Interview with Janet Hanson

June 17 2010

Q & A with 85 Broads Founder and CEO Janet Hanson

Janet Hanson is the visionary behind 85 Broads and the author of “More Than 85 Broads,” a life- affirming chronicle of the hopes and chutzpah of amazing women carving out their place in the world.

Q: Why should women join 85 Broads?

JH: The primary reason the network exists is simple: smart women want to collaborate and partner with each other in a number of exciting professional and personal ways. But first they need to be encouraged to do that. When women see other women pursuing their goals with passion and vision, they redouble their own efforts. The magic of 85 Broads is that we are a talent cultivator and a business accelerator.

Q: Doesn’t that fly in the face of the notion that women don’t want to see their peers succeed?

JH: We launched the network to turn that notion on its head. If you can get women fired up about working together and collaborating on a mission of substance and importance then the pettier issues fall away very quickly. We are tinkerers and innovators and we are not bound by any one single mission or strategy — women are connectors by nature so having the opportunity to do that globally through our network is about as exciting as it gets. In essence, 85 Broads is a giant lab — every day there are a thousand different situations that women in our network have to deal with and master — increasingly — collaborating with other equally smart women from a variety of professions and backgrounds creates tangible solutions to these challenges in a way that is pretty mind blowing.

Q: 85 Broads started out as a resource for former and current Goldman Sachs women professionals, how did it evolve into a 24,000-strong, multi-generational, multi-cultural, global organization?

JH: In the spring of 2000, I was giving a speech at Harvard Business School about entrepreneurship (I was the CEO of Milestone Capital, a $2 billion asset management company, which I had started with a handful of ex-GS colleagues in 1995) when I interrupted my own speech to talk about 85 Broads. A young woman raised her hand and said it’s great that you started a network for GS women but very few of us in this room are going into banking and even fewer are going to Goldman so you’re talking about a network that most of us are not eligible to join. I thanked her for saying that as I realized that perhaps the network was too exclusive and so the next day we invited the women at HBS to join 85 Broads which they did in droves. From that day on, our mission was to expand the network by inviting current students and alums of the leading graduate and undergraduate institutions to join 85 Broads from all over the world. Eventually, we invited ALL smart women to join the network. The cool thing is that women have to believe that they’re “85 Broads smart” which means they have a ferocious passion to see other trailblazing women fulfill their enormous potential.

Q: Obviously the internet was a boon for 85 Broads, but how do you compete in today’s noisy social media environment?

JH: It took me a while to figure out that Facebook and Twitter are not our competition. Our growth over the last two years has very much come from our decision to leverage these social networking platforms to our distinct advantage rather than run away from them.

Q: What’s the appeal of 85 Broads for women at very different junctures in their lives and careers?

JH: Young women benefit from the experiences of those who have blazed trails before them. Being able to talk to your future self is invaluable.

In addition, no one is 100% assured what path their career or life will take. Cultivating women across industries, countries and generations is a very smart career strategy. Look what’s happened in the last decade and half. The internet blew up, the towers came down, Wall Street imploded. All serious game changers. How does one continue to set one’s sights higher in the face of overwhelming challenges? How do you become emboldened by disaster? I passionately believe that being a member of 85 Broads gives women a way to navigate each phase and stage of their lives with true grit and tenacity.

Q: As a former Goldman executive, what do you say to women having second thoughts on joining firms like Goldman or Morgan Stanley whose reputations have been so sullied of late?

JH: I think the financial services industry desperately needs smart women help them navigate a saner, more ethical course. It would be wonderful if the top firms embraced that notion by hiring more women in roles of importance and listened to and acted on their advice. In my humble opinion, not doing the latter is the real elephant in the living room.

Q: What’s your greatest “ROI” on founding 85 Broads?

JH: Finding out how brave I am and how brave other amazing women in our network really and truly are. Brave because they’ve had to deal with a multitude of challenges in every single aspect of their lives. The women who are part of the 85 Broads community have over 20,000 women cheering them on as they strive to achieve their greatest aspirations and goals every single day. At the same time, these very same women help them hang tough when life seems overwhelming and terrifying. I am continually inspired and empowered by several women in our network who never quit, even in the face of insurmountable odds. Spectacular women like Lisa Bissett and Meg Berte Owen and Kathleen Ubelhart who all led by courageous example. They never quit and they never give up. They are my heroes.

Q: Where do you see 85 Broads going in the future?

JH: More women in our network are founding high growth businesses — I believe our global community will lead the charge in this regard because being a successful entrepreneur means that you have to take a collaborative approach to everything you do. In the past two or three years, we’ve seen an explosion of entrepreneurship amongst post college age women in our network which is hugely exciting. I have invested in several of these startups, as have many other members of our network, which is about as cool as it gets. Several years ago, I had the opportunity to invest in a yoga business started by one of our members in Dubai which has been an out of the park homerun. Without 85 Broads, that never would have happened.

Q: You read every application. Is there a common thread among the women who apply for membership?

JH: The common thread is a fierce passion to impact the world through innovation and collaboration. Every one of our members wants to be part of the solution. It’s also a belief that we can succeed beyond our wildest imagination if we leverage each other’s intellect and relationships globally — that is what makes 85 Broads truly unique.


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