Oct. 12, 2021

Shattering glass ceilings, supporting women's empowerment and promoting greater diversity while bridging divides with Barbara Davis Blum | Greater Washington DC DMV Changemaker

Shattering glass ceilings, supporting women's empowerment and promoting greater diversity while bridging divides with Barbara Davis Blum  | Greater Washington DC DMV Changemaker

In this episode of Partnering Leadership, Barbara Davis Blum, one of the founders of Leadership Greater Washington and president of BDB Investment Partnership, shares stories from her early life and how it shaped her to become the resilient, feminist leader that she came to be. Barbara Davis Blum shared her journey as a pioneering female leader in government, business and the community.  

Some highlights:

-Barbara Davis Blum's early life and her father's community involvement

-The impact of Barbara Davis Blum’s first divorce.

-Barbara's passion for the environment and saving the Chattahoochee River

-Diving into politics and coming to Washington DC

-How Barbara Davis Blum negotiated her role as Deputy Administrator of the EPA in the Carter administration

-On recognizing failure in handling the Love Canal tragedy

-How her second divorce prompted her to start a career in banking and eventually lead a woman-owned bank

-On supporting women’s leadership at the Greater Washington Board of Trade

-On founding Leadership Greater Washington with diversity as a core value


Mentioned:

-Steve Harlan, founder of Harlan Enterprises LLC ( Listen to Steve Harlan's Partnering Leadership podcast episode here)

-Andrew "Andy" Young, former Congressman from Georgia and 55th Mayor of Atlanta

-Jimmy Carter, 39th U.S. President

-Lester Maddox, former Governor of Georgia

-Walter Frederick "Fritz" Mondale, 42nd U.S. Vice President

-Leo M. Bernstein, investor and banker

-Abigail Adams, former First Lady of the United States

-John Tydings, former Greater Washington Board of Trade President

-Julia M. Walsh, the first woman to serve as president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade

-Betty Friedan, feminist activist and author of The Feminine Mystique



Connect with Barbara Davis Blum:

Barbara Davis Blum on LinkedIn


Connect with Mahan Tavakoli:

MahanTavakoli.com


More information and resources available at the Partnering Leadership Podcast website: 

PartneringLeadership.com



Transcript

Mahan Tavakoli:

Welcome to Partnering Leadership, I'm really excited this week to be welcoming Barbara Davis Blum. Now, as you know, every Tuesday I have conversations with magnificent changemakers from the Greater Washington DC DMV Region. These are people who have committed a lot of their energy and resources, as well as their leadership capacities in not only helping advance their organizations, but helping create a better environment and have a positive impact on the community.

And Barbara Davis Blum is a gem among gems because Barbara has contributed so much to so many people in this community, including me, and so many organizations in this region and community, including having served on many different boards, most especially having also been one of the founders of Leadership Greater Washington 35 years ago, and a woman that has stayed involved with the organization and has advocated for the purpose and impact that Leadership Greater Washington can have in this region. 

Now, in addition to all of these things, Barbara is President of BDB Investment Partnership, which is a closely held company specializing in equities and real estate. Also from 1983 to 1998, she was Chair, President, and CEO of Adams National Bank and the Abigail Adams National Bancorp, which was the oldest and largest bank and bank holding company then owned and managed by women. Before that, she served in the presidential campaign and in The Carter Administration as Deputy Administrator of EPA.

So I really enjoyed this conversation because I have seen Barbara's leadership in this community and its impact on me, on so many people in the community, and more importantly, on so many organizations and their impact on the community. 

I love hearing from you. Keep your comments coming, mahan@mahantavakoli.com. There's a microphone icon on PartneringLeadership.com, love getting those voice messages, feel free to leave as many for me as you want. And don't forget to follow the podcast on your favorite platform. Finally, those of you that enjoy these on Apple, leave a rating and review, that way more people will find and benefit from these conversations.

Now, here is my conversation with Barbara Davis Blum.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Barbara Davis Blum, welcome to Partnering Leadership. I am absolutely honored and thrilled to have this conversation with you. 

