Ten Questions

June 26, 2012 3:24 pm

Ten Questions - Felicity Wohltman

Felicity Wohltman

Felicity Wohltman is an MBA graduate of the University of California Anderson School of Management in the US. She is one of the few senior women working in Silicon Valley, as vice-president of solutions at Mindjet, an IT company.

Ms Wohltman grew up in Missouri and studied philosophy at Yale University. She has had a long career in IT, having worked for Xerox, Webex and Genius.com.

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Ten Questions

In her spare time, she enjoys tennis, white-water canoeing, stand-up paddle boarding and watching films.

Ms Wohltman will be available to answer your questions in a live web chat on Thursday, 28 June 2012, between 12.00 and 13.00 BST. Post your questions now to ask@ft.com and they will be answered on the day.

1. Who are your business heroes?

The business leader I admire most is Anne Mulcahy, former chief executive of Xerox. When I worked in Xerox’s internet group, the group reported directly to Anne (before she became chief executive) and I was fortunate enough to get to spend time with her, both in business and social settings. She is a remarkably effective leader who knows how to set priorities and establish high standards, without displaying any ego or temper. She was a coach and mentor to many women (and men), showing a genuine interest in the people who worked for her.

2. Why did you choose to do an MBA?

Having studied philosophy in college, I had very little knowledge of the business world in general and absolutely no understanding of economics, finance or strategic analysis. Once I decided to pursue a career in business, I had to go to business school.

3. What is the best piece of advice given to you by a teacher?

One of my first professors in business school at UCLA, Sam Culbert, told me that I would be both miserable and a failure if I tried to alter my personality or hide who I was in order to fit in the business world.

4. What is your biggest lesson learnt?

Don’t shy away from being assertive. I think many women are raised to be polite at the expense of being direct. Being direct doesn’t make you a bitch. It makes you effective. You can show respect for people and still be direct.

5. What would you do if you were dean of a business school for the day?

I might do something different, like invite some artists in to talk about how they approach their work. I guess this is similar to attending a TED conference or watching their videos, which give you a chance to learn from people who are doing something completely different. Undergraduate and graduate business programmes are so competitive and I think one comes away with a sense that working harder is always the answer. It’s not. Just grinding away is not a recipe for success – being open to new perspectives, talking to people about their ideas and giving yourself time to think, is more likely to help you be more successful in the long run.

6. Who is your ideal professor?

I think Martin Scorsese would be a wonderful professor, because he’s so passionate about what he does and, from what I can tell, he loves sharing his knowledge. He’s a tremendous student of film and film-making and I love the way he talks about movies – he’s so animated and entertaining.

7. What is the last book you read?

The last business book is Consumption Economics: The New Rules of Tech by J. B. Wood, Todd Hewlin and Thomas Lan, which I’m reading now. It deals with the dramatic effect that cloud computing is having on business models. Since Mindjet delivers work management solutions across platforms, including mobile and the cloud, I’m finding it very relevant. For fun, I just read Olen Steinhauer’s An American Spy. I love spy stories and detective stories.

8. Have you even been to any workshops/seminars that have helped you in your career?

When I was just starting at Mindjet, our chief executive arranged an offsite with a guy who teaches at Stanford and who is also a career coach. He led us through exercises that really helped us function better as an executive team. I tend to be dubious about anything that seems remotely touchy-feely, so I had very low expectations, but the exercises we did were pretty practical and fed very naturally into our strategic planning process, so I was impressed.

9. What is the worst job you have ever had?

One summer during high school, the only short-term work I could find was delivering telephone books. The route I was given was dominated by four-storey apartment buildings with no elevators, meaning that I had to go up and down stairs all day long lugging phone books. It was great exercise, but a pretty awful job.

10. What advice would you give to women in business education?

My advice for both women and men is to find what interests you, not what you think will make you the most money. I got this advice from a friend who was a few years older than I was and who had become a very successful investment banker. She was on the fast track and making a ton of money, but, over time, she became completely disenchanted because she had never been interested in the first place. She ended up leaving banking and founding a Montessori school in Ontario, where she’s really happy.

Compiled by Charlotte Clarke

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