Did he really just say that? Why Grace counts.

Second in my series about Women in Business with Grace, Grit, and Guts, I have the good fortune of being able to highlight Kathy Harris, whose career reflects a highly intelligent, ambitious, and successful Venture Capitalist capable of working in some of the “toughest” jobs around- in the world of Finance.

As a backdrop to what makes Kathy special, her online resume states “Kathy was an investment partner with Technology Ventures, an Atlanta-based venture capital firm focused on early-stage investments in software and e-commerce. Previously, Kathy served in business development and investment management roles with FINOVA Mezzanine Capital, where she led investments in companies such as WebMD and Radiant Systems. She also spent over 10 years in investment banking roles with J.C. Bradford & Co. (now UBS), where she was involved in over 100 investment banking transactions across a broad array of industries.”   These achievements, however, only provide the backdrop as to why she demonstrates some refreshing traits.  In Kathy’s case, it is despite her successes that she maintains that savoir-faire more of us should embody.

Grace. First of all, let me get this out there.  Kathy is from the South.  And though she hobnobs in the elite world of Finance across the country, the southern side of her enables her to maintain her very down to earth yet sophisticated style.  She maintains a very modest demeanor, which, when one starts to achieve a higher degree of success, is harder and harder to maintain.  Not many achieve it, but she has.

Also refreshing about Kathy is that it is only on rare occasions when she actually notices she is a female in a male dominated industry.  Apart from the occasional funny story, she is simply one of the “guys.”  (With one exception –highlighted below.)  I know many a person who has sought out her time and her mentoring, not one of them of the female persuasion.  The bottom line for Kathy is simple- she is well-respected, and she loves her job.

From first meeting Kathy to today, she can be described as genuine, down to earth, funny, and diplomatic.  As she and I have discussed, the confidence she holds today is something she grew into with the desire to  avoid becoming a stereotypical, cold business person.  Time and experience surely aided in this- an encouraging fact for young men & women early in their careers, as none of us is perfect from the outset (or ever, for that matter).  Prioritizing the right values, though, ensures the development of the traits one admires- along with embracing what makes oneself unique, rather than fitting a mold and losing integrity.

Guts. Kathy was the first person in her family to graduate from college.  Having see her father excel as a business-minded entrepreneur, she forged a new path for herself, earning a degree in Accounting.  Following the comments of this series’ introduction, this one decision-the choice of degree makes a vast difference in the future options for anyone- male or female. (See stats in series’ introduction).  For women in particular, choosing a career & degree in the Math & Sciences has a direct financial empowerment for a woman. Kathy’s original intention when entering university was to major in music, focusing on piano.  Her collegiate decisions made enormous impacts on the current options she maintains today, professionally and personally.

Graduated and working as an accountant, Kathy later chose to earn her MBA from Vanderbilt University, a step that catapulted her career into the esteemed and challenging business of Investment Banking.  That additional degree, earned from a top school, opened doors that otherwise would have been more difficult to gain access.

Grace, Grit & Grin. As I mentioned before, Kathy is not one to highlight her gender. However, I asked her quite pointedly if being a female in her world has ever hampered her ability to be successful.  After long consideration, and with a wry smile on her face, an expression that belied some humor mixed with incredulity, she asked me if she’d told me the story about the “fella” who asked her the following:

“Kathy, have you ever thought about being a prostitute?”

At a cocktail party, Kathy Harris, a woman who has dealt with hundreds of executives, the exchange of millions of dollars, the growth of multiple ventures, was asked this very question by a man whom she had been trying to convert into a client- in front of other men.

Now, I know many, many women and men whose jaws would drop if this were asked in nearly any setting, but in front of one’s colleagues at an upscale cocktail party with business professionals?  Most people, at least initially, would be in a state of shock so that no response would be made.  The other gentlemen present were in fact embarrassed.  Kathy, however, isn’t most people.

She responded,   “No, (name withheld), I haven’t.  But if I ever do, you’ll be the first to know!”  His response, “Good, because I’d like to be high on your list of customers.”

So, there you have it.  Kathy is an attractive woman.  This man wouldn’t have made such a comment if she weren’t, and in turn, he made her gender an issue.  Undaunted, Kathy effectively took gender out of the issue.

Ego aside, she tapped her male counterpart, and eventually he “sealed the deal.”  She had done all the previous groundwork, but shifted strategy when she recognized how that particular man would never, ever consider her as a credible, equal business partner.   He did, however, work with the male in the office.  Ultimately, her aim was to gain the client.  And so she did.

Is this fair?  No.  Does it matter?  That depends.  In the world of business, the results count.  So does how you get them.  Kathy Harris defied expectations with the style of a competent, thoughtful, and at-ease business woman- regardless of the circumstances.

Life lessons. For the rest of us and for anyone early in their career, Kathy’s choices demonstrate how important decisions are on a lifetime and a career.   Financial independence doesn’t improve your chances of happiness, but it does improve your ability to choose various paths- which in turn may affect personal satisfaction.

For those of us established in our careers or moving onto our 2nd or 3rd ones, Kathy’s style & ability to see the big picture is one that would be smart to emulate and learn.  Wouldn’t you rather invest your money with those who are calm under pressure and who stay above the fray?  Those very same attributes also make for effective, respected leaders.  In the case of Kathy Harris, however, it’s easy to see why she is not only respected, but also genuinely liked.  Goals that for each of us are worthy of pursuit.

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