Barbara Davis Blum: 

Well, I am honored and thrilled to be talking to one of the smartest guys around.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

You are so sweet, Barbara, and I start out first, would love to know whereabouts did you grow up and how did your upbringing make you the kind of person and leader you eventually became?

Barbara Davis Blum: 

I was born and raised in Kansas, in a town called Hutchinson, right in the very center, probably the center of the continental United States. At the time I grew up, oil, salt, wheat, cattle - it was very prosperous. About 40,000 in the town. My father was an attorney and one of the probably top leader in town. He had been president or chair of absolutely everything, from the State Bar Association to the University of Kansas trustees, to the Shriners, and whatever. And he was a very prominent attorney in many ways - in every way. 

His practice was beyond the state of Kansas, although he did represent Dillons which is a grocery store chain, he represented MARTIN Saw, and sometimes, Carey Salt when they have somebody together because those were their home basis then, big salt mining area. I grew up as a only child of a very successful and prosperous man who was very generous with me. I grew up with more than anyone should ever have had, I think, and everyone thought I was going to end up being spoiled but I wasn't, I was just loved. 

My mother, on the other hand, was a housewife whose interests did not go beyond her clothes and the furniture. Our house was, it had a fall look, it had a summer look, everything changed, the drapes, the furniture, the lamps, and that was my mother. I grew up wanting to be like my father, wanting to make a difference, wanting to be involved in the community and beyond. My mother was also someone that was very helpful to me in wanting to be someone because I didn't want to be like my mother. So she was the example of someone I didn't want to be like and he was the example of someone I did want to be like. 

I went, young, to the University of Kansas, and then to Florida State University. I married young, I went to Florida State University with my husband or I would not have been there, but that's why I was there. And I got my bachelor's degree there and I got a master's degree in Psychiatric Social Work. Then I worked in Kansas city, in the medical school, helping juniors physicians on their junior rotation understand child psychology. And then I moved with my husband to Long Island where I worked at a clinic as a psychiatric social worker, by this time, I had two children. I got a divorce, and I then really had to make a living because my husband just disappeared as it happen sometimes, he was an alcoholic. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

So Barbara, you got a divorce with an alcoholic husband, and what happened there and then when you decided to pursue more of a career path?

Barbara Davis Blum: 

My father had died in the meantime, my mother didn't understand money at all so she cut me off. So there I was with two children and the money that I was making as a social worker was not adequate. I then thought something entrepreneurial. I thought I've got to do something. I've started a mental health clinic for the middle class, and my partners that I solicited were a psychiatrist and the psychologist of the county, Suffolk county, the big county that we lived down on Long Island. 

We started something then called Mid Suffolk Center for Psychotherapy, and it worked very well, it fed my kids and more. I remarried, however, and when I remarried, my husband had bought a franchise for a restaurant called Lum's and it was in Atlanta, Georgia. It was supposed to manage itself, but it didn't, those things never do. We moved to Atlanta, over a period of time, we were able to get the franchise rights for the state and open about seven franchise restaurants. 

They had waitstaff, but they were what you'd call a fast serve restaurant now. I thought that was pretty boring, so I became active in the community in Atlanta. Atlanta was wonderful, it was just so open to new leadership at the time. So within a couple of years of being there, I decided my main interest then was the environment.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

So you got excited about the environment and at one point, you got involved in Friends of the River. 

Barbara Davis Blum: 

I got involved in politics too, and there was a man named Andy Young who was running for Congress. I managed a part of his campaign for Congress, I was on his five-member steering committee. This is all within two or three years of moving there. It was because they were just so open. It was an incredible place to be. At that time, one of the big political issues was the Chattahoochee River that ran through Georgia, and it'd go around through the Atlanta first and then went down as far as Florida. 

We started something called Friends of the River. I was the second president of Friends of the River. In the second year, it was supported by the junior league and we had all these fabulous volunteers, all these smart women, college-educated women who had plenty of time on their hands and who wanted to make a difference. After a period of time, we did save that river and it's now a national recreation area, but in doing so, I became very involved in politics.

I became very involved with the governor of the state who was Governor Carter. I went to Washington, became involved with Congress because I was told that no money could come for the Chattahoochee unless there was...go back to Georgia and gets a land-use plan. At that time, a land-use plan in Georgia was considered to be a communist plot. I mean, it really was, there had been no land-use plan that was, you know, it's taking your land. 

