Inclusion: Pushing for Real Results in Academia

If there’s someone pushing for real results in diversity and inclusion at all levels of academia, that’s Dr. Alison Davis-Blake, the eight president of Bentley University.

RSM #IWDleader Hall of Fame

RSM #IWDleader Hall of Fame

Before this role, Dr. Davis-Blake was the Dean of the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan (2011-2016) where she positioned the school globally for its new mission to develop leaders who make a positive difference in the world. Prior to Ross she was the Dean of the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota (2006-2011.)

Dr Davis-Blake was the first female dean at both Carlson and Ross and is Bentley’s second woman president. She is a talented scholar with expertise in strategic human resource management and organizational design for effective management of human capital.

For breaking the glass ceiling in a historically male-dominated sector, and for relentlessly pushing for real results when it comes to full inclusion in academia, we honor Dr. Alison Davis-Blake with the 2020 Hall of Fame.

The influence of great women leaders

Red Shoe Movement—Why do women make great leaders?

Alison Davis-Blake —In a recent study published by Harvard Business Review, researchers found that women in leadership positions are rated equally or more competent than men in leadership positions. I am not surprised by this data which also show that in particular, across thousands of the 360-reviews used for the research, women leaders were highly rated as “excelling” in “taking initiative, acting with resilience, practicing self-development, driving for results, and displaying high integrity and honesty.” I have personally found that women are more likely to engage in integrative (both parties win) negotiations than distributive (win-lose) negotiations in the workplace. It is also my feeling that due to personal experiences of exclusion women can often be more sensitive to the need for diversity and inclusion, thus unleashing organizational potential for creative and innovative solutions.

RSM— How have women helped you along your career?

ADB—Women have been essential to my career as sponsors, mentors, collaborators, and supporters. While the importance of sponsors and mentors is well understood, I think we overlook the vital role of collaborators and supporters. My female collaborators have provided a space where it was safe for me to be myself, to vet concepts, and to test ideas. A space where it is safe to express incomplete thoughts in private with a collaborator or a supporter is vital because so often women face a smaller margin for error in public. I have also been the beneficiary of a great many women who were working on the front lines but who went out of their way to tell me that they were supporting me as a female leader and wanted to see me succeed. Their votes of confidence kept me going during some of my most difficult days.

President Alison Davis-Blake pushes for real results

President Alison Davis-Blake pushes for real results

RSM— You were the first female dean of the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and at the time that made you the highest-ranking dean at any U.S. business school. Why did it take so long to have a woman in that position? What changes were you able to implement during your tenure there?

Business schools and fields of study have historically been male dominated. And there is a very, very long road to the deanship. One must obtain a Ph.D., get a good academic job, obtain tenure, become a full professor, and get some administrative experience. That can easily be a 20-year process. And, research is clear that just like the corporate pipeline data reported by McKinsey & Company each year, the academic pipeline is extremely leaky at every stage with fewer women than men (proportionally) advancing to the next stage. Thus, there is a pipeline issue with regards to women achieving the highest ranks of academia, from which administrators are typically chosen.

When I became dean, it was not uncommon for only 10-15% of the full professors in a business school to be women, and, based on that, one would expect very few women to be in senior administrative roles and even fewer to be deans.

While at Ross, I led strategic efforts to increase global study opportunities for MBA and Bachelor of Business Administration students and formed new partnerships with universities around the world. Through this work we expanded activities in India, Japan and South Korea. Domestically we expanded our Executive MBA program to Los Angeles and introduced the Master of Management and Minor in Business programs.

We also completely revamped our undergraduate curriculum to make it more experiential and more integrated, better meeting the needs of today’s learners.

Iris Bohnet, Dean, Harvard Kennedy School shares how to get real results in gender inclusion.

What can be done to get real results?

President Alison Davis-Blake

President Alison Davis-Blake

RSM—54% of university professors who work full time in degree-granting postsecondary institutions are White males while 27% are White females. Only 2% of the following groups are full time professors: Black males, Black females, Hispanic Males and Hispanic females. What is the reason for this disparity in both gender ethnicity and race?

ADB—If doctoral programs don’t begin with a diverse group of students, subsequent stages of the pipeline will continue to be less and less diverse. The long and leaky pipeline is the underlying reason for all of these disparities. This is why efforts such as the Ph.D. Project, which focus on increasing diversity among doctoral students in business, are so critical to generating a diverse set of faculty and administrators for the future.

RSM—Can you share the story of a male champion who supported your ambitions along the way?

ADB—When I was an associate department chair, my chair (who I was in line to replace in several years) spent time introducing me to every key leader on campus and telling those leaders how much they would enjoy working with me. He was an extremely well-connected and well-respected person on campus. Those introductions, which took quite a bit of time to accomplish, were invaluable when I later became a department chair and then senior associate dean.

Want real results? Set the example!

