My name is Lorna Ho Randlett and I am the Founder and CEO of the Leaders Forum. The Leaders Forum started two years ago, with myself and a few of my fellow commissioners with the White House initiative for Asian American Pacific Islanders, and we were all President Obama appointees. The White House initiative for AAPI’s, as it's known, started during the Clinton administration, and it's actually been in effect through the Bush years, and then President Obama put in additional resources and so we were happy to serve.
What some of my fellow commissioners and I noticed is the fact that there was not a grass tops - as opposed to a grassroots - core network of AAPI’s in the C-Suite that were in fact contributing to the federal government in making the United States a stronger, better place and creating a legacy for Asian American Pacific Islanders or AAPI’s for the future. We noticed that other affinity communities like the Hispanic, African-American, and even the Jewish American community did have these grass tops executive networks, and so I wanted to make sure in starting and founding the Leaders Forum that we had a nonprofit nonpartisan that sits outside the government to be able to foster this network in an effective way. We have C-Suite executives that are from all over the country in several different states who actually have not necessarily been engaged with government before and certainly not with their other fellow Asian-American Pacific Islander executives across the 34 ethnic groups.
And so basically with that, what we did is we connected them. We have events and we gather them and we kind of decide on what are important issues that relate to our community sort of in a legacy way that they can leverage their skills and their networks with right away. I think that the idea around the Leaders Forum is for people to be able to have a network where there is both a common interest, as well as a trust with one another to be able to pick up the phone and make something happen. There are a lot of other groups out there that in fact foster either the government side or the corporate side; there isn't really necessarily a pathway between the two of them, and our only requirements for members within the Leaders Forum is that they are interested in contributing back to America. So that's something that's really important, and a priority, and a mission of ours.
Tell us about your career journey.
My career journey is a pretty interesting one. I was essentially the youngest of five children and, as you know, in a lot of Asian families there is a tendency for parents to want to have their children in very stable careers. I was very fortunate that my brothers ahead of me were able to pick the doctor / pharmacist roles if you will, and it did allow some freedom for some of my other siblings and I to choose careers that were less traditional. So, I have one brother who is a composer. My sister was actually in the fashion industry and went to Paris right after high school. And my parents are very supportive of that.
I decided to follow a career initially in television, and so I actually worked in almost exclusively in the No. 5 market. I was very fortunate that way, in the San Francisco Bay Area, because I was close with my parents and I didn't actually want to leave them because they were older since I was a youngest of five. So I somehow finagled my way, and had the perseverance to kind of stay always around the San Francisco Bay Area and work my way up in television news to eventually become a weekend anchor for the ABC and then later the NBC affiliate here in the San Francisco Bay Area.
After that, a very interesting thing happened to me. I was actually called by a producer that used to work for CNN that recently went to an Internet start-up back in the day called Yahoo. And it was really kind of a shock for me. I mean I had heard a little bit about Internet companies but it was all so new back then. And he said to me that they're going to start something, which is like TV on the Internet, and would I be interested in potentially anchoring a show for them. So what I did was, I said well I'd had be happy to talk with you. I kind of did my thorough research and I realized that it was going to be a real opportunity for the future. And so I went over to Yahoo and anchored their first streaming show, which was called Yahoo Finance Vision, and it was all about technology and finance. And it was really exciting. You know, it was definitely startup mode so even though we were in a big company, we had a lot of different business units and we all had to succeed or fail. And that's kind of the way that Yahoo incubated all of the different groups.
I think the biggest thing that had an impact on me in that space in my career was the fact that I was able to do live streaming on the Internet during the 9/11 attacks. It was really a big deal because there was a lot of communication that was cut off in all different ways, whether it with television or even phone. But the Internet was actually one of the few things that were still running, and so we were able to bring pictures through the Internet and get phone calls from people and talk about that through Instant Message via Yahoo on the Internet. So it was really kind of a very amazing experience.
I feel after I had had that experience, I checked the box of having sort of a global audience because we had people writing in from all kinds of different countries at that time. That was kind of the pinnacle of my broadcasting career, if you will. I moved on from that place to decide to do something that was a little bit different and back towards my community. And I wanted to start a family. So with that, I was actually working for the Superintendent of San Francisco Unified School Districts to kind of help her communication strategy here locally. I'm in San Francisco – that was really gratifying for me, because even though I had a very big private sector career, I actually was a public school educated child. And I did grow up in San Francisco and went to all public schools, so it was time for me to give back to my community.