So with the help of Friends of the River and all those wonderful women, we managed to get through a land-use plan for the Chattahoochee River and Jimmy Carter was wonderful, that's how I really got to know him and why I then signed onto his campaign when he decided to run for president because I didn't think he stood a chance in the world, but he had honored what we wanted for so long that I figured I'd honor what he wanted.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Barbara, you were very passionate from the very beginning on environmental issues. What was it that drew you so much to having an impact on environmental issues, including the Chattahoochee River? 

Barbara Davis Blum: 

Global warming. I mean, back then there was global warming and we knew that there was something happening, but almost 90% of the people denied it. So it was beginning at a very grassroots level, to try to do something that would make a difference. Something that people could enjoy recreationally, but something that would be pro-environmental. 

And Carter, I went to him and ask him if he would sponsor the legislation to create the land use plan. And he said, Barbara, you have so many people who can help with this. I have a limited amount of time that I can spend. However, if you need something, I'll jump in, but I won't sponsor it. At the very end of this session of Congress, it was the biggest thing that ever happened in the state, front-page stuff, Jimmy Carter, after the last session of Congress, signed the bill. It had been locked in Lester Maddox's desk drawer. Lester Maddox was right-wing, ax-handling Lieutenant Governor of the state. Carter came through, it was great. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

You decided then to join the Carter campaign, but after President Carter was elected, you had a choice to make, you had a great life in Atlanta, very involved there, had a choice to make to whether you wanted to move and come to Washington, DC or not.

Barbara Davis Blum: 

That's right. I'd been deputy director of his presidential campaign and I was asked to be the Director of Transition for Carter-Mondale. So that was really tempting, and I took it but that was not moving there, it was only moving to Washington for a period of time, but the transition, which was from the Tuesday of the election to January 20th, when the presidents sworn in.

I didn't really think I would stay, but in the end, I really wanted to. It was very hard to leave Atlanta. Now, by this time I have four children and a husband who doesn't want to move, and the children who are too little to make a choice. I came from a time and space where most women were not working outside the home, honestly, a majority weren't. 

And I came back to a lot of criticism because what I did was move to Washington during the week and I would go back Friday night in time for dinner with my family and come back on the Delta early bird flight, we called it from Atlanta. There were a lot of people going back and forth between Atlanta and Washington then because of Carter and so many people in the White House. I bought an apartment, I still live in it 'cause I love it, it's exactly where I want to be, and I don't have to take out the trash. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Barbara, for how long did you go back and forth between Atlanta and Washington? 

Barbara Davis Blum: 

Well, I was going back because what they offered me was an ambassadorship of an insignificant European country. I mean, it wasn't even named. And I said, I didn't go through all this to become an ambassador. I want to be in the middle of the playing field, so the Chief of Staff said, " What will you do then?" And I said, "I'll go back to Atlanta" and of course, I meant it. The president was 3-days-old then, the presidency of Carter. He said, "He's going to be very upset." I said, "Okay throw me in the briar patch." 

So he called me in the next day and he said, "What do you want to do?" In the meantime, I'd done some research. And I said, "I'd like to be deputy administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency" because I figured as a woman that was the most I could ask for - and little more than I probably could ask for. He said, "Why do you want to do that?"

And I said, "Because women are always told that they can't manage anything. I have managed things small on the way up, but successfully, and I want a chance to prove myself so that no one will ever ever say to me that I can't manage anything again, because I'm a woman." And he said, "Ah, hmm", and I knew I had it then. I got a call the next day, but I knew I had it.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

That's incredible Barbara, because you knew what you wanted and as a woman, you were also a pioneer to push for that managerial leadership experience in a space that you were also passionate about, which was the environment. 

Barbara Davis Blum: 

Yes, absolutely. I was scared to death because EPA is basically a regulatory agency. I mean, it's not the Department of Interior National Parks. And I remember the first day that I went to EPA, my husband drove through the roundabout to let me out and I said, "Let's drive around a little more."