RSM—As a leader, what are you specifically doing to level the playing field for women in academia and elsewhere?

ADB— “Diversity & Inclusion” is a key feature in Bentley University’s strategic plan. We have put hiring practices in place at the university to ensure that we are developing a strong pool of gender, ethnic and racially diverse candidates for every faculty and staff position. I believe that setting the example starts at the top. When making my own personnel decisions, I’ve mandated that all executive searches feature a broad slate of highly qualified candidates. And the results have been very positive. My Provost is a woman of color, my CFO is female, and my Cabinet (the people who report directly to me) has a roughly equal number of women and men. As we work together every day, we demonstrate that the contributions of men and women are equally valued and that both women and men can be successful at the highest levels of Bentley University.

Board diversity is also a top priority for both Bentley’s Board of Trustees and me. We are actively working to add women from all industry sectors and, importantly, women from academia to our Board.

RSM—What has been the most difficult lesson you’ve had to learn to get to where you are?

ADB—Earlier in my career, I imagined that by this point in my life, the playing field would be more level than it is. So, the hardest lesson I have had to learn is that the playing field is not level and will not be level during my lifetime. I sometimes joke that women of my generation have to work twice as hard to get half the credit. While that may not be exactly true, it has been my experience that women still have to produce better and cleaner results to be recognized. And we know that it is true that women are less likely to be paid equitably. While I believe the world is improving and that many leaders, both male and female, are working to change these dynamics, the work world I hoped for when I was younger has not yet materialized.

President Alison Davis Blake always looking to bring real results around inclusion to academia

President Alison Davis Blake always looking to bring real results around inclusion to academia

Sylvia Acevedo: From NASA to CEO, Girl Scouts

Sylvia Acevedo started off her career as a rocket scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Labs, not your regular first stop for a journey to become the CEO of one of America’s most beloved institutions, Girl Scouts.

RSM Hall of Fame

RSM Hall of Fame

She left to attend graduate school at Stamford and pursue a career in Silicon Valley where she held executive positions at Apple, Dell and Autodesk. Sylvia is a life-long advocate for universal access to education and serves as Commissioner on the White House Initiative for Educational Excellence for Hispanics. She’s an expert in mobilizing communities to increase family engagement in education.

After serving as interim CEO of the Girl Scouts in 2016, Sylvia Acevedo was named permanent CEO in May 2017. Under her tenure, the Girl Scouts introduced a series of badges in robotics, coding, engineering, and cybersecurity.In 2018 she was featured among “America’s Top 50 Women in Tech” by Forbes.

For relentlessly breaking through the glass ceiling and opening new worlds to women and girls, we honor Sylvia Acevedo with the 2019 Hall of Fame.

Red Shoe Movement — There are few women CEOs but there are probably even fewer women who are rocket scientists and who participated in an actual mission. Tell us about your experience at NASA and how that helped shape your career.

Sylvia Acevedo, CEO, Girl Scouts of the USA

Sylvia Acevedo, CEO, Girl Scouts of the USA

Sylvia Acevedo —It was my first job out of college, working as a rocket scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Labs (JPL) in Pasadena, California. The first program I worked on was called the Solar Polar Solar Probe (SPSP). My job was to help figure out the payload and testing equipment that would be carried on a satellite going to the sun. I had to consider questions like how the equipment would work in the intense heat being generated close to the sun, how it would react to the radiation, how its weight would affect the amount of fuel we would need to carry on the rocket. So to answer these questions I had to create complex algorithms. It takes a long time to launch a new space expedition, and this solar probe finally, decades after I worked on it, launched in August as the Parker Solar Probe.

I also got to work on the Voyager 2 mission, which at the time was passing by Jupiter and its moons Io and Europa. This was a long-range program, which continues to this day, sending automated spacecraft to outer planets to record data and send it back to Earth. The Voyager was transmitting amazing images and data, and JPL needed engineers to analyze them. There were some images coming back from Jupiter and its moons that we had never seen before—just amazing stuff. I really enjoyed my time at NASA—it was such an exciting time to be there doing that work.

After the Voyager 2 had gone by Jupiter, I realized that it was going to take years before it went to the next planet and the next project I was on was going to take decades. So at that point, I realized, “OK, this was great,” but I was ready to go get my master’s at Stanford. Once I had that degree I had the background in engineering and the mathematics expertise to pursue a career in Silicon Valley.

It was a lifelong dream to work at NASA and a true honor to take part in such fascinating and world-changing projects. And the work I did on Solar Polar Solar Probe and Voyager 2 had an incredible impact on the way I think and approach problems. I had to consider the breadth of the universe and the complexities it contained. I didn’t just have to think big—I had to think literally as big as the universe! The infiniteness of the questions and the quest for answers to them inspired me—and it continues to inspire me. I also learned the value of “blue sky thinking”—of generating and ruminating on big ideas regardless of practical constraints—and the important role that each team member plays in the pursuit of big goals.