I felt like I helped her, as an African-American woman, make some big strides in a leadership position that was very difficult in a very hard city. There was a lot of politics that she had to deal with as an African-American woman – a well-educated one that went to Harvard. So with that she taught me a lot about leadership, and how lonely it is actually at the top, I think, to be a female in that CEO role. She also gave me the courage and opportunities, which I thought was really great as a minority woman, to flex my muscle doing something called the Superintendent’s Business Council. And with that I was able to meet other C-Suite business leaders in San Francisco – like Warren Hellman of Hellman and Friedman of course who was a big legend here in San Francisco. I actually met a director that worked at McKinsey & Company. And after he and I were working together for a while he said, ‘I'd like you to come work at McKinsey.’
So from that point, my career path moved on to McKinsey & Company. I worked for directors of the firm managing global reputations. I think that what I was able to learn at the highest level at McKinsey & Co. is understanding how C-Suite executives think, how they work, how they want to be efficient, what they want to achieve. And I really brought those skills to the Leaders Forum. So I think one of the things that makes us very different is that I understand not just from a position of Asian-American Pacific Islander executives, but actually global executives of all diverse races; sort of what they are looking at in terms of impact and performance. And I like to think that I bring that to the Leaders Forum, and leverage that skillset to be able to make the experience both fulfilling and worthwhile to them, but at the same time something where we are always seeing progress and we're actually moving the needle.
When you asked about my career journey – about why I started the Leaders Forum – one of the things that really struck me that I learned at the White House was the fact that Asian American Pacific Islanders are set to be the majority minority by 2045. They actually pushed up the projection, which originally was 2060 to 2045. So 15 years sooner, AAPI’s are going to be talked about in this country like we talked about Hispanics and African-Americans and their prominence in terms of their numbers and their votes. So I felt it was really important to start getting our leadership into the circles of influence that matter now. So that when it comes to that time we will have seats at the table, and circles the power will be used to hearing from us and having those seats at the table to really make that impact meaningful. And so that all of us that care about the legacy of the next generation, which I think is very much a part of AAPI’s, that we are ready and that we are really setting the table appropriately for generations to come
What are your top accomplishments?
First and foremost, I think my top accomplishment is my children. I think that my life really changed when I became a mother because, being again a person of color, so much came back to me about my parents and how they raised me, and how I try to be a good parent. And what a tremendous honor and responsibility it is to help guide and shape another human being to hopefully have important impact on the world. Right? Like it's not enough for me to have kids that are going to be successful; I want them to feel like they have an abundance of riches that they feel that they can share with people that are less fortunate than them. And if I am able to do that and when I see them being kind to other people, and gracious and whatnot, I feel that that really is sort of my biggest accomplishment that I've raised human beings to have that sensibility. So that's first and foremost.
I think that another big accomplishment I have is being hopefully a supportive partner. I don't think that people talk enough about the fact that being a wife and a mother and someone who has a career is really hard. And actually being an effective partner in this time when women's roles are changing so much is also really challenging. I think it's confusing for women and especially for men that we look to – to be that rock in the family who is oftentimes the main provider – and to have a confusion of roles, to be able to deal with that. And I think that my second biggest accomplishment is being able to hopefully do that with grace and patience, because I don't think that it's easy with all the demands that I have had in my career. And with children screaming and all the time to then say ‘yes, I want to be romantic and just be with you’ – meaning my husband –and devote time to being part of a unit, when in fact all I really wanted to do was just have time alone. So that has been another huge accomplishment, I think, to be able to sacrifice some of myself to be that strong partner for the sake of both my partner as well as my children and my family unit.
I think my third biggest accomplishment is really to live in the moment. And it's something that is so hard for me, but it's something that I remember my mom saying to me all the time is that life goes more quickly than we imagined it. And when I look back at my children and see how quickly they've grown, and I look back at my career and how quickly it went by, I realized that all those things that I was struggling with in my job and whatnot was really, in the big picture, maybe not worth all of the heartache and the anxiety, and the stress that I have devoted to it at the time. So what I really try to do is now, as an accomplishment, really remind myself to live now and to appreciate this life, what I can get out of it, and the joy that I can both receive and give. I think it is harder for a lot of Asian American Pacific Islanders and people of color to remember that, because we are trained in a lot of ways by our parents to look towards the future and to be secure and figure out what we can do later, later, later, later, rather than saying it is okay to actually experience and you enjoy our life now.
