Written by Lauren Brown Jarvis Tuesday, March 05 2013
After spending roughly two decades at BP climbing the corporate latter up to the rank of SVP of marketing and innovation for the global brand, Ann Hand made the jump to CEO of Project Frog, a start-up that is revolutionizing the design and construction industries with its low-energy prefab buildings. Project Frog's pre-engineered kits cater to environmental, economic and human needs in order to create architecture that not only looks modern but leads an innovative shift in the way buildings are designed and erected.
Here are Hand's thoughts on the perks of being a woman leader and advice on how you can reach the top too.
Ann Hand on the surprising perk of working in a male-dominated field:
“My first job at 21 was in the energy industry. Having grown up with it, starting at the bottom, I never felt that different. Upon reflection, my big insight about it was that, in a strange way, we were the lucky ones – the handful of women – because we had the right to be individuals. In our office there was no rulebook of how a woman should behave at work. Yet, the poor guys had to emulate exactly what the executive layer was.
“Granted, in my first 10 years there I did feel a bit more like trying to follow the line to the way guys behave, but the more senior I got, I started bringing my whole self to work and feeling like I got more latitude than the typical guy. Most of my friends were guys, obviously, as that’s who I worked with, and I always could see the dark side of how much they had to constantly be in the image of whomever the new CEO was.”
On what will it take for more female leaders to get ahead:
“Some of the same things it would take for more males to get ahead. Large companies give you exceptional training, and you can learn how to communicate very effectively, how to influence the system to get your agenda through. You have to also understand how to position your business in away that creates excitement for it. You want other people to want to join it, attract new talent, win on your capital budget process and get all the money you need to fund your growth.
“There is a real requirement – whether you’re in a start-up or a big company, male or female – to learn a bit of street smarts and how to navigate the system you’re in. Study the system, understand what makes certain people or agendas successful or not. And instead of seeing it as playing politics, I felt like it was me being smart. But I think time and time again, the people who get promotions, who deliver results are great communicators. They can inspire their troops but just as easily go into a tough negotiation and earn the dollars too.”
On strategizing for that coveted CEO gig:
“A lot of my peers were super smart, had a great MBA, joined the company – the big corporation – did roles in finance and strategy but never could understand why they weren't chosen to run the big P&L.
“The thing is if you do not get a big operational role done early, it will haunt your whole career.
“People wondered what I did differently. Really, what it was is that I did some kind of nitty-gritty ops jobs that to most people, on the surface, wouldn’t look very attractive when you’re 24 years old. I realized later having carried that bag meant that I am entitled to now take these big, heavy operational roles. It relates to the start-up world too. There is certainly no way that I would have ever been offered the CEO role of any start-up if I couldn’t point on my CV to the fact that I ran a mega P&L for these large companies.”
“You can be as sharp as a tack and have worked your way up in a large company, but if you want a CEO title, you have got to be able to point to some kind of time where you did operate that P&L and that large team. No matter how bright and functionally proficient you are and what strategic or financial wizard you are, people need to see that you’ve gotten your hands dirty.”
On disruption in the name of efficiency:
“At Frog, we look at it and say, ‘Boeing can assemble a 747 in a matter of days, it shouldn’t take you 24 months to build a school for your kids.’
“We have a different way of thinking. We know how to apply technology, manufacturing and great design. The intersection of those three things create a better financial result, a better human result because the spaces are greater for higher human productivity. And, it just so happens that when you design good human productivity spaces, they also use less energy. We’re applying this belief to the industry that we think of as one of the world’s worst in the sense that not much has changed since the Roman days on how to build a building.
“As a start-up and a venture-backed start-up, you must go after disruption where it is needed the most, where it’s been dying for the biggest shake up it can get. We can apply the ‘frogology’ to turn around, tackle and be disruptive to construction [practices]. And in six years, we’ll apply it to another industry that needs a shake up.”
On the challenges and excitement of leading a start-up:
“First of all, there is something magical about the team when you’re immersed in a small group of people with a very lofty mission. It is very much an all-for-one-and-one-for-all kind of feeling. With the interweaving of personal friendships and social aspects, you really become one unit, locking arms to fight for something quite bold.
“The other big learning for me has been around the time compression. I ran much larger teams and much larger P&Ls before, and I absolutely had to deliver performance targets and be measured monthly, quarterly and annually on those things to keep my job and be successful. Here, everything is compressed down to the hour, the day, the week. You’re pivoting strategies so fast. You have to be so nimble.
“I thought of myself as a very fast-paced decision maker and flexible person, but it’s like on steroids in this [start-up] environment. The adrenaline constantly pumping through your veins is a new experience. It’s funny – you hit a big milestone, you have a great year and you go, ‘Oh, now I’ll take a vacation, now I’ll breathe.’ Then you come in the next Monday and have a new target on the wall. You feel this kind of time pressure, where time is running out to get to that next target. It’s definitely a hill for climbers.”
On bringing your whole self to work:
”I was in a new position, in a new company in London, and there were a lot of things I was trying so hard to do. I found myself kind of walking on eggshells to fit in, and I wasn’t really. I like to laugh at work; I like to get to know people at work. I’ll stay till 4 a.m. to get the thing done, but by God, we’re going to have fun doing it. And I was kind of putting some of my personality aside in simple ways, like not even really dressing how I usually dress. I had gone to wearing all somber grey and black, when if you knew me on the weekends, I’m usually in fuchsia.
“There was a moment where I thought, ‘I’m going to very actually try to bring my whole self to work. As long as I’m delivering at my job and am good at what I do, it’s OK.’ I do think it’s important to do that with respect. When I coach people on this, I tell them that you don’t want to mock the culture of your company. But if you can respect the culture of your company and you can deliver on your job, you should trust the fact that the corporation can respect you.
“A lot of people try to really draw a hard line between work and home, and for them that works. I think for me it was really an acknowledgement that these are all of my relationships that feed my life. I want to just be me and put my own brand out there instead of trying to be a poor imitation of someone else. I think because of that, it did feel like promotions came faster, people really wanted to work for me because I think people identified with me pushing the envelope for myself. They wanted to be around somebody like that so they could do it for themselves. The more you surround yourself with likeminded people, the more it really blossoms into the way we impacted the culture of the firm because over time more of us started to bring ourselves fully in.”
More women with thriving start-ups:
Formerly a commercial litigation attorney, Julie Haley successfully transitioned to the role of founding CEO of Edge Solutions, her IT company that boasts a 21,036 percent growth rate over the last three years.
After starting and selling one successful company, 24-year-old Ooshma Garg launched Gobble, a homecooked meal delivery service, upon receiving an enormous response to a Craiglist post soliciting people to cook her dinner.
Janet Rickstrew and Mary Tatum drew inspiration from the business models of Mary Kay and Pampered Chef, but instead of lipstick or ice cream scoops, their consultants are selling drills, hammers and DIY know-how at Tomboy Tools parties.
Lauren Brown Jarvis blogs about women and technology at Digital Doyennes, writes regularly for Examiner.com and AllVoices.com, and is a contributor for Tickles.tv, Huffington Post, Huff Post Live and Urban Politico. She co-hosts #theFishbowl on thatsgoodradio.com at 2 p.m on Sundays. Brown Jarvis is currently a community director fellow for JackandJillPolitics.com and previously served as national communications director for New Leaders Council. Jarvis Brown, a graduate of Spelman College, was named a 2009 New Media Institute Fellow by the National Black Programming Consortium, a 2010 New Leaders Council Fellow and is an alum of New Organizing Institute's BlackRoots New Media Bootcamp.