Sylvia Acevedo CEO Girl Scouts

Sylvia Acevedo CEO Girl Scouts

Sylvia Acevedo share traits of great leaders

RSM— What are some of the key traits of a great leader?

SA—I can trace my thoughts about great leadership back to my experience as a young Girl Scout. One of the first leadership positions I held as an adult was when I was still at New Mexico State University. I was asked to join the engineering honor society, Tau Beta Pi, and I was elected president of my chapter. And I thought at the time, and I still think today, that the experience I had as a Girl Scout earning badges, being a cookie entrepreneur, and working as a team with other girls in my troop on projects gave me the confidence to raise my hand, step up, and be a leader.

Great leaders are problem solvers—they are able to break down big challenges into small, achievable goals. They are able to identify the strengths and weaknesses of team members and delegate accordingly. And they are approachable. Open and honest dialogue is very important and helps avoid misunderstandings, build consensus, and bring out the best in everyone so that they can do their best work.

And great leaders stay curious. I had an investigative mind from a very young age—I was always trying to figure out how to get around roadblocks and obstacles that were preventing me from achieving my goals. I think curiosity is an incredibly valuable trait in a 21st-century leader.

Sylvia Acevedo went from rocket scientist to CEO of one of the most beloved American organizations.

Sylvia Acevedo went from rocket scientist to CEO of one of the most beloved American organizations.

RSM— Why do women make great leaders? 

SA—It’s a bit of a cliché but I do think women are consensus builders, and that is something we need more of in our leaders today. I think women also tend to have a mission mindset. It’s so important for leaders to have a real understanding of and appreciation for what their focus is, then have persistence and determination in carrying out their mission.

Sylvia Acevedo has brought a powerful leadership style to the Girl Scouts

Sylvia Acevedo has brought a powerful leadership style to the Girl Scouts

RSM— Girls Scouts is responsible for inspiring a great majority of the female leaders in this country. Could you give us some statistics?

SA—Yes, Girl Scout has incredibly powerful outcomes. 50 percent of female business leaders, 73 percent of female U.S. senators, the majority of women who have flown in space, and 100 percent of female U.S. secretaries of state were all Girl Scouts. More than half of the 106 women in the U.S. House of Representatives are Girl Scout alums, and of the nine women currently serving as governors across the U.S., five are Girl Scouts.

RSM—What are some of the skills that girls develop as Girls Scouts that help them pursue leadership careers?

SA—The values of great leadership are imbedded throughout the Girl Scouts experience. You seek challenges and learn from setbacks. You develop a strong sense of self. You learn to identify problems and develop solutions. You build courage, confidence, and character. And you learn to take initiative.

There are some amazing Girl Scouts who are taking on big challenges in their communities to earn their Gold Award, the highest award in Girl Scouting. To earn the award they must identify a community problem, investigate it thoroughly to understand root causes, create a plan of action, build a team of people who can help them achieve their goal, present their plan and gather feedback, and then execute on that plan. Gold Award Girl Scouts use the leadership skills they learn at Girl Scouts to make a real impact, and they go on to do incredible things as leaders in the world.

Don't miss this interview with another amazing CEO, Deborah Gillis!
Girl Scouts White House Camp out

Girl Scouts White House Camp out

RSM—Why is it important to reserve some spaces for women-only experiences?

SA—Women-only spaces and experiences are incredibly important, and that confuses some people who think, “Why are they necessary?” Well, we need those places where we can connect, create, and collaborate, where we can get encouragement, where we can learn skills that we might not have access to elsewhere, where we can get replenished, and where we can hear things tailored to the way women like to learn and lead.

I was one of the few women in tech when I was in Silicon Valley, and in one of my first jobs at IBM, I noticed that the guys would always huddle with the male engineers on my floor, but they would never include me or any of the other women engineers. They would talk among themselves about the agenda, what the boss really wants to hear, and insidery things like that. So I realized that they were exchanging much inside information that we women engineers weren’t privy to. And I tried crashing the party a few times, and they closed up pretty quickly. This was an important realization, the amount of informal networking that really impacts your career that I was shut out of.

There are more women today in all different industries, but I do think it’s still important for us to have spaces of our own where we can do our own informal networking, make those connections, build those relationships, and exchange information of our own!

Sylvia Acevedo visiting school

Sylvia Acevedo visiting school

Sylvia Acevedo reflects on a costly mistake

RSM— In terms of leadership lessons, is there a particular mistake or failure that you now “cherish” because of what you learned from it?

SA—One lesson I learned is the importance of managing expectations in business relationships. In the early days of the internet and the global digital transformation, I was working with Dell in South America. There was one particular deal we were trying to close with a governmental entity and this prospective client was very used to the traditional ways of working with a corporation, which involved having a lot more people on site and considerable investment in brick and mortar plants. We were coming in and pitching a solution that could be fulfilled with only a few people on site—we brought in fewer than ten—because we could do things globally through a dispersed network of team members.

