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Issue: November/December 2010
Business Hall of Fame: Service Operator
Jacqueline Woods, daughter of a Cleveland policeman and Red Cross nurse, rose to lead AT&T Ohio. But she’s never forgotten the value of service to others.
Jacqueline F. Woods enters the Cleveland Foundation’s Sherwin Boardroom with the ease of a woman walking into her own living room. The petite 62-year-old is so familiar with the space that she sits down at the huge, highly polished conference table with her back to the windows, each of which frames spectacular views of Lake Erie and the western end of the Euclid Avenue corridor.
⊲ On any given day, I’m probably doing one thing right — I’m being a good employee, a good mother or a good wife. It’s probably a really unusual day when I do all three really well.
⊲ I used to say, “The big difference between me and a man is I’m not a 40 Regular.”
⊲ One of the things a lot of leaders, particularly women, aren’t really good about doing is communicating why they’re the best or their results are the best. That has served me well.
⊲ I wasn’t the kind of leader who felt that for me to rise, somebody else had to go down. I believe that a high tide raises all boats.
⊲ The big difference between Cleveland and Columbus is Columbus focuses on the big-picture opportunity and then puts in players to make it happen. Cleveland seems to focus on the players and what they would like to happen rather than the big-picture strategy.
⊲ I still have a land line.
It’s been a couple years since the former president and CEO of AT&T Ohio occupied one of the black leather chairs at the table
in any official capacity. But she regards the time spent on the nonprofit community foundation’s board of directors as the high point of her community service career. According to Cleveland Foundation president and CEO Ronn Richard, Woods’ tenure saw the foundation begin to contribute to increasingly innovative projects, everything from the Cleveland High School of Science
and Medicine — one of seven “opportunity schools”
in the Cleveland school district — to a wind-turbine project on Lake Erie.
“When the Cleveland Foundation invited me to join the board of directors and asked for a 10-year commitment, I said, ‘That’s longer than [some] people stay married!’ ” she says. “But I felt that it was a place where I could have the greatest impact, both because of the people who were on the board and the strengths of the professional staff.”
That experience, along with those on many other nonprofit boards and committees, launched a community service career that has kept Woods busy since she retired in 2000. Although she moved to Columbus for four years, she maintained seats on the Cleveland Foundation board of directors and PlayhouseSquare board of trustees. And since she returned to Cleveland in 2005, she’s indulged her interests in health care and higher education by accepting a spot on the University Hospitals board of directors and becoming a Kent State University trustee.
As chairwoman emeritus of the Great Lakes Science Center and Greater Cleveland chapter of the American Red Cross, she tackles individual projects such as relocating the NASA Glenn Visitors Center to the science center and helping create a leadership development program for Red Cross staffers.
Kent State University president Lester Lefton says her “incredible business insights, sharp mind and particularly good instincts” make her a coveted addition to any organization. “She understands the difference between a good deal and a bad one, how things will appear to the public as well as to stakeholders,” he says. “She has a good sense of how to run a business, even a nonprofit business like a university.”
Jacqueline Woods grew up in a home where careers were made of community service. Her father was a Cleveland policeman, her mother a Red Cross nurse who quit her job to stay at home with the couple’s only child.
But the Shaker Heights native never imagined she’d climb the corporate ladder that would make her a nonprofit boardroom fixture. She graduated with a psychology and communications degree from Muskingum University in 1969 and took a job as a customer service training instructor at Ohio Bell expecting to work a few short years between marrying Jack Woods, a B.F. Goodrich employee-relations manager two years her senior, and starting a family.
The fast track to domesticity turned into a career path only after her fiance was drafted into the Army. Although Woods married Jack just before he left for Vietnam, she was, for all practical purposes, still a single woman living at home with her parents.
“I had never thought about really supporting myself,” she says. “To all of a sudden realize that I was really on my own made me grow up faster.” Having a husband in combat, one who was awarded a Purple Heart and two Bronze Stars, put subsequent workday crises in perspective.
