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Whitney Johnson, Managing Director, Springboard Ventures, LP, Intrepid Woman

By Nicki Gilmour

Whitney Johnson believes in disruptive innovation. As co-founder of Professor Christensen’s Boston-based investment firm Rose Park Advisors, Whitney Johnson applied the frameworks of disruptive innovation to identify and invest in disruptive companies.

“I connected with Clayton Christensen in 2003-2004, and I was privileged to have him ask me to co-found an investment firm with him in 2007. I realized in parallel that these theories of disruption not only applied to picking stocks but also to individuals. Disrupting your own status quo before you change anything else is the place to start.”

Whitney is in now in the process of launching Springboard Ventures, LP, a fund investing in women in high growth businesses that can scale in tech and life sciences from the initial pool of candidates that are the alumni of Springboard Enterprises, a non-profit accelerator.

She is inspired to help others and claims that her job is many jobs as with so many people these days. “I have a portfolio professional life of coaching, speaking, writing and investing. When I talk to women and they ask me for a single piece of advice – I say get a coach. Regardless of your talent and hard work, it is hard to navigate and a coach can help you understand the landmarks when you are in the ocean of your career.”

Walking the Talk
Whitney moved to NYC in 1989 with her husband who was getting his PhD at Columbia University. She recounts how it was a scary time in New York at that point and she realized that as a couple they had no money and she needed to get a job. She decided that Wall Street was for her, and truth be told, was motivated by Liar’s Poker, Bonfire of the Vanities, Wall Street – and, of course, Working Girl.

At Smith Barney, I looked at the bullpen of up-and-coming stockbrokers, and I thought to myself, ‘I am just as smart as they are’ and I wanted it badly so I took classes at night, accounting and finance.” She comments that having a sponsor was critical to her moving up the Wall Street food chain. “I had a boss who let me jump from being secretary to an analyst in investment banking.

Whitney talks of her career climb from music major to one of the top ranked equity research analysts, being ranked 8 consecutive years (1996- 2005) according to Institutional Investor, with her last 4 years being double ranked, her area being Emerging Markets – Latin America – Telecom and Media.

In 2005, “I disrupted myself – I didn’t even wait for another bonus – left in June that year. I was at the top of my game — number one in Media / #2 in Telecom.

In our conversation, Whitney explained why she wrote the book Dare, Dream, Do. She believe her mission is to help individuals (women, in particular) believe that we need to learn to be harbors and ships, to develop our feminine, the capacity for relatedness and love, and masculine (ability to wield power and control situations) to truly succeed.

“I feel that women have to work through the tensions of how do I tend to my dreams as well as the dreams of others who we love?

Why ‘Disruptive Innovation’ is about moving forward.
When I suggested that we do this interview for the Intrepid Women column she candidly admitted that being fearless is definitely a learned trait.

“I feel scared a lot of the time, but I think about innovation going from stuck to unstuck, about finding the problem (or a problem finding you) and solving it.”

When asked about factors that can hold women back in their careers, she states that confidence to disrupt is definitely top of the list. There are many career ‘derailers’ that can stop people from getting ahead.

Whitney talked at length about the dangers of entitlement and how we can overcome this to succeed.

“Entitlement comes in many forms, not just at the beginning of our career. Entitlement can surface as we rise through the ranks, and are literally en-titled. Regardless of rank, you battle entitlement by being willing to do the work to socialize our ideas, to not just expect that people will buy in.”

She advises people to figure out who are their stakeholders are at work stating that they can range from your boss, your peers, your coworkers to your boss’s assistant. Figure out what language your stakeholders speak, she advises and adds,

“If you are in marketing and your boss or sponsor is in finance then you have to communicate in a way with that person that will help you move up the curve to succeed.”

Not being heard? She suggests that it is possible that you need to socialize ideas more, but recognizes that it is also possible you are just not being heard. Research suggests that women needs to be two and a half times more effective than men. Whitney gives insight to what this means in real terms stating