So I'd have to say that that is an accomplishment that's really hard for me. That I struggle with all the time. You know, in terms of my professional accomplishments, I am proud of a lot of the things that I did because I was in a lot of roles where I was with people that were top of their class and top Ivy League schools or whatnot and that was actually not my experience. I actually grew up in public school I went to a public university. I didn't go to the best public university. I mean I went to UC, but I didn't go to UC Berkeley, for example. And I really kind of just made my own way. I think being able to work for the top global management consulting firm in the world, and be able to work for the people that are at the top of that firm – being the shareholder directors – and to have them take my advice and to train them and to have them trust me with some of their most important assets – in terms of what they are able to provide to the business world – is really an honor for me.
So I feel like I won the employment lottery by even being at that role at McKinsey. I think working for Yahoo and the heyday of when Yahoo was just coming up in the Internet generation, is something that I will always treasure and appreciate. And I think just trying to remember how precious life actually is, is a huge accomplishment that I think that I work on every single day.
How has your background influenced your success?
I think that my background as an Asian American Pacific Islander woman has become more of something that I've embraced as I've gone later in life. And I don't think I appreciated all the qualities that my parents shared with me, and my heritage, until I started on this journey of being the Founder of the Leaders Forum.
One of the stories that I remember is talking to my mother and my father about what I wanted to do. And so I said after thinking long and hard about going to school, that I really wanted to be in broadcast journalism. And one of the reasons was – there were a lot of role models that were female that were very successful. And so some of it was that I saw that there was success for a female Asian American woman in broadcasting, and so I definitely wanted to set my sights on being successful in my own right. At the same time, I felt that I wasn't necessarily cut out to be a lawyer or a doctor, and so I wanted to do something that I would be happy with.
I think it was really interesting because my father and my mother I felt were very yin and yang, which is also very Asian, right? My father was practical – you know, he had a little bit of that healthy dose of trepidation and fear, to make sure that I would be honorable about the choice that I made and the path that I would choose, and how that was going to actually impact my life later on. So I appreciated the fact that he really challenged me and said, ‘you know, only one in however many thousand makes it in front of the camera,’ and really have those long talks with me about that, and was I sure was that I wanted to do. My mother, on the other hand, was so wonderful about saying that I should be free and open and follow my dreams and persevere. And if I really wanted to follow my heart, I should do that.
And I felt it was such a blessing to have both of that – the yin and the yang within my parents. To have that guidance. I mean, I think if I had too much of a ‘just go for it,’ I don't think that as I went through my path that I wouldn't have been as careful about my career.
Tell us about a time the P.O.L.I.N.G.® principles played an important part.
One of the P.O.L.I.N.G.® principles is (G)rowth, and I think that that probably represents, and is closest to my heart, in terms of my own professional and personal journey as an Asian American Pacific Islander woman. As also someone who thinks diversity is incredibly important. I think that everybody who is a person of color experiences a journey of growth. For me, I think that growth was coming into my own – in terms of, especially at McKinsey, I think working with individuals who were frankly so bright and so incredibly talented. It was really intimidating for me at first. I didn't go to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, where all of these people went.
I remember first coming to McKinsey and realizing that, when I would be in a meeting, that these people's minds were moving so quickly. Just in sitting and listening to them speak, that when I first arrived I had to say I was almost like ‘wow’; I can barely – I mean I can understand what they're saying – but honestly, mentally, I could barely sort of keep up with the concepts, and how quickly they were moving and what they were talking about. And I kind of decided – and I think a lot of it has to do with the growth that my parents encouraged me to always have and being the youngest in my family and kind of having to struggle if you will to like have my own identity, after I've had a brother who's a doctor, and a sister who worked in Paris, and all the rest of it, and a brother who had his music played at Lincoln Center – you know I have big shoes to fill. And I said, ‘how am I going to succeed and really hold my own?’ frankly in a pond that was a very big. I mean, I was a very small fish in the pond of McKinsey directors.
And I think that one of the ways that the P.O.L.I.N.G.® principles helped me, and (G)rowing helped me, is to decide that I was going to allow myself to fail. That there were going to be times that I wasn't going to be perfect, and I wasn't going to let that debilitate me; but in fact, every single time I was going to say, ‘I am going to fail.’ At times I am going to learn from this situation and I'm going to pick myself up and I'm going to say, ‘how did I grow from that experience?’ ‘What makes me better from that failure that happened yesterday?’ I don't think it's easy to embrace failure as an AAPI, but I think that I was grateful that my parents always loved and supported me, even though I didn't always meet expectations.
