The Chamber held its Professional Women’s Leadership Luncheon Series featuring Lisa Caputo on April 11 at the Westin Town Center in Virginia Beach. More than 200 business professionals gathered to hear a lively and insightful discussion between Ms. Caputo and WTKR NewsChannel 3 anchor Barbara Ciara.
Lisa Caputo is a proven business leader and an expert in marketing, strategic communications and public affairs. She is Executive Vice President, Marketing and Communications at The Travelers Companies, Inc. Prior to Travelers, Lisa held executive leadership positions at Citigroup for more than 11 years. She founded Citi’s leading women’s financial services business, Women & Co., and served as its Chairman and CEO for 10 years. She also served as Vice President of Corporate Communications for the CBS Corporation. Lisa is best known for serving as Deputy Assistant to the President and Press Secretary to First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton at the White House for President Bill Clinton’s entire first term, where she oversaw the communications operations and was chief spokesperson for the First Lady and First Family.
When Barbara asked Lisa if Hillary Clinton would run in the next presidential election, she replied, “Hillary inspires people to lead in their various disciplines but she also is someone who brings people together. I think she would be good for our country.” She added, “There is a part of me who is her friend and would love to see her take it easy and be able to enjoy her freedom and not being in the public spotlight or in a publically elected role or publically appointed role. To have a huge platform that she has today, to really affect a lot of global change particularly to women and girls. I can argue that too, so I really don’t know what she’ll decide. I would just like to see her make a decision that is best for her.”
Commenting on what her career aspirations were during her younger years, Lisa said, “I always thought I would somehow become an Olympic athlete. I was such a fan of sports and played a lot of them as a children, teenager and young adult.” She told the crowd that athletics and team sports in particular, teach you so much about yourself but sports teach sportsmanship and working together and collaborating and the thrill and the agony of the defeat and how to be tenacious or how to have endurance. Lisa added, “These are all things that are important in the workplace and in life. Sports as a part of your educational experience it’s very important to teach you these life lessons that I think really do help you in life no matter what you do.”
Lisa explained, “I never envisioned that I would end up working in the White House and I certainly never envisioned I would end up in financial services.”
Barbara Ciara noted how Lisa has handled a lot with crisis management and asked if the fictional ABC television show Scandal was accurate. Lisa admitted to being addicted to the show and commended its writers. She said, “I think the’ living in the moment’ and having to make decisions in the moment and pivoting from issue to issue is very real in a crisis situation. Whether you are in government and politics or in a private sector or business and the ability to constantly be on your toes and understand the issues that are facing you and to be able to give a rapid recommendation that is hopefully methodical and then to be able to execute it. There’s not a lot of time for dialogue and strategy. You really have to be pretty confident in your recommendation, make it swiftly and then move to implement it. The show really does depict it.”
The topic of the glass ceiling was addressed. Lisa said, “We as a society are not as progressive as we think we are or say we are about the role of women particularly in the workplace but let’s take a step backwards and say about the role of women in general. This is why Hillary Clinton remains such an interesting figure. The longevity of Hillary Clinton in the political circles and in the public consciousness as a public figure to be so relevant for 20 years is remarkable.”
Lisa believes the workplace has to wrap its head around a level playing field and that men have to advocate for it as well. She said, “This is not just how many women will be given promotions and go up the corporate ladder and into the C-suite, but also means equal pay.” Caputo believes the only way we’re going to get at this is to acknowledge that it’s an issue and to stop talking about it and do something about it.
Lisa said, “We need to tie compensation in the workplace, executive compensation, to how many qualified women are moved into senior line positions.” She cited examples like Ginni Rometty, Chairwoman and CEO of IBM.
Unfortunately Lisa says she’s seen women either choosing early retirement or getting pushed out, saying, “I almost feel like it has gone backward on Wall Street to some extent and it needs to get pushed forward again.”
