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Fisher alumni share business success during Women’s Leadership Symposium

Event brought together students, graduates for professional development

Alumni of The Ohio State University Max M. Fisher College of Business shared secrets of success during the college’s second annual Women’s Leadership Symposium. The day-long event, held during Women’s History Month at the Blackwell Inn, brought together alumni from around the country to discuss professional development strategies and participate in networking opportunities.

Cynthia TurnerThe day culminated in a panel discussion with two alumni who have served as chief executive officers of large corporations. Panelists included Paula Bennett (class of 1971), former president and CEO of clothing retailer J.Jill, and Melinda D. Whittington (1989), president and CEO of furniture manufacturer La-Z-Boy Inc. Amy Sheneman, professor of accounting and management information systems at Fisher, introduced the panel and Cynthia Turner, the college’s assistant dean and chief diversity officer, served as moderator.

The panelists said mentoring, both receiving and serving, has been essential to moving ahead in their careers.

“I would encourage folks to build natural mentors from the managers you work for, the connections you have and keep them,” Whittington said. “If you had a good boss and then you move on to something else, grab lunch every now and then.”

A collaborative approach to leadership is also key, Bennett said.

“True leadership is not about you. You win or lose as a team,” she said. “A big part of what I loved to do is create alignment and a shared commitment for the goals we set out – clarity around roles, responsibilities, decisions, accountability so that people who worked as part of our team knew what their role was, that we all knew what we were working toward. It wasn’t micromanaging, it was having that shared understanding of what we were trying to do.”

Bennett, Whittington and Turner discussed work-life balance and how to prioritize their families while accomplishing career goals. Turner shared an experience from the early days of her career when she was trying to establish herself while she and her husband raised two sons.

“I was home often, but I wasn’t present. … I made some different decisions about my career” to focus more on family, Turner said. “All of us have to make our decisions when we think about what’s best for you, what’s important to you.”  

The Women’s Leadership Symposium also featured panels on how to develop technical skills, knowledge and relationships over the course of a career and how to acquire money management know-how that leads to financial independence.

Neha Rajput, a fourth-year finance major, said the symposium reinforced the value of connecting with mentors and reciprocating the effort by guiding others.

“Moving forward, I see myself wanting to take more risks and ultimately lift others up as I continue to grow,” she said. “I see the importance of having others help me, but also the importance of helping others where I can. We all have something to contribute in spaces just by being ourselves, and if I can convey that to others, I would be satisfied.”

Prateeksha Prabhakar, a second-year operations management major, said hearing from Fisher alumni who have had successful careers was empowering.

“I learned that in order to be successful in a leadership position, it is important to be adaptable and a strategic thinker. There may be many unexpected situations that arise and being able to maneuver them will help in the long run,” she said. “While this was spoken about on a professional level, I can also apply this to my daily life and work on handling situations with a strategy that helps build my leadership skills.”

Allison Conklin graduated from the college’s working professional MBA program in 2020 and is now the U.S. corporate engagement director for international nonprofit Catalyst Inc. She said her takeaway from the symposium is that leadership entails much more than technical expertise.

“People in the workforce have different expectations of the workplace, of their managers, and of leadership teams,” she said. “It’s important for Fisher women to position themselves with high agility quotient – that sweet spot of IQ (intelligence quotient), EQ (emotional quotient), and SQ (social quotient) – as we are leading for the future of our workplaces. It’s a fantastic recognition that leadership is way more than just what you know.”

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