Interview with Gretchen McClain: rocket scientist, CEO, and role model

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Gretchen McClain SLC Salt Lake City UtahKeep in touch with people. Step up to challenging opportunities. Leadership is about teamwork. These are just a few of the takeaways from my conversation with an amazing woman, Gretchen McClain. Currently a Director of three publicly-traded companies, (Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corporation, AMETEK, Inc., and Con-way Inc.), Gretchen has been a VP at Honeywell, Senior VP at ITT, and the CEO of Xylem. Oh, and did I mention that she basically built the International Space Station for NASA? Yeah. Basically.  (This is where you ask “How did you get to have lunch with this woman???” and I say, “I don’t know! I got super lucky!!!”)

I asked Gretchen what she would say to young associates, folks in their first job and not sure which direction to take their career. She said to not back down from working really hard at a job that feels boring or tedious. You have to do the grunt work. The grunt work is where you build credibility and skills, so you can advance to the next thing. To be a leader requires teamwork. If you’re not the designated leader, be an excellent team member. Someday you’ll step into the leadership position, and you’ll be better prepared because of your efforts to contribute as a team member.

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(A mountain lake near Gretchen’s home in Park City, UT)

From her stories, I also learned the importance of taking critical feedback and learning from it. Sometimes we women become offended, “take it too personally”, or are afraid to ask for the criticism. She pointed out that even if the feedback is hard to hear,  it can be a turning point in our career and lead to bigger and better things. She also said that when opportunities come up for advancement, raise your hand, and step up to the challenge. You are capable beyond what you know, and there will be people who will help you to accomplish it. Don’t be afraid, just because it’s new.

As Gretchen told me stories from her different career roles, it was clear that she is a woman who practices what she preaches. She worked crazy hard, supported her fellow team members, and gave credit to other people for their accomplishments. She was recently inducted to the Hall of Fame for Utah Technology Council (Here is a short video on Gretchen’s life). Definitely a role model I look up to!