“No matter how bad things at work were, they weren’t life-and-death situations,” Woods says. And she instinctively determined the importance of keeping personal problems out of the office. She remembers a boss’ surprise when he learned her husband was in Vietnam — something she never discussed at work.
“He said, ‘Gee, how come you never told me this?’ ” she recounts. “I said, ‘If I came in here and didn’t do my job, if I threw myself on my desk in sadness every day, you would have fired me. What’s there to talk about?’ ”
Woods continued working after Jack’s stint in the military, “a time of growing back together” after three years apart. By the time the first of their two daughters was born in 1977, she had been promoted to director of government affairs — a job she truly loved — and was firmly entrenched in Ohio Bell’s management training program. Yet she was content to give it all up and become “a trailing spouse” when B.F. Goodrich transferred her husband to Philadelphia six months later. She only took a similar position at Bell of Pennsylvania at her parents’ urging.
Like most new mothers, Woods struggled to juggle work, marriage and motherhood. “Luckily, Jack was a good helper,” she says. With the help of hired caregivers who shared the couple’s values and adhered to an established routine, the domestic operation evolved into “a pretty well-oiled machine” that easily accommodated daughter Stephanie when she arrived two years later.
She believes she would have become a stay-at-home mother if the domestic situation was anything less than ideal. “My family is my first priority.”
In 1982 AT&T’s Bell System broke into seven regional holding companies following the biggest antitrust case in U.S. history, transforming telecommunications from a regulated monopoly into a competitive industry.
Woods still considers the event a landmark in her career. Although she had returned to Ohio Bell when her husband was transferred back to Akron, she had contemplated leaving in the months that followed. She simply couldn’t see herself advancing in an environment where the most successful executives were male scientists or engineers.
“Now, all of a sudden, the teamwork orientation that I brought to the table became much more needed in a competitive, consumer-oriented business,” she explains. “It was very exciting.”
In 1986 she was named president of Ohio Bell Communications, a newly formed subsidiary that sold telephone equipment to businesses. The promotion renewed her professional ambitions.
“I pretty much determined that if I was going to work here and sacrifice this time away from my family, I was going to be really successful,” she says. “Jack and I agreed to that.”
Woods’ commitment to that decision was tested in 1989, when she was offered the position of vice president and CFO at Ameritech Services, the Chicago-based administrative division of Ameritech (formerly known as the Bell System’s Midwestern companies, including Ohio Bell). She didn’t want the job. “I was more experienced in marketing than in finance,” she explains.
Moreover, her husband would have to leave B.F. Goodrich with no career prospects in the Windy City. But Woods’ superiors explained that she had to learn more about finance if she wanted to move into the highest echelons of the company. So she accepted the position and enrolled in weekend finance courses at Northwestern University, eventually earning an executive MBA.
Shouldering the responsibilities of a challenging new job while taking postgraduate classes, setting up housekeeping in an unfamiliar city, helping children settle into a new school, and worrying about a husband’s lack of employment took its toll. Woods remembers bursting into tears as she pulled out of her driveway to run an errand. She didn’t know where she could accomplish the simple task or how to get there. Six months later, the executives who selected her for the position she’d so recently assumed were replaced — perhaps, she agonized, by people who wouldn’t agree with their choice.
“That was the only time, really, that the pressure was on,” she says. “I had to be successful because there was nobody else working at that point.”
The gamble paid off. Jack Woods went to work in a different division of Ameritech. And in less than four years, Woods was named president and CEO of Ameritech Ohio, previously known as Ohio Bell and subsequently renamed AT&T Ohio. Pride in the promotion was only surpassed by the excitement over the move to Cleveland.
“We were coming back home,” she says.
One of Woods’ first undertakings as president and CEO was to meet all of AT&T Ohio’s 11,000 employees. She traveled to service-truck garages in far-flung locales such as Gallipolis and Zanesville then answered all subsequent worker calls and e-mails. The exercise provided valuable information about procedures that were burdensome to those trying to expedite orders and issues related to introducing new products.