Barbara Davis Blum: 

I mean, I was scared to death, but that's one of the things in my life that I advise other people to do: Just reach beyond yourself. Go someplace that you're afraid to go. You'll learn it when you get there, and I've done that all my life. I've just dropped myself in the briar patch and worked my way out.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

That is incredible to hear, Barbara. And one of the reasons I love having known you and seeing your leadership and having studied your leadership, even more, is that you have been willing, as a woman leader, to step up to those opportunities. A lot of the people that I interact with in many instances, and this is a generalization, many of the men step up to things even when they're not capable to it, and many of the women have to be overqualified until they step up and raise their hands. 

Barbara Davis Blum: 

That’s true.

So you showed from early on that there are points in time when you have to raise your hand, you are capable and you can step up to do the job well. 

Barbara Davis Blum: 

That's absolutely right. And you don't have to know everything about the job to take it, just take it and go with it. Take it even if you have to learn on the spot.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And you did a magnificent job. While there, you chaired the US-Japan environmental agreement, negotiated the first environmental agreement with People's Republic of China. So a lot of successes there, Germany eventually awarded you the Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit, the country's highest civilian award, in recognition of your international environmental leadership, so you did have a lot of tremendous successes. At the same time, one challenge was Love Canal happened while you were serving as deputy administrator of USCPA, also. 

Barbara Davis Blum: 

Yes, Love Canal was the first hazardous wayside that really came to the fore, and it was before we had legislation to be able to do anything with it. It had not been confirmed, but a study came out and was given to the public, the study said that there was chromosomal damage and people should be evacuated. Everybody got into it, the governor got into it, the regional administrator got into it, the White House got into. That was the worst thing, it was just a horrible boiling mass. 

I was the spokesperson for it and I wasn't able to control it and bring it together so that we could have made a really good public policy decision. I said the evacuation of Love Canal and the way it was handled was the worst public policy decision of my time and office at EPA, but it was what it was, and I wish that I'd been able to get my hands on it. It was a failure.

 Mahan Tavakoli: 

And, Barbara, that says so much about you, and your leadership, and your courage. A lot of times leaders are willing to step up and accept recognition for the successes, however, they are not willing to accept when there are setbacks and what you've shown through your own leadership is that you can, as a leader, accept the setbacks and learn from them in order to become more impactful and do better eventually too. 

Barbara Davis Blum: 

I hope so. That's called maturity, I guess.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

It is and beyond that, post the administration, what led you into banking, Barbara? 

Barbara Davis Blum: 

Oh, I needed to make a living. And quite honestly, that was what it was, because by now, I'm divorced. I got divorced at the end. My four children are here in Washington, I have to support them. I was a real feminist, so I said to him, "Look, I just want the children, you can have everything else. I want no alimony. I want no child support. I want nothing. I just want the children." "Okay", he says, so I got children and there I was after EPA, and I had to make living. 

So quite frankly, it's sort of jumping on opportunity when it comes, recognizing it when it comes. I was at a cocktail party one night and I heard someone say that a man named Bernstein had bought the Women's National Bank. Well, Leo Bernstein was somebody that I knew.  He owned banks all over town and he was always looking for new blood, and so I had known him for a number of years.

I was new blood, I thought, aha! So I called him and said, " Leo, let's have breakfast. I'd like to have breakfast with you." And he said, "Okay." The next day, we met for breakfast and before we sat down he said, "What is it? Why did you want to have breakfast with me? What I - what's  up?" And I said, "I want to be president of your bank." And he said, "Oh."

And then we talked just a little bit more, but not a lot. He said, "Okay, call the board." I mean, he moved faster than I did. He called the board for a meeting. 3 hours later, the board came together and made me president. In the meantime, I'm senior advisor to the head of UNEP, United Nations Environment Program. 

I was going all over the world, setting up little APAs, or making people realize they should set up APAs, I wasn't doing the technical work. We give the technical people there once they decided that they liked my sales pitch, really. So I had started at the bank, but I had to continue to go places like Papua New Guinea and finish off a few things first.

But the Women's National Bank, Leo couldn't have kept the franchise because he's a man and it was a Woman's National Bank and that means that it should be a woman for control board, woman controlled management, and the shares should be held by majority of women. It was the first national bank for women in the United States, it was about a year and a half old at that point, it was teeny tiny. 