I think that strength and that growth that the P.O.L.I.N.G.® principles, from how mothers have learned from daughters, in that namesake principle, and that growth really helped me say – it is okay to fail and it's fine to actually grow and feel that I'm going to be better. And by the end of my career at McKinsey, I was able to actually excel and really feel good about how I had grown through the eight years that I was there
When has your background presented a challenge?
I think that a challenge that I had in terms of my career, and how my being an Asian American Pacific Islander woman really played into it, was… When we think about a lot of the stories that we have heard. Whether it's about Asian American women and how strong they actually are; historically, how they've been that rock of their family and kind of the iron fist in that velvet glove.
I do remember a time that there were situations where, for example, I had a boss at one company I was at that was definitely sexually harassing me. I felt like because he was a white male, he felt like he could do that, and that because I was an Asian woman I wasn't actually going to say anything I wasn't going to react to it. And I think that there was an internal sense of pride, as well as honoring who I was, that I got from my parents and from my heritage to say, ‘you know even though I have these qualities and America may have painted me in the media otherwise as this role and this white men may look at me this way that doesn't define who I am.’
And I found the strength to be able to make a complaint, actually in a day where it really wasn't popular both in my profession and in my company to actually go forward and really push the envelope in saying that I wasn't going to be treated this way. And so I was really gratified, and that really laid the foundation, I think; there are all these tests in life that happen when you are a person of color, and how you make those decisions and each one of those tasks and those challenges when they come up, really matters and it really does then shape how you're going to react to the next challenge.
So whether the challenges have come up even within my own family unit, being married to a Caucasian male. Or other challenges that I've had, subsequent to that in the corporate life that I've that I've had at different companies. I've never been able to sit back and just take treatment that someone has given me. I think that it's been really important for me to be able to say, ‘I actually define and set the parameters.’ And I'd have to say culturally, where that really plays an important role for me, is the sacrifices my parents made for me. I felt that because my parents both maybe didn't get to follow their dreams as much, as they wanted or they worked so hard for me, they sacrificed so much for myself and my siblings; that to honor them truly, that if I was going to choose a career and be an individual, that I owed it actually, not just to myself but to them and the sacrifices they made, to really not cheat myself on my integrity.
Who have been your biggest influences?
I think that one of the traditional ways that AAPI’s think about influencers, is we look to people that are older than us. And certainly I have had those people in my career. I've had Lennie Mendoza who is my director at McKinsey, who brought me into the firm and really helped support me. I have had other leads in other situations in the corporate world that have helped me.
Certainly President Obama, who appointed me to the White House Commission, has been an incredible mentor and somebody who's inspired me on how I should lead – not just in my public sector life, but also in my private sector life, given how he was a community organizer and at the same time so accomplished. So I think that him contributing as a Tri-Star athlete, if you will – public, private, and nonprofit – in his profile, really inspired me.
I'd have to say, at this time in my life, my biggest inspirations and my role models have got to be my children. And I think it's because when I look at them now, and I get a little sentimental about this, I realize how the world confines us as we get older; and to see them as young people, and how they are just running straight with no fear to things, and to open hearts and open minds, and how they express themselves and love themselves with no inhibitions, and just say, ‘take me as I am.’ I just find that always to be a reminder on how we can be our most authentic self. And I think it's really hard when we think about how the world shapes us, to remember that and to come back to that.
I certainly have some children, in a family of four kids, where they have very different personalities. They all have very strong personalities, and some of them have significant challenges in terms how resilient they are and also how flexible and inflexible they can be; and I think that part of being a role model is somebody who helps teach you how to grow in situations where you don't really have an option. As a mother I don't really have an option to turn my back on my child, so it becomes the ultimate challenge on how do I adapt and how do I grow and bring that P.O.L.I.N.G.® principle back into learning in a situation where I can't walk away from it. And it really becomes a huge impact for me to be able to look at something that is that challenging and have my child, as a role model, teach me that where I didn't think I had the strength or the courage or the patience to go that extra mile, or to not lose my temper, or whatever, to be able to actually accomplish that thing. And so they've brought me to new heights of accomplishment in that way.