Life is about people and all business is about relationships. No matter how great the tech, how compelling the analysis, how cool the innovation — people are an integral part of the mix. Whether your customers, partners, shareholders, team members, or others, stakeholdering matters. Be purposeful about it. And remember, it’s an ongoing thing.
I had the distinct pleasure to interview Anne Chow. Anne is the CEO of AT&T Business. As CEO, she oversees over 30K employees who serve nearly three million business customers in more than 200 countries and territories around the world. She is responsible for all business sectors including small and medium sized businesses, global multinationals and public sector clients.
Thank you so much for joining us Anne! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve always been drawn to the intersection of people and technology. As an engineer by education and early in my career, I wondered not just about the “what” but the “how, why, and who.” My interest in business and gaining experiences closer to the customer grew from this perspective. I spent over half my career doing just that in sales and it led me to the role that I’m in today as CEO of AT&T Business. In fact, this is my 17th job at AT&T Business, working for my 26th boss.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
There isn’t just one story that is most interesting per se. When I think of the most vivid memories of my career that could be characterized as interesting, they fall into two categories. First, I’ve personally seen alongside my clients what technology and innovation can do for (and to) a business as well as an industry. I’ve lived disruption with them. Second, I’ve been privy to (and also driven) major cultural transformations with people — both internally and externally. Culture, organizational and people dynamics have always fascinated me and I continually find behavior (leadership and otherwise) interesting.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
AT&T values a diverse and inclusive workplace comprised of different cultures, experiences, backgrounds, and thinking to lead to greater innovation. I am a second-generation Asian American, raised by Taiwanese immigrant parents in New Jersey and got my start with an engineering degree. At AT&T, I’ve had the opportunity to serve in a range of leadership roles including customer care, marketing, strategic planning, indirect and direct sales, and now leading AT&T Business. I have always had a strong curiosity for the world, and AT&T allows me to foster that curiosity to deliver excellent experiences for our customers along with building world class teams and leaders.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
My team is currently working to implement 5G for business customers! We’re already at work connecting everything from robots in retail stores to stadiums to college campuses. For example, our work at the University of Miami is helping enable interactive digital learning and R&D opportunities. Students will eventually be able to physically interact with DNA models, peer in and see iconic works of art from every angle via VR/AR experiences, and more. Much like 4G introduced the world to the gig economy, we believe mobile 5G will jumpstart the next wave of unforeseen innovation. The real opportunity in 5G is redefining how people think about (and ultimately interact with) the world around them.
Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
I’m definitely not satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM. There’s always room to evolve and grow here. It’s been quantitatively proven that more women in STEM is good for business! While progress is being made, we are still lagging behind our male counterparts especially when it comes to women in management positions and especially when it comes to women of color. One way to move the needle is for men to engage actively as advocates. I’m grateful for several male allies in my career that recognized my potential and provided mentorship and sponsorship along the way. I also feel that we must continue to surface unconscious bias in as many facets as we can. It is only once we understand our biases that we can constructively work through them together. Again, progress is being made, but we must go bigger and faster.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
As I mentioned earlier, I believe the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM are around unconscious bias. Many paradigms exist that feed the perception that women are not “as technical” and are not as proficient “technical leaders” in various fields. Looking at the industry stats, there’s no question that several industries are behind…while others are leading the way. Those that are leading the way are purposefully ensuring that diversity and inclusion are an integral part of their strategies, culture, and performance initiatives. And importantly, progress and success are being measured — as articulated by the popular adage, you can only improve what you can measure.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
My Top 5 Lessons:
- If it’s difficult and challenges you, lean in hard. Your greatest growth and learnings will come from your greatest stretches. As I reflect on the biggest growth roles that I’ve had, they came in those assignments when I thought I might actually fail, because the stretch was so great.
- You can do and be anything. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I’ve encountered so many naysayers in my career — in fact, I still do. What they think is theirs to deal with. Not mine.
- Make it your own. Many people will tell you how to do something, or want you to do it “the right way” according to them. You’ve gotten to where you are because you are you. Stay true to yourself and don’t try to be something or someone you are not. All innovation began with someone not accepting the status quo and someone who looked at something differently. Our greatest value-add can come from our differences.
- Find and create your tribe. We all benefit from the support of others. Surround yourself with others who believe in you. Be that person for others. Cultivating and cherishing these relationships are a constant priority.
- Life is about people and all business is about relationships. No matter how great the tech, how compelling the analysis, how cool the innovation — people are an integral part of the mix. Whether your customers, partners, shareholders, team members, or others, stakeholdering matters. Be purposeful about it. And remember, it’s an ongoing thing.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
You have to be willing to be flexible and meet your team where they are. It’s all about helping each member of the team find their own greatness so you can help them determine what they want to accomplish and how they can accomplish it; and help the whole team succeed. As the leader, it’s your job to focus on each member of your team as individuals as well as on the collective group. Once you understand what motivates each person and can paint a vision through your strategy backed up by your actions in support of them, you’ve moved beyond managing to leading.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I have been able to advocate for greater diversity and inclusion across the tech industry for decades and have made it a focus of my career to inspire and support our next generation of leaders. I focus on the combination of people, relationships, and cultures that can break down barriers and bust biases in and outside of the workplace. During my tenure at AT&T, I’ve championed many causes and programs including a “Women of Color” initiative and the creation of “AT&T Women of Business,” one of our fastest growing employee networks, which in 3 years has grown to over 5,000 members.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” ~Gandhi…this quote has embodied my life’s purpose as well as my favorite life lesson. I’ve never been one to dwell on the past. I believe we should learn from the past, focus on the present, and create the future. If there is something I’m not satisfied with — whether it’s with my own skills or contribution, or in the organization that I’m part of, or in the community, I focus on “being the change”. I believe wholeheartedly that change happens one person at a time and that continuous learning is a key ingredient to our success and growth going forward.