What I didn’t understand was that for this client, the absence of actual bodies in the building was a big deal. Their expectations were not lining up with what they were seeing from us. It was a very large opportunity, with millions of dollars on the line, but we didn’t close the deal because of mismanagement of expectations.

My failure was in not communicating beforehand our vision of the project, the efficiencies we would bring that would actually lower costs, and what it would require on site. To us these things were obvious, but in those days our proposal was still a new way of doing things. The fact that we had such a small in-person team said to them that we had undersized the opportunity and weren’t taking them seriously, so they didn’t take us seriously. We were really speaking past each other. It was a tough—but a very valuable—lesson to learn.

Girl Scouts Daisies

Girl Scouts Daisies

Kees Roks, servant leader, leads by example

Kees Roks, Head Region Europe at Novartis Oncology, has been an incredibly visible inclusion leader at his organization. A servant leader if there ever was one. Read on!

It’s hard to miss him. Kees Roks (pronounced “Case”) is close to 7 feet tall and usually towers over most people at a meeting. The Swiss native, however, could be the quieter person in a room, just taking in what all the stakeholders have to share. With over 30 years of international experience gained in Country and Regional organizations around the globe, Kees has most recently been the Head of Region Latin America and Canada at Novartis Oncology. In this role, he was a key sponsor of the women taking part of the Red Shoe Movement’s Step Up Plus leadership development program. He wore his red tie every week, made sure to meet and support not only the female talent in the program but any one who required his attention.

Kees Roks has built a career on inclusive principles, living them day in and day out. For his exemplary leadership and implementation of concrete actions to open doors to female talent we honor Kees Roks to the 2019 Hall of Fame.

RSM Hall of Fame

RSM Hall of Fame

Red Shoe Movement— What are some of the key traits of a great leader?

Kees Roks, Head Region Europe, Novartis Oncology

Kees Roks, Head Region Europe, Novartis Oncology

Kees Roks—Being a leader is not about the individual leading. In fact, the concept of servant leadership is one that resonates strongly with me. I see this as someone who offers support, is humble and removes obstacles. The idea of leadership being dictating is quickly vanishing. Being focused on my team, helping develop them and ensure they succeed is of utmost priority; after all when your team does well, so does the leader.

 RSM—Why do women make great leaders? 

KR—Diversity is a critical component of leadership and it builds stronger and more efficient teams. Gender is an important pillar and one we have to support.

I have had the pleasure of working with strong and capable women, now and in prior roles. In my experience, the female mind works differently from the male one. I value what female leaders bring to the table – sometimes offering better solutions because they are able to see an issue in a more 360 point of view and take into account the impact from all possible angles.

In my opinion, female leaders offer a different perspective on issues. They deal with challenges and situations with a more reflective and holistic approach; a man’s approach can sometimes be very solution-oriented and single minded. Neither is a negative but this is why we need to have more women in leadership positions to help find a good balance.

Don't miss Andrés Graziosi's interview for the Hall of Fame 2018

RSM— How open is your door for your associates to approach you and what’s the best way to do it? What do you expect people to come with when they ask for a few minutes to see you?

KR—First, at Novartis, we sit in an open space environment so there is literally no door (laughs). Figuratively, there is none because I believe in being fully accessible to my team. Going back to the concept of servant leadership of which the most fundamental tenant is that our people are our most important asset, I am never too busy to make time for them.

However, communication works two ways – as direct and as open as I am, I fully invite and expect them to be equally so. I want them to ask for time, ask for what they need and be proactive.

Kees Roks in meeting at Novartis East Hanover, NJ office

Kees Roks in meeting at Novartis East Hanover, NJ office

RSM— What do you expect people to come with when they ask for a few minutes to see you?

KR—Well, I never give a few minutes; I give as much time as they need. To dive deep into any challenges or have a deeper discussion, it is important to allow enough time to have the conversation.

Once we have that time, I fully expect and invite them to drive the agenda since they asked for the meeting. It is important to come with an opinion, come with what you need from your leader and what you need them to do. This means you are taking ownership and accountability – you are also being a leader. 

Kees Roks leads by example

Kees Roks leads by example

Kees Roks suggestions for men to become allies

RSM—What would you say are the most effective ways to get men to become female champions?

KR—There are many ways to have men become champions. Put them into a diverse environment – perhaps they are the only man on an all-female team and/or work stream. Women have worked this way for years, often being the sole female in a group or team. Invite men to experience it as well to provide perspective. Also, highlight the successes of women on your team. Show how well they are doing to everyone else – prove it with facts. Personally, I also try to create as diverse an environment as possible and find the right balance of women on my leadership team.

