Women in Business Q&A: Deb Henretta, Senior Advisor, SSA & Company

Women in Business Q&A: Deb Henretta, Senior Advisor, SSA & Company
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Deb Henretta is Senior Advisor at SSA & Company, where she helps leaders better leverage big data and advanced analytics to drive strong, sustained top-line and bottom-line results. Deb also sits on the Board of Directors at Staples, NiSource, Corning, Inc., and Meritage Homes Corporation and is on the Board of Trustees for St. Bonaventure University, Xavier University, and Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. Previously, Deb was Group President, Global e-Business at The Proctor & Gamble Company, where she led P&G's global e-business vision, strategy and creation of new business models for the world's largest consumer good company. Her work is transforming P&G's business models to win in the digital economy where nearly half of P&G's $86 Billion dollar sales are transacted or influenced.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
The leader I am today has been significantly shaped by my life and career experiences, extending back to my childhood days growing up with two parents who each excelled in their respective nursing and teaching careers. They taught me to believe that anything is possible if you are willing to put your mind and time to it. Success comes easily for some, but for most of us, it comes about with a lot of hard work. This early wisdom served me very well in my career and in my life.

My work experiences taught me another very important lesson: there are always new doors to open and new opportunities to explore if you have the courage to seek them out. With family and mentor support, I have worked up the courage to explore new opportunities. As a communications major, I accepted the job offer to work in business for P&G. Another big opportunity was living and working overseas while running P&G Asia, which I did for seven years. Still another was accepting a US State Department appointment to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation without having any formal government or regulatory training or experiences. Each new opportunity provided terrific learning experiences and allowed me to grow my skills and capabilities.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at SSA & Company?
My 30 years at P&G running several large global businesses have provided me with a wealth of diverse experience both domestically and abroad, which provides a good foundation for consulting. My experience living and working in Asia was the single greatest learning experience in my life and in my career. It got me out of my comfort zone both at home and at work. It forced me to see life and work through a different lens. It gave me the opportunity to learn about different cultures and opened my eyes to new perspectives and approaches to building business.

In terms of application to my work at SSA & Company, several experiences proved helpful especially as it relates to the firm's digital practice and focus on Big Data and Advanced Analytics. The first was running P&G's $14 Billion Asian business, where all things digital have been adopted much faster and often more extensively than in the US. That's because many Asian countries leapfrogged lined computers and phones and leaped directly to wireless and mobile technologies. Leveraging this fast digital conversion and Asia's learning culture, we were able to build an organization that uses big data and advanced analytics to drive big results. Taking on the role of P&G's Global President of e-Business gave me a unique opportunity to craft the development of the company's digital vision and strategic plan - an important area of future growth for P&G and most modern businesses.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at SSA & Company?
After spending 30 years at one company, I love the diversity of working with so many different companies and seeing the unique business and organizational approaches they employ. I have also gained significant knowledge on the more technical aspects of advanced analytics as well as new applications of these tools and technologies to drive top-line and bottom-line results.

What advice can you offer to women who are seeking a career in your industry?
Many successful individuals will answer this question by highlighting basic leadership skills like strategy, decision making, and taking risks. These are indeed the nuts and bolts of success - what I think of as 'what counts' factors. These are very important but I would suggest they are not sufficient for driving success. There is another set of factors that are more attitudinally based. I call these the 'what else counts' or the art of leadership and success.

The first is passion. You are more likely to find success and enjoyment when you do the things you love. Finding work you have passion for helps you get and maintain a positive attitude. I try to always to see the glass as half full not half empty. As Winston Churchill once said, "pessimists see the difficulty in every opportunity while optimists see the opportunity in every difficulty."

Persistence is also critical to success. Often times it was when I came really close to throwing in the towel that I was able to realize my greatest success. Persistence can help you become maverick for change, even when the change is hard in coming. I once heard it said that there are three types of people in the world: those who watch things happen, those who ask what happened, and those who make things happen. Be a person who makes things happen.

Lastly, be principle-driven. Do the right thing no matter what the circumstances or consequence. Use sound principles to guide your work. You will be fairer and more consistent in your decision-making. It is also important to "walk your talk"--role model the behaviors that you want others to follow. Your actions will always speak louder than your words. Over the years, I have come to believe that the greatest leaders are leaders of consequence. They have the competence to do great things and the courage to do the right things.

What is the most important lesson you have learned in your career to date?
The most important lesson I have learned, and continue to be reminded of, is to stay open to new ideas and different ways of solving problems. The world is changing at such a rapid rate; you must constantly evolve your thinking. Be on the lookout for ideas that could give you advantage but also for competitive moves that could make your business model obsolete. Winning in a fast-moving marketplace requires commitment to ongoing, fast-cycle learning and courage to change as marketplace or competitive moves dictate. Just look at what the advent of digital photography and mobile cameras has done to Kodak - though once an iconic stalwart of the film industry. Look at the business disruptions happening before our eyes with Uber and its impact on the taxi industry, Airbnb revolutionizing how we think about hotel accommodations, and Dollar Shave Club impacting the sales of industry giants like Gillette and Schick.

