New HBS Alumnae Co-President Stresses Value of HBS Network

Jean McCormick, HBS ’88, defies many of the traditional female stereotypes. Most notably, she has a deep and enduring passion for sports despite never having excelled on the playing field. Research on how ‘talking sports’ affects women in business at Wellesley, her undergrad alma mater, culminated in a book entitled, “Talk Sports Like a Pro – 99 Secrets to Becoming a Sports Goddess.” While whimsical in title, the research harkens to McCormick’s deep commitment to women’s issues in the workplace.

“I came to Boston six years ago and got involved with the Network of Women Alumnae and met so many interesting, compelling women that I became committed to thinking through how we can all live the best possible lives.” In addition to its purpose to promote women’s networking and continuing education, McCormick believes that the organization can play a role in ongoing mentoring and education in work/life balance.

McCormick’s own story begins at home. Her father was the President of RKO General New England and then President of his own chain of radio stations and encouraged McCormick to get into TV. After graduating from Wellesley, she began at ABC News where she became the chief researcher for Nightline and matriculated at HBS five years later.

“There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t use my HBS skills,” a strong statement considering a significant portion of her first decade after HBS was mainly on the production side.

Like many HBS grads, McCormick had a brief stint in public finance but was not satisfied and within a year and a half was back at ABC. A senior executive at Capital Cities suggested that McCormick join the sports cable channel, ESPN, then a rising force in Television. She joined in 1990 and launched two series and won 7 Emmys for her work.

As the first female producer and the first female coordinating producer, McCormick is quick to point out that much of her success she owes to great mentors and friendships, nearly all men. She was also the beneficiary of an executive rotational program started by Tom Murphy, then CEO of CapCities, intended to help women get on the fast track. McCormick notes that this was “an extremely positive experience.”

McCormick advises students to keep in touch with friends and colleagues from both your most and least positive experiences. Such was the case when McCormick served as Executive Producer of CNN Sports Illustrated which was launched at the time of the Time Warner merger. While “it wasn’t the greatest fit,” she still stayed in touch her boss, Jim Walton, who recently became the CEO of CNN.

But, then, life dealt McCormick a new card. Her father died and responsibilities for selling his radio stations fell to her and her mother.

She points out that one of the areas of work/life balance that she never considered while at HBS was parent-care. However, she observes that this is a responsibility as important to understand as childcare.

McCormick never married, and her flexibility was one of the key reasons that she was able to take on settling her father’s business. Her sister, in comparison, had her hands full with a special needs child and does not have the luxury of working outside the home or caring for parents.

“I am so supportive of what Kim Clark is doing – promoting the education to be the best leader however you apply it. For me, I never made a conscious choice to stay single. It’s about trying to have the happiest life possible. When my sister was childless and went through the whole debate about staying-at-home or being a working Mom, it never occurred to her that she would have a hearing impaired child. She really never had a choice to stay at home with all of his needs and she has become a leader in education for children with cochlear implants.”

Since moving to Boston, McCormick has rediscovered the power of the HBS network. She remained close to her section and was able to list off what virtually everyone was doing. “Not a week goes by that I don’t talk to someone from my section.” She became a visiting scholar for the Wellesley Center for Women where she launched the research project leading to her book. To fund her book and research, she also became a full-time consultant with SightPath which she found through an HBS grad who was the chief venture capitalist for the company. It was later sold to
Cisco for a cool $800 million.

Similarly, McCormick became involved with which was started in part by four members of the class of 1999 and is currently working on a custom magazine business with a member of the class of 1990. Finally, when an opportunity to go out to Los Angeles for an entertainment position fell through at the last moment due to the resignation of one of her mentors, McCormick was invited by one of her section-mates to run a non-profit in Cambridge which she concedes “may be even more challenging than TV.” All in all, McCormick has good reason to tout the value of the HBS network.

And as future HBS alumnae, we can look forward to great things during her tenure with the Network of Women Alumnae.