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

When Bartz talks about that time in her life, she literally ducks her head, as if dodging blows from would-be critics. But she refuses to be judged. How did she handle mommy guilt? "I didn’t," she says easily. "I was already well established in the business world. I just felt I should be able to do both, and I had the resources to get good help."

When Layne was a little older, she and Bartz would sit down at the beginning of each school year and look at the calendar together. Bartz would make a handful of commitments: the Halloween party, the Christmas sing. "I’d tell her, ‘These are the times Mommy will be here. Anything else will be a surprise,’" she said. "So there was none of this, ‘Mommy, can you drive to the Spider Museum?’ So she was surprised when I showed up, instead of depressed that I wasn’t at everything. She learned about schedules, she learned about commitments, and I did get to enjoy some of the school times." Even so, Bartz admits, there were times when her daughter would "see all of those other moms volunteering at school events, and I’d feel like a slug."

Carol’s Life Plan

If there’s a Carol Bartz life plan, it’s less about balance and more about some high-end compartmentalizing: "My head has a pretty good switch in it, on and off." She spends about half her time on the road and says she doesn’t believe in jet lag. She uses sleeping pills, wears an eye mask, and drinks lots of water. And she doesn’t "buy into that whole call-home-every-day thing. You’re on the other side of the world, waking up at two a.m. to say good night to your family; that’s crazy. You call when you can, and you get home soon," she says.

And, where necessary, you resort to brute force determination. When she’s not traveling, Bartz is driven from her home in Atherton, part of Silicon Valley, to Autodesk headquarters, which is 75 miles away, north of San Francisco and across the Golden Gate Bridge. It used to be a miserable, daily venture before she taught herself how to read and ride in the back of a moving car at the same time — without getting carsick.

"We’d stop once, twice, sometimes three times along the way to throw up," she remembers. Her driver, Michael, became adept at dashing off busy Highway 101 so Bartz could lean out the door. "I just figured this was something I had to do," she says. Her family was established in Atherton when she got the Autodesk job, and she didn’t want to move them. "There’s no way I could spend two hours a day in the car without reading. I can’t waste that much time."

Bartz’s Bout with Cancer

Bartz took a similar approach 14 years ago to her bout with cancer. Recruited at 43 for the biggest job of her life and anticipating a busy few months, she scheduled a week’s vacation between jobs and packed it with a teeth cleaning, a Pap smear and, last, a mammogram.

During the screening, she was impatient with the technician, who kept pulling her back for one more picture. Bartz was eager to go pick Layne up at a birthday party. "I kept telling the technician to hurry it up," she recalls. The next morning, she told her husband, "You know, it was a little odd yesterday. This technician just kept rechecking me." Ten minutes later the doctor called: She had breast cancer.

Bartz began her new job a few days later, but waited a month before she announced at a trade show press conference that she had breast cancer, would undergo surgery and be out for a month. "Which breast?" hollered one reporter. "What an asshole," Bartz says, remembering the moment.

Recovering from a mastectomy and trans flap surgery, to rebuild the breast with abdominal tissue, was brutal. She took just four weeks off, then worked full-time through seven months of chemotherapy treatments. "It’s a blur now," she says, "but the chemo part was hell. The biggest hell was that I gained so much weight." She put on and later took off 70 pounds. Bartz still worries about her weight, snacking constantly on diet cheese and diet soda.

First Published June 1, 2006

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