How do you manage work/life balance?
Finding the fine line of work/life balance is never easy and solutions will differ greatly depending on your age and your stage and circumstances in life. But over time, I have found a few universal truths that can help you find balance.

First, ruthlessly prioritize what is important to you and focus your efforts there. Not only does this require a clear and decisive "to do" list, it also requires an equally robust "not to do" list. Making a list of what you will not do is the only way to really know that you are making choices on what you will do. As you make these tough choices, you'll need to recognize that choices have tradeoffs. You must be willing to accept the consequences of those choices.

Next, it's important to accept help when offered and ask for help when needed. This is often a hard concept for women in particular as we often want to do it all ourselves.

Finally, adopt a long-term view of work/life balance. Instead of trying to achieve balance on a daily or weekly basis, look at balance over a longer time horizon and you are likely to feel better about the balance you have achieved. For example, you might have an important initiative that fills your schedule for weeks or months - or you might take on a demanding position for several years. In these work "sprints", remember that you can give yourself time down the road - and be sure to do so to avoid burnout.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Thanks to my experience both in running global businesses and living and working in Asia for seven years, I know firsthand that this question exists on two levels: one for developing countries and one for developed countries.

On a developing country basis, there are several significant barriers that hinder women's full economic participation, all of which center around access. First, women lack access to capital that gives them the money to buy a proper education and/or to start their own business. Progress here will require the removal of discriminatory legal, regulatory, and banking practices in many countries of the world. Second, women of developing countries lack access to technology which can help them gain knowledge, connections, and business efficiencies to effectively compete. Third, women often lack access to education, training, and skill building that would provide them with fundamental capabilities to compete in their chosen industries. Several of these same barriers exist at varying levels in developed markets, especially for minority populations.

In developed markets, while some of these more primary obstacles have been removed, hurdles remain around equal opportunities, equal advancement, and equal pay. Some of this is rooted in a lack of access to proper mentors and networks that can help women learn the ropes of informal and more intangible experiences that can lead to success. Another issue is that women often have a different style of leadership that can sometimes be viewed as "softer" than a man's more directive decision-making approach.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I have been fortunate to have many terrific mentors in my life and career, beginning with my parents who instilled in me a good work ethic and a passion to succeed.

For me, the best mentors are people that you choose, not people who are assigned to you. I also do not believe that there is one perfect mentor. I believe in a portfolio of mentors. Just as you would not put all your money into a single investment, you should not rest your career growth with one mentor. Add mentors as you need specific skills, experiences, or advice.

I have been fortunate to have many excellent mentors over my career - and even with 30 years of business experience under my belt, I still believe in the power and importance of mentors. These days, I am seeing great value in experienced mentors who represent wise sages but also in younger leaders who have a greater comfort and vision on the internet of things and offer exciting and transformational views of what business can be in the future.

My most significant mentor was R. Kerry Clark, who at the time was heading up P&G's Laundry business. He taught me the importance of making tough choices and the need to focus your efforts on the fewest things that will have the greatest impact. He mentored me as a young advertising/communications major and helped grow me into a successful business leader.

In Asia I had mentors such as Chairman Lee of Singapore's Economic Development Board, who helped me navigate Asia business circles and make important business connections in the region.

Today, I still have important mentors. Sometimes they come from unexpected places. Several years ago, I attended a leadership forum, G100 Next Generation, designed to build skills and capabilities of up-and-coming C-suite Executives. Through G100, I had the opportunity to meet and learn from Scott Miller, current CEO of G100 and former CEO of Hyatt Hotels Corporation and United Infrastructure Company. When I made the very tough decision to try something new, Scott became an important mentor. He helped me build new networks, sort through possibilities, and evaluate new opportunities. These connections led me to David Niles, President of SSA & Company and G100 Companies, and my current Advisor Role.

Which female leaders do you admire and why?
There are so many women who are achieving spectacular things in business, politics, academia, and not-for-profit arenas. There is so much to learn and admire in their success stories. Three women come to mind. The first is JK Rowling, who overcame a life of poverty to become a worldwide best-selling author. Her success shows what can be possible if you believe in yourself and follow your passion. A second leader is Ho Ching, CEO of Temasek and wife of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. She is a successful CEO managing an investment portfolio of more than $170 billion USD while simultaneously raising four children and gracefully handling her duties as wife of a top-ranking government official. Finally, Madonna, who overcame physical and emotional abuse to become an iconic entertainer who has continually reinvented herself to stay musically relevant for more than four decades.

What do you want SSA & Company to accomplish in the next year?
Like any leader in any company, I would like to see SSA & Company continue to grow business profitably and expand our client footprint and client offerings in the Big Data/Advanced Analytics space. This is an exciting, growing area in which most companies, regardless of size, are just beginning to see and tap the potential. Bringing Big Data and Advanced Analytics into the fabric of your company's DNA can bring huge upside opportunities for topline growth and can identify cost savings and productivities to enhance bottom-line performance. Leveraging this potential is more than just a technical challenge; it is first a leadership, and second a cultural challenge. SSA & Company has the know-how, the networks, and the expertise to help companies make the kinds of changes needed to build Big Data and Advanced Analytics in the fabric of the company leadership, organization, and systems.

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