When you first set eyes on Ann Fudge (MBA ’77), you would have no idea that she is one of the most accomplished women in the world of business. She mingled with the crowd at the African-American Student Union’s conference and took notes at panel sessions like any other attendee.
Yet she serves on the Board of Directors of General Electric, Honeywell International, Marriott International, and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. She is a trustee of the Brookings Institution and was a powerhouse in the world of consumer marketing having had a highly successful career at Kraft Foods.
But her speech made clear that these things were not what define her. She came to Harvard Business School in 1975, married, with two small sons, and has never lost sight of the fact that they are most important to her. Ms. Fudge, with husband and youngest son in the crowd, says that what she’s learned in her journey is that she “could live a very full life as a wife, mother, business-woman and simply as a human being, with no title.”
She asks us to examine what material wealth is worth as she reflected from her days of eating “peanut butter and jelly” to finally being able to buy anything she wanted. “It gets old really fast,” she said, “You really don’t need a lot of stuff. Real wealth is family. True currency is love and friendship. It’s important that you don’t lose sight of that in your career.”
She also spoke of not losing sight of social responsibility as we move up the corporate ladder. “We can work hard in Corporate America and we can do well for ourselves, but we can also do good… We don’t have to look to organizations like the Urban League; we have incredible power to make a difference ourselves.”
And she stands by that sentiment. Ms. Fudge is currently leading, full-time, a literacy initiative for children in grades K-4, in partnership with the HBS African-American Alumni Association and the Boys and Girls Club, another organization for which she serves as a board member.
While at Kraft, she was instrumental in organizing a number of business-sponsored civic projects, including a partnership between the Maxwell House Division and Habitat for Humanity to build 100 homes across the country. She has also personally worked with the Partnership For a Drug-Free America and the United Way.
As she looked out onto the sea of people that was clinging to her words, Ann Fudge was overcome with emotion as she expressed how incredibly full she felt of pride and of belief in the future.
“My [HBS] class had about 20 black students. I remember that my first Alumni conference, 23 years ago, was in Aldrich Hall… and we all fit in Aldrich Hall. My heart swells and I feel the spirit of Naylor in this room… I wish you all the best that life has to give.”