Martha’s Story

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been motivated by big ideas. Although I grew up in the shelter of middle-class New England suburbs during the 1950s and 1960s, no community was immune to the intrusion of the events of those decades, including the Bay of Pigs, the Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations, Vietnam, civil rights, feminism and more.  I was captivated by all the changes that were happening and inspired by the new ideas.

In 1971 I decided to attend Kirkland College, a new women’s college in upstate New York. I liked the school’s innovative educational philosophy. I also liked the adventure of a new school (when I arrived, the campus was still under construction), the sense that I was setting out on a journey that could end anywhere. (Taking chances, I’ve come to realize, continues to be a central theme in my life.)

Kirkland opened me up to more and different ideas, especially to feminism and social change. One year I wrote a paper titled “Why Hamilton Is Sexist.” (Hamilton was our “brother” college. The two schools merged in 1978.) That earned me an “invitation” to the office of Hamilton’s president and my first experience with how a physical setting and the trappings of office could be used for intimidation. It was an early lesson in both the consequences of speaking out and the politics of domination.

After college I spent 15 years in city management. As an undergraduate, I had developed an interest in the social and intellectual roots of urbanization, and this was a perfect match. More change, more new ideas as I came to see how many of the problems cities faced involved issues of race and ethnicity. As a young white woman from the suburbs, I began to confront my own identify in those terms as well.

At 34, I reached my most senior position in city government: assistant city manager of Hartford. I was responsible for the city’s administrative functions, including finance, information technology, and human resources. By that time, I had developed a knack for organizational change, honed over years of determination to make things happen in a change-resistant bureaucratic system.

Although the work was rewarding, my years in city government were draining, and by the early 1990s I was ready for something new. I took a position as a leadership educator at Aetna, a well-known New England insurance company, the first step in what would become a 14-year career in corporate human resources.

Within a few years I assumed responsibility for organizational effectiveness and leadership development for Aetna’s financial services business. I also acquired an interest in corporate strategy and the emerging field of organizational change.

When Aetna Financial Services was bought by ING, a large Dutch multinational in 2000, I jumped at the chance to take a four-year assignment at the company’s headquarters, and moved with my family to Amsterdam. Once again, more change and more new perspective as I began to see my American naïveté about other cultures.

Eventually I assumed the role of global head of leadership and change for ING, charged with supporting the CEO’s efforts to instill a “performance culture,” an organizational mindset that would help the corporation implement its aggressive growth strategy. We were largely successful, achieving a momentum that continued to produce significant organization change after my departure.

One of the side effects of an expatriate experience is an increased appetite for risk. So, throwing caution to the wind, my husband and I decided to leave The Netherlands and ING behind and move to Boston to establish our own consulting businesses.

My new flexibility allowed me to simultaneously pursue a doctorate at Antioch University in leadership and change, which I completed in 2011. In my dissertation I reflected on my experience in business, especially the social costs of a paradigm that values “profit above all else.”  I concluded that this worldview is at best lacking and in many respects bankrupt.

Today I’ve come full circle. My early and ongoing interest in big ideas, my exposure over and over again to change and new experiences, and my commitment to social justice and new business models that value human fulfillment over consumerism and economic growth, all inform the work I do.

My company, Aduro Consulting, specializes in leadership and change for purpose-driven companies.