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Road Map to the Top















Road Map to the Top

Susan Abrams (KGSM90) has written a practical guide to help women move up in the corporate world.

In 1986 recent Ivy League alumna Susan Abrams (KGSM90) found herself in a lonely spot as the only female analyst in her group at Wall Street's Goldman, Sachs & Co. Looking above her, she saw the ever-present glass ceiling — a plethora of men in the top positions and only one female senior executive. At other firms on the Street, the story was the same.

"I asked myself, ‘Why are there so few women at the top? And what did they do to succeed?'" she relates. When someone suggested that she interview top women executives with these questions and put their secrets of success together in a book, she stored that advice for the future.

Over the next decade Abrams picked up a marketing degree at the Kellogg Graduate School of Management and a lot of business experience. One day, however, a statistic caught her eye: Women comprised about half the labor force but still represented only 11 percent of upper management positions. "I decided that maybe this was the time to write that book," she says.

Last June Abrams, currently a visiting scholar at Kellogg, published her first book, The New Success Rules for Women (Prima Publishing, 2000). Drawing from the professional lives of 45 top-level women executives, the book offers 10 "surefire strategies" for women to reach their career goals in today's business world.

"This book is about effecting change, to show women how to move forward more efficiently," she says. "We can close the gap [between men and women]."

Abrams' book features the stories of executives such as Janet Robinson, president and general manager of the New York Times, and Connie Duckworth, managing director of Goldman Sachs. It also includes prominent Northwestern alumnae Mary Baglivo (GJ81), executive vice president of J. Walter Thompson; Lindy Hirshsohn (KGSM87), a partner with the Boston Consulting Group; Betsy Holden (SESP78, KGSM82), president and CEO of Kraft Foods (Northwestern, winter 2000); Nancy Karch (G71), former director of McKinsey & Co.; and Mary Ludgin (SESP80, G81, 88), president and CEO of Heitman Capital Management.

The women, of varied backgrounds, had at least one thing in common. "They weren't trapped in gender roles," Abrams explains. "They all worked up to their current ranks from entry-level jobs."

Starting with a single contact, Abrams employed one of the strategies in her book: using women-to-women relationships. "I called Nancy Karch," she says. "I was sitting with her in her living room when Sue Kronick [chair and CEO of Burdines] called Nancy, who then introduced me to Sue. When I flew out to interview Sue in Miami, she shared personal and professional insights — and she shared her Rolodex. Then I called [managing director] Suzanne Nora Johnson at Goldman Sachs, and she opened up her Rolodex. It's the perfect example of the power of relationships, of building them and maintaining them."

After graduating from Kellogg, Abrams herself served as a consultant at McKinsey & Co. and later as senior executive at the Chicago Children's Museum. "She weaves in her experiences and uses them as a launching pad," says Ludgin. "But she's not merely describing clones of herself. She shows how the individual personalities of each of the 45 women shape how they do things."

Abrams adds that her book is applicable to women at all career stages — "from someone fresh in the workforce to a more seasoned executive."

— Chantal Liu (J01)