Susan Bulkeley Butler

Dr. Relly Nadler:
This week we are very excited to interview Susan Butler. Susan is the author of Become of CEO of You, Inc: A pioneer executive shares her secrets for career success. She’s a pioneering executive and an accomplished business leader who shaped her career at Accenture, one of the world’s leading management consulting and outsourcing organizations.

Following her retirement in 2002 she founded the Susan Bulkeley Butler Institute for the Development of Women Leaders, a power center for resources related to women and leadership.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: It’s so good to be here today and to welcome not only one of our new and foremost authorities in creating powerful leaders from the inside out, but also a delight to be able to say that Susan is one of my mentors and is very instrumental in who I have become as a person and a leader.

For those of you who are listening, we are going to talk about one aspect of Susan Butler and her work today. She is a tremendous asset to any organization, but I was fortunate enough to be among the women at Accenture who were personally mentored and guided by Susan and her gifted work.

Susan, by the way, will tell you a lot about herself, but she is a remarkable human being. She’s now a career focused executive coach. She’s an international speaker, mentor, and a leader of change. Her mission is to impact zillions of women, I love saying that. Not billions, zillions. She is really truly helping them to develop their leadership potential and make bold changes to improve their lives, and as a result, improve the lives of others.

Susan’s principles are rooted in her proprietary 4-part Make It Happen Model. She credits most of her own success in propelling her career from Abingdon, Illinois, to her place as one of America’s foremost women executives.

She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Management and she has an honorary doctorate from Purdue. She is a wonderful philanthropist who, gosh we say paying it forward to the future nowadays and the generations that she is giving her good thought and leadership to, or funding great things around the world.

Susan thank you so much for the work you are doing on behalf of all of us in the leadership realm. Thank you for being here with us today on Leadership Development News.

Susan Butler: Thank you so much, Cathy & Relly for inviting me to be a part of your show and for all those compliments, Cathy. I obviously enjoyed everything that I’ve done and working with you through our years at Accenture, so it’s been terrific. I’m just delighted to be here with you and your audience.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Thanks Susan. I want to start off the questions for you. You certainly have had quite a successful career in the corporate world starting back in 1965 when you joined Arthur Anderson & Company as his first professional female employee and later became the first woman partner of Anderson Consulting, now Accenture.

In retrospect, was this part of your overall plan, to be a leader for women as well as an expert in helping people shape their lives and plan for their future? Was this part of the goal, or what were your goals?

Susan Butler: Well Relly, I wish that I could say yes, I had this grandiose plan and it worked out famously, but when I went to Purdue I went over there in their Home Ec School so I could go back to Galesburg, Illinois and buy two apparel stores. I decided to do this when I was a Junior in high school, if you can believe that.

Obviously, things changed along the way. I did change from home economics to the Craner School after my freshman year and the rest is history. You mentioned I was the first woman hired by Arthur Anderson & Company, with the help of many people, I talk about how we can’t do things by ourselves and I had a lot of help to make that happen.

I have to say that my life and where it all started was probably with my parents. When they mentioned to me many times, Susan, you can do anything you set your mind to do. It is still amazing to me that some people have never heard that before. It’s really important for everyone to realize and if this is the first time that they have ever heard it—you know—you can do anything you set your mind to do.

When I first started at Arthur Anderson I had a job. People thought I was a career person, but for the first four years, I really wasn’t thinking long-term at all. I was doing everything that people assigned me to do and one day, after about four years, I didn’t get promoted when I thought I was going to. It was a devastating fact. It was then that I realized that I had to take more of a pro-active role in my career. So, I did that. I had to find out what did I have, what skills and responsibilities did I have to have in order to get the next promotion. What roles and responsibilities were my peers getting that I wasn’t, and they got promoted.

That was when I really started, like my book says, to become the CEO of Me, Inc., to make things happen for me. I have to say that it was about a 3-5 year chunk of time that I would develop an aspiration and then achieve that and then go out for another 3-5 years. It was not a long term plan, as you can see.

