I have always been driven to make a difference, to grow and develop as a person. I am proud of the experiences I have had, the changes I have helped to make and I regret not a single decision. I probably don’t just lean in—I drive in.
I have this approach to work and to life. I was married at 20, made it through Duke University in three years graduating with honors. In 1973 I got my first job at Philadelphia National Bank. We used my salary to put my husband, Mark, through business school. When he finished, we switched. It wasn’t at all how things were done in the 1970s, but it was our way and it worked.
I joined DuPont in 1976 in the Finance Department after contemplating offers from investment banking firms and DuPont. I chose DuPont because I believed I could have multiple careers at one company. I was right, and my career shifts – about 20 of them to date - are just one of the things I enjoy about DuPont.
My early career was great. In 1981 DuPont bought Conoco and, at the age of 28, I became responsible for close to $4 billion in new debt at 20% interest rates. It was a frightening responsibility, but I was confident in what I was doing.
At home, things were very different. My mother had been diagnosed with cancer. It was a sign. I wanted my mom to enjoy grandchildren and to be part of the experience of motherhood with me. I kept driving forward in my career – leaning in – and I didn’t take my foot off the pedal. But I put that same drive into starting a family. On March 11, 1984 we were blessed with twins: Andrew and Erica. I took one look at them and realized it was time to lean back on my career and lean in to being a mother.
I was the first woman at DuPont to request and receive extended maternity leave. I had no fear in asking for this, it was simply what I needed. I was surprised when the leave was granted. It was such a fun time. My babies knew from an early age the power of two was greater than one and often worked together to get things done—like reaching the snack cabinet in the kitchen. Love is a strong word and I mean every letter of it. I loved that time.
I went back to work in September, still nursing both babies. A relative stayed with us so we didn’t have to use day care. But I missed my little guys. I decided to ask for a part-time assignment, fully expecting to be denied. I knew what my priorities were. I went in with confidence and with a track record of being a strong performer for the company. I was fully prepared to quit if my request was denied.
The company contemplated it for two months, but, with the sponsorship of the then-Treasurer, I got it. I was the first DuPont employee to work part time due to child care. I did the same job as before, but received half my salary and no benefits. The time with my kids in those formative years was simply wonderful and clearly the best time in my life.
My expertise at DuPont is simple: I take complex situations, simplify them, mobilize the right people and inspire them to do fantastic things. I learned this from school, work and home. It’s okay to lean in and lean out at different times in your career. Just remember what matters most, and keep that right in front of you all of the time.