That said, it boils down to the organization – as an individual I can only do so much. Companies need to make D&I a priority and include gender D&I KPIs in the objectives. Of course there has to be a balance, it is not just about filling slots with one gender because forcing something is not good overall. However, it is possible. However, it is possible; for example, if there is a leadership position available, have gender equality and diversity in the candidates being invited to apply. More importantly, it is critical to have gender equality and diversity on the side of the key decision makers for these roles as well, so we really find the best candidate based on qualifications.

Kees Roks supporting #RedShoeTuesday at Novartis

Kees Roks supporting #RedShoeTuesday at Novartis

RSM— In your experience, how does having a diverse and inclusive team of executives impact your bottom line? 

KR—What I can say is that having a diverse team and a diverse organization already, we are doing quite well. We are having deeper discussions and making better decisions. 

RSM—At your level of responsibility, what do you spend most of your time on?

KR—People first. In fact, 80 percent of my day is talking to and helping my team. That can be anything from talking, debating, discussing various topics in both formal and informal settings. Being there for them is how I spend the majority of my time.

RSM—In terms of leadership lessons, is there a particular mistake or failure that you now “cherish” because of what you learned from it?

KR—Every experience is a lesson. I do not know that there is one in particular that stands out but I can say with certainty that, as a leaders, every time you come into a new environment you need to calibrate the need for context. I am not known to be always so patient (laughs.) I really force myself to step back and reflect and find the patience I need to help my team succeed. Mistakes and failures never end but how you handle them defines how you move forward. It is an ongoing journey of endless learning.

Kees Roks Head Europe Region Novartis Oncology

Kees Roks Head Europe Region Novartis Oncology

 

CEO Scott Scherr Leads Inclusion in Tech

A tech company that truly puts People First is not a glitch. It’s the result of the deliberate work of its founder and CEO Scott Scherr. In a business that provides HR solutions, Ultimate Software sets the example by taking care of its own associates first.

RSM Hall of Fame

RSM Hall of Fame

When in 1990 Scott Scherr founded Ultimate Software with three other people (two of them women who still work at Ultimate,) they decided one of their key priorities would be to take care of their employees. It’s proven to be a winning strategy judging by the long-term profitability of the company, their enviable 94% employee retention rate and the recurrent recognition as one of the best companies to work for. (Forbes, Fortune, Glassdoor, etc.)

Among his many leadership qualities, Scott has always stood up for inclusion of all kinds, paying particular attention to gender inclusion at the top. He’s fostered a culture of listening to people’s needs and taking quick action even when it meant changing a policy to accommodate one associate’s life’s circumstances.

For his commitment to improving the workplace for 100% of the talent, we honor Scott Scherr with the 2019 Hall of Fame.

Red Shoe Movement — What are some of the key traits of a great leader?

Scott Scherr, CEO, Ultimate Software

Scott Scherr, CEO, Ultimate Software

Scott Scherr — I was brought up in a small family business led by my dad, Reuben Scherr, and I saw first-hand how to lead by example and “walk the talk.”

The core values I learned, whether working with my family or coming up through Corporate America, were the same: treat everyone with dignity and respect. As a leader, take care of your employees. They’ll, in turn, take care of your customers, and the company will thrive.

We founded Ultimate Software 28 years ago on this principle, with a commitment to always put people first. “People First” is more than a mantra. It’s an ethos our more than 4,700 employees embody every day. It drives how we care for our people, design our HR technology, and serve our customers.

As a kid, growing up in the Bronx, I loved to play baseball, basketball, and soccer with my friends. Whenever it came time to choose teams, I always got to be a captain who hand-picked my players. I knew then, and I know now, how important it is to pick the best team and to motivate them to do their best.

I believe the key to Ultimate’s success is the strength of our team—the people who lead and inspire me every day. To symbolize the trust and respect I share with every employee, I give all our people a card with the word “Trust” on one side and “Forever” on the other when they join our team. The idea came from when I met a longtime role model, legendary basketball coach Pat Riley. Pat had given his players similar cards to reinforce the unconditional bond among the coach and his team.

I feel a similar bond of lifelong unity within our Ultimate family, a phenomenal group of leaders I’m honored to work alongside daily. This bond extends to our 4,400 customers, and many now have Trust cards (which I give out at our annual customer conference, Connections), symbolizing our lifelong partnership together.

Scott Scherr talks to a group of employees

Scott Scherr talks to a group of employees

RSM — Why do women make great leaders? 

SS— Ultimate transitioned from a four-person start-up, two of whom were women, to a publicly traded company with more than 4,700 global employees. I’ve witnessed stellar leadership first-hand, starting with my founding colleagues, Vivian Maza and Debra Sasso, both of whom are still with our company to this day, 28 years later. Today, women comprise nearly half (49%) our total workforce, and about 50% hold frontline manager positions.

