The World According to Carol Bartz

On September 6, 2011, Carol Bartz was infamously fired, by phone, as CEO of Yahoo after two years at the Internet company. Back in 2006, we talked to the veteran business exec about what it takes to bust through the glass ceiling. Even then she proved that candor was certainly one of her strong suits.

Martha Mendoza

Bartz spent four years at 3M. But in 1976, when she requested a transfer to headquarters, "They told me to my face, ‘Women don’t do these jobs.’ It was the first time I actually heard that," she recalls. "I’m out of here," she told them. She packed up her desk and left.

Bartz pauses in her recounting of this story, rummages through her desk and finds her BlackBerry. She reads aloud an e-mail from a former 3M colleague, sent when Bartz was named to the latest of many lists of top women executives: "I remember your challenge to a manager to allow you to grow and the consequences of his unwillingness to do so. You left. You certainly attained a higher level of accomplishment than any of us minions." Bartz looks up, smiling. "Isn’t that nice?"

Moving On Up

Bartz went on to move up the ranks at Digital Equipment Corp. and then at Sun Microsystems, moving to Atlanta, to Boston, and to California. She married and divorced, then remarried. Bill, her husband of 18 years, left his own high-tech industry job to manage the family investments and spend more time with Layne.

But even as Layne heads off to college and her own career, Bartz sees the stubborn remnants of sexism in business. At a meeting in New York recently, she entered a room full of male business leaders. Slim, tall, sparkling with confidence in her trademark red suit, Bartz saw the usual looks of confusion on the faces in the room: Who is this woman? She had her shtick ready. "I must be Carol," she said in a loud, clear voice, "because I’m the only woman."

"It happens all the time," she says later. "Most people assume that because I’m a woman, I’m someone who’s standing behind a leader, a man." But she adds, "The fact that they’re unenlightened is their problem, not mine."

This is standard Bartz doctrine: She won’t wring her hands over problems, but she won’t dismiss them either. She scoffs at a statement made by Carly Fiorina, the highest-ranked woman at a public company until she was pushed out of the CEO spot at Hewlett-Packard in 2005. Fiorina had declared that the glass ceiling in high tech was gone. "Carly was so intent on being considered normal, just one of many senior executives in the country, that she just did not want to have another agenda," Bartz says. "In my opinion she was wrong to say that. But she believes it; she gets to say that."

Bartz on the Balance of Life

Bartz is equally unsentimental about the "myth of the balanced life," as she calls it. "Women put all this crap on themselves," she says. "They think, ‘I’m going to cook a great breakfast, wash up the dishes before I leave, take the kids to school, call my college roommate on my way in to work, be a CEO all day, volunteer on the way home, do a little exercising, cook a wonderful dinner, help with homework, have sex.’" Bartz pauses, grins widely and shakes her hair. "I don’t think so." At Autodesk, she has gotten credit for building a culture that’s supportive of busy people. She shuts the company down for a week every winter and takes off five weeks a year herself. But she also wants women to change their thinking. They "beat themselves up for not doing it all, and they get mad at everyone around them. That’s nuts," she says.

Bartz developed her own model back when Layne was a baby and she commuted weekly between her home in Dallas and Sun Microsystems in Mountainview, California. At midnight on Thursdays, she would fly home and then spend three days pushing a stroller, going to Gymboree classes and snuggling with Layne. On Mondays, she would kiss the baby and hand her to the nanny, and then fly back to San Jose. "For four days, I got to use my mind, I got to sleep, I got to have a real career. I had the best of both worlds," she says. "It was awesome for me, and I don’t think Layne is any the worse for it. I always vowed that if Laney asked me, ‘Where do you go, Mama?’ I wouldn’t do it anymore."

First Published June 1, 2006

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