Secrets of Their Success

How five accomplished women made their way

Lesley Stahl was once told that she'd fall flat on her face as a broadcast journalist. (She now has an arsenal of Emmys.) Read on to learn how Stahl and four other amazingly accomplished women have faced life head on, no matter what was thrown their way.

Kara Swisher

Kara Swisher is a pioneer in the field of tech journalism, jumping on the digital bandwagon before it was “cool,” as a reporter at The Wall Street Journal. Along with a colleague, Swisher went on to found the site All Things Digital, and most recently, Re/code, an independent tech news site.

I think the thing I'm proudest of doing is creating jobs for a lot of people. We just had a launch party for our new site, Re/code, and we were giving a speech. Looking around at a room full of our staff and their families, it was really lovely to see how many people we were employing.

“I’m not saying that what I do is the best, but it’s good, and we’re always trying to make it better.”

It's very gratifying when you have an idea and try hard enough that it actually pays off. And we're really just trying to do good tech journalism. I'm not saying that what I do is the best, but it's good, and we're always trying to make it better. We started Re/code, and every one of our two dozen-ish employees came to Re/code from All Things Digital [Swisher's previous tech site under The Wall Street Journal].
That shows me we're creating a work environment that people love to work in. And they didn't take the easy road by leaving for a new company. People talk about creating jobs and the effect that it has. But jobs have become more meaningful than in the traditional sense. This is how you spend your time, it's the people you're with, it's your life. So as much as I hate to call a workplace a family, as a professional family I think we're a pretty functional one.

“And it sounds very corporate-speak, but if you start to say yes more, you get more opportunities.”

We really like to work together, and we've created a workplace to be the way that we want it to be. People's opinions matter here. That doesn't mean people always get what they want, but they matter. And it sounds very corporate-speak, but if you start to say yes more, you get more opportunities. You have the ability to try things that you might not have.

Susanna Sonnenberg

Susanna Sonnenberg is a memoirist and author whose examinations of female relationships have led millions to look at friendship differently. Drawing from personal experience, Sonnenberg has chronicled the most nuanced shifts in relationships in ways that are both relatable and eye-opening.

There was a woman I knew quite well and had for many years, but mostly couple to couple. But when she was going through a breakup with her partner, she began to talk to me a little bit more about herself. One day, she came over and sat at my kitchen table and started sobbing about the breakup. I hadn't seen that depth of vulnerability in her, and it was a huge change in the relationship.

“It changed our recognition of how important we were to each other.”

It was the signal that our relationship could reach down much deeper and there was much more trust there than I had assumed. After that, it was as if we had entered into a different relationship. That isn't to say that I knew her differently, but there was a quality to our friendship that shifted completely. It changed our recognition of how important we were to each other.
You can never really account for what changes emotionally between two people, because each person brings their own moment in their own life to that. I think we're all attuned to emotional relationships, but it's about giving them their due alongside actionable pivotal moments. In my writing, I really am interested in investigating those very nuanced but profound emotional shifts.

“You can never really account for what changes emotionally between two people, because each person brings their own moment in their own life to that.”

About ten years after my friend cried at my table, my marriage was ending. She called and said, “Do you want to go rafting?”--which we do casually here in Montana. So we agreed on a pickup place, and I was waiting in my car and she pulled up next to me. I began sobbing about the collapse of my family; it all just hit me at that point.

“I think you go along with your friendships and never know when these powerful moments of deepening impact are going to happen.”

She got into my car and she held me in her arms. We didn't have a super-affectionate relationship, but she held me for 10 minutes, and then we went on with the rest of our day. So that moment signified a further deepening of our relationship. I think you go along with your friendships and never know when these powerful moments of deepening impact are going to happen.

Sherri Shepherd

Sherri Shepherd has been on TV for almost 20 years, on shows like 30 Rock and The View, but she cites her 8-year-old son, Jeffrey, as her greatest source of pride.

My biggest accomplishment is my son, Jeffrey, who's 8 years old. He is my everything. He was born at 25 weeks and weighed just one pound, ten ounces. The doctors said he would be paralyzed in a wheelchair and severely mentally challenged. But every day my son proves the doctors wrong. It's that spirit of 'I'm just gonna do it' that I'm most proud of.

“Every day my son proves the doctors wrong. It’s that spirit of 'I’m just gonna do it' that I’m most proud of.”

