Alum praises important role of sorority in business world

by Conlan O'Leary | 11/14/05 6:00am

In the first speech of the Dartmouth's Distinguished lecture series, College trustee and advertising executive Karen Francis '84 explained how her membership in Kappa Alpha Theta sorority at Dartmouth has been crucial to her professional success.

Francis, the chairman and chief executive officer of Publicis and Hal Riney, spoke to a mostly female audience at Alpha Xi Delta sorority Friday evening.

In 1982, Francis joined with 10 girls to push for the formation of a new sorority on campus. Her work eventually resulted in the formation of Kappa Alpha Theta, now Epsilon Kappa Theta, in 1983, for which Francis served as rush chair and president.

"The formation process was very entrepreneurial," Francis said. "We had to develop a business plan, assess need, prove a sorority was needed and evaluate whether to be a local or national."

Francis was recognized for her hard work in 1984 when she received the Betty Lock Hamilton Award, the highest national award within the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority. To receive her award, Francis attended the national sorority conference where she had her first experience in public speaking.

"Even though you're behind a podium with knees shaking, you learn that you can do it," Francis said. "I'll always remember that."

After graduating in 1984, Proctor and Gamble hired Francis as part of a recruiting program that looked for leadership. She said she believed she was hired directly because of her leadership experience within the Greek system.

After working for four years, Francis left Proctor and Gamble to pursue her M.B.A. at Harvard University. But Francis immediately quelled concerns about where her allegiances lie.

"Between the two schools -- I love them both, but I adore Dartmouth," Francis said.

Francis also touched on the significance of the Dartmouth academic experience. She said that the liberal arts education she received was invaluable in helping her to adapt to the rapid changes in the business world.

"The liberal arts education enables you to understand all the potential variables that go into a situation," Francis said. "That is incredibly important in today's world where things are only getting more complicated."

Francis said that the most enjoyable aspect of her work in business has been the things she has gotten to do. She has been to the Superbowl six times, the Masters Golf Tournament three times, driven the pace car at the Daytona 500 and flown to the Sydney Olympics in a private jet.

Francis cited firing people and constant traveling as her least favorite aspects of the business world. She also discussed the difficult issue of balancing a career with a personal life and said it would be difficult to be as dedicated to her career with the added responsibility of rearing children.

"I cannot get away," she said. "I'm expected to respond immediately, and that would be difficult if I had to drive three kids to soccer practice."

Francis said the key to finding a middle ground lies in staying organized and redefining balance. She also said that it is crucial to find an enjoyable job so the sacrifices don't seem like sacrifices.

Francis emphasized, however, that each person should take his own career path and constantly re-evaluate what is important.

"You can have it all but not at the same time," she said. "It's okay to take time to prioritize."

Francis also spoke about her role as a College trustee.

"I hope students put aside the theory that there is some secret plan to eliminate the Greek system, because there is not," Francis said. "A very large number of trustees sitting today were Greek."

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