The CEO's Posts

First County Bank President and COO Kathy Harris on Female CEO’s

Recently IBM cracked the glass ceiling naming its first female CEO in the company’s 100 year history. It is now the largest US Corporation by value to be led by a woman. Virginia Rometty has unquestionably become one of the most powerful women in business and technology today.

Every now and again, The CEO’s Post, will invite guest bloggers to join conversations that touch us the most as it relates to business, finance and matters of community. On the heels of IBM’s news, it seems natural to invite First County Bank’s first ever President and COO Kathy Harris to share her thoughts on her own journey to presidency and what it takes to be a female CEO.

Katherine A. Harris Female CEO’s on the Forbes Fortune 500 list reached 18…this is a new record. Even though the number may be small, this is great news as it represents a movement toward a vision of leadership and diversity that may very well change the face of corporate America in years to come. Change doesn’t happen overnight, it’s a process that starts with an idea, a vision and is backed up by passion, determination and a sense of purpose.

Rometty, who joins a relatively small circle of top female CEOs, including HP’s Meg Whitman, Pepsico’s Indra Nooyi, Xerox’s Ursula Burns, Kraft Foods’ Irene Rosenfeld and DuPont’s Ellen Kullman, has been with IBM for 30 years. She has demonstrated a level of commitment and willingness to ride the waves of uncertain economic times that appears necessary for career success, especially for women. In fact, according to a recent study by Catalyst on women in the workplace, “women seem to be paid for proven performance,” meaning those women who stay with one company have more success climbing the career ladder than those who change jobs several times. There are exceptions to every ‘survey’ however, I believe this to be true. I also think that in addition to commitment, women who rise through the ranks have a unique combination of vision, unrelenting drive, customer focus and passion. I see those characteristics in these inspiring women as much as I see them in myself.

I’ve been with First County Bank for 26 years and formed The First County Bank Foundation alongside Richard Taber in 2001! For me the rise to president of the bank was instinctive.

My career at First County Bank started in 1985 and I was fortunate enough to become a part of a thriving, forward moving bank that not only spoke words of commitment and loyalty to the local community but also demonstrated it. Although I couldn’t predict what was ahead for me, I was open to the opportunities presented at each juncture. And I was driven to help build the bank and make a difference in the community. Along the way I had great mentors and advisors who helped steer my career.

There are numerous studies that talk about gender differences in positions of leadership. Back in August, First County Bank’s Chairman and CEO Rey Giallongo wrote a great post about why women make excellent leaders. He cites a number of qualities including effective communication skills, authenticity, and keen ability to connect with customers/clients/coworkers. I’ve also read reports that women are more inclined to be calm, intuitive, patient and cautious when making business decisions. I do think there are clear differences between women and men in leadership roles, however, in the end, what I believe makes all the difference is high levels of performance, desire to make a difference, commitment to the mission of the company and it’s customers, purpose and giving back. That and being open to all opportunities that are in front of you without judgment and the need to know. In the words of Steve Jobs, “…you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.”

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