In Her Words March 2013: Melissa L. Bean


President/CEO, The Executives’ Club of Chicago

When I read Nancy Drew books as a kid (I think there were 50), I was only interested in solving Nancy’s mysteries. But her work ethic, curiosity and collaborative problem solving was unconsciously inspirational.

Years later, as I built organizational teams, I came to appreciate the importance of those qualities. I learned that hiring a candidate with the perfect résumé (years of work experience in the same job or industry) can be less effective than finding someone with an essential capacity to learn, grow, adapt and collaborate to reach goals. I often use unconventional interviewing questions to detect such attributes, and I’ve discovered some common traits of successful individuals in the process.

I ask: “Were you in Girl Scouts or team sports?” or “Have you ever played an instrument?” A high percentage of business leaders were Scouts, athletes or musicians, where they learned how hard work yielded results like badges, victories and beautiful music. Teamwork, discipline and follow-through don’t come naturally. Only experience teaches the benefits of hard work and the satisfaction of achievement.

“What do you read?” gives insight to one’s intellectual curiosity, scope and vocabulary. Many women leaders read Nancy Drew books as young girls. Perhaps the perseverance and problem-solving skills Nancy relied on to solve mysteries inspired those same traits.

Hiring the best talent does not ensure team performance. Organizational success requires collaboration – a recruitment of ‘individual performers’ who’ll engage with their team and peers to achieve goals. Successful leaders in business, government and academia build collaborative cultures that appreciate the perspectives of their employees, customers, suppliers, community and even competitors.

When I worked in the high tech industry in the ‘80s at Arrow Electronics, UDS/Motorola, and SynOptics Communications, we embraced ‘coopetition,’ recognizing the need to simultaneously cooperate and compete with industry peers.

Collaboration is also required for good government. I was fortunate to serve in the U.S. Congress (2005-2011) during a briefly functional period in Washington. As a centrist, I was proud to work with Presidents Bush and Obama on issues of common ground and respectfully disagreeing in other cases. We worked to pass legislation of merit, not along party lines.

Few collaborative centrists remain, which contributes to the current ideological gridlock. If the electorate, particularly during primaries, were to make ‘collaborative’ a requirement for candidates they’d support, Washington would demonstrate greater respect and better results.

In sports, superstars like Derrick Rose can return from a long recovery to a ‘still winning’ Chicago Bulls because his teammates have followed his example of unselfish devotion to team success. Coach Thibodeau’s team, especially the bench mob, is always exciting because you never know who’ll be the star of the night. What you do know is there’ll be more assists (and rebounds) than on other teams.

When I became the CEO of The Executives’ Club of Chicago in 2011, we were celebrating the Club’s 100th Anniversary. Few organizations have achieved that milestone, and I was proud to assume the helm of this venerable institution.

Reflecting on the long-standing mission of the Club to connect Chicago’s business, civic and academic leaders, it’s clear that collaboration of our executive membership has been the key to the Club’s success. Our membership is comprised of leaders of multibillion-dollar corporations as well as emerging small and mid-tier entities. What they have in common is the desire to share best practices and thought leadership. They learn from one another and from global leaders like Condoleezza Rice. Our Club benefits from the talented executives who share their expertise, insights and personal stories. And Chicago benefits greatly from this collaborative spirit that makes our community stronger.



About Melissa L. Bean

Former congresswoman Melissa L. Bean is president/CEO of The Executives' Club of Chicago. Prior to serving in Congress, Ms. Bean worked for more than 20 years in consulting, sales and management in the high tech industry. Her consulting firm, SRI, developed IP and facilitated training and business development methodology to Fortune 1000 partner clients such as Anixter, Intel, Microsoft and Novell. She previously held management positions at local technology companies including Arrow Electronics, Motorola, SynOptics (now Nortel) and Dataflex.