Five leading women reveal their greatest career failures
IMF boss, Christine Lagarde, says: 'Learn and move on'
Arianna Huffington and Zaha Hadid say challenges made them stronger
Editor’s Note: Leading Women connects you to extraordinary women of our time. This month we’re celebrating ‘“Money Women” with a special series looking at the women who control global finance. We start with an in-depth interview with Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Foundation (IMF).
When other women ask Christine Lagarde about coping with failure – and they often do – the head of the International Monetary Fund doesn’t mince her words.
“Oh get over it. Get over it and move on,” says the fifth most powerful women in the world according to Forbes.
“I’ve failed myself. Twice I tried to enter the National School of Administration in the French system and I failed.”
Legarde might have failed twice, but the 59-year-old is a woman of firsts. She is the first woman to chair the global law firm Baker and McKenzie. The first female finance minister of France. And since 2011, the first woman to lead the IMF.
The mother-of-two’s philosophy is to learn from her failures, adding: “and then you move on.”
“Moving on” is something Lagarde is trying to do now.
Last year magistrates placed Lagarde under formal investigation in regards to a political fraud case, dating back to her days as a French finance minister.
Lagarde is appealing the decision. But how does she cope with the weight of these allegations?
“With strength, with my sense of duty to my country, with the certainty that I made the right choice at the time independently,” she said.
Learn and move on
We asked other women at the top of their fields about the biggest failures of their careers. Like Lagarde, many said set backs can later become sources of great strength.
Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post, columnist, and author
“My mother would tell me from a very young age never to be afraid of failing,” Huffington told CNN’s Leading Women.
“I was absolutely fine taking risks. Trying to get into Cambridge when everybody said you’ll never get in, or writing my first book when I was 23.
“A lot of things were likely to fail and many did fail. I mean my first book did well, my second book was rejected by 36 publishers.”
The 64-year-old has now written 14 books.
Huffington’s advice has been to embrace failure.
“You can recognize very often that out of these projects that may not have succeeded themselves that other successes are built,” she said.
Zaha Hadid, Pritzker Prize winning architect
One of the Iranian-born Briton’s greatest professional disappointments was her rejected design for the Cardiff Bay Opera House in Wales, in 1995.
Hadid won the commission twice, but her building never saw the light of day after it was thwarted by local politicians.
“I know a lot of people thought I would give up, because it was such an awful, painful experience. I remember the day it happened I thought, ‘I will not let this finish me,’” she said.
“In a way, it saved me. I think it did make me stronger.”
Zhang Xin, co-founder and CEO of SOHO China, property firm in Beijing
She’s the self-made Chinese billionaire who’s richer than Donald Trump and Oprah Winfrey.
But it wasn’t an easy rise to the top for 49-year-old property mogul Xin, who as a teenager worked in a factory before raising enough money to study in Britain.
Did she come across a lot of failures?
“Every day. I mean, I think that’s just life,” says the mother-of-two with an estimated worth of $2 billion.
“You will always bump into difficulties, challenges and problems. It appears to be that we seem to be doing quite well, but as it is now, we’re still having challenges every day. So I think that’s just nothing unique. That’s just life.”
Mosunmola Abudu, CEO of EbonyLife TV, and executive producer and host of talk show, “Moments with Mo”
Described as the “Oprah of Africa,” Nigerian talk show host Mosunmola Abudu has interviewed such high profile guests as IMF chief Christine Lagarde and former U.S. secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
However, one interviewee Abudu still dreams of having on her program, “Moments with Mo,” is American talk show queen Oprah Winfrey.
So far, Abudu has been unable to make contact with Winfrey. But rather than knock the wind out of her sails, it’s made her all the more determined to change the face of African television.
“Of course, there were many knock backs along the way, many people telling me ‘you can’t do these things,’” said Abudu.
“But I think what’s important in life is that you believe in yourself and the things you can do.”