Born: Bremerton, Wash. My father was in the Navy so I lived my first three years in Yokosuka, Japan, and spoke only Japanese until I was 3 years old. Coming back to the U.S. took a little bit of adjustment. I would ask the local kids if they wanted to come over and play with my ‘bronco,’ which is a slang term for swing in Japanese. Of course, the parents didn’t want them to come over and play with a bronco.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in French from San Diego State University
What’s your definition of success?
If everybody on the team feels that they can contribute and make a difference, then it’s amazing what things can happen. If people don’t feel that way, they will hold back their terrific ideas and you don’t realize the potential.
What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?
Be who you are. When I was elected to be an officer of Pacific Telesis, the chairman [Don Guinn] met with me and said, ‘Sue, I just have one piece of advice for you: Don’t change now that you’re an officer of the company. You were elected an officer because of who you are, what you’ve done and how you lead people, so just because you’re an officer doesn’t mean that you need to change how you do it.’
What’s your outlook on life?
I tend to look at the glass half-full. Somebody will come into my office and say, ‘We have a real problem.’ And I’ll say, ‘Oh my gosh, did someone die?’ When they say no, I say, ‘Then we can fix it.’ If you have the attitude that everything’s repairable, that helps with your outlook on life. So if no one died, we’re in good shape.
If you weren’t in your current position, what might you be doing instead?
I would be working at an organization called Helen Woodward Animal Center, a no-kill sanctuary. I volunteer time there, so if I wasn’t here full-time, I would probably be doing a lot more of that.
Also, I kind of joke with our head of HR that it would be fun to have our own little entrepreneurial coffee cart business. Well, I don’t think it’s such a joke because we’re both coffee lovers. Coffee makes people happy. So that’s what I’d be doing just being with people, making them happy.
Past experience: Swenson held a number of senior management positions at Pacific Telesis (Pacific Bell) then served as president and chief operating officer of PacTel Cellular (which became AirTouch Communications), president and CEO of Cellular Oneaand then COO of Leap Wireless International and T-Mobile. Prior to joining Sage, she was most recently COO of New Motion Inc. (now Atrinsic Inc.) She previously served on the boards of T-Mobile International and Eltek Inc., and continues to serve on the board of Wells Fargo Bank.