In February, General Motors began recalling 2.6 million cars worldwide to replace faulty ignition switches. Thirteen deaths have been linked to the switch problem. Barbara asked Lisa how she would advise the new CEO of GM to handle the recent problems.
Lisa said she would advise her to tell the truth. “Nothing trumps the truth,” she said. “You have to be transparent today. Consumers and customers don’t want to have wool pulled over their eyes and were all smart enough to know what it is,” she added.
Barbara questioned Lisa about the practice of the having the same 50 women executives put on company Board of Directors. She asked Lisa her thought on spreading the wealth to the next generation.
Lisa replied, “I’m an example of someone in that crowd, suggesting me for a board. We have an obligation to pull up the next generation and present opportunity to them.” She explained that women need to advocate for each other and for those who follow us if we’re going to start to develop that path for women to get into the C-suite.
On the topic of biggest challenges, Lisa said, “My time in the White House and my last three years at Citi, were the most challenging because I lived crisis’ 24/7 and it was just non-stop with no end in sight. Obviously, everything that the Clinton White House went through no one could have anticipated but was exercised crisis management for me at a young age.”
Her time in the White House gave her credibility going into the private sector. She jokingly said that she had “If you have a crisis, call Lisa” written on her forehead. At Citigroup she ran crisis management for three years. She explained to the audience that these years were the toughest because, “I remember when I was asked to do it, I had a pit in my stomach because I knew ‘no’ was not an option and yet I knew what it meant for me and my family which was I was going to have no life. I wouldn’t see my kids. I would probably end up sleeping in the office some nights. It was going to be non-stop and all those things happened. ”
She said, “Fortunately my present company is so well run and people are fantastic to work with and everybody works so well together and we feel great about the job we are doing.”
Regarding balancing a career and a family, Lisa related it to juggling 15 balls every day, saying, “There are days when they all come crashing down, there are days when three or four balls come crashing down. I don’t think I have ever had a day where they all stayed in the air.” She admits to being a control freak and a planner and admitted that it can be a struggle with kids.
At the conclusion of the luncheon, Lisa took several questions from the audience. “When will Chelsea run for President?,” one attendee asked. Lisa responded saying, “Chelsea I have to say is the best of both of her parents. She’s I think been very thoughtful about where her interests are and how she has been spending her time. She does have a real interest in public health; she has an advanced degree in public health and also has a real interest in the plight of woman around the world. I don’t know if she will run for office but she has made a choice to be more public. And that’s a big step for her. She’s very active in the Clinton foundation. I think if she chose to run, she’d be good at it.”
Another guest asked her how she landed her job in the White House. Lisa said, “It was complete good luck. I never dreamed to work there. I coped out of taking the difficult path of trying to make it as a broadcast journalist because I wasn’t willing to make sacrifices to get started and really launch a career there.” A Michigan congressman hired her right out of graduate school. I learned later because he didn’t want to have a profile. She volunteered for the 1988 Presidential Campaign because a friend of mine asked me to. They asked me to move to Boston where I met these incredible people, very smart and interesting people.” She shared, “I happened to get on a train that has led me to places and people.”
Lisa then worked for Senator Tim Worth then met Bill Clinton. She explained that, “Had Senator Worth not decided to seek reelection in 1992, I would have never met Bill Clinton. My timing was everything. Hillary Clinton didn’t have a press secretary.”
The Hampton Roads Chamber is proud to present the Professional Women’s Leadership Luncheon Series to provide its members and guests with insight and access to nationally-known speakers. Join us on June 5 at noon with speaker Valerie Salembrier, CEO of Rubin Singer, a third generation Russian Couturier.
Thank you to sponsors: Bon Secours Virginia Health System (Presenting) and Luncheon Sponsors Cox Communications, StellarOne, Virginia Eye Consultants, and WTKR NewsChannel 3. At the conclusion of the event, one lucky attendee won two airline tickets courtesy of Southwest Airlines, the official airline of the Professional Women’s Leadership Luncheon Series.