I don’t believe Ultimate would be as successful as we are today without the unique abilities our female leaders bring to our organization. They’re relentless and innovative in problem-solving. They inspire others to achieve high performance. They collaborate and communicate effectively to make the lives of our employees and our customers better.

For example, Ultimate’s Women in Leadership (WIL) is a companywide group that’s flourished in helping women at all levels of our company achieve their maximum potential. At the same time, WIL encourages women to discuss their goals, ask questions, and collaborate with one another on ways to positively impact future female leaders at work, school, and in the community. WIL has over 65 sub-committee members throughout the United States and Canada and will host more than 90 seminars, workshops, philanthropic outings, and networking events this year.

Don't miss the interview with Hall of Fame 2018 Andrés Graziosi of Novartis
Scott Scherr inspires his team daily with his strong, inclusive vision.

Scott Scherr inspires his team daily with his strong, inclusive vision.

Hear Scott Scherr’s recommendation for approaching your CEO

RSM — How open is your door for your associates to approach you and what’s the best way to do it? What do you expect people to come with when they ask for a few minutes to see you?

SS — From the beginning, I’ve always had an open-door policy and answered my own phone. No matter their roles on our team or how long they’ve been with Ultimate, I want to hear their ideas. I value their feedback and hope to answer their questions and address any concerns.

Listening is vital to any organization, and it’s been key to Ultimate’s success. When our people meet with me, whether in small groups or one-on-one, I’m there to listen. I try to put myself in their shoes. I recognize it’s not always easy to talk with a CEO, but we’re all people and should treat one another with equal respect, value, and care.

When you have the opportunity to meet with company leaders:

  • Bring a Thought-Out Plan: Always know the purpose of your meeting and what you’d like to discuss or accomplish.
  • Be Clear and Concise: Discuss a specific product, service, or organizational issue, and how it impacts you, the company, and your customers.
  • Research Your Ideas: Learn how this might impact the big picture, and the company’s place in the overall industry. What do customers expect. What are competitors doing?
  • Offer Solutions: If you disagree with how something’s done, provide a new method that can lead to more efficiencies or greater success.
  • Remain Open to Change: Accept constructive feedback. Be willing to discuss how the entire team can build upon your idea. The outcome might look different than the original. Be a team player. Offer ways to collaborate with others to achieve goals.
Scott Scherr keeps an open door policy

Scott Scherr keeps an open door policy

RSM — What would you say are the key ways to make people feel like they belong to your organization?

SS — One of my favorite affirmations is “Everyone, Every Day.” This reminds me to always care for, respect, and trust everymember of our organization—and to treat every colleague like family.

From early on, even when Ultimate struggled toward profitability, I made the commitment to pay employee medical and dental insurance and provide everyone, from the receptionist on up, with equity in the company. This is our business. We’re all in it together.

Today, our company is thriving, and we’re about to reach our next championship milestone of $1 billion in revenue. I’m proud that Ultimate still offers 100%-paid healthcare premiums for all employees and their families (including same-sex couples). We also have a 40% dollar-for-dollar 401(k) employer match, with no cap; unlimited personal time off for all exempt employees; annual service days for volunteering in the community; and generous paid maternity, paternity, and adoption leave policies.

Ultimate’s goal is to value the whole person, emphasizing a work-life balance that fosters individual professional growth and development while supporting personal pursuits. That makes Ultimate a company where, we feel, everyone has a sense of belonging—a sentiment that’s illustrated by our 94% employee retention rate.

RSM — In your experience, how does having a diverse and inclusive team of executives impact your bottom line? 

SS — “Walking the talk” in a “People First” culture means we care for and treat all people equally. I believe that, by celebrating individuals’ unique qualities, experiences, and backgrounds, we can all learn a lot from one another and continue to strengthen Ultimate as a whole.

Our family-like culture welcomes all people, and we encourage our employees to bring their whole selves to work. We illustrate that commitment with our companywide Communities of Interest that support LGBTQIA individuals, women, veterans and active service members, and cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers.

Our teams and leaders come from diverse backgrounds, with nearly half of the highest-level management positions on our Software Engineering team are held by people from Canada, Colombia, Dubai, India, Romania, and Puerto Rico, making Ultimate a true melting pot.

I believe these differences define who we are as individuals and make us stronger and more successful as an organization. In Q2 2018, we reported $239.5 million in recurring revenue, up by 23%, and total revenues of $271.2 million, up by 21%. These results are in no small part due to our diverse, inclusive workforce. Our diversity makes Ultimate an inspiring, empowering place for anyone and everyone to work.

Scott Scherr Take Your Kids To Work

Scott Scherr Take Your Kids To Work

Scott Scherr helping promote more women in tech

RSM — As a leader, what are you specifically doing to level the playing field for women in technology?

