Inspirational Women: Personal Reflections on My Career
Author: Jim Butler
March 14, 2021
I owe a big part of my professional growth to women. Over the past 34 years, strong, smart, and impressive women helped shape and influence who I would become – and who I am today. Lessons were learned and confidence was earned through women leaders who brick by brick helped me lay the foundation for my career today.
On the heels of last week’s International Women’s Day, indulge me as I tell you about a handful of women whose orbit I entered and who helped create a universe of opportunity for me.
Inspiring, generous women
Straight out of Ithaca College I went to New York City to work for Bankers Trust, now Deutsche Bank, in their Limited Partnership division. The work involved the collection and distribution of funds and the management of shares for large construction projects such as Courtyard by Marriott. The division was headed by Denise Welsh, whose leadership and professionalism impressed me, but what impressed me most was watching her navigate banking in the 80’s, which was a male dominated industry. My interactions with Denise were limited but I had two female colleagues, Fernanda Guisti and Patricia Mullaney, who were instrumental to the operation and in my early professional development. These inspiring, generous women took me under their wings and taught me skills I still apply in my work today.
Professionalism, collaboration, teamwork, tenacity, attention to detail – these are qualities they nurtured in me. What they saw in me, I do not know. Perhaps they sensed my respect for their intelligence and work ethic. What I do know is that my early successes belonged in part to them and I’m confident they enjoyed watching me stretch and grow with their influence.
Pay it forward
In 1991 I went to work for another inspirational woman, Fran Timpson, at what is now Willis Towers Watson. She encouraged me to step up and take a swing at projects beyond my pay grade. She helped me understand that failure doesn’t have to be feared. She empowered me to take risks and to be confident in my ideas and judgment, and to this day I pay her wisdom forward, encouraging LiveArea colleagues to step outside their comfort zones to take risks and grow.
In 1994 Fran insisted that I start working with client server technologies. This was the future, or so we all thought – no such thing as the cloud yet – and I was happy to be in the CIO organization and part of the transition to this “emerging” technology. My excitement came to a screeching halt when the right hand to the CIO, Valerie Hanna, moved me away from the emerging Client Server technologies to an enterprise team working on a financial system developed in COBOL and Ingres on a DEC VAX. I was unhappy, not understanding why I would be moving to an aging technology and not working on the future.
Lessons were learned and confidence was earned through women leaders who brick by brick helped me lay the foundation for my career today.
I can still hear Valerie’s voice in my head today. “This will teach you to work in a large team environment with enterprise code, various staging environments, functional requirements and develop an appreciation for change control,” she said. She had a vision for me that was beyond mine and, while I may not have agreed with the path she put me on, she knew exactly what she was doing. As an aside, Valerie went on to work for Marsh & McLennan as Senior Vice President of Technology and was killed in the World Trade Center on 9/11, shortly before she was to retire. I miss her smiling face and will always appreciate the attention she dedicated to me and the intelligence she shared.
Debt of gratitude
I share this retrospective because I know I am not alone in the debt of gratitude I owe so many women. In recent years, more men have stepped up as advocates in accelerating women’s equality, committing to helping build diverse and inclusive organizations that challenge stereotypes and bias. It is not only the right thing to do it is the smart thing to do. LiveArea Director of Solutions Alexandra Wood said it best in our IWD blog: “Women bring a different perspective … [and] there’s a lot of value in this diversity.”
So, here’s to Denise, Fernanda, Fran, Patricia, Valerie, and all the women who shared their wisdom with me in the early stages of my career. Your generosity has made me who I am. And it doesn’t end here. Inspiration from women has continued throughout my career, up until today, and I look forward to sharing more stories in a future post.
Jim Butler is President of LiveArea.