“What I really wanted to do was learn from the bottom up how the business operated,” she explains. “I didn’t want my input filtered by just the few people who reported to me. I wanted to see for myself, and I wanted to hear from a diverse group of people.”
Woods also “put a face to the company” by becoming active in nonprofit and community service organizations. She chose her activities based on her personal belief in them and the consistency of their missions with that of her employer.
At one point she was on the boards of 13 nonprofit organizations in Cleveland as well as in Columbus, Dayton and Toledo. Her fellow board members usually resided in or near those cities, which meant they could provide valuable feedback about the quality of Ameritech services in those areas. “I really felt that was a way to facilitate getting my job done,” she says.
But AT&T Ohio vice president Michael Kehoe, who worked with Woods for most of her tenure as president and CEO, credits her sense of humor and great interpersonal skills with winning employees’ loyalty and motivating them during a tumultuous time of changing technology, markets and government regulation.
“If you worked for her, you didn’t want to disappoint her,” he says. “You believed in her and what she was trying to accomplish.”
Woods’ decision to retire in 2000 at the age of 52 was prompted by SBC’s acquisition of Ameritech, which meant a move to San Antonio, Texas, if she wanted to continue advancing her career. “I am more of a market person than a corporate person,” she explains. “I like to make change happen.”
The following year Woods moved to Columbus with her husband, then director of purchasing for Nationwide Insurance.
“Jack felt it was important for me to make a break and start a different life,” she says.
Work was limited to preparing for and attending corporate board meetings at Andersons Inc., School Specialty Inc. (a school supplies company in Wisconsin), and Timken Co. as well as meetings of the Playhouse-Square and Muskingum University boards of trustees.
She laughs as she talks about the effort it took to preserve her “new persona” by refraining from introducing herself by her former title.
“When Jack and I were going to an event, I’d be in the car saying, ‘I am Jack’s wife, I am Jack’s wife,’ ” she says.
By the time the couple returned to Cleveland in 2005, a move they made after Jack retired to be closer to their now-married daughters and three grandchildren, Woods was comfortable in her new role. She talks about the getaways the couple has taken to London and their Naples, Fla., vacation home. And she’s signed on as a consultant specializing in executive coaching, media relations and crisis communications at Landau Public Relations.
The conversation, however, always returns to her work in boardrooms. Woods says sharing her knack for strategic thinking and experience operating a company under government regulation allows her to have a far greater impact than she would in her old job.
She also has the luxury of totally immersing herself in a favorite project, such as the aforementioned Red Cross leadership-development program, then turning her attention to something else, or actually taking a break.
“Now I’m a sprinter,” she says, “not a marathoner.”
1969 Graduated from Muskingum University, got a job as a training instructor at Ohio Bell, and married Jack Woods. “We just happened to meet at an event in Kent. Initially, I liked him because we had the same name — people call me Jackie; they call him Jack. I thought that was quite humorous.”
1977 B.F. Goodrich transferred Jack Woods to Philadelphia. Jacqueline Woods became a first-time mother and took a position at Bell of Pennsylvania. “When I walked in to interview [for the job], behind the gentleman’s head was a big poster that said, ‘All we need is a few good men. The Marines.’ I thought, Oh, this is going to go well.’”
1982 Antitrust settlement broke AT&T’s Bell System into seven regional holding companies. The Woods family returned to Cleveland. “Almost all our moves were predicated on both Jack and I seeing them as good career moves.”
1986 Named president of Ohio Bell Communications.
1989 Accepted position as vice president and CFO of Ameritech Services in Chicago. “I really liked the gentleman I was going to work for, the president of Ameritech Services — we got along real well. I said, ‘If I come in here and work really hard for you, can I get out of this job in a year?’ ”
1993 Named president and CEO of Ameritech Ohio; Woods’ family returned to Cleveland.
2000 Retired from AT&T Ohio.
2001 Moved to Columbus.
2005 Returned to Cleveland. “I was raised with the belief that you should always help others. If it isn’t being done, then you make it happen.”
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