At the 2016 Women's Leadership Conference, Carlson School Dean Sri Zaheer and Land O'Lakes Chief Operating Officer Beth Ford discussed the role of women in a changing business landscape. Hundreds of leaders from the Twin Cities business community and beyond attended the Inside the Boardroom™ presentation. Throughout the discussion, Ford revealed key pieces of wisdom she's accumulated throughout her 30-year career.

Read on for Ford's best advice for building a thriving career.

Join an organization that shares your values

Ford's career has spanned seven companies in six different industry sectors. And while her career has not been linear, she says every position has shared a common theme: she's worked for companies with strong missions that align with her personal values. 


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"To me, mission is important. Land O'Lakes is addressing one of the great challenges of our time: feeding a growing population. It was absolutely the right fit for me, working on something that was an important challenge," she says.

Embrace failure

As an esteemed professional in a male-dominated field, Ford says that the best way for women to develop their executive presence and become more confident is to own their failures, learn from them, and move on.

"Failure happens, it happens to millions of people. I have had many. And that is a normal part of life. The way you get the confidence is you keep stepping forward. You don’t sit there and wallow in your failure, you believe in yourself and move on. Remember how smart you are," she advises her fellow women leaders.

Advocate for yourself

Ford points out that women who fail to speak up about their goals and aspirations are at a disadvantage from their male counterparts in the workplace. She encourages women leaders to ask for what they want if they hope to advance in their careers.


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"Many of us in our career expect that our managers are going to recognize us. But my mom said, 'if you want something, you better ask for it.' We should all realize that nobody’s going to just figure out that we’re brilliant and give us the keys to the kingdom," she says.

View work/life balance in the long term

As a mother of three, Ford juggles a hectic schedule. And she says that balancing a family and a fast-paced career is not always possible—and that's OK.

"Some days it feels out of balance for everyone, but it doesn’t happen every day. I think about it long term. Overall, I feel very comfortable. My schedule is pretty busy, but I love that, and I don’t regret it a minute," she says.

Transition to new employers gracefully

Ford says the key to building a powerful network is maintaining positive connections to former colleagues, especially when departing an organization to take a role at another company. 

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"Leaving an organization is an art. Sometimes it's well-received, and sometimes less so. I'm always respectful about the fact that I'm leaving, and I will continue to speak well of my colleagues, and hope they will speak well of me. Your job is to leave more talented people behind you," she says.