In college, did you have an idea of what you wanted to do for your career?
Not at all. Everybody in my family had been in either academia or law. But I was always interested — I don’t know why — in the stock market. My first job out of college was with Drexel Burnham Lambert. Later, I worked on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. I was trading Deutsche mark options, and I was one of the first females in the pit.
Lessons from that time?
I remember a day when the markets went crazy, and all of us were losing money because the volatility was going against us. The guy I worked for said, “You all need to get out of your positions.” We tried to explain to him that this was a temporary thing. He said: “No. You have to get out.”
A couple of days later, he said something that has really been an important life lesson: “If you get out, you can get in exactly the same way the next day, but you have a clear head.” It was such good advice, and so few people follow it. And it’s really important for both entrepreneurship and leadership — you’ve got to get in and take risks, but you also have to get out, reassess and modify. That, in my opinion, is how you get ahead. You may have a vision of where you’re headed, but it is never a straight line. You take a step and you reassess. That gives you courage.
It is a rare person who knows how to get where they’re going without taking lots of steps and changing course along the way. What most people are missing is the confidence to know that’s part of the journey.
What advice do you give to college grads?
It’s just important to get out there and work. I don’t really think it matters what you do. And I don’t like it when people ask college students, “What are you going to do for a career?” I’ve changed careers so many times. The important thing is to get out there and find out what you like and how you can contribute.
I also tell people not to be scared of failing. For a society that’s based so much on entrepreneurship, I’m surprised how many young people are afraid of failing. Perhaps this whole college process has gotten so competitive, and they’re nervous from an early age about this funneling process.
It’s important to remind them that 10 years out of college, some large percentage of them will be in jobs that didn’t exist when they started college. So you have to learn the basic skills of setting a goal, taking responsibility for getting there, being part of a team and building a team. That, to me, is what the first 10 years out of college are about.