old job. Learn from roadblocks and continue on — that’s one quality every entrepreneur must have. Remembering why you started this and remaining committed is the only way you will be successful.
The most important lesson to remember when starting your own company is that you are not alone. Network with other entrepreneurs, and never hesitate to ask for advice or an introduction to someone who can help.
Entrepreneurship may not be for everyone, but with a little drive, determination and passion, success is possible. ●
Sheri Atwood, founder of SupportPay by Ittavi, the first-ever automated child support payment platform, is a successful marketing and product executive with Fortune 500 experience. Atwood was named a “Top 40 Under 40 Executive in Silicon Valley” in 2009. For more information, visit www.supportpay.com.
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Myth: Women and men are equal in the workplace
We wish it were already true — but it’s not. Women top out at around 15 percent of leadership in almost every profession and the pay gap persists.
Studies show that progress has stalled for over a decade.
People think employers and the government can fix these problems. When we wait for top-down solutions, we overlook simple steps. Like ending the “Girl Scout Tax:” The cost of being too accommodating in the workplace. Research says that women are expected to look after others at work, if humanly possible. The good thing about this kind of tax: It’s in your power to give yourself a tax break. Practice saying “no” to requests that your male colleague would decline.
Myth: Men are more ambitious than women
Researchers find that women are at least as aggressive as men — but only when we are anonymous. We are less likely to say out loud that we want to be CEOs. The fear of being disliked is cultivated in women in a way it’s not in men. We are told, in one way or another, no one likes an ambitious woman.
Columbia psychologist Anna Fels says that’s another problem we can correct. Women who succeed get quiet nods of approval while men get roaring applause. We can each make things better in our personal lives by surrounding ourselves with men and women who embrace female success with the same vigor and excitement as the male kind.
Myth: When women become mothers, they don’t want to work as much
It’s a convenient refrain because it means no one is unhappy with the way things are — women are OK with giving up good jobs when they become mothers. The best way to toss this myth out for good is for those moms to succeed as great employees and as great parents.
We don’t tell men it’s their “choice” to work, that they can rely on someone else to make the money. Let’s tell women just what we tell men, that work is the way we build skills and create economic security. Striving for the best job we can get is healthy for all of us. Even mothers.
Myth: Children of stay-at-home mothers do better than the children of working moms
People assume that it must be better for kids if the mother stays home. Where are the studies showing that kids with working mothers do worse? Do they drop out of high school more frequently? Are they more likely to use drugs?
The largest research on child development says kids do equally well whether moms work or not. In fact, studies say that female employment leads to good things for kids — more involved dads see themselves as equal parents. In the U.S., more than 70 percent of people under 30 think marriage is best when both men and women have jobs and care for kids.
Myth: The more hours you work, the more successful you will be
Research from places like Harvard Business School increasingly shows this isn’t true. Focused, structured teamwork matters more than hours at your desk. We build better, more productive teams when women are half the room. And if we want more satisfied clients, employees and shareholders, we need to retain our stars — who are often working parents. ●
Sharon Meers is co-author of “Getting to 50/50,” now out in paperback. She is the current head of Magento Enterprise Strategy, part of eBay Inc. Meers is a former managing director at Goldman Sachs. For more information, visit www.gettingto5050.com.
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