As part of our series celebrating women leaders to mark International Women’s Day, Silda Wall Spitzer, CEO of NewYorkMakers.com and former First Lady of New York State, tells us how her experiences and mindset have shaped her career.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you’ve got to where you are today in your career?
I am grateful to have been able to enjoy a multifaceted professional career spanning the private, public, and nonprofit sectors that has included strong financial, legal, governance, strategic business planning, entrepreneurial and other experiences. I have always been mission-driven, though I also believe the market has an important role to play in solutions.
I am currently Co-founder, CEO and Publisher of NewYorkMakers.com, the first digital marketplace and magazine for New York State. I also serve on the Advisory Boards of several start ups, including a firm investing in sustainable/environmental/renewable energy companies, a firm building and investing in emerging technology and digital asset companies, and a company offering nutraceutical products to prevent infertility and miscarriage.
My not-for-profit work includes serving as Vice Chair of Urban Green Council and as a member of the Meredith College Board, the Ceres President’s Council, and the Center for Law, Brain and Behavior Advisory Board.
My training and decade of experience as a corporate lawyer gave me powerful tools, especially for problem-solving and structuring solutions. I then co-founded and lead Children for Children, a nonprofit organization engaging children of all backgrounds from an early age in volunteering and service, ultimately merging it into the nation’s largest service nonprofit, Points of Light Institute, as its inaugural youth service division and renaming it generationOn. As First Lady of New York State, I originated and implemented show-the-way economic sustainability, green building, women’s empowerment and other initiatives. The subsequent ten years working with investment firms added financial skills that have allowed me to incorporate environmental and impact investing, as well as advising start up and venture enterprises, as areas of huge interest.
Everything I have done has built on what has gone before, with the starting point having been blessed to be raised in a supportive family that valued education, hard work and building strong community.
What do you think has been the biggest hurdle you’ve had to overcome in reaching your current position?
I don’t experience life as overcoming hurdles; I see it as identifying ways I would like to contribute and engage, then figuring out how to make those goals reality. The key challenge is always within myself, for me to take a deep breath and act, transforming an idea into actuality. It is that moment an artist must put paint and brush to canvas, daring to create.
I have benefitted enormously from mentors (male and female), and very smart colleagues along the way, who have generously shared their wisdom and guidance. One can learn a great deal by listening and observing those around us.
How would you characterize your leadership style? And why do you think it’s been so successful?
I lead with enthusiasm and a vision I hope inspires those around me. I am inclusive with a clear mission and objectives. My focus is to lean into the solution, not the problem.
Who’s the woman that’s inspired you most in your career and why?
The woman I know who inspired me most was my high school English teacher, Mrs. Francis Ward Black Holland, who had an expectation that I not just accomplish something, but do it in a masterful way. She modeled that in her teaching style and in her life. I have been trying to live up to her faith in me ever since…
Of the women I do not know personally — but wish I did! — Dolly Parton has always fascinated and motivated me with her multidimensional talents, her savvy as a business person, her care for community, her generosity, her sense of humor, and owning herself authentically.
What advice would you give to other women looking to rise into leadership positions?
Believe in what you are doing and like-minded people will follow.
What organizational initiatives or behaviors have you experienced that have helped women executives reach their potential?
I think women executives are still very much endeavoring to reach their potential. Once we have pay equity and proportional representation in C-Suites and on corporate boards across professions and sectors, then we can talk about being there.
Finance is still a club with far too few women executives and owners. I found PEWIN (Private Equity Women Investor Network) and 100 Women in Hedge Funds to provide meaningful support within the investment world. Women’s Forum of New York is also a wonderful professional group. I’d encourage those in different industries to find networks and professional groups to help support and guide them.