Thursday, Nov. 18, 2010

Susan Chambers

What is the best and worst decision you've ever made?
My best decision was going on a blind date 32 years ago and meeting my husband. We have both had very successful careers, and he was confident enough to run his business from our home while caring for our three children. We are a team, and I would not be in this job if I hadn't had his support. My worst decision was leaving music. I pursued business to support my family, but I was a vocal performance major in college. I still sing, but not as much as I used to. Maybe it's my worst decision, but it couldn't have turned out better. There is something to be said for being willing to follow opportunity, even if it's not what you had planned. There's merit in that kind of thinking for women.

What was your dream job as a kid and why?
When I was 18, I auditioned for a role as a musical performer at a local theme park. These roles were very coveted, and I qualified for the final round of auditions. Unfortunately, a family emergency prevented me from going to the last audition, and I didn't get the part. I've always regretted that. It may sound silly, but as a freshman in college, singing show tunes at a theme park was my dream job.

What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?
Some of the main barriers that I see women facing are the ones they create for themselves. Many women lack confidence, even though they are talented and qualified for leadership. Women are spontaneous confessors and tend to disclose their vulnerabilities first. At Walmart, we've developed several women's groups to foster mentoring relationships and encourage women to lift each other up. Women need to believe in themselves and be aware of how much they have to offer — and not apologize for it.

What woman inspires you and why?
There are several women who inspire me, but this year, I had the opportunity to meet Grace Nanyonga through the FORTUNE/U.S. State Department Global Women's Mentoring Partnership. Grace is from Uganda and lost her parents at a very early age. She lifted herself out of adversity, put herself through school and took care of her siblings by starting her own business, Grana Supplies. She began by roasting chicken and later learned to smoke fish. She spent three weeks with us at Walmart recently, and her story of determination and hard work changed the thinking of everyone she met. She's teaching other women to smoke fish and she speaks at local schools to motivate young girls. We worked with her and helped her, but she did so much more for us at Walmart than we ever did for her. Her enthusiasm and strength is extraordinary.

What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?
One of the biggest challenges is having the confidence to accept that we are all role models for somebody. Every generation builds on what has gone before, and the next generation is poised for success. All around the world, not just in the U.S., there's a momentum among women that is undeniable. But women have to remember — throughout their careers, not just at their peak — that they can always reach out and help others. You don't arrive one day as a role model. You're always a role model for someone.