Marketing powerhouse Julie Roehm arrived at Bentonville, Arkansas with the 21st century equivalent of the counterculture flowers-in-her-hair. She was hired by Wal-Mart to make it more competitive against emerging usptarts like Target.
Roehm was different, at least for Bentonville and Wal-Mart. She had to be to turn around its prosaic branding. It was an outsized Lee Iacocca who turned around the staid Chrysler in the early 1980s. It is the idiosyncratic Nassim Taleb who’s turning around business assumptions [See “The Black Swan.”]
But unlike Iacocca and Taleb, she was different and a woman. That was going to be too much for the rigid organizational culture at Wal-Mart to absorb. It wound up vomiting it all up. In the July 2009 edition of FAST COMPANY, Danielle Sacks narrates that mess.
One aspect of the tale is gender politics. That was supposed to have vanished when “they” gave women control over our bodies, “let” us into Yale and made us [e.g. Laura Ellsworth at Jones Day] a managing partner at a white-shoe law firm. Obviously, though, it didn’t, at least not in Bentonville.
Mamas, don’t let your daughters go to places like Bentonville. Have them do their due diligence on how women executives comport themselves. If the women are self-conscious, fearful, too grateful to be where they are – instead of delivering dazzling performance – tell them to look elsewhere.
There are wonderful workplaces for women. Think the White House, Avon around the world, Xerox, Hillary Clinton’s staff, and CLEARCorps.