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October 8, 2001

Women Discuss Strategies for Success

Four high-powered female executives with academic ties to UConn and one who recently climbed Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro, revealed the secrets of their success in the highly competitive business world before some 100 students at a forum last week on "Women in Business: Strategies For Success."

"Know your values, dream and visualize being what you want, maintain a competitive edge in your job, loosen up, be responsible, and keep prayer in your life," said Gail March, general manager of technical and maintenance data services for United Technologies' Pratt & Whitney business unit.

March, who has nearly three decades of professional experience in the automotive and aerospace industry and earned her MBA from UConn in 1996, said it's critical to know what you value. "It's not about having more digits in your paycheck and making a living, it's about making a life," she said.

"At UConn, we do a terrific job of training our students with the technical skills and the academic background that allows them to add value to the companies for whom they work," said Lin Klein, associate professor of finance in the School of Business, who organized the forum. "But one aspect of critical knowledge that can't be found in books and is not easily taught in the classroom is developed through experience."

She said that, for the most part, the strategies developed for success, are also applicable to male students. A smattering of male business students attended the forum, which was co-sponsored by the School of Business and Travelers.

Klein said the stories of the five panelists who successfully climbed the corporate ladder in various industries would help students avoid some of the pitfalls that may occur when embarking on a career.

"Do a good job at your tasks, use your brain and judgment," said Laura Estes, who in 1997 formed an investment company, Estes Advisors LLC.

Estes received her MBA from UConn in 1977 while a securities analyst at Aetna. She was inducted into the School of Business Hall of Fame in 1996.

"In everyone's career luck plays a role," she added. "You get a great boss who wants to mentor you and that's luck. Take advantage of your luck," she said.

For her, luck came upon the business scene in the early 1970s, when she took on an assignment for Aetna in Bermuda. At the time, she said, the best thing about the assignment was the fact that she was going to go to Bermuda. As it turned out, the timing coincided with the entry of the Eurodollar bond market and she was in a position to manage Aetna's entry into the market and to manage the company's offshore portfolios.

Jean LaVecchia, vice president of human resources and environmental services for Northeast Utilities, told students to seize the opportunity to work in teams. "Teams put the best minds together," she said.

A member of the board of advisors of the School of Business, LaVecchia received an MBA in 1980 from the University with a concentration in finance. Her career path took her into the field of human resources. Her job at Northeast embraces ethics, safety and the environment.

Panelist Joanne Mandry, who graduated from UConn with an accounting degree and moved up the corporate ladder to become senior vice president of operations for retail giant Polo Ralph Lauren, talked about the benefits of getting involved.

"Listen and learn everything you can about the business," said Mandry. "I like to see and learn. Even as a senior vice president, I was happy to help out setting up a showroom."

Panelist Chris Mead, senior vice president and chief financial officer of The Travelers, joined the company in 1989 and became the company's chief accounting officer during its merger with Aetna's property and casualty insurance business.

"I'm always setting myself goals and broadening my skills," Mead said, adding that she had just returned from a successful climb of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

The Travelers' executive grew up in England and graduated from University College in Wales. "I started out with a company in England as their first female employee," Mead recalled. "The company sent me to meet with their most difficult clients because they felt the clients wouldn't give a woman too much trouble."

One panelist said that when women speak at meetings, their suggestion or advice is still often met with silence and no reaction.

"Often a male colleague will paraphrase what you said and be met with an enthusiastic response," she said.

If that happens to you, she told students, don't just sit there. "Speak up and thank your male colleague for repeating and sharing what you had previously said."

Claudia G. Chamberlain