I just posted a video on Instagram of him running half a mile at a track meet. He crossed the finish line and he was dead last. But he crossed the finish line, and he smiled and waved to me, and I was instantly a ball of tears. He teaches me so much about getting past the fear and pushing through, no matter what. Jeffrey was the motivation for me to get my life together.
My mom passed away at 41 from complications with diabetes. Then I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at 40, but I continued to eat wrong. Then I had this vision of Jeffrey, who was 2 at the time. I had this vision of him at the age of 5, holding a teddy bear and asking where heaven was, because that's where Mommy was. So I realized then that I had to change.

“I have a passion for telling people to live the best life that they can.”

It was the thought that if you don't change your life, you're going to leave your son--who has special needs. So I changed my eating habits and started exercising. I'm not someone who likes going to the gym, but I do it for my son. I wrote my book, Plan D, because I have a passion for telling people to live the best life that they can. I think, as women, not feeling good can become our normal.

“You can learn to love kale, and it’s worth it.”

You can accomplish so much more when you don't feel like you're walking in a fog. When you're healthy. So I wanted to tell people that you can live a great life. You have children who need you. They don't just want you, but they need you. Their survival and quality of life depends on you. You can learn to love kale, and it's worth it.

Sallie Krawcheck

Sallie Krawcheck has held top positions at major banks like Citigroup and Bank of America, making her one of the most powerful women on Wall Street. But it was a moment two decades ago that she's most proud of.

So picture this: It's 20 years ago, and I'm a baby research analyst at Sanford Bernstein. I might have just turned 30, and I was covering a company by the name of American General, which has since been bought by the infamous AIG. I worked through an analysis that showed that the significant growth in American General's business was masking an underlying deterioration.

“One of the gentlemen from the company called me and said, ‘You’re making a big mistake.'”

It was a tricky analysis, but it showed that the company was going downhill. I did the research, wrote the report and sent it to be checked. Afterward, I was in the car with my husband, and one of the gentlemen from the company called me and said, “You're making a big mistake. Research analysts are supposed to be positive, and you're being negative.”
Sweat began pouring from my body. Was I about to break an unwritten rule of Wall Street without even knowing it existed? I had to ask myself, Do I go ahead with the research that, in my view, is right? Or do I change it to be a “positive research analyst”? I went ahead with it and was proven right six weeks later. So the lesson there was, “Do your research, speak the truth and good things will come.”

“Do your research, speak the truth and good things will come.”

And yes, sometimes you have to take risks. Of course it's not always going to pay off. People really forget that it wasn't obvious that I was going to be right; it could've been that the company had done a big deal or I'd made a mistake. We saw this with the economic downturn, with people saying it was obvious--that's malarkey. It's not this straight line of “Do this and good things will come.” Lots of people are wrong, but you do have to take the risk.

Lesley Stahl

Lesley Stahl is one of the most familiar faces in broadcast journalism. She became a CBS correspondent more than 40 years ago and has been on the air ever since, perhaps most notably as a 23-year veteran of 60 Minutes.

Early on, I realized that journalism was the profession for me. I went to work for NBC News. I started as a researcher and became a field producer in a short time. I thought I was on my way to becoming a reporter. I think I was there for two years. I was working in London, and the president of NBC News passed through at the same time that I was agitating for a promotion.

“People don’t start at the top. They step on every single rung of the ladder”

He looked at me and said that people don't start at the top. They step on every single rung of the ladder; otherwise, you don't have a foundation beneath you. He told me I had to go back to the beginning and start again. He kind of shook my shoulders metaphorically and said, “Who do you think you're kidding? If we promote you, you'll fall flat on your face.”
I was 28 years old, and I quit my job in London and went back to Boston, where I'm from, and found a job where I would learn from the beginning. I absolutely realized the significance of that moment and that advice, because I listened and quit my job. When you start too high up, you don't have confidence. So it was kind of an epiphany--I knew instantly that he was telling me something big.

“When you start too high up, you don’t have confidence.”

Mine is a good message to younger people who get good jobs--especially in journalism. If you start small, at a small-time newspaper or radio station, they don't hire many people, so you're going to be doing the work. And in journalism--and I would think all professions--the more you do, the better you get.

“And in journalism--and I would think all professions--the more you do, the better you get.”