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Q&A: Michigan Ross Alumni Share their Achievements and Journeys for Women’s History Month

By Nicholle Cardinal

March is Women’s History Month, a time to celebrate the vital role women have played in history and in society today. Women alumni of the Ross School of Business are making a positive impact in business, business education, and beyond.

We reached out to some of our alumni who are leaders in business to find out more about their lives and careers post-graduation, what they are doing now to support other women in business, and what bits of wisdom they took away from their experience at Michigan Ross.


Amy Weisman, BBA ’85

Managing Director, Sterling Investment Partners

Amy Weisman, BBA '85

What is one of your proudest accomplishments (career/personal) thus far in your life?

My proudest personal accomplishment is the privilege of raising my two wonderful children. My son and daughter, both in their mid-20s, have had successes in their early careers; and more importantly, they have become kind, caring, and socially responsible individuals. 

On the career ledger, I have had many proud accomplishments. One very recent and special one was being named to the Forbes 2021 inaugural 50 Women Over 50: Investment list. It was a highlight of my more than 35 years on Wall Street. 

Balancing a career and raising children at a time when there were not as many supportive resources for women was a challenge. Starting with investment banking and culminating in 20 years in private equity, when there were few women in the industry, made for an exciting and eventful career. It is gratifying and humbling to have Forbes recognize my accomplishments alongside women who have been impactful in politics, science, finance, and societal welfare.

What experiences did you have as a student at Michigan that helped contribute to your journey?

The camaraderie with student colleagues helped shape my inclusive approach to teamwork and networking. With friends Linda and Jane, we spent many late-night hours in the business school basement café, sipping bad coffee and eating unhealthy muffins while debating the merits of a business plan. Our passion for studying business made us unaware that there were few other women business students. 

For many years on Wall Street, I charged ahead, using technical and analytical skills learned at Michigan, combined with a personal perspective as a businesswoman and lessons from great business leaders. In fact, another memorable experience was being elected student vice president at the business school. This position allowed me the opportunity to meet with business titans of this century, which included a dinner with Lee Iacocca and a small group meeting with Steve Jobs. 

What passion projects or organizations are you involved with to help support, inspire, and/or advocate for the next generation of female leaders?

My greatest joy is mentoring and empowering women to give them the confidence to achieve their potential. While there are many male colleagues who have helped and inspired me, women comprise less than 10% of the private equity sector. So, in 2018, I co-founded Exponent, a high-level networking organization that empowers women and creates meaningful connections to help improve diversity and inclusion. Exponent has given many women in the PE-ecosystem the confidence to ask for the order, close deals, and grow their careers.

I am also on the Advisory Board for LiveGirl, a nonprofit organization that prepares the next generation of diverse young women business leaders. LiveGirl provides a community and connections to help girls thrive and make a positive impact on the world. Further, if your firm is interested, we are always seeking companies to sponsor internships for these inspiring young women.

Are there any favorite quotes that stand out to you as we reflect on the contributions of women in all facets of life and their contributions to history, culture, and society?

A favorite quote about women who must balance career and family responsibilities comes from Christine Lagarde, president of the European Central Bank. She stated: “I think you can in a way have it all as long as you can afford to be patient. But you cannot have it all at the same time. You must accept there will be failures." While this quote was directed toward women, I believe it applies to everyone. A career is usually measured in decades, and throughout it there are personal and family obligations, joys, and struggles. My career path has had many pivots that required me to find new market opportunities as well as creating roles with flexibility to address my personal goals and interests.


Shubhi S. Rao, MBA ’98

Founder and CEO, Uplevyl

Shubhi S. Rao, MBA '98

What is one of your proudest accomplishments (career/personal) thus far in your life?

My proudest accomplishment is fulfilling my dad’s dream: He wanted his daughter to be fiercely independent and pursue her dreams.

What passion projects or organizations are you involved with to help support, inspire, and/or advocate for the next generation of female leaders?

I felt a strong mission to found the ethical tech company, Uplevyl, to level the playing field for young women students and professional women. My vision was to harness the power of technology for good, to enable women to learn, grow, and flourish in all areas of their lives while ethically using the valuable data that they create on the platform in a way that can inform the world of what women actually need.

Is there an organization or person who has inspired and influenced you as you grow in your career and/or on a personal level? What is a top takeaway from that organization or person that you never forget or use in your day-to-day life?

My grandmother did not have the privilege of education, although she was an extraordinarily intelligent woman. I recognize every single day how fortunate I am to have been afforded the education and opportunities in my life. That inspires me to never give up and give it my best every single day.

What experiences did you have as a student at Michigan that helped contribute to your journey?

Michigan gave me Professor Gunter Dufey, who helped me to explore international finance and the right internship and classes so I could pursue treasury as a career in large global organizations. His guidance and mentorship has been invaluable.


Anjali Varma, BBA ’99

Adjunct Professor, American University, Kogod School of Business

Women’s Leadership Advocate

Marketing Consultant

Anjali Varma, BBA '99

What is one of your proudest accomplishments (career/personal) thus far in your life?

