Heidi Roizen: Networking Is More Than Collecting Lots of Names
The Silicon Valley master networker explains the importance of relationship building.
Heidi Roizen may be one of the best-connected executives in Silicon Valley, but to get her next “real” job, she had to do her homework.
“Homework never ends,” was the message Roizen, MBA ‘83, delivered Nov. 6 at Stanford GSB event sponsored by the student Women in Management (WIM) club.
In an informal question-and-answer session with WIM President Margot Langsdorf, a second-year MBA student, Roizen talked about her new company — her “fake” job as her daughters call it — and her “real” job as a member of the board of directors of two public companies.
In 2008 she became founder and CEO of SkinnySongs, a small music company that sells CDs with songs she wrote to inspire people trying to lose weight. (“We’re profitable because we don’t pay the CEO,” she joked.) She also sits on the boards of TiVo Inc. and Yellow Pages Group of Canada.
She was one of the first women Silicon Valley CEOs, heading the software firm T/Maker Co. and then serving asa an executive at Apple. Later she was a managing director of Mobius Venture Capital and also a board member of the National Venture Capital Association.
Today, she counts on such tech luminaries as Bill Gates as one of her pals. Her network is large and powerful. But she admitted that when she began promoting SkinnySongs she, in some ways, had to start all over. Roizen wrote lyrics for her SkinnySongs and then used her easy conversational ability to convince two high-powered Nashville music producers to work with her in getting them produced, funding the venture herself.
“Everyone takes your calls when you’re a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley,” she said. “But when you’re hawking a musical product and calling up the VP of Weight Watchers, they’re not all that psyched to take your call.
“Credibility and power don’t necessarily translate into a different world,” she said.
While she didn’t want a full-time job, she did want her next career to be in corporate governance. Board positions aren’t usually advertised so this is where her network and homework really came into play.
She wrote 150 e-mails to people she knew from serving on the boards of companies Mobius funded, to CEOs and other C-level executives, and to recruiters, letting them know of her interest. Connections don’t just happen, she says: “Don’t believe you don’t have to work at it; you have to make it easy for people to connect the dots.”
She advised students to build genuine connections with people they’d like to network with. “Don’t just go out and collect business cards,” she said. “The best way to get to know other people is in the context of accomplishing something, like a volunteer project.”
And she advised students looking for jobs to spend as much time on their homework as their networking. “No matter how much you are a great fit, if you walk in and you haven’t read the annual report, or learned about the people you are meeting” you will have a tougher time of it. “Don’t assume your talent can carry you.”
In looking for a board directorship, Roizen said she knew some organizations were simply looking for a female face. She wanted a good fit. She has considered gender issues in business before, and she is the subject of a business case study illustrating how gender stereotypes can impact subjective performance appraisals and promotions.
In one of his organizational behavior classes, Frank Flynn, Business School associate professor of organizational behavior, experimented with gender perceptions. While teaching the Roizen case at Columbia University, Flynn changed Roizen’s name to Howard in some versions of the case, but left the rest of the information in the case intact. Flynn measured students’ reaction and found more students said they enjoyed working with Howard than Heidi. For those students who thought the protagonist was a woman: “The more aggressive they thought she was, the more they hated her,” he says describing the experiment. Students said they found Heidi less humble and more power hungry and self-promoting than Howard. That was a “disappointment” the real Heidi said, “but I don’t personally feel that bias.”
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