Patricia Sellers says planning ahead is overrated.
Sellers, who currently serves as Fortune Magazine’s editor-at-large, spoke to a group of about 40 students, faculty and New Haven residents at Yale Law School on Wednesday afternoon. In her talk, Sellers addressed the importance of following one’s passions, in addition to discussing gender differences in corporate America. One of the central points Sellers emphasized was the importance of being flexible with career choices rather than becoming attached to particular positions in the job market.
“Dash planning,” Sellers said. “I am an advocate of not planning — not planning your life, not planning your career. Most people have not planned their career; they have not set five-year or 10-year goals, and they look at life and careers more like jungle gyms than like career ladders.”
Using Apple CEO Steve Jobs as an example, Sellers said everything happens for a reason, and that individuals should make decisions based on their personal instincts — this is when “you end up winning,” she said.
“I think the most successful people [whom] I’ve interviewed do what they do because they’re passionate,” Sellers said. “You can’t be successful today by not loving what you do, because the demands are so incredible.”
Sellers herself said she had absolutely no interest in business when she graduated from the University of Virginia. Instead, she said, she wanted to write about the arts. After working for two years, however, she changed her mind and applied to Fortune, Forbes and Business Week. Fortune was the first to offer her a job, and she has worked there since 1984.
When she first joined the magazine, Sellers started off by writing about packaged-goods companies, but drifted over the years to writing about individuals in business. Over the course of her career, Sellers has tackled issues such as ego, charisma and failure in the business world, and has written profiles on individuals such as Ted Turner, Martha Stewart and eBay CEO Meg Whitman.
Though she said she usually does not discuss her current work publicly, Sellers said she is in the process of writing an article on Dick Ebersol, the chairman of NBC Sports. She said he is a particularly interesting figure to write about, especially in light of the recent tragedies and challenges in his life: in particular, last year Ebersol lost his 14-year-old son in a plane crash.
“[This is] a broad profile about how he’s kind of dealing with this — a lot of challenges in his life,” she said. “I think it is going to be a really inspiring story.”
Sellers also discussed gender roles in the business world. Women view power and leadership differently than men do, she said.
“Women think about power more in terms of influence,” Sellers said. “I’m always struck by how women, when they gather, tend to be much more about ‘I want to find ways to extend my power, to reach out.’ It’s a cliche to say that women are much more collaborative, but in my experience that’s been the case.”
Sellers also addressed gender equality, or lack thereof, in the upper echelons of corporations in America. Though she said that such powerful women as Whitman and former Hewlett Packard chairman and CEO Carly Fiorina believe there will someday be parity among top male and female executives, she said she feels differently.
“Anybody who thinks we will reach parity at the top is naive,” Sellers said.
She also said many executives worry about “the leaky pipeline problem,” which refers to the higher job turnover at the top echelons of business among women.
Sellers ended her talk with some final words on success.
“If you don’t have a job you love, no way are you going to be balanced or harmonious, because it takes away from your family,” she said. “It’s all about finding what you love. It might not be in corporate America, and that’s okay.”
Audience members said they appreciated her unique perspective as both a journalist and a powerful female in corporate America.
Jon Steitz LAW ’07 said he thought Sellers’ points were relevant to some of the topics he has studied in law school.
“Definitely some of the same points get talked about in all our classes,” Steitz said.
Josh Helmrich ’09 said he enjoyed Sellers’ talk, but found some of her comments harder to relate to.
“Some of it was a little over my head,” Helmrich said. “I don’t really know the corporate world, the executive scene, so it was just hard to get her message on some of her points about females in the corporate world.”
Sellers’ talk was titled “Power and Leadership” and was sponsored by the Poynter Fellowship in Journalism.
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