SS — I believe any team’s success is based on “we,” not me. A company can only achieve its maximum potential if we create a culture that supports and empowers women as technologists, innovators, and leaders.

I greatly value the card we give every new hire, and to our customers. As I mentioned it has the word “Trust” on one side and “Forever” on the other. Every person joining Ultimate—from the first two women who helped me launch the company in 1990, to the more than 4,700 people with us today, including our original two—they’re all members of our Ultimate family, “Forever.” You should feel that inclusion in any organization.

We trust in the talent, innovation, and creativity of our people to make our products and services better every day. My job is to support programs that help us accomplish this.

Our TechStars internship program brings college students and recent graduates onto our development teams. They gain firsthand programming experience, develop their coding skills, and foster personal and professional growth through mentoring.

We’re extremely fortunate for what we’ve built at Ultimate. We pay it forward every year through programs like our Athena Scholarship. We award two college scholarships (up to $20,000 each) to graduating daughters or high school seniors of our employees. These scholarships make it easier for young women to pursue studies in technology and leadership.

Most recently, we introduced Unlimited PTO, to give employees greater flexibility in their work-life balance. They use the time to travel, recharge, or to care for children, parents, or loved ones. This goes back to my commitment of “Trust” and “Forever.” I trust our employees and respect their whole selves, not just their work. It’s a forever commitment from me, on behalf of Ultimate.

I’m proud our commitment to female technologists was recognized by AnitaB.org. This means we’re “walking the talk” in leveling the playing field for women in technology.

RSM— In terms of leadership lessons, is there a particular mistake or failure that you now “cherish” because of what you learned from it?

SS — Nearly 30 years ago, I took a leap of faith in leaving one of the top HCM providers at the time. I enlisted three colleagues to make the jump with me. We started Ultimate Software with two cubicles, and a shared “People First” vision.

I raised our initial funding from a group of peers. I believed in our company and what we were trying to do. I’m grateful for those who embraced Ultimate’s vision and got us off the ground.

It hasn’t always been easy. Throughout our history as an HR software company, we’ve faced great challenges. I call these “thunderbolts.” We’ve seen tough financial times, like when our stock price dropped to $2 a share. I felt tremendous pressure to keep the business moving forward.

In 2002, we made the strategic decision to become our industry’s first Software as a Service (SaaS) provider. It was a risky choice, but I believed this would help Ultimate reach a new level, better able to serve our customers while bringing on new business.

When you face thunderbolts, keep a clear vision. Remain relentless in execution. Stay true to your values and “non-negotiables.” (I refused to waver on healthcare coverage for our people, even when investors questioned the expense).

No matter your industry or business, you’ll have challenges. But it’s during these thunderbolts when you’ll likely do your best work and achieve your greatest success. Great teams are the ones that persist through adversity. They’re focused on one, primary goal as a team. They build upon individual strengths and contributions to reach their objectives—together.

As a company, we’ve seen lows. But when others called it the end for us, we remained strong. We remained committed to our people, and to our lifelong promise of putting people first (employees, customers, and the community). Today, we’re stronger than we’ve ever been. We’re about to become a billion-dollar company, and we have the greatest team of people to thank for it.

Scott Scherr takes a selfie. The organization feels like a big family.

Scott Scherr takes a selfie. The organization feels like a big family.

Andrés Graziosi, a Senior Executive in Constant Evolution

Maintaining a flexible leadership style is one of the keys to continue growing as a leader. This is what Andrés Graziosi, President, Latin America Region and Canada of Novartis Pharmaceuticals has always done. Get inspired!

RSM Hall of Fame

RSM Hall of Fame

He was born in a town on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina and for the last 15 years he’s had a great career trajectory at Novartis, the pharmaceutical company with headquarters in Switzerland. Andrés Graziosi, Public Accountant with an MBA from ESEADE, started his career at PwC where he spent 10 years as a senior manager.

He arrived at Novartis Argentina as finance manager and then moved for two years to the company’s headquarters in Basel. He then spent several years in Miami from where he directed the commercial area for Latin America and later led Novartis Argentina. In 2014 he was named country leader of the pharmaceutical business in Russia, an opportunity that allowed him to explore a completely different culture, and one of the destinations to which his family likes to return, as he shares with us. Since May 2016, he returned to Miami to occupy his current position.

For his inclusive leadership and unconditional support for female talent, we honor Andrés Graziosi in the 2018 Hall of Fame.

Andres Graziosi honoree of 2018 Hall of Fame

Andres Graziosi honoree of 2018 Hall of Fame

Red Shoe Movement— What’s your impression of female leadership in Latin America and Canada?

Andrés Graziosi— At a global and regional level, female leadership is increasingly present and stronger, which is clearly gaining ground in recent years.

Throughout the region, Latin America and Canada, there are already several cases of women who have reached the top level: The presidency.

