By Sarah Tourville, CEO
As a female CEO and a mother of two daughters, it’s concerning that the odds are stacked against my girls becoming corporate leaders. The recent departure news of Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi, has highlighted the declining numbers of female CEOs at top Fortune 500 companies and readdressed the reasons why women are leaving the workforce.
We all have a role to play in helping develop more female CEOs and female business leaders in general. I’m keen to know what I can be doing to help? Being a role model to my children is definitely the most obvious but I’m hoping the sport that they choose and which I support could also be a factor. In fact, after attending one of the largest equestrian events at the Kentucky Horse Park in early August and watching my daughter fly around a huge ring with a 1000-pound pony beneath her, I realized that this sport could actually develop some of the most tenacious, risk-taking, high energy women we might come across – hopefully capable of running a major business. So why is this?
1) Trust – The difference with this sport compared to others is that your partner is an animal and one that can’t talk and tell you what they think. Therefore, what you have between you is a huge amount of trust. When you are at full pelt flying around the show ring jumping larger than life jumps, you both need to know that you have each other’s back and fully trust each other. If one of you shows any nerves when approaching a jump, the other will sense it and shy away too. It requires making decisions together and trusting in each other’s capabilities.
2) Tenacity – A proficient rider will not let one poorly executed jump impact the rest of the course but instead will stay focused on the next jump and the ones after in order to finish the course as best they can. The same applies to business. Companies and leaders experience many ups and downs and some of the downs can be potentially disastrous, but the best business leaders get back up, keep going and don’t stop. Tenacity is in their DNA.
3) Always On – As with any major national horse competition there are crowds of people watching, around the ring and on TV. Keeping your composure while people are judging you is hard, but being in the spotlight requires you to remain calm, confident and 100% professional.
4) Decision Making – Many non-equestrians might not realize that a lot has to happen to physically take your horse over a jump. You definitely don’t just sit and wait for it to happen. Preparing for a jump involves time keeping – knowing when to go; speed of execution – realizing and altering your speed if you are not going fast enough; being strategic by looking at what’s ahead of that jump and the one after; risk-taking if your position isn’t perfect and then there’s gut reaction. This is exactly the same for business. Leaders are always thinking about what’s around the corner, making short term decisions based on long term impact.
5) Being Early – Many CEOs claim that being an early riser accounts to their success – meaning they are prepared, organized, ready to seize the day. Equestrians are at the barn for 5.45am on a show day hand walking the pony, cleaning out their stall, feeding the pony breakfast, cleaning their tack, bathing and drying the pony, putting the tack on, warming up in a practice show ring and all in preparation for their upcoming show time.
6) Relentless – What surprises me each time I attend a horse show is the numbers of hours my daughter and her trainer put into this sport. They will be at the barn for 14 hours some days particularly on show days and it’s relentless. Business is the same way. You always have work on your mind, you are constantly giving it your full attention and trying to improve. It doesn’t stop.
7) Passion – Being a leader, running a business, spending 14 hours at a barn and competing in a tough competition all requires oodles of passion. Without this passion, you may as well hang up your hat!