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A breath of fresh air: Naked ambition for a female CEO

Posted: 10 Jul 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Intel? Renee James? executive? CEO?

The resignation by Renee James, Intel's president, has made headlines, but the real story lies behind her reason for doing so, which is rather unconventional. A week ago, when the news hit the wire that James is stepping down, the first question that popped into everyone's head, including mine, was: Why?

A flood of questions came to mind. Even though I really didn't know her, I was suddenly worried about her.

Was she forced out in an executive reshuffle at Intel? What went wrong? How long was she the No. 2 executive at the world's largest chip company? Isn't two years an awfully short time for any top executive to really leave a mark on her company?

Then I read memo she sent to Intel's employees. She started out saying: "As all of you have heard from Brian, I have made the very difficult decision to step down as president of Intel in order to pursue an external CEO role. When Brian and I were appointed to our current roles, I knew then that being the leader of a company was something that I desired as part of my own leadership journey. Now is the right time for me to take that next step."

"Wow," I said to myself.

Seriously, she's saying that it's her own naked ambition [to become a CEO elsewhere] that made her decide to leave.

I love her straightforwardness. I also love the way she unapologetically disclosed her hopes, ambition and self-confidence.

She fell back on none of the usual excuses, like "I want to spend more time with my family." Had she done that, most of us would have just assumed, whether true or not, she'd been squeezed out by the boys' club.

More important, though, she sidestepped the trap faced by any female executive who says, in parting, that she wants to spend more time with her kids and husband.

Any such female executive is immediately judged negatively, labelled as a failure. A quitter. "Oh, she just wants to be a mom again." Worse, "That's why we can't depend on a woman to lead a company."

In contrast, when a male executive says that he's leaving "to spend more time with my family," we say he's sensitive, reasonable, "authentic."

Talk about double standards.

I couldn't help but recall what ex-Google executive Patrick Pichette wrote this year in his "I quit" letter, posted on Google+.

He famously resigned as Google's CFO to go backpacking with his wife.

He started out his note by saying: "After nearly seven years as CFO, I will be retiring from Google to spend more time with my family. Yeah, I know you've heard that line before. We give a lot to our jobs. I certainly did. And while I am not looking for sympathy, I want to share my thought process because so many people struggle to strike the right balance between work and personal life."

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