Andrea Jung, First Female CEO of AVON
Andrea Jung on being the daughter of immigrants, progress for women in business, and being named CEO of AVON.
ANDREA JUNG: I'm a daughter of two immigrants. So I grew up in a very authentic Chinese household with a lot of traditional values. But they were ahead of their time. I mean, if you got to back to a traditional Chinese heritage or Asian heritage, you know, one might think that this concept, of kind, of women walking a step behind men or not taking important roles. I had grandmother and a mother who used to tell me from when I was extremely young that girls can do anything boys could do.
When I graduated from Princeton, I actually wanted to do something idealistic, like join the Peace Corps. My family didn't have that much money. And so I think they thought, well, that might be nice. But you need to go get a job. I remember through most of my career being either one of or the only woman around an executive table.
My very first interview with Avon was in 1993 with the, then, chairman. His name was Jim Preston. And he had a plaque behind his desk that had four footprints, a bare foot ape and then a barefoot man. And then a wingtip man's shoe. And then a high heel. And it simply said, "The evolution of leadership."
And I asked him before the interview was done, I love that plaque behind your desk. Do you really believe that? And he said Avon is a company that is mostly about women. And we should be one of the first companies someday to have a woman running this company.
The brand at that time was perceived as sort of your grandmother's brand, a little bit of ding dong-- Avon calling. And we did a tremendous amount of heavy lifting to modernize that brand today, from product formulas, product packaging, all the way to some terrific celebrity spokesperson.
I was actually passed over for the job. And I had a life moment-- a career moment If you dive deep in yourself and say, OK, someone else is going to come in and lead the company. And I'll either have to be extraordinarily supportive of that person. Or I can go off and do my own thing. And that decision to stay with a company that I love was probably one of the more important decisions I've made in my life.
About 18 months later it was about 10:00 PM at night. And I got a call from the, then, lead director of the board. And he said, well, congratulations, Madam CEO. And I remember waking my daughter up, who was young at the time, and saying, I've just become the CEO of Avon. And she said, you're joking, right? Go back to sleep. You're dreaming.
Being the first woman CEO, I felt it was a privilege. You know, we have over 6 and 1/2 million independent representatives. And they're mostly women. So I felt the responsibility of showing them that women can make it. I had someone tell me that she was a victim of domestic violence. And that only because of Avon was she able to get her life back together and today can support her children. And today is really a leader in her community.
And every one of those moments. I feel like, wow, I had the chance to be a part of something that actually did something good. There are still fewer women than men in every echelon of business, but it's changing. And it's changing for the positive. And whether it's Meg or whether it's Ginni Rometty at IBM or Ursula at Xerox, some extraordinary women running some very large companies. And that is great, great progress.