In 1987, the United States Congress passed a proclamation declaring the month of March to be Women’s History Month. To celebrate, this year, the staff at Committee of 100 sat down virtually with a few of our amazing female Committee of 100 Members for a new blog series called Chinese American Women Shaping the World: A Special Q&A Series. In these interviews, Committee of 100 members will talk about their career paths, the challenges – and opportunities – in being a successful Chinese American woman in today’s society, as well as their hopes for the next generation of Chinese American women.
Committee of 100 sat down recently with Ms. Anne Chow. Anne is the CEO of AT&T Business, where she leads a $36B operating unit. She is the first woman to hold this role and first woman of color CEO in AT&T’s 144+ year history. Anne and her organization of over 30,000 employees are responsible for serving nearly three million business customers in upwards of 200 countries and territories around the world. Anne has been a Member of Committee of 100 since 2010.
Committee of 100: What is one of your achievements that you are most proud of, which helped dictate the course of your career?
Anne: There is not one achievement per se that I’d say influenced the course of my career. Rather, there were a set of pivotal experiences which shaped my leadership values and thus my career journey. The two roles which played an instrumental part in the course of my career were my three-year assignment in Customer Service & Operations, when I was responsible 24×7 for taking care of clients as well as a large, highly distributed workforce. And secondly, my first sales assignment when I was responsible for growing a large dynamic customer relationship. The latter led to the development of a passion for my profession, and looking back at my decades in the industry, I’ve now spent over half of that in B2B sales. The essence of my leadership mantra became, “Life is about relationships – be sure to seek and foster meaningful ones. To help others with the development of meaningful relationships, I’m particularly proud of my sponsorship of several employee groups and initiatives, in particular, AT&T’s Women of Business employee group and AT&T’s Women of Color initiative. The development, launch, and growth of these efforts has had a positive, sustained impact on thousands of people around the globe.
Committee of 100: What is a major lesson you learned from a failure or setback in your career, which also helped dictate the course of your career?
Anne: No doubt, like many, I entered the workforce with a belief that success would be based primarily on performance. What I learned, often the hard way, was that while performance is of course table stakes, many other factors play into career success. Positioning, perceptions, and perseverance are key – which further reinforced the foundation of my leadership approach, which is based on relationships. As an example, early in my career I strived to make the pivot from engineering and product management to sales. My desire to do so was based on several mentors telling me it was important, as well as my curiosity about the profession itself given I previously had had zero interest in it. Having not had any experience in sales, I was turned down five times over the course of several years. In fact, several very senior people told me that I would never be able to make the transition. Well, as it turns out, eventually I did break through, with ultimately one leader who was willing to take a risk on me. This experience changed the course of my career for good as it helped solidify my customer, market, and growth centric lens on opportunities and businesses of all kinds.
Committee of 100: What topic or topics do you feel are not being talked about enough when it comes to the advancement of women as leaders?
Anne: We must bring forth the potential of all people – which means that we must have an intense focus on each person as individuals, and this of course includes their gender identity. I feel the topics of unconscious bias coupled with systemic inequalities (whether they be racially, gender, religious, generationally based or otherwise) should be more at the forefront as leaders. This is critical in order for us to more effectively understand, engage, and therefore act to accelerate progress for women and others.
Committee of 100: What qualities do you see in the next generation of Chinese American women that brings you hope and joy for the future?
Anne: One of my passions is to support and enable our next generation of leaders, especially Asian American women, to realize their fullest potential. A big part of this is paving the way for them so that they don’t have to retread the same ground. What gives me great hope for this next generation is that they are technological, global, and social by nature. Their level of sophistication, access, and connection brings with it an expectation for transparency and trust which is critical for their success. Their cultural, generational, socially responsible, community minded awareness is pervasive. Additionally, their confidence in the exploration and understanding of their identity lays the foundation for progress in profound ways – with opportunity to contribute across every facet of society.
Committee of 100: If you could go back in time and give advice to your 20-year-old self, what would you say to the younger version of you?
Anne: I’ve been asked this question a lot. And with two daughters in college, perhaps this question should be worded as to what advice I give them. Anyway, the advice I’d give my younger self is severalfold: 1) Be Real. Be True and Be You. Authenticity is your greatest superpower. Your journey is all about developing and discovering who you are and how you can best contribute to the world; 2) Reference my quote mentioned earlier – Life is about meaningful relationships! Surround yourself with the right people and be the right person for others who matter to you; 3) Take care of yourself – mind, body, heart, and soul – for your entire life. Keep learning. Keep going. Keep growing.
Committee of 100: Who is your inspiration and why?
Anne: My family is my inspiration – foundationally of course it’s my parents – they came to this county with the belief that America is where hope lives and where you can be whatever you aspire to be. Their courage, strength, and aspiration for a better future inspires me in everything that I do. They instilled in me the importance of education and lifelong learning, the imperative of service to others, especially in your own community, and the drive to set my bar for myself high – and higher and higher – because that’s the only way you can realize your fullest potential. These are lessons that I strive to share with my children. My two daughters continually inspire me – they are my greatest legacy, and I’m proud of who they are and who they’re becoming.