Conference Highlight – Lunch with Taran Swan

Last Saturday, I joined about 900 students and professionals in Burden Auditorium for the opening ceremonies of the WSA’s 11th Annual Dynamic Women in Business Conference. I didn’t go to the conference expecting to be inspired (in fact, I’d planned to stay for a couple of hours and then return home to study for the Finance exam), but I ended up staying for the entire day. It completely renewed my perspective on HBS and reminded me not to let preparation for classes or exams get in the way of my education.

For me, the true highlight of an already fantastic day was a brown bag lunch with Taran Swan. Over thirty women from the African American Student Union (AASU) came out to the Mellon Lounge for the lunch hosted by the Bert King Foundation. As most students probably remember, Swan is featured in a LEAD case based on her position as General Manager of Nickelodeon Latin America. Despite her celebrity as a case protagonist, which she considers a professional high point, Swan is extremely accessible and down to earth. She talked candidly about issues that weren’t raised in the case, like racial and gender discrimination. She often felt underestimated as a black woman, but managed to use this fact to her advantage both domestically and in her international work, saying that “results speak for themselves.”
The events of September 11th led Swan to decide to leave her position as Executive Vice President of Nickelodeon Online in order to spend time with her daughter and to fully evaluate her next career move, which may include a return to academia. She was thus very sympathetic to those of us in the process of figuring out what we want to do in the future. Swan reminded us that she graduated from HBS in 1991 – also during a recession, and was forced to reevaluate her career choices when she didn’t get any offers in her preferred industry, consulting. In fact, Swan ended up at Disney for the summer (and after graduating) only because she begged for an interview after the application date!

By the end of the lunch I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. The stress of recruiting preparation, studying for Finance, and life’s everyday madness were forgotten because I knew that others like me had faced the same problems and made it through. I needed that “you can do it” message more than I realized. Is it too early to register for next year’s conference?