L.A. Business Symposium: Women Say Single Sex Education Built Confidence

Panel discussion

The day started bright and early on Saturday, March 27 for about 50 businesswomen who gathered at Autry National Center in West Los Angeles for “Powering Up: Smith Women in Business,” a one-day symposium for Smith women to network, dispense advice, and learn a few tricks of the trade. Having spent their undergrad years at Smith College, a premier all-women’s institution, it was no surprise that the conversations flowed effortlessly for these high-powered gals in business.

It was a sweet start to the day as Devin Alexander, a celebrity chef, media personality, and author of the New York Times best seller The Biggest Loser Cookbook placed several boxes of a delectable assortment of bite-size muffins on the coffee table. “These are 50 calories each and delicious,” she explained. While munching on the guilt-free treats, the attendees sat down for the first panel, entitled “Success in Today’s Economy: Whether Your Corner Office is in Your Home or a Glass Tower,” which was moderated by Wendy Markus Web ’80, a board member of Jack in the Box. Wendy began by urging her fellow alumnae to “go where the love is” and help one another. “Research shows that if you help somebody you like them more and people like you better if they can help you,” she added.

She then turned the spotlight to Jennifer Beindorf ’91, who founded her own innovative consulting company, Virtual Minds, and couldn’t stress enough the value of networking. “I’m not an extrovert,” she said, “but every job I got was a result of people I had met and connections I had made.” She also advised attendees to “never eat alone” and meet people for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even coffee to get a jump on networking. Then there was Lauren Dillard ’73, who heads her own independent consulting practice after starting out as an economic researcher in the Federal Reserve System and managing multi-million dollar IT projects. For Lauren, it was an intensely analytical course in French poetry at Smith that explained her “tenacity in cracking a problem.”

The panel also included a corporate executive, Heidi Johnson Novaes ’88, Vice President of Sales and Marketing Communications at Capital International Financial Services. Heidi considered embracing change and being open to opportunities among the keys to success. “There are some days when family wins, some days when your kids win, and other days when work wins,” she said. When Ann Marie Mortimer ’88, Managing Partner of the Los Angeles Hunton & Williams LLP office took the mike, she confessed that she was the one with the traditional role in the corner office of a law firm. Yet Ann was anything but traditional in her outlook, urging attendees to “look for things that need an owner and do them.” She also shared her insights about the merits of an all-women’s education: “Through the years, I’ve observed that women who’ve had a single-sex education stand out when it comes to poise, self esteem, and confidence.”

After rousing applause and a quick fifteen-minute break came the second panel titled “The Digital World and the Marketplace,” which was moderated by Judy Milestone ’66, former vice president of network booking for CNN. First up was Hilary Maler ’00, Associate Marketing Coordinator at Whole Foods, who shared the sensational story of how her company turned an ostensibly negative video posted by a customer into something positive. Because the video went viral, more people became intrigued by the Whole Foods brand! Robin Moore ’77, Principal at Moore Communications, an internet marketing communications agency, emphasized the importance of developing a social media strategy while remaining flexible about the ideal mix of activities. She also talked about Conversation Prism, a tool created by Brian Solis that consists of an evolving conversation map, categorized and organized by how people use different social media networks.

Tricia Ting ’93, founder and owner of Tree Concept Inc., which specializes in branding, art direction, illustration and marketing, shared her view of customer testimonials as the ultimate free marketing tool. “People trust recommendations made by customers,” she explained.  For Tricia, who recently opened a bakery with her husband, sponsored ads are not nearly as effective as reading about someone’s first-hand experience of a service or product.

In her highly anticipated address, Smith President Carol Christ discussed new initiatives at Smith around business education, among them a course on how to write a business plan that would conclude with a high-profile competition. She also mentioned Smith’s Executive Education program, which has been partnering for over 35 years with Fortune 500 organizations to develop, retain, and advance women. Carol then presented research on patent registrants. While men dominate the field by a high margin, when their pool is compared to that of women’s college graduates, the ratio evens out. It was a winning note to end a perfectly energizing Saturday morning.

About Smith College Executive Education

Smith's signature all-female learning environment ignites the power of women and provides an exceptional networking forum where participants share insights and perspectives with a cohort of talented and high-powered peers.
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