Woman in the 21st Century: 8 Lessons for 2018
Kirsten H. Detrick
In 2016, my career in the bio-pharmaceuticals industry brought me to Vienna. As Managing Director of Central Europe and Austria for my Japanese-headquartered firm, I am responsible for various businesses with nearly 700 employees, juggling this role with that of wife to Herb and mother to our son Hadley (18) and daughter Lucie (15). Here are eight lessons I’ve learned that might be of interest to other women of the 21st Century.
Pursue your passions. My interests are diverse. Chemistry and Creative Writing are disciplines with little overlap, but I centered university studies around them and have never regretted the decision. Despite their divergence, each activity brings great pleasure and satisfies my intellectual needs in different ways. Although I am not a scientist, I still apply logic and analytical rigor at work. One day, I’ll write my 1,000 page novel, but until then, I communicate creatively in writing at the office.
Reach for the improbable. In 1990, I had 6 months between the end of my job as a health care consultant and the start of business school. My dad encouraged me to seek a health policy job in Washington, D.C. My chance of landing this kind of a role was somewhere between remote and impossible. To prove how crazy Dad was, I wrote letters to ~ 400 politicians, then wore out a pair of shoes walking around Capitol Hill, cold-calling senate and congressional offices to present myself and my credentials. To my astonishment, I received several offers, and ended up working for the Senate Majority Leader.
Practice humility. During business school, I developed a love of marketing, a discipline I had never heard of before starting my MBA program. Desperate to find any kind of a job in the packaged goods sector, I applied to dozens of companies and eventually landed a job with a major pharmaceutical/consumer products corporation, working on an antiperspirant/deodorant brand. Marketing deodorant is far from glamourous, but it formed the foundation of my business career, by introducing me to strategic fundamentals and business basics.
Take the Road Less Travelled. In 1992, I was thinking about traveling in Europe for a month with friends, even though I had been there several times before. My parents encouraged me instead to visit Japan and China, even though doing so would require solo travel. I decided to give it a try and years later, this experience opened doors for me professionally and personally.
Accept Imperfection. When my husband and I were building our family, we both held fast-paced, stressful jobs. Finding good child care was a challenge, mostly because we wanted Mary Poppins for our nanny (it turned out she was already employed). We “settled” for day care and it was a spectacularly positive decision. My children learned socialization skills, made friends, and enjoyed every minute of the day. Keeping a perspective on what’s essential vs what is “nice to have” has been critical in allowing me to successfully juggle work and family obligations. As a wise colleague and mother of older children counselled me: “…although you might miss the time when your son eats his first Cheerio, there will be thousands more to follow – and you will enjoy them just as much.” Her lesson taught me to shift my focus from moments missed, to moments shared.
Accentuate the Positive. In 2013, after a difficult product launch resulted in numerous job losses at my company, I was moved to a part of the firm considered to be “dead-end.” At the same time my career was derailing, my parents’ health began to fail precipitously – a “perfect storm” of problems. Ironically, being out of the corporate spotlight enabled me to throttle back on work…which, in turn, gave me time to be fully attentive to my parents’ urgent healthcare needs. Today, with them both gone, I realize that my 18 months of career deflation was actually a priceless opportunity for more time with my parents.
Trust Your Children. We moved our then 13- and 10- year old children from California to Zurich in 2013. Although a transatlantic move was challenging, the kids integrated cheerfully and grew to love Switzerland. Three years later, I was given the opportunity to have full P&L responsibility in Austria. I asked my son, at that time a rising high school junior, how he would feel about moving in his 3rd year of high school. In response, he said “Well, it sounds like a good career move for you, Mom, so I think we should go.” Both kids looked at the opportunity as an adventure, not a burden. Nearly 2 years later, they adore their newly adopted hometown of Vienna and have demonstrated resilience, tenacity and optimism in re-adjusting to a new city.
“ABCD” - Always Be Chasing Dreams. After a first year spent acclimating to my work and helping my family settle in to Vienna, I am once again pursuing new personal goals. For example, I ran for the Executive Board of the American International School in Vienna last year and was subsequently asked to become Chairperson. I take weekly German lessons in a quest to improve my conversational skills. I continue to volunteer as a guest speaker at a variety of venues focusing on women in business. And yes…I’m still chasing the elusive dream of publishing my great 21st century novel.