One of the things that I did was change the name because men didn't want to bank there.  I'll get into that, regarding the board of trade. I changed the name to Adams National Bank and the holding company was Abigail Adams National Bancorp, it was named after Abigail Adams. Also, there were no male employees in the bank and I made sure there were a few male employees on the floor of the bank to make men more comfortable because that was the only way we could grow the bank.

I had been there not very long when John Tydings, wonderful,  great John Tydings who was at that point, called Executive Director of the Board of Trade, but he was the glue of the Board of Trade. He was everything. He was fabulous. Came to me and asked me if I would go on the board. I'd been there maybe two months. 

I said, " John I haven't done anything to deserve that. I haven't earned that because everything in my life I ever had, I earned" and he said, "Well, just do it anyway", more or less, and I did. And when I got there, there were three women on the board, only three. And it was a whole different place. It was an all-boys club. And there were nice people, nice men, and they helped one another, but the women were really outside of it. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Barbara, what you've shown is even though there were less opportunities for women then than there are today, which still is not equal, but there were even a lot less opportunities, you were willing to ask for it and step up to those environments. Now, you also mentioned the getting involved in the Board of Trade, from a context perspective for the listeners, I want to put it in perspective that this is not the early 1900s, this is the mid to late 1980s that you are talking about. 

Barbara Davis Blum: 

That's right. We're talking about 1983.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

o you did get an opportunity to also get involved in the business community, including the Board of Trade being one of the only women at the table.

Barbara Davis Blum: 

That's true. That is absolutely true. There was a wonderful woman who became president during my time there, named Julia Walsh, and she started out being my mentor, but before we could really get into it, she got sick and that was the end of that. But it was incumbent on her and May and the other woman there, Louise to bring other women in, and we did. And, I will have to say that the Executive Director of the Board of Trade was very supportive in that he knew the world had changed, and he knew that it was changing fast, and he knew that women were coming in and that the Board of Trade had to be inclusive, and he was fabulous. 

Once I got there, one day, at a board meeting, stood up and said, " I think that we should do a leadership program here. Other places have done it and I know that we tried it and it failed, but I think that we should get back on it." And there wasn't much of a reaction, so I stood up and I said, "I had been a member of leadership at Atlanta, and that when the Atlanta people came to Washington, the White House was full of Leadership Atlanta, and people had access to it, and the network started working and churning and it made a better place, and it made for opportunities." 

And so it happened through John's leadership, really. He convened a small group of people, including Steve Harlan and several others, about half of the people now who were the original founders are dead, so, unfortunately, but we met, we in that first year's class. We had asked people to come into it because nobody knew what it was. There weren't enough people who knew anything. 

I remember a couple of people, I just simply said, "You have to do it", and he/she said, "But we're already leaders." I said, "Do it anyway. This is different, do it anyway. Bring that with you." And one of them is still active today and that was 1980, probably 6, by the time we had those first meetings.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

So Barbara, 35 years ago, you established an organization that over these years, has brought together more than 2000 of the top regional leaders in business, government, and nonprofit, diverse group of people. Diversity, regionally from an industry perspective, from an ethnicity, color, background perspective, something that today more organizations and people embrace. However, 35 years ago that wasn't the norm, so what was it that caused you all, you particularly wanting to establish this organization to make diversity such a core element of it? 

Barbara Davis Blum: 

I can't answer that. It just was, it's just nothing that was even discussed. It was just part of the fabric. It was not just the right thing to do, we'd never thought of doing anything else.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

But Barbara, that fabric and I - you deserve more credit than that, so I'm going to push back on it. That was not the way the business community operated, still arguably to this day, it doesn't fully operate that way. That was not the way most boardrooms looked. That was not the way most rooms in the region looked. So there was some intentionality behind diversity, which again, today, people talk about it, but this is 35 years ago that you pushed for this. 

Well, yes, from the very beginning we did what has continued to be done. We said there have to be so many people from this county, so many people from that county, there have to be so many men, so many women, so many African-Americans, and please bring us some Asian-Americans - that was hard in the beginning, bring us Hispanics. And so we reached out, that was what Leadership Atlanta was like, and I did bring that with me, that was a very important part of my life, and it just made sense, just simply made sense. 

