Linda Pavy, WG’80, has had tremendous serendipity with career and life. She wowed the CEO of SmithKline and scored a management trainee job right out of Bryn Mawr College. Harvard Business School courted her, but she chose Wharton, where she met her husband and received 38 job offers after her MBA. One was a marketing dream job with Baxter. When her husband moved to Europe, she followed—to more job offers. Her current professional role is as European health care and nutrition leader at communications giant Burson-Marsteller. At home, she is the mother of four successful children (the oldest, 29, becoming a heart surgeon and the youngest, 20, entering France’s Sciences Po school.) How has this been possible?


Photo credit: Emmanuel Fradin

WHARTON MAGAZINE: Across your diverse work history, are there lessons that you’ve picked up over the years in terms of management and leading people?

LINDA PAVY: Definitely. My husband today is a Freudian and Lacan psychoanalyst. And the reason why I’m saying that is that management is all about people and a lot about psychology, understanding where people are coming from—because we all think we’re rational, but we’re not necessarily as rational as we think we are.

WM: How does that translate to managing people for you?

PAVY: I’m part of a generation where sharing all the information is not something one wanted to do because information was power. But I never thought that way. Being an optimist and [having] self-confidence, my leadership style is getting people to be motivated and sharing as much information as possible.

[In] my first job with Johnson and Johnson, I quickly became marketing director. And unlike the previous marketing directors who tried to keep as much information as possible so that they could have good control over their product managers, to every new product manager that I would hire I would say, “Your job is to try and be in my seat, take over my office quickly as you can. So I’m going to share with you as much as possible because instead of thinking that I’d lose my job, I think that, the faster I get people to do what I do, the faster I will be able to do things that are bigger and better.”

WM: With your international role, have you found that di­fferent cultures have di­fferent leadership styles?

PAVY: I have quite a strong personality, and my leadership style is not the French style.

WM: Do you have advice for today’s students about career and family?

PAVY: The decision to have kids should not be linked at all to career. It should be linked to the personal desire. The career will fall into place, everything will fall into place. That’s the first thing that I want to say. Secondly, the quality of the time that you spend with your kids is more important than the quantity. Nevertheless, one cannot ignore that certain comprises have to made and one has to learn to acknowledge them and accept them.

WM: Do you feel as if you were ever held back in your career?

PAVY: Being a woman, a minority woman, may have held me back in certain cases, but in others, it probably also opened up doors and gave me opportunities.

WM: What do you mean by “personal reasons”?

PAVY: I didn’t want to become like a Donald Trump, W’68 … money wasn’t what I was looking for with my Wharton [degree]. That was never a goal, and among the 38 job offers that I got, I did not take the highest paying job. I had several job offers that paid more than the one at Baxter. That’s maybe why motivation pops onto my list when we’re talking about leadership. Having fun, being motivated, being excited to go to work every day, was fundamental. And that’s the only way I could have four kids and an exciting job. I definitely did not go as far as I could in my career because I wanted to have fun, and I wanted to raise four kids.

WM: You speak upward of seven languages. Which ones?

PAVY: I was born and raised in Germany, even though I’m American and only American. So I had to speak German. My parents (my mom was a schoolteacher, and my dad worked for the American government) mainly spoke English. I have older sisters whom my parents tried to send to the American School in Paris, because before my dad started working in Germany he tried working in Paris. And somehow, that didn’t work out, [but] my dad made the decision following the difficulties he had with my older sisters that all his children would go wherever he lived to French schools. From kindergarten to the baccalaureate, I always attended French school. We lived in Spain two months out of every year. It was a way to save money and allow us to go on vacation. So my parents built a home way back, and that’s how the Spanish came into play.

The French school that I attended in Germany had over 50 percent of the population coming from Russia, so I grew up hearing Russian all my life. And as you know, I was a Russian major at Bryn Mawr and studied in the Soviet Union. That gives you five languages. When I started working [after the MBA in France], I had to use Italian quite a lot. So Italian came quite quickly because it’s so close to French and Spanish. And I’ve been studying Hebrew and know how to read it and write it now.

WM: Are we missing any?

PAVY: I just found out I have to learn Chinese and Romanian … it’s one of these never-ending things.

Editor’s note: Read more about Wharton women and leadership  and access the five other individual Q&As in our cover article, “On, About & For More Leadership.”