Sheryl Sandberg once said “In the future, there will be no female leaders. Just leaders.” Both Amy Howe (President and Chief Operating Officer at Ticketmaster) and Kelly Ungerman (Senior Partner at McKinsey) strive to epitomize that statement through incredible grit and immeasurable perseverance. Kelly and Amy are sisters (to one another), mothers, wives, daughters, and most primarily, articulate and passionate leaders. Through a series of seven questions, Kelly and Amy shed light on the valuable lessons they learned about being women in business, balancing an executive position with homelife, and about sibling camaraderie in the same field.
When asked to introduce themselves, Amy Howe, an executive at Ticketmaster shared a very simple, yet profound answer. She stated, “Some days and years you’re the chief recruiting officer, some days you’re the chief strategist, and on other days you’re the chief firefighter.” This provides insight into the multifaceted position that Howe holds. At Ticketmaster, Amy and her team strive to bring the seemingly basic concept of “ticketing” and integrate it into the digital era. Kelly Ungerman, who has climbed the corporate ladder at McKinsey for over two decades states that she spends most of her time “...leading America’s consumer digital and customer experience practices.” She works with several retailers and clients in order to transform their customer experience and ways of working to be more “...agile and to raise that metabolic rate.” She adds that she has quite a special passion for diversity and inclusion for women in business. Quite evidently, both sisters hold heavily weighted jobs that entail much hard work and resilience.
Women in business are often exposed to new facets that may alter or enhance their overall worldview. So, when asked how being women in business have altered their worldviews, both sisters stated quite unique answers. Howe was quick to respond to this question saying that both she and Kelly grew up at McKinsey, which teaches you, “...from day one, to have a voice, which is really important in the business world. The way they talk about it is, ‘you have an obligation to dissent.”’ She went on to commend Kelly as a senior partner since less than 5% of senior partners were women when Howe left McKinsey. When conversing about her day-to-day life, the point that struck out the most with Howe’s response was when she stated, “...you get to that point when you’re sitting in the boardroom counseling CEO’s and more often than not, you’re the only woman in the room. You get used to it. You’re trained and taught a special skill set, and you don’t think about the fact that you’re one of the only women driving complex projects and problems.” She went on to say that as it’s true that there aren’t many women at the top, it’s still integral to be able to navigate some really difficult conversations along with the male egos of the world.
"...more often than not, you're the only woman in the room. You get used to it."
Moreover, so many children today fall into the mindset that the only way of being successful in life is through attending an Ivy League or a top-tier school. Both Amy and Kelly went to Cornell University for their undergraduate degree and went on to the number one business school in the country, Wharton (University of Pennsylvania) for their Masters in Business Administration. Being that both these women went to such prestigious schools, asking them if they thought their life path would be different without going to an Ivy seemed quintessential. Though Kelly and Amy both agreed that with bigger schools come better access to recruiters and career opportunities, the facet that set them apart was their determination to capitalize on all of their opportunities. Had they not done that, they would definitely not be here today. As Kelly described, after you get your foot in the door at a school, nobody necessarily, “...cares or remembers what school you went to. That’s hardly ever a conversation at our meeting tables.” So, in short, what we can gather from this is the point that where you go isn’t who you’ll be. You are defined by your choices, not your environment.
Many women in leadership positions around the world have stated that the hardest part of their job isn’t the actual job itself, but the balance between your home and work life. Especially in current times considering the COVID-19 pandemic where most are required to work from home, the lines for a work-life balance can get blurry. Former PepsiCo President Indra Nooyi has once stated that women can’t have it all. When asked to explain this generalized statement, Nooyi articulated that it is impossible for women to be the best CEO and leader, but also fit the perfect [society-determined] roles of a mother who attends her child’s every event, a wife who is constantly there for her spouse, and whatever such roles one might have. Both Amy and Kelly fundamentally disagreed with Nooyi’s statement.
When asked about this, Kelly stated, “...Everyone has to have their own definition of what having it all is because at some point something has to give.” Following that, Amy quite frankly said, “I think you have to be willing to accept help, which is a difficult thing to talk about because not all women can afford help and many are in different situations.” Following that, both women agreed that they thought that at certain points, they thought their career would stand in the way of them being a good mom, but now, they feel differently. Amy added that her working in an executive position, not only inspired her three boys but also gave them a living example on how to fall down several times and get right back up with grace. Especially in the ticketing industry when all shows and tours are canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Amy must continue to fall down and get right back up. Both conceded to say that of course, it is inevitable that there are times when they’re on the road when they don’t want to be, but at the same time, having careers still makes them feel happy and as though they are much better mothers. Kelly articulated that it is impossible to have that perfect perfect equilibrium, but the most unbalanced times are the ones that build character and add some padding on to your back. Most importantly, she articulated, “...at one point or another, you’ve gotta find the metrics that matter.” Whether that be spending weekends with your family, nights, or whatever you may define, you must prioritize and always try to make up for lost time.
"... the most unbalanced times are the ones that build character and add some padding on to your back."
Through this incredible conversation that I had with Kelly Ungerman and Amy Howe, not only did I learn much about their balance of top-tier jobs and home lives, I also got to observe their grace, kindness, and sisterhood that was evident from the beginning. Both Kelly and Amy, through the entirety of our call consistently built one another up, which was something that was not only heart-warming but a call to action. Sometimes the competition, even within our own family, can blind us; in the grand scheme, the trivial grades and accolades that siblings compete over are minuscule and irrelevant in life. No matter who you are, there is something for everyone to take away from these incredible leaders. These beacons in the business community will pave the way for many more women in business to emerge as leaders so that, like Sheryl Sandberg quoted, “...there will be no female leaders. Just leaders.”
"The trivial grades and accolades that siblings compete over are minuscule and irrelevant in life."