And it worked and everybody knew that it needed to be done, and everyone was comfortable with it. If people weren't comfortable with it, then they got off the bandwagon. We went all over to the chambers of commerce, to the county governments and made the pitch because we didn't want to be a threat to anyone, we didn't want them to think that we were trying to establish an organization that would take away any of their powers or prestige, but something completely outside of that.

And it was important that they understood what Leadership Washington at that time was to be, and it was something that worked. I went to every single session for the first three years just to make sure it was getting off on the right track.  And still, as you know, we still have, once a year, I have a dinner that includes the new president at the time, whatever the time is, to make sure that it stays on the same track. And of course, it not only has done that but it's exceeded that. I will have to say that whole long moment was a very proud moment for me and still is.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

It should be, and absolutely, Barbara, you've had an impact on so many different organizations and so many people. In some instances the people know you, in many instances, they don't know you and their lives have been made better as a result of all you've done in the community, including not only being a founder of LGW with the right priorities but over the years, staying consistent, advocating for the right purpose and the need for the organization to give back to and impact the community and stay close to its purpose. 

Barbara Davis Blum: 

Absolutely. I think that it's become the most encompassing, thoughtful, even prestigious organization in this entire region. And it strengthen things, systems, people, it doesn't take away from anything. And let me say something about the Board of Trade and Leadership. But first, the Board of Trade funded this for the first three years completely, totally funded it. 

And from the classes, they began to take people of color, men who were different than the ordinary businessman, women, they came out - really came out of that core first few years, and it changed the Board of Trade too. But I think that was John's foresight, and the same reason he came and asked me to come join the board, I think he knew that the organization had to change, that it had to be more encompassing, and he saw Leadership Washington, I think, has been the vehicle for that, I did.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

He saw the change around him and had to bring along a lot of stakeholders that didn't like the change they were seeing around them. 

Barbara Davis Blum: 

That's right. You know, and in the meantime, everything was changing in the community. I mean, all the banks which were local, and had people involved, and the presidents involved, the vice-presidents in the community. All of a sudden, the banks have gone to North Carolina, they've gone to California, no local banks anymore. I mean, there are one or two, but everything was changing out there in the business community and very quickly.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

So Barbara, as things were changing, you were contributing a lot to the community through different organizations, including Leadership Greater Washington and you actually grew the bank itself from what was just $12 million in assets to more than $150 million, then what was it that caused your exit from the bank? 

Barbara Davis Blum: 

Oh, well, a group of men from West Virginia had bought the shares in the bank because of a bankruptcy of the two major shareholders and took over the bank. It took a couple of years for them to do it, but that gave me time to get all of the management of the bank out of the bank at the end with one year salary. As we walked out the door, the day that their change went through, everybody who would have been fired, walked out with a whole year salary so it was good. The ending was not bad. 

It was sad because it was the end of a time, but it was not bad. I think it was probably the end of a time for the importance of a woman-owned bank too because I think other banks knew that by then, how important it was for women to be able to borrow and build, and they took over the need for it. So those guys from West Virginia bought it, and then they melded it with other banks that they bought, and then they sold those. So life moves on.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

So you did both contribute again, additionally to business and nonprofits. All throughout though, you were a pioneer as a woman, as a career woman, having an impact. And while you served as a mentor, it was hard for you to find folks that would mentor you in return. 

Barbara Davis Blum:

That was a problem, it was a problem I've always had, I've never had a mentor. I had the beginnings of one but I've never had a mentor. I think that if I ever had a mentor, there were no women out there to mentor me and men weren't interested in that, and I think I would have done more with my life had I had a mentor. I'm sure I would have. And that's something that bothers me to this day.

 But anyway, after the bank was sold, I went on the board of Kaiser Permanente and went back and forth to California a lot, loved it - healthcare and hospitals. I was on the executive committee. I chaired the executive committee for a while and that was a good ride too, and I really liked that. It's a nonprofit, but it's huge. At the time I was on the board, if it had been stock exchange corporation, it would have been the 17th largest corporation in America. So I got to do the big corporations too, and that was good. That was one chunk of my life I hadn't had a chance to do.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And it's a purpose-driven, health-related organization and that is a big part of the economy and a growing part of the economy too. 

