Leadership & Management

Women’s Conference: Leaders Need Passion and Perseverance

Debi Coleman, MBA ’78, relies on six important elements for achieving results.

March 01, 2003

| by Stanford GSB Staff

In a 25-year career, Debi Coleman, MBA ‘78, has recorded a long list of milestones as a high tech executive: part of the team that launched the Macintosh at Apple Computer; serving as the youngest CFO of a Fortune 200 company; responsible for manufacturing and product operations on the turnaround team at Tektronix; spinning out Merix as the fist CEO of the high-end circuit board manufacturer, and currently cofounding a $75 million venture fund focused on early stage high-tech ventures.

“We are all capable of achieving extraordinary results — to truly make a difference across many fields of endeavor, many communities, and various time frames,” she told the audience at the Stanford Graduate School of Business Women’s Conference March 1.

She quoted Nelson Mandela’s 1994 inaugural address in South Africa:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure: It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves—’Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?”

The greatest corporate leaders, she said, base their leadership on values. “They are strongly committed to business ethics and social responsibility — not just to profits and market share.” She listed other characteristics:

They make long-term commitments, including a commitment to change their own behavior when necessary. They win support from top management, their peers, and their subordinates. They get personally involved in all aspects of their operation: strategy and goals, training and development; performance measures and feedback systems; even reward and recognition programs.

Coleman, who today is co-managing partner of SmartForest Ventures, in Portland, Ore., acknowledged that factors such as corporate growth, market share, and profits — not ethical or moral standards — are often used as the primary standards for judging leaders. Businesses follow the letter of the law while skirting the spirit.

Regardless of what measurements are used externally, Coleman said she had six elements she relies on as most important for achieving results:

  • A passion for excellence
  • Extra-hard work and sacrifice
  • Camaraderie and teamwork
  • Innovation and creativity
  • Vision
  • Perseverance

The Women’s Conference, organized by the Stanford GSB Alumni Association, drew nearly 200 women ranging from students to business leaders.

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