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Cathy Minehan is the dean of the School of Management at Simmons College in the US, which she joined in 2011. Before this, Ms Minehan spent several years at the Federal Reserve Bank. She was the first woman to join the Wall Street management training programme, which she completed while studying for an MBA at NYU Stern School of Business, and she was the first female chief operating officer and president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
In her spare time, Ms Minehan enjoys playing golf, taking long walks and going to Broadway musicals.
1. What have been your best and worst business decisions?
My best was to become president of Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. This doesn’t sound like it would have been a difficult decision, but it was. My whole career at the Federal Reserve up until that point had been focused on becoming the chief operating officer, a position at that time had never been held by a woman. When that wasn’t possible in New York, I put myself in the running in Boston. When I got it, I thought I had reached the pinnacle of my career. It was a hard decision to basically change direction, but I received a push from senior businesswomen around town so I put my hat in the ring.
My worst business decision took place on September 11, 2001. I was at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and from our building you could see Logan Airport, where the planes that hit the World Trade Center took off.
We became so focused on getting the payment systems to work that I didn’t pay attention to how scared people were. Everyone believed we might be the next to be hit, and who was to say they were wrong on that fateful day. It was a bad business decision not to send everyone home. They didn’t think that I cared about them and it took a long time to get their trust back.
2. Why did you decide to join Simmons College?
It was the mission of the School of Management at Simmons College, with its MBA focus on women gaining access to powerful jobs and becoming principled leaders, that got me really interested. I felt strongly about figuring out why women succeed in business and why they don’t, and I was interested in creating ways to make that sometimes arduous process more successful.
3. What is an average day like?
There is no average day. Sometimes you’re teaching; there are faculty meetings, deployment and budget issues, and sometimes major challenges involving the whole college. Sometimes the biggest job is just getting staff and faculty to listen and help. We are currently transitioning our on-the-ground MBA degrees to an online format. That has lots of potential to increase the reach of and access to our degrees, but it is a brand new way of doing things.
4. What academic achievement are you most proud of?
After I arrived at Simmons, I began to work with the faculty on a healthcare MBA. The idea was that it would bring together staff in providers of healthcare, healthcare insurance and healthcare innovation and policy and that over time we would have an impact on Boston medicine. We just graduated our first class and I could not be prouder.
5. How do you deal with male-dominated environments?
I grew up in a male-dominated environment, in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. I was almost always the only female in the room and often the youngest as I became an officer of the bank fairly early in my career. But I never had an issue with the environment. Now, learning from my colleagues at Simmons, I can see the subtle ways in which I figured how to deal with male-dominated spaces intuitively. I always valued being a woman in that environment. I didn’t think it hampered me — I thought it was an advantage in most situations.
6. What is the best piece of advice given to you by a teacher?
For that, I have to go back to my sixth grade teacher, Miss Dowd. I was her best student. However, that in no way softened her attitude toward me, which was as stern as it was to everybody else. I remember her looking at me over her glasses as I left class with my clarinet to go to orchestra practice. She said, “If you would pay as much attention to school work as you do to your clarinet, you would be something.” Paying attention to the work at hand is a lesson I have taken to heart, and I have followed it in my business career. I am thought of as a person who pays attention and gets things done.
7. What is your favourite business book?
I really don’t have one. I’m pretty eclectic in my reading, but I value my monthly Harvard Business Review, The Economist and Health Care Policy.
8. Which three people, living or dead, would you invite to a business meeting?
I would invite Alice Rivlin, whom I regarded as my hero in the Federal Reserve, mostly because she was so deeply analytical. In addition to being a first-class economist, she really helped us think through challenges in payment systems while she was vice-chair of the board of governors. I admired how she could be focused on public good and doing things that make sense in the private sector as well.
I would also invite Paul Volcker, who I believe was the singularly most effective chairman of Federal Reserve, at least in my lifetime. He effectively ended inflation in 1980s, but almost better than that, he is an amazingly good at taking a contrary position just to see how you react.
Finally, I would invite Warren Buffett. He has an incredibly forthright way of thinking about financial situations, and life in general. All three of them share a devotion to doing the right thing, but extraordinarily good sense of practical realities and how people and systems function.
9. What has been you best business trip?
I was on board of Becton Dickinson, one of the first US companies to have a manufacturing plant in China. One thing that Becton Dickinson makes is the equipment needed to give patients an IV. The way the Chinese do IVs is exactly opposite to everywhere else in the world, so, to meet the large Chinese market, Becton put a manufacturing plant in Suzhou, which is about an hour west of Shanghai.
The board went to the plant and met with all the Chinese workers and their management. There were so many women in the room and the questions they asked us were so intelligent, direct and focused. It was a rewarding experience to learn about their experiences as Asian women working for Becton Dickinson.
10. What is your plan B?
I don’t think I’ve ever considered a plan B. I have enjoyed every minute of my career, the victories and the challenges. I’ve never considered doing something different. What I’ve done has contributed to the functioning of the country, and contributed to me, my education, and my development as a leader.