By Rose Strong
I attended the Lehigh Valley Women’s Summit, a one-day conference presented by the Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Women’s Leadership Council of the United Way and Cedar Crest College.
The theme for the event was, #ClimbTogether. The hashtag was purposeful as the group had an app for the day’s events and wanted everyone with a smart phone to blast the day’s happenings on social media.
The event offers the chance to network with the women movers and shakers of the Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton area and all regions in between with speakers, breakout sessions, and vendors for business and personal services.
This year the keynote speakers were three incredible women who have become successful despite obstacles set before them in the male-dominated career paths they chose.
Strike entrance, poker face and persistence
Lydia Fenet, senior vice president and auctioneer at Christie’s Auction House, took her hand gavel and whacked it on the podium next to her microphone. “Good morning! Is everyone awake now? You see, that’s my strike entrance,” she said holding the gavel up. Explaining that we all need a ‘strike entrance’ or method to command a room or a group when we need to take charge or close the deal.
Fenet gave her keynote with just a taste of what she was going to do in her breakout session, “The Art of Selling.” The other hint she gave was to keep a poker face. In the midst of a crisis, keeping a poker face shows that you’re in control, despite that you may be screaming inside the outward show of calm helps the rest of the people working with you that, “everything will be alright.”
Fenet started her career at Christie’s while in college. Not knowing you have to plan, she thought calling them would be all the opening she’d need to be put into a summer internship. It took her three weeks of calling every day to get them worn down enough to give her a ‘modified internship.’ “I did whatever they asked me to, with a smile,” she explained. A tall woman of nearly six feet, she was given a pile of papers to shred. Today she’s Christie’s Head of Benefit Auctioneering, selling at more than 100 charity auctions a year.
Networking and relationship currency
“You have to use your network, reach out and seek the support you need from someone who can give it. If someone has put themselves in your path, right in front of you in your network, use them and their expertise, connections and know they’re willing to help.” This was one of Carla Harris’ many professional tips, or “Carla’s pearls.” Those pearls are valuable, too.
Carla Harris is a Wall Street professional with more than 30-years of experience working in the financial industry, most recently as the Vice Chairman of Wealth Management, Managing Director and Senior Client Advisor at Morgan Stanley. She is the epitome of a multi-talented leader. She is a business woman, author, motivational speaker, and singer who has sold out Carnegie Hall four times. In 2013, she was appointed by President Barack Obama to the National Women’s Business Council. Her accolades include being named to Fortune Magazine’s list of “The 50 Most Powerful Black Executives in Corporate America”, U. S. Bankers Top 25 Most Powerful Women in Finance (2009, 2010, 2011) Black Enterprise’s Top 75 Most Powerful Women in Business (2010), just to name a few.
Her keynote was powerful and offered advice to beginner and seasoned business woman alike. If someone has put themselves in your path, right in front of you in your network, use them and their expertise, connections and know they’re willing to help,” she said.
A more unique piece of advice from Harris was to build “relationship currency.” “You decide you’re going out for Starbucks, stop by the desk of that new person in the office and offer to get something for them,” she said. “That’s relationship currency. You’re offering to do something nice that they’ll remember. Something that gets your relationship currency and fuels your connection.”
She explained it was the same with meeting someone at a conference, cocktail party or other event. “You get their business card and send an email or a note card to say it was nice meeting them and perhaps the next time they’re in town you could get together for coffee,” she said. “But don’t stop if you don’t hear from them. It doesn’t matter if you get together, just reaching out can be as powerful as having a lunch meeting. It helps promote relationship currency which you can use later.”
One step at a time, breathe in-breathe out
Alison Levine knows the meaning of “climb together.” Literally. She was the leader of the first Women’s Everest Expedition, and the afternoon’s keynote speaker.
“It took us 10-days to hike to base camp. We get there to let our bodies acclimate to the elevation and trek up to the next camp, stay one night, pack up and head back down to base camp.” This was a repeated process throughout the trip, she explained. It’s all a lesson in patience, perseverance and a will to meet your goals.”
At one point in the elevation, Levine describes how the lack of oxygen makes your body start to deteriorate so much that you need to take five to ten breaths for every step you make. “Focusing on putting one foot in front of the other and staying the course by looking at your goal, which in my case was often a rock or piece of ice, and just going as fast or as slow as needed to get there is pretty much what we all do in our lives, isn’t it?” Her definition of a leader wasn’t someone to take charge and tell everyone what to do, but to encourage and motivate others to stay the course. “Any one of us could be the leader on any given day. We all had to make decisions that would affect the lives of others in the pursuit of reaching the summit.”
Her keynote was inspiring and gave lessons about how to lead teams through difficult situations and make tough decisions in moments of crisis. As an explorer of the roads less traveled, Levine has paralleled those experiences with business environments.
What all three of these women had in common was determination to reach a goal regardless of the obstacles in their way, they learned from mistakes and experiences and are willing to pass that information to others.