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Doan Speaks to Executive Women in Government Summit

As prepared for delivery.

Remarks by
Lurita A. Doan
Administrator
U.S. General Services Administration
Executive Women in Government Summit
Washington, DC
March 8, 2007


Thanks so much. It’s great to be here among so many aspiring and accomplished women.

Each of us here today has someone, often another woman, who helped pave the way to make our success possible.

I’ll start with GSA, because that’s most current … where I spend 14 hours a day … where I head in every morning well aware that I am the first woman ever to head an agency that was created more than 60 years ago. That’s right – more than 60 years ago …

and there are a lot of people watching me to see how it turns out.

And what I can share with you is that leadership can make a difference and leadership matters.

Leadership is about making decisions — knowing where to stand and what you want to stand for.  And for that reason, it’s hard.

GSA has a lot of challenges just now, and that’s the reason why:

- President Bush would ask a small businesswoman from New Orleans to head GSA, the nation’s premier procurement agency – GSA has more than 12,000 employees in 11 Regional Offices across our nation – it’s a catalyst for $66 billion in annual federal spending – and influences the management of federal assets that mount up to about $500 billion dollars. 
- These assets include more than 8,300 government owned or leased buildings, and an interagency fleet of over 190,000 vehicles. 

In short, GSA has plenty of everything, but it’s never before had a woman administrator, and so the scrutiny and the pressure to succeed is pretty high.

But think that’s something you’ll learn a lot about from some of the incredible speakers you will be hearing from throughout today’s program.

Being the first female administrator is truly an honor, but for now, there’s an avalanche of work.

GSA is the agency in DC that operates most like a business, and business has been off the past few years. We’re trying hard to turn things around.  I’m pleased the work is starting to pay off.

We’re starting to see some good signs. The employees are energized and just recently helped vote GSA as one of the best places to work in the federal government, among the top 10 in employee morale—which is incredible since eight months ago, at my hearing, GSA was the second-worst place for morale.  So, we have had an incredible sea change at GSA.

- Maybe it’s because we’ve restored our customer’s confidence;

- improved the quality of our customer service;

- implemented the most robust and enhanced mentoring-internship and executive     
  leadership development program of any government agency;

- imposed stringent fiscal discipline;

- regained our clean audit opinion;

- and successfully stood up the largest reorganization in GSA’s 57 year history.

And those are just a few of the things we’ve done in the last in eight months …

I’d say- GSA is getting its groove back!

But no success is possible without the assistance of incredible and committed employees, so I’d like to quickly mention a few of the women in leadership positions that I count on every day, people like …

- Chief Financial Officer Kathleen Turco. KT recently helped us earn a clean audit for the first time in several years.  That’s critical for lots of reasons, including customer confidence;

- Gail Lovelace is our Chief Human Capital Officer, responsible for the programs that ensure the next generation of GSA leaders will be ready to step up and take over when the time comes;

- Molly Wilkerson, our newly appointed Chief Acquisition Officer;

- Kim Douglass, our Deputy Chief of Staff;

- Madeline Caliendo, who runs the Civil Rights Office at GSA.  Her programs guarantee fair treatment for all our employees and have been held up as a model for other agencies;

- Emily Baker is our Regional Administrator in New York; Barbara Shelton runs the Mid-Atlantic Region; and Ann Everett is Acting Regional Administrator here in the National Capital Region. All are superb.

- and Martha Dorris is Acting Director of the Office of Citizen Services and Communications. Martha’s group runs USA.gov, the government’s exciting and very nongovernmental award-winning web portal.

As President Bush has said, our nation is a land of great opportunity, and women are seizing that opportunity and shaping the future of America in all walks of life.

I think women have always done that. In the past, it was harder, and the contributions weren’t always properly acknowledged or appreciated.

In my family, the entrepreneurial spirit was always strong.

I’m the fourth generation of black entrepreneurs who started businesses, going back to my great grandmother, who sold pralines in New Orleans after President Lincoln freed the slaves.

My grandmother strongly believed that education was the gateway to new horizons. She began a business school that trained black women to be legal secretaries during the Teddy Roosevelt Administration, a time when women didn’t even have the right to vote.

I know you’re going to be hearing a lot about gender voting, but I’ll tell you, and I’ll reinforce what the Congresswoman said.

I learned about its importance at the hands of a master — my grandmother — who spent most of her life without that right — was a great believer in the power of the people to have a voice and who voted every chance she ever got —even in the supermarket — there wasn’t ever a vote or a poll she passed up.

But for her and for me, it was business that was the catalyst.

And I got my start early in life.

I remember working in my dad’s office at age seven – I put stamps on envelopes for 15 cents an hour and got another quarter an hour for running off dittos …

Later, at 16, I worked as a Tastee Doughnut Girl in New Orleans. Each morning at 5:30 a.m., I poured coffee for folks who walked in a little cranky and changed their day. Right then and there, I learned one person could make a difference. It’s a lesson I still carry to work every day.

When they asked me at my confirmation hearings why I felt I was qualified to be Administrator, I told the Senators I was used to challenges, long hours and grueling tasks.  I said I was a decisive, detail-oriented, hands-on manager, though not a micromanager. And I said my focus has always been on integrity, hard work and customer service.

It’s the same thing I’d tell anyone asking for advice on how to succeed in today’s business world.  Be bold.  Work with energy and enthusiasm. Expect a lot from yourself and those around you.

Women are natural decision makers.  You make decisions daily in your personal life.  So why do we have so much difficulty at work?

I think the reason is lack of focus.

The ability to get things done.

The willingness to take a stand, and to stand for something.  These are things that women excel at naturally.

Some people will say that leadership is about balance.  I think that is wrong—I don’t try to be balanced.  I try to live 100 percent in the moment and to focus my attention on the task at hand, and to make the right decision.

Leadership is about being able to focus on what you are doing, and focus on making the right decision.

I don’t worry about balance.  I have been truly blessed to live the American dream and I have never once, not ever, tried to be balanced. 

This is where I think leadership is important.  When you have that opportunity, you have to be open to it.  This is where I think we are often challenged as women.  Because when opportunities are offered to us, first we don’t recognize it, and second we don’t accept it.

I think as women, we worry that we aren’t perfect for the moment, we keep thinking we have to get one more certification, one more proof of perfection.  We often think, I’m just not ready.  Know your skills, know what you are capable of achieving, and just commit yourself that you will do whatever part of the job you know with superior skills and you’ll train to learn the rest.

I have had so many opportunities - it’s because when an opportunity presented itself, I didn’t dither; I just decided to go for it.

I don’t have a recipe for success. I think each one of us here is capable of it.

As women, we have to do better at extending that helping hand to other women.  When you get in that position to help — and let me tell you — everyone in this room is in a position to help.  There is always someone younger or less experienced who can use your help.  So please, reach out and help.

Thank you very much.