Taking the risk to quit my corporate marketing job to become an entrepreneur is one of my proudest career accomplishments. Owning and operating my own business for 10 years was the hardest thing I've done in my career, but also one of the most rewarding. The experience that I gained was invaluable, and now I am proud to draw on those experiences to coach women leaders, women entrepreneurs, and future women leaders.

What passion projects or organizations are you involved with to help support, inspire, and/or advocate for the next generation of female leaders?

I recently developed a new course at the American University’s Kogod School of Business: Women In Organization Leadership. In this course, we profile successful women leaders and leadership models, examine the challenges women leaders face, and prepare future women leaders on how to overcome these challenges and succeed as effective leaders. It is so rewarding to inspire the next generation of women leaders!

I also recently launched new Women In Leadership corporate training programs for women leaders and for organizations that are looking to better support and develop high-potential women. These programs cover various leadership models, gender role differences in leadership, how to overcome common barriers (double bind, confidence gap, communication, negotiation), and how to support and grow women leaders. The goal of these training programs for women leaders is to offer a toolkit of leadership methods and strategies to examine and overcome common challenges. The goal of the training programs for organizations is to educate employees on the common challenges women face and help organizations better recruit, support, retain, and promote women leaders.

What experiences did you have as a student at Michigan that helped contribute to your journey?

I loved everything about my U-M experience! The undergraduate business program provided a great foundation for my marketing career at American Express and my entrepreneurial ventures. The student body is so diverse, dynamic, and bright. It was, and remains to be, a tight community that I am proud to be a part of. I made so many great connections and lifelong friends. I even met my husband there, so that is an added bonus!


Leseliey Welch, MBA ’12

Lecturer, Women’s and Gender Studies, University of Michigan

Co-Founder and CEO, Birth Detroit

Co-Founder and Co-Director, Birth Center Equity

Leseliey Welch, MBA '12

What is one of your proudest accomplishments (career/personal) thus far in your life?

Arundathi Roy has written about the pandemic as a portal. She writes about how pandemics have “forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew,” how COVID-19 is a “gateway between one world and the next.” The pandemic has been an open portal accelerating my heart’s work in the world. I am most proud of showing up fully and in collaboration with my awesome co-founders to meet the moment. 

I am proud of how Birth Detroit showed up for families by opening our first neighborhood midwifery clinic during the pandemic (October 2020) to provide community-based prenatal and postpartum care by midwives and virtual childbirth education. I am proud of how Nashira Baril and I launched Birth Center Equity in April 2020 to show up for Black, Indigenous, and people of color birth center leaders across the country. 

Locally, in our first year, Birth Detroit cared for 100 families and provided childbirth education to 120 — all while continuing to plan for the Birth Detroit Birth Center to open in 2023. Birth Detroit will be the first freestanding birth center in Detroit and the first Black-led birth center in Michigan. Nationally, Birth Center Equity has raised more than $1.5 million and provided COVID-19 rapid response funds and general operating support to more than 25 established and developing BIPOC-led community birth centers. BCE is also designing a fund to leverage full-spectrum capital to grow and sustain birth centers led by people of color.

I couldn’t be more proud of my co-founders in both efforts, our board, advisors, partners, funders, donors, networks, and communities for the ways in which we have shown up for each other. We are demonstrating that we are leaders in our own care, and we are inviting others to lead with us in creating a world where all birthing people have access to all safe birth options, and maternal health equity is no longer an aspiration but a lived reality.

What passion projects or organizations are you involved with to help support, inspire, and/or advocate for the next generation of female leaders?

“How can women of color sustain a successful leadership journey?” has been an overarching question of my career, my studies, and my teaching. I have taught in Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Michigan since 2004, with a focus on practicum courses that help students bridge the gaps between feminist theory and feminist practice in nonprofits and in cross-sector leadership. I’ve also been a primary instructor for the University of Michigan School of Public Health’s Future Public Health Leaders Program for several years. In both endeavors, I teach from a combination of head and heart, academic text, and lived experience. I aim to pour into my teaching everything I wish I had known, and inspire in my students the confidence and courage to lead their lives and create the worlds they dream.

What experiences did you have as a student at Michigan that helped contribute to your journey?

I jokingly tell people that I speak three languages: Feminism, public health, and business. At Michigan, I was able to explore all of my interests. I earned my undergraduate degree in women's and gender studies, my master’s in public health, and my MBA.

Throughout my time at Michigan, I developed a unique tool box of technical and cultural skills, and grew a diverse network of relationships that undoubtedly prepared me for the work I am called to today.

Leseliey Welch, MBA '12

What was one of the most helpful things you did to ensure you had a support team to help you grow and develop as a person?

Mentorship and coaching — I have had amazing mentors and coaches support, encourage, and advise me throughout my studies and career. I still do today and I am forever grateful. I have come to cherish these kinds of relationships and to be open to feedback for growth and lifelong learning.

 

Press Contact

Bridget Vis
Public Relations Specialist
Email: visb@umich.edu

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