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Susan Bulkeley Butler is the chief executive of the Susan Bulkeley Butler Institute for the Development of Women Leaders, which is focused on helping women and girls to fulfil their potential. For 36 years, she worked at Accenture, a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company, where she was the first woman hired. She later became Accenture’s first female partner.
Ms Butler grew up in a farming community in Abingdon, Illinois and studied industrial management at Purdue University, where she has since established the Butler Center for Leadership Excellence. She has a business leadership award and an honorary doctorate in management from the university’s business school, Krannert School of Management. At Simmons College, she was endowed with an award in their MBA programme.
In her spare time, Ms Butler enjoys travelling and needlepoint. She has written two books: Women Count: A Guide to Changing the World and Become the CEO of You, Inc. which is a call to action to take responsibility for your life.
1. Why did you choose to study business?
I’ve been in business my entire career – at first, I thought I would have my own retail business. Based on what was available to me upon graduating, I became a senior executive in the business and technology consulting field. The options for women in 1965 were limited, but I excelled with Accenture.
2. Who are your business heroes?
My heroes are Susan Anthony and Amelia Earhart (I see myself as being half of one and half of the other). Susan was all about equality for women and Amelia helped women realise they can do anything they set their minds to. Just like them, my true focus is to bring equality in sight for women.
3. What would you do if you were dean of a business school for the day?
Encourage students to become ‘the chief executive of you, inc’. By this I mean, take responsibility for who you are and who you want to be. Make things happen for you rather than let things happen to you. Wherever you are, assume you will be there for the long run. Don’t be a short timer – if you think short term, you’ll be short term.
4. What is your biggest lesson learnt?
No matter where you are, you need to demonstrate that you are able to perform in the position you want before you obtain it. You’re awarded a promotion as a result of the work you’ve done.
5. What advice would you give to women in business education?
Build confidence in yourself. We doubt our ability, even when others know we can be successful. Lack of confidence holds us back. Take a risk and do something you’ve never done before. Have a can-do attitude, but don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
6. How do you deal with male-dominated environments?
We, women, need to learn how to be confident and use our voices, not allowing ourselves to be spoken over at a table full of men. We need to ask for the jobs that will provide us with the necessary experience to be on the same playing field as men. Also, I would learn how to be a good golfer.
7. How do you deal with pressure?
When stress gets in my way, I relieve it by talking to someone. This is where mentors come into play and why they’re so important. Women let things grow inside and, as you know, a mountain is made out of a mole hill. Men let it out and get over it; the next day, you’d never know anything happened. We need to learn how to do this. Women spend too much time thinking about the past when they should be thinking about the future.
8. What is your favourite business book?
Good to Great by Jim Collins.
9. If you could do it all again, what would you do differently?
I would’ve gotten an MBA. This would’ve given me the experiences needed for more significant positions on senior leadership teams.
10. What are your future plans?
Bringing about equality for women by 2020, the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote in the US. It’s absolutely necessary. The world must be a better place for our daughters and granddaughters around the world. It’s up to us to make change happen. We can do it if we put our minds to it. We can change the world.
Compiled by Charlotte Clarke