Diana Kapp, MBA ’96: What Matters to Me Now and Why

“I craved becoming a message-maker rather than a messenger.”

October 12, 2022

| by Diana Kapp
An illustration of the narrator writing, in front of a grid of women's portraits. Credit: Illustration by Kim Salt

Diana Kapp writes articles and books that elevate women and show young girls pathways to success. | Illustration by Kim Salt

“Line yourselves up in order of your level of influence on the group,” David Brady, our Learning to Lead professor instructed. We were standing outside in the quad under classic Palo Alto blue skies. All term, my classmates and I had been getting to know one another, doing various group projects, challenges, and personality tests. As the line-up began, I darted to the very back. When the jostling and positioning stopped, we all froze, observing. “Now,” our professor said, “move one another to the place you believe they belong.” I remained still. The caboose. Nobody tried to move me.

I remember being particularly undone by this at the time, and this exercise has stayed with me, even though it revealed no new information, really. I’ve always fallen firmly on the “I” side of the introvert-extrovert axis. I am not a joiner or a natural leader. I have no compulsion to organize, and I tend to hang on the fringes. This was not an easy profile at a business school.

But looking back, that sense of being inconsequential had everything to do with why I wanted to go to the GSB in the first place. I had spent much of my life feeling sidelined. My first jobs out of college, exciting as they sounded — legislative correspondent, CNN intern — were more like being a glorified secretary. As the head of investor relations and communications for a biotech start-up, I was there to spotlight others. I craved “becoming a message-maker rather than a messenger,” as I wrote in my admissions essay.

My choices after Stanford did not lead me any closer to management. The truth was, I was best at untangling complex situations using words and sentences. I became a journalist, writing narrative pieces trying to make sense of topics that moved me: Palo Alto’s suicide clusters, whether digital therapists can help alleviate depression, and what falling in love looks like at age 84.

By elevating these women, bringing their notable lives into relief, I am creating new images for young women to find themselves in.

When my youngest daughter turned 12, I started thinking about how our sense of personal power and ambition is shaped. I wondered whether Emma, who I always say popped out of the womb with her hands on her hips ready to issue orders, would come to call the shots. Twenty years had passed since I graduated from the GSB, but the number of female CEOs in the Fortune 500 had increased from an absurd 0 to a measly 24.

I decided to spotlight female entrepreneurs and founders in a book aimed at inspiring teen girls. I shared the stories of people like Anne Wojcicki, the founder of 23&Me, and GSB alumna Jane Chen, MBA ’08, who invented a dirt-cheap, electricity-free incubator to save premie babies in the developing world, and Emily Nunez Cavness, MBA ’20, who after a tour as an army intelligence officer in Afghanistan recycled military gear into bags and luggage. Now I’ve written a second book for teens that profiles female change makers who are out-fundraising, out-competing, and out-smarting the field.

By elevating these women, bringing their notable lives into relief, I am creating new images for young women to find themselves in. I am not sure whether this work makes me a messenger or a message-maker, but I suspect a bit of both. I have come to see, most importantly, that I am fine either way.

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