Barbara Davis Blum: 

Yes, absolutely. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 

In addition, Barbara, you eventually became also close friends with Betty Friedan who for people to know, wrote back in 1963, The Feminine Mystique, and really was the person that started the second wave of American feminism, and eventually started National Organization for Women, and became the first president of NOW. What was that friendship like and what is the imprint and impact that Betty Friedan left for you, also as a pioneering woman leader? 

Barbara Davis Blum: 

Well, I think that she gave me the strength, I will always think this, after I read that book, to be able to break out of the mold and go for it. I read that, I had a little baby then, maybe two little babies, and I was working full time and I read that book and I thought, "Oh, for God's sakes, I'm going to shake off a lot of this stuff and I'm going to go for it."

And I think that book has led a lot of women there. When Betty and I would go to a movie, she would be stopped four or five times by women who would say "Betty Friedan, oh my God, you changed my life." And it was true, she changed a lot of lives. And I think I give her credit for changing mine before I ever knew her.

So it was such a privilege to be a friend of her for the last 20 years of her life, and until the last two or three years in the end, her memory was gone, but before that, it was so fabulous just to be near that person who changed so many lives - and not just in the United States, everywhere that book was published, women read it and changed. They read it and went, "Oh hey, wait, wait a minute, guys. I've got to make a chance for myself."

Mahan Tavakoli: 

So she did touch a lot of people's lives as have you, Barbara. Now, when you reflect on this beautiful journey of impact that you've had, if you were to give advice to your younger self or younger leaders that aspire to be as impactful as you have been on not only community but beyond just the community, to the lives of the people in the community, what advice would you give? 

Barbara Davis Blum: 

I have 10 grandchildren and only one of them is a male, the youngest one. So I have them all the way from 15 to law school. And I advise to them, which they of course don't take, they pay no attention to it because I'm their grandmother, but I say to them, build your networks, make real friends. When you go to college, reach out, try to go someplace other than where you live, broaden everything, and then take advantage of anybody who's willing to help you. 

I mean, girls particularly don't want to ask for something and I've seen this in my granddaughters, they just don't want to ask. You've got to ask, you've got to use the connections you have. You have to use the networks you build. You're doing other people a favor, you're doing yourself a favor and without that, you'll just have a very ordinary life, really - and I can't think of anything worse than having a very ordinary life. I really can't.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Those are beautiful words and great advice that you give to your grandchildren. Hopefully, as they will hear this conversation too, it will resonate for them. Now, Barbara, when you're asked for leadership resources, are there any specific books, practices, anything that you find yourself recommending to people in order for them to become better leaders? 

Barbara Davis Blum: 

I'm sorry, no. I never got anything out of a book. I mean, I read plenty of them, but I swear to God, I never got anything out of a book. I get it out of practice, living, asking, helping, saving, not out of a book, but that's not to say that other people couldn't get it out of a book. I just haven't. So I can't recommend anything.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

You are one of those people, Barbara Davis Blum, who has learned in part, by being an observer of the human beings around you, in great part, by giving back and shining your bright light whether it's been through individual interactions or through establishing organizations like Leadership Greater Washington, through being president of a woman-owned bank, your involvement with Kaiser, you shine a bright light and help elevate everyone you interact with. 

And the reason I started out this conversation by saying it is truly an honor for me to get a chance to have this conversation with you and share it with other people is that over the years, I have seen your leadership in action. You are not just the words that are said, you live leadership, you live purpose and core values through your daily actions, through your behaviors, through your one-on-one interactions which I have been honored to see for more than a quarter-century. So it is an absolute thrill, honor, and joy to have this conversation with you, Barbara Davis Blum.

Barbara Davis Blum: 

You are wonderful. That will keep me going for the next decade.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Fantastic. Look forward to it. Thank you, Barbara.

Barbara Davis Blum: 

Thank you.

You've been listening to Partnering Leadership with your host Mahan Tavakoli. For additional leadership insights and bonus content, visit us at PartneringLeadership.com.