Novartis Latin America and Canada have recently named female leaders in Canada, Mexico and Chile and we are proud to have a 50% female representation. We hope this figure will continue to grow.

RSM—What are some personal lessons in terms of leadership that you learned in your position as Russia Country Manager for Novartis?

AG— In general, what I learned in terms of leadership is that what is successful in the Western world, is not necessarily so in the Eastern world. For example, I discovered that Russians are brilliant in hard-skills. They are, however, still in the process of developing soft-skills. One has to change one’s leadership style depending on the context and culture one faces. For example, while in the East showing vulnerability as a leader is not seen as a positive, it could easily be a positive behavior in the Western world.

Andres Graziosi a leader who is in constant evolution shares his vision on a TV interview

Andres Graziosi a leader who is in constant evolution shares his vision on a TV interview

RSM—What are your recommendations for leaders interested in international experiences? What are some strategies to obtain the right visibility?

AG— You have to be extremely receptive, open, and have the ability to listen. Staying open to learning is very important, because, in terms of leadership, you never finish learning.

As an international leader, you have to understand that, in a global world, one has to have certain principles that should be unmovable: such as honesty, or commitment to the other, which should not change, no matter where in the world you are. Apart from this, one must be able to question even his own beliefs.

Andres Graziosi supports the #RedShoeTuesday campaign by wearing red ties (and sometimes red sneakers!) to work on Tuesday!

Andres Graziosi supports the #RedShoeTuesday campaign by wearing red ties (and sometimes red sneakers!) to work on Tuesday!

RSM—Can you share a personal moment of failure and what you have learned from it?

AG—Something at the beginning of my work at Novartis marked my career. I had accomplished everything I always wanted: being part of the company’s finance team. After 6 months of being in that job, however, I felt that I had failed. I didn’t feel happy, I didn’t add value to the company, and worst of all, I wasn’t giving my best. I decided to resign. But my mentor at that time had the vision to see beyond a task or a result and to see my capabilities and potential. He sat with me and helped me see why I was unhappy at work: I missed the contact with the client and being evaluated on my performance. He suggested that I change to the commercial area of ​​Novartis, where I would have these challenges. Through this failure, I was able to find my true vocation. I am extremely grateful that I had someone in my life who guided me along the way. And I was able to get to where I am today, leading the entire region of Latin America and Canada.

Andres Graziosi shares Novartis vision on inclusion

Andres Graziosi shares Novartis vision on inclusion

RSM—With a position of such responsibility, how do you integrate your personal and your professional life?

AG— When your child says “the last three times I asked you to come see me play, you didn’t come”, you realize that your personal and professional life are imbalanced.

The balance between personal and professional life is one of those topics that like leadership, one never finishes learning. Achieving it is not an easy task, but it’s not impossible. What has helped me is to try to maintain awareness of the high level of tension that this type of work causes, where, if one stops being conscious, the wave will under until you are submerged in the work.

Personally, I have achieved a balance through my family. Once in a while, I sit down with them to ask how I am doing as a father or husband, and assess whether I am spending enough time with them and / or paying attention. Thanks to the sincerity (sometimes overly sincere) of my children, I have managed to correct and re-set myself in the right path.

Another survival tip to be able to integrate my personal life and my professional life has been to play sports, to have a little personal time to recharge and relax. It’s something that we all need from time to time. My work teams notice the difference when I don’t manage to have this time.

A leader in touch with his team and his customers, always listening and adapting to change

A leader in touch with his team and his customers, always listening and adapting to change

RSM—Who were some of the most influential men and women in your career? How exactly did they influence you?

AG—Leaders have an extraordinary responsibility to share what they have received with others so that they, in turn, can share these learnings with someone else. Without naming a specific person, mentors have had a great role in my career and personal life. I’ve had the good fortune of crossing paths with visionary and inspiring leaders who have managed to see my potential, discovering things in me that I had not even seen. They have helped me make better decisions, solve complex problems and overcome great obstacles.

That was a huge influence. I managed to improve myself, thanks to dedication and effort, but also thanks to the path that others opened before, and I feel obliged to share what I have learned with those who will come after me.

Andres Graziosi, always moving the needle on inclusion

Andres Graziosi, always moving the needle on inclusion

RSM— Can you share with us the story of a person whose life or career changed thanks to you?

AG— Part of being a leader is knowing how to make the right decisions, at the right time. A while ago, I had a situation in relation to a person in the organization who was not producing the expected results. When consulting with several colleagues, the conclusion was always the same: to dismiss the person. However, despite all the facts, there was something that didn’t convince me. As a leader, my responsibility was to make the right decision so I took extra time to sit down and evaluate why I still had doubts. I knew that this employee had great potential and that in the right place and with the appropriate coaching they could get ahead. After offering the employee a change, today this person is very successful in the organization.

You can contact Andrés Graziosi on Linkedin