During my time though being the first woman in seniors rolls for several years, I started mentoring women then because I wanted them to see what I look like and what I acted like, and in those days I wasn’t a man in a skirt, and I never was a man in a skirt. I really reached out to the women and helped them be all they could be and that’s just continued on to what I’m doing now in my Institute for the development of women leaders. Helping women and men, helping people, be all they can be.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Susan, as you are talking, I want to mention a couple of things and then get some more insight on you. I don’t know if people really understand the profound impact that Susan has had on many, many people in their careers, and has written a book about this so that she can help zillions more. I just want to make a quick point, and that is that Susan, you came into what was Arthur Anderson in 1965 and you were the first female to be made a partner in that firm. This is an interesting data point. In 1995 I was the first female partner to be brought in from the outside, meaning I was hired in as a Partner. Susan, we didn’t do that very much, did we.

Susan Butler: No.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: So, the point I want to make to out listening audience is, that was a 30-year hiatus, a 30-year transformation, a 30-year track record and it’s not a make wrong, it’s simply a model that I want to put out there for everybody who is listening in to this story today.

Many of us think that what we are doing as women leaders in today’s corporate America, profit or not-for-profit, has changes dramatically in the past decade. There are still only 2% of us on boards and there are still less than that as CEOs across the nation.

Dr. Relly Nadler: With that we want to kind of get into exactly what helped you get motivated to write this book, Susan. There are plenty of self-help books and career books out there. What kind of feedback have you gotten from readers? Why is this book different than other self-help books in the bookstore, and the how recent is this book?

Susan Butler: Many people said Susan, you were the first in so many places you need to write a book. I didn’t want to write a biography. What I decided that I would do is I would write a book about how I made my career happen because I said many times while I was working, and I think it’s demonstrated, that I proactively made things happen for me rather than let things happen to me.

I decided that yes, there were a lot of career books out there and there were a lot that I read myself to get tips and techniques about how to move my career forward. I didn’t find one out there that really told me how to make my career happen.

I’m a pretty logical person. I was involved in the computer, well obviously, for 36 years I was in computers and I was a computer programmer. I needed a logical plan as to how I am going to move from where I am today to where I want to be tomorrow. That’s what I did for myself, and that is what I wanted to share with people. Building their career is an awesome thing, but if you can bring this into reality into a few, I wouldn’t say simple steps, but easy steps to understand, it’s going to be easier for you to implement them. That’s what I’ve documented in my book. How to make things happen for you rather than let things happen to you.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: What happens, at the meat of the subject we are talking about, what happens when we take responsibility for ourselves, just as you are saying we should and become the CEO of You?

Susan Butler: Well, first of all, I have to talk to people, or I find myself talking to people about how important it is to take responsibility of ourselves. I was speaking to 150 students the other day and it was the first time that, they were juniors and seniors in college, and that was the first time that they had really thought about, hey, I’m in charge. I need to make things happen for me. It’s a new concept that says you are responsible, and then I follow that up and say, well, if you are not taking responsibility of who it is you want to be, then who is? Or, who have you outsourced it to? Because somebody, whether it’s your faculty at Purdue, or your peers, or whoever, somebody is influencing you. Are you really outsourcing who you want to be to somebody or are you really saying, this is what I want to do with my life? This is the difference I want to make while I’m here on earth. This is where I see myself going and making it happen for yourself rather than just letting something happen to you.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Can you just build on that idea of who are you outsourcing it to? Who are you outsourcing the responsibility for your success to?

Susan Butler: Well, it depends on who you are and where you are. I have had a woman come up to me after my talk and she said, you know, I’m who my husband wanted me to be, as an example. I think kids today are getting a lot of input from their parents, probably more than we did when we were growing up. I think we are getting input from everywhere. People on the TV, we are getting input from the news, we are getting input from all of the positive and negative things that are going on in the newspaper. Everybody is giving us a to do list. You should do this, you should do that. Well that’s all good input, but what do you really want to do? What do you aspire to? Where do you see yourself? Envision yourself in the future. A big question that I ask people is, is what do you want to say you have accomplished in 3-5 years.

When I went out to lunch right after I’d retired, with the Dean of the business school at the University of Arizona, he said Susan, what do you want to say you’ve accomplished in 5 years? I had no idea. I didn’t have an answer to that question. By the end of that lunch, I said, Mark, I want to have impacted zillions and I have no idea where that word came from. Zillions of women and girls. That’s what has been my North star since that lunch. That is how I spend my time, that’s what I do. I invest my time in that way.

Listen to the whole great interview above.

Relly