Ellen Hancock shares career lessons from the top

As she briskly walked to the podium to address the 900 attendees of the HBS Women’s Conference last Saturday, Ellen Hancock appeared confident and tough. Yet one could tell from her first quote that this woman, now the Chairman and CEO of Exodus Communications, has had her share of challenges and earned her strips in the technology industry the hard way. “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels…the ones who see things differently…Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world do.”

Exodus Communications is a $12 billion value company that hosts the web operations of 40% of the top sites on the internet. Hancock has earned much credit for the firm’s successful IPO in 1998 and has long been visible as one of the highest-ranking women in the technology industry. She started her remarkable journey to the top of the latter during a 29-year career at IBM, where she became Big Blue’s highest-ranking female executive. She came to Silicon Valley three years ago with the goal of running a company and worked at National Semiconductor and Apple Computer before Exodus.

During her speech, she emphasized career management as the most important thing you can do for yourself “because no one else will.” She has herself managed her career very carefully, surrounding herself with mentors who knew the right stepping stones, and making many personal sacrifices to get ahead. She advises that “you should look 2 jobs out, see if the second job will take you there, then take the first job.”

For women specifically, she shared the following insights:
o Women have to work harder to work ahead. “I get asked all the time what it’s like to be a female in the semi-conductor business. Men don’t get asked that. People don’t ask what it’s like to be a male in the semi-conductor business!”
o Stereotypes exist and we have to overcome them.
o Develop a style that makes managers comfortable
o Seek out difficult assignments and opportunities, they won’t fall on your lap
o Look for influential mentors who will help
Ellen Hancock also shared some guidelines about work environments, emphasizing that “If you’re not in a supportive environment, leave. There’s no value in staying and time is too short.” She left the crowd with the inspiration to work a little harder as “It’s when women are in charge that we’re going to see the change.”