Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Get well soon Brenda Barnes

The news came out yesterday that Brenda Barnes was stepping down as Chairman and CEO of Sara Lee. She's stepping down on medical grounds; she had suffered a stroke in May. May we wish her a speedy recovery.

I had posted sometime ago on The "Different" Brenda Barnes. She's a great role model for women who take a career break to raise children and come back successfully to top management. She's one of the best examples of women juggling career and home in a balanced way. Many successful career women choose to focus almost exclusively on their career. Brenda Barnes is different. She stepped off and stepped back again. Successfully.

Her stint at Sara Lee was a mixed bag. She restructured the company and focused it as a foods company, selling of bits and pieces. She certainly  developed a strong management team - the interim CEO is a person some readers of this blog will recognise from past association. But shareholders did not see success in the share price. Nevertheless her tenure was a successful one.

We don't know the details of her medical condition and we should, of course, respect her privacy. I just hope this was not caused by the difficult demands of juggling work and home. She may herself not want to be described as a role model for women, but at least in my mind, she is. From what little I know, I have admired her ability to be so successful after taking a career break to raise her family. But were the demands too much on her ??

Click here to read her letter to Sara Lee employees.

Whatever be the circumstances, we can only wish her well and a very speedy recovery. May she quickly bounce back to the Brenda Barnes of  old.

Meanwhile, to all ye women, who are doing the incredibly difficult juggling act. A salute, but just take care yourself . OK ?  Not meaning to scare anybody, but please take care.


Durga said...

When I read that BB is stepping down as CEO from Sara Lee, I had a gut feel that your post would have something to do with it! And I was right!

BB is certainly a role model for many women who juggle personal and professional lives. It is inevitable that they will do it at the cost of their health, because career is as important to women these days as much as their personal lives are. But then, some people do tend to be lopsided in their priorities. I wouldn't really want to comment on that. Each one to her own. But the problem arises when you try to do justice to both the professional and personal life. You'd probably do justice to both, but almost always at the cost of your health! What's worse, in majority of the cases, this effort goes unrecognised and unacknowledged.

Get well soon BB! The corporate world needs many more BBs.

Anonymous said...

sara lee...hmm..wasnt tht part of godrej?? or rather..taken over or acquired by godrej?? Brenda Barnes!!! ivanga mattum tamizhnaatla poranthiruntha Brinda kazhanichaami nu per vachirupanga nenakren :D

RS said...

Remember reading your article on this 'business musings' journal months ago. And the discussion that went with it. I wish her speedy recovery and send recovery thoughts her way!!

But my thoughts, as you mention, are also for the 1000's of women, of such genre, who manages this balance that awesomely without any external help and remain unrecognized. As you said, I wish each of them good health to continue to do what they do and keep inspiring! [I am presently seeing women who are managing the two sides of the coin, with such precision, to their best. Atleast BB has a support and solid recognition. These women have neither. Yet they continue assuming their roles with no complaints or sigh. While ppl like BB and IN are remoste inspirations, these few are my live inspirers!!:D].

J said...

Great to see you back in action in India. Hope you are enjoying your new assignment.

Yes I agree that overstretching on two fronts definitely takes a toll on health and women are particulrly prone to feeling guilty if they spend time taking care of their health. But I think this is a broader problem of hectic pace of life where everyone (both men and women) is constantly multiple tasking and stressed with no time to stop and smell the roses.

Vishal said...

Get well soon Brenda... You are a true inspiration for everyone out here.

Yes, it is a tough choice doing justice to both personal as well as professional life as Durga says. There are many who have chosen so and there are a few like Brenda who really leave a footprint of rest of us (including men) and actually succeed in striking that phenomenal balance.

The problem arises when one starts overdoing more on one of the aspects and in the process takes a beating on the health. We often plan our schedule in such a way that a person is either occupied with personal work or with office work. Health is many a times out of the schedule. Going to doctor for a minor problem is what some of us keep on deferring for a prolonged period. I have done that for a very very minor infection which actually needed medical intervention for adequate treatment.

Sometimes, this also depends on the situation that one is in. Impossible for someone while possible for others. Even if it seems possible, do take care of yourselves, you all!

Thanks for a lovely post Ramesh!

Deepa said...

Women I feel are always more adept at handling multiple facets in life. It can get hectic of course, but I think they can handle it. What really is the bane is (as Durga mentioned), that its an unacknowledged effort. Its taken for granted that she has to be this super-woman, if she wants to make a career. But I thinks its for the women to start respecting themselves to really change something around them. One has to get her own priorities sorted out in her head, and also see how satisfying its going to be personally to her, after all. A person who isn't happy within, never makes anyone else happy.

Hope to see many more Brenda Barnes in this world, and wishing her a speedy recovery.

Ryan said...

Many companies have made cut backs in order to survive in these trying time times. How can we try to ensure that these cut backs don’t form a pattern of a continuous downward spiral vs. positing for growth? Can companies like Sara Lee and Alcoa climb back to the top?

adeshsidhu said...

The way she has written to her staff, it seems she is a very good leader. You do not get such almost personal sounding emails from CEO in corporate world.

I know lot about her, thanks to you.

Anonymous said...

A lovely mail from her indeed.
We pray for her speedy recovery,such a successful women are fewer these days.
Most of the times effort what an women takes remains unappreciated.


Viji said...

Great Post Ramesh and thanks to you for opening my eyes to this beautiful letter. Truly inspiring.
I can definitely say that it is not an easy job to balance home and career. But why shld this balancing be the prerogative of one gender alone???

Ramesh said...

@Durga - Does it really mean that doing justice to both family and profession has to necessarily be at the cost of your health. If modern day life has come to that, then its a no win situation. But I wonder if it has to be that way.

@Gils - Yes, in India they had a JV with Godrej. Ha Ha, if we go down the route of Tamil Names for firanghis, we'll all have a hearty laugh. Material for a future post maybe !

@J - Very true. Its the hectic pace and that too is a choice. Many men who solely are wedded to their career have the same problems too.

@Vishal - Very balanced comment and all very true.

@Deepa - The acknowledgment was indeed non existent in the past, but don't you think that's changing ...

Ramesh said...

@RS - Yes, there are many unsung heroines. More power to them indeed.

@Ryan - Ups and downs are part of a company's life. They can come back indeed.

@Adesh - Ys, I believe she's a very good leader. This one, they say she wrote herself, but there are many wonderful letters written ostensibly by the letter, but, alas, ghost written by PR types.

@AA - Nice letter indeed.

@Viji - Increasingly this is not a women only issue. It was so, because most cultures were male dominated, but that's changing.

sandhya sriram said...

you know what, i read this post the day it was posted. and it such a close to heart topic for me. but i have not been able to get to the comments section of this blog at all until now. these are those small moments when this "Super Woman" juggling every thing pinches. when one is not able to actually do something which she really wants to do.

But i agree with you. Situation is improving. but much of the improvement is superficial and in letters. improvement in spirit is still a long way to go.

I guess, BB is again an inspiration on where one should stop and draw a line and this equally applies to both the gender. Ofcourse, the overriding thing which still a large population in our country battles with is financial adequacy when the available choices get limited.

Very deep lines from BB Here

"I've always looked at my life as a book, with each experience a new chapter. This chapter is certainly not one of my favorites, but it is only one of many. I look forward to all of the chapters in front of me" - how true isn't it.

really touched by this post Ramesh!! thanks for the beautiful piece

kiwibloke said...

For all hot blooded alpha males, actually balancing your work/home by taking a lighter load from office and running the home (Including organizing the laundry, sending the kid to school with lunch packed, vacuuming etc) and letting your career and inanities at work not dictate every moment of life is indeed a great option. Been there, done it for 18 months, best days of my life. As Ramesh says, it is not a woman issue. Given an option I would very much want to do it again. Call me sissy if you will, mates, you don't know what you are missing!

Connecter said...

It's really inspiring to see such great leaders and to me there is no gender bias. It's touching to read the letter written by BB to the employees. Only very few leaders can really connect even to the bottom of the pyramid in an organisation. Great to learn more about this inspiring leader.

Ramesh said...

@Sandhya - Yes there are millions of women who struggle with the same choices and at the poorer end its extremely difficult. You do need role models to look up to and I think Brenda Barnes is one.

@kiwi - Oh yes - its not exclusively gender specific although at the moment, at least in India, it is so. But increasingly men are facing exactly the same issues. You are a shining example. Sissy ?? Perish the thought.

@Connecter - Yes they inspire, don't they.

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