Elizabeth Ghaffari is president and CEO of Technology Place Inc., a corporation that delivers strategic technology advisory services to U.S. and international business clients. Previously, she was a manager of IT at major financial institutions in California and a consulting economist to major development firms domestically and abroad.
Ghaffari received her master's degree in management from the University of California, Los Angeles (now the Anderson School of Business) and her bachelor's degree in political science from The American University, Washington, DC. Ghaffari's other published works include: Outstanding in their Field and Women Leaders at Work.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I love the quote from Abraham Lincoln which says, "Whatever you are, be a good one." I remember as a youth, I had a saying glued to the inside of my glasses case. It said: "Say nothing. What you are stands out and speaks louder than anything you can say to the contrary." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson.
My strongest life experiences include the lessons from the biographies I've read of inspirational people. I've tried to share contemporary stories of important women with my peers.
I am a person who has learned some important lessons from women in leadership earlier than most, but it is the women I've interviewed and written about who are the true leaders. I consider myself their scribe.
How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Technology Place?
When I returned to the US from Iran in 1978, the microcomputer revolution had barely begun. Major US corporations were only beginning to work with end-user computing, meaning the virtual machines or desktop terminals were connected to the mainframes.
I had a choice then of going on my own OR joining a large financial services firm in their end-user computing department. My mentors suggested that I needed to build my experience with mainframe and large scale computing technology before I could chart my own company course. That corporate experience was invaluable in teaching me the essentials of client services, project management, budgeting, and management controls. Key factors that have been crucial to my every project as an entrepreneur.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Technology Place?
The highlight has been the sheer variety of projects I've worked on -- from telecommuting to air quality technology, from real estate reporting to large scale development project cash flows, from web site design to business plan pitch competition, and now application development.
The challenge has always been finding talented people who are willing to explore the unknown because they haven't invented it yet.
What advice can you offer to women who want to start their own business?
Today women have available to them an abundance of advisory resources. When I started out, every management consultant I talked to wanted me only to brush up my resume to go back into the corporate financial marketplace and continue as I had done before. But, I was interested in forming a company that stayed abreast of emerging technologies that I knew would be constantly changing.
Women need to begin with a clear vision of what they want to do. They must tap into the abundance of advisors available to them today. The need to formulate a solid strategy to achieve that vision. Today, there are incubators, accelerators, hubs, business development centers at every turn. These resources will make it possible for women to avoid many of the early startup mistakes that are far more expensive today. But, they have to listen.
What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
As my company has matured, I have come to appreciate the power of small groups of advisors from a peer level perspective. This is an important area for women entrepreneurs to consider. For the past several years, I've focused on governance (the strategic oversight of companies).
The more I examine companies with advisory structures in place and in use, the more convinced I am that women need to learn this skill in order to succeed. I believe that men have a more natural tendency to "pick up" teams, but this is a skill women can and must acquire.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I would make the case that "balance" is neither achievable nor desirable. I prefer to focus on the moment - to make conscious choices about what's important in that moment. Many times, we are required to renegotiate issues that arise where family priorities and work priorities contend for the same time and space in our lives. I like to say "I have confidence in Time." I expect I will have just enough time to do what I have to do - provided I don't expect that I have to do it all at once.
Also, I am not the only member of my family or my work. I believe strongly in delegating and teaching others how to carry their share of our life burdens. And I am grateful for a host of great colleagues at home and at work who make it possible.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Women, today, more than ever before, have the opportunity of looking at the workplace and their lives as a "glass half full." It's their choice whether they want to see the world as bountiful or limited. If women focus on the negatives or the limitations, then they will have little or no motivation to contribute to the success of the next generation - who have the potential to exceed even our own expectations.
Women need to turn off the guilt trips, the shared misery, or the kvetch. They need to stand and deliver their own message of competence and opportunity. Not wait from some Price Charming or Legislator or Czar Leader to make magic happen for them.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentors expected much of me, for which I am eternally in their debt. I hope I have delivered on their confidence in me. I hope they take pride from the experience of our collaboration. I have tried to pass their baton forward to others through my writings and through my coaching.
Every interview I've conducted has provided inspiration to me. That is the feeling that mentors engender in us.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
"First women" are some of my favorite mentors because they broke through the stereotypes and presumptions that "women can't." They are champion role models to my way of thinking. They prove the hypothesis that "women can!" I really enjoy reading their stories and taking strength from their experiences.
What do you want Technology Place to accomplish in the next year?
I want Technology Place in general, and myself in particular, to be more active in forming quality advisory boards for entrepreneurial firms because I believe so strongly in the benefits of a "small group of wise and dedicated peers."