Pre-eminent business woman shares life, career lessons

Mar 23, 2012

Ann Fudge, one of the most pre-eminent female business leaders in America, concluded her two-day stay at Heidelberg University with an inspiring keynote lecture punctuated with wisdom for a successful life and career.

One thing was clear: the former chairman and CEO of Young & Rubicam, a global network of marketing communication companies, who got her start in marketing with Kraft Foods and General Mills, definitely loves life.

“My desire to experience and see as much of the world as possible and to connect with as many people as possible has led to an incredible life for me – one that, honestly, I still can’t believe is unfolding,” Fudge told about 350 people gathered in Seiberling Gymnasium for the spring installment of The Patricia Adams Lecture Series.

In her “Life Lessons along the Journey,” Fudge said destinations often are redirected like a GPS, and that is often a very good thing. The important part of the journey is the process.

“I’ve learned that each and every encounter is important in shaping who you are and the way you impact others,” she said. One profound encounter – a trip to Europe as a teenager – influenced her life and forced her to move outside her comfort zone.

Another important lesson, Fudge said, is the importance of holding onto personal values such as integrity and honesty. “If you don’t, you will flail about in life and fall into a space you are not happy about.” Rather than focusing on achievements, she encouraged people to contemplate their purpose. Jobs, she said, are simply a platform for broader and greater contributions.

Fudge also maintains in her third lesson that “we don’t need a lot of stuff.” Material things pile up and we’re left to figure out what to do with them. Conversely, real worth is the love of friends and family, and those who keep that in front of them will find true success, said the mother of two and grandmother of five.

Fourth, Fudge maintains that people can be highly successful in business and link their success to helping the community and others. “What you have to give back to the community is always a part of who you are,” she said.

Throughout her career, Fudge has emphasized service. For example, during her tenure as president of Maxwell House, she engaged its employees to team up to build 100 homes for Habitat for Humanity in honor of the company’s 100th anniversary. Employees from Young & Rubicam’s 20 companies joined the Hands On Network to help rebuild the community after Hurricane Katrina.

Her final lesson: Despite doubt and fear that sometimes creeps in, “It’s so, so important to believe in yourself.”

Prior to the keynote lecture, Fudge was extremely gracious in sharing her wisdom, experiences and practical advice, spending extensive time with small and large groups of students. She shared her expertise on such topics as working effectively in a global economy and managing your career, and participated in a fascinating Q&A session with wide-ranging topics such as the status of the glass ceiling.

Heidelberg President Rob Huntington, calling Fudge a “rare and brilliant star,” said opportunities for the university’s students, faculty and staff to have access to such individuals “engage us in new and uplifting learning opportunities.”

“We have been so lucky to have Ann Fudge on our campus. She is exceptional,” President Huntington said.