Passion. If there needed to be one word to summarize the theme of this spring’s Wharton Women Business Conference, it would be “passion.” As the attendees listened to the stories and life lessons of three very different women, the pursuit of one’s passion was the link that connected all three speakers.

As the special alumnus speaker, Beth Axelrod, W’84, shared the search for her passion as she described her career transition from investment banking to management consulting. Her decision to leave investment banking came after she realized that the deals were no longer thrilling for her.

“Just be clear when you don’t want to do something in your life,” she advised, with her departure from investment banking as an example.

As the senior vice president of human resources at eBay Inc., Axelrod also explained what attracted her to eBay in the first place—its social mission. She stated that she identified with eBay’s mission of creating opportunities in the world through connected commerce and its focus on gender diversity.

Beth Axelrod, W’84

Beth Axelrod, W’84

The first keynote of the conference, Kay Krill, is one of the few female CEOs of a Fortune 500 company. Now president and CEO of ANN Inc., Krill previously helped the company’s LOFT division grow into a $1 billion business.

Krill held her audience’s attention as she shared advice and stories from her life. Above all, she stressed the importance of finding one’s passion.

“You can’t have everything,” she stated, “but you can have what you want if you focus on what you want.”

She provided as an example how her love of fashion and retail led her to start out with Macy’s executive program and to join Ann Taylor in 1994.

She also emphasized the need to give back to society, and focused on how her mother’s death from breast cancer gave her personal cause to support breast cancer research. ANN Cares, which Krill founded, has contributed more than $30 million to charitable partners such as the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and St. Jude Children’s Hospital.

The theme of finding one’s passion remained prevalent as the second keynote speaker, Christine McCarthy, addressed the audience. She spoke of her determination and resilience through health issues (anorexia, weight issues and depression) and setbacks. McCarthy found that she was able to survive the rough patches of her life by doing the things she enjoyed; primarily, she loves and thrives in competitive business environments. Having worked in various financial institutions, McCarthy is currently executive vice president and treasurer at The Walt Disney Co.

As the attendees left the Wharton Women Business Conference on Feb. 1, 2013, they no doubt left with lists of tips and lessons. Topping their lists? To find your passion.