University of South Florida


USF News

CEOs Impart Wisdom

Women business leaders, part of the Committee of 200, spent the day sharing experiences and ideas with USF students.


                                                                           Photos: Aimee Blodgett | USF News  --  Video: Katy Hennig | USF News


By Hilary Lehman

USF College of Business


TAMPA, Fla. (Feb. 27, 2013) – Working in the male-driven energy field, former CenterPoint Energy president and current University of South Florida adjunct professor Georgianna Nichols met challenges on her way up the corporate ladder.


Some obstacles were as subtle as learning to drink coffee without cream because there was never cream around. Other times, they were more blatant, such as when she was told to go into a pit filled with cockroaches because her male colleagues wanted to see how she would react.


“They would respect me, but I earned it,” she said. “The men didn’t have to earn it.”


But, she told about 150 students eager for advice who attended an event at the USF College of Business on Tuesday, although there’s still work to do, women have a clearer path to achieving their career goals than in the 1970s when she started.


Nichols, along with 20 other women who are CEOs and business leaders, participated in the event as a member of the Committee of 200, an invitation-only organization of leading women in business dedicated to fostering growth and increasing opportunities for women entrepreneurs and corporate leaders worldwide. C200 members employ more than 2.5 million people and generate more than $200 billion in annual revenues. The organization chose USF for Tuesday's Reachout event, which it holds at multiple college campuses each year.


Whether students came to the event hoping to gain networking opportunities, wisdom for their own careers, or simply interact with women who have led fascinating careers, the C200 Reachout met each of those needs. The CEOs and business leaders spoke to a largely female group of students, who exchanged their usual casual classroom attire for business suits, about the achievements and challenges they had experienced in the workplace during their expansive careers.


“These women come in, and it’s their own time, their own expense, and their own hearts that are here to work with students,” Nichols said.


The women gave business advice on specifics such as negotiating and gaining investment capital, sprinkled with personal anecdotes. Susan Nethero, who founded the specialty lingerie chain Intimacy, said her father-in-law had criticized her for spending so much time on her career while depending on a nanny for childcare for her two daughters. Now, the business she started sells just shy of $40 million in inventory, and one of her daughters is a Fulbright Scholar, while the other is launching a business of her own.


“I have two strong young ladies, and they don’t think I did anything wrong,” she said.


Attendees to the event also sat in on discussion panels with topics ranging from “The Recipe of the female CEO” to “Women who are Leaders in a Global Marketplace.”  


The group not only gave students career advice but also provided three MBA students with more a tangible resource to help them achieve their dreams: Brittany Evans, Sarah Sexton, and Kristin Gilbert each received a $10,000 scholarship from C200 to pursue their studies and career goals.


Evans, a marketer who works for Cox Media Group and is focusing her MBA in marketing and entrepreneurship, said she plans to use a portion of her scholarship to pay for her MBA studies. She hopes to set the rest aside to start her own business someday.


“I appreciate all the C200 members who came because not only did they share what made them successful, but they also took the time to understand what our goals were and what it would take for us to be successful,” she said.


Evans said the entire C200 experience, from her interview with the scholarship committee to the breakout sessions she attended, gave her motivation and confidence that she could become a business owner.


“It feels more in-reach now,” she said. “Before it was always a goal, it was a dream of mine, but now it feels like I could start tomorrow.”


USF President Judy Genshaft delivered the keynote address, telling the group how she rose in the university administration field.


“Don’t be distracted too often,” she told attendees.


She also spoke to USF students directly, saying she was proud that USF was helping so many women gain degrees and start their own individual path to success.


“Don’t forget, when you are successful, to reach down and help somebody else,” she said. “First you learn, then you earn, then you return.”


In the breakout sessions, C200 members shared experiences from their careers and answered questions from students, including those wondering the age-old question of whether women could have it all.


“There are different and unique challenges,” for women in the workplace, said Laurie Brlas, who is president of global operations for mining company Cliffs Natural Resources. “They aren’t inherent to the system, they’re just the choices we all make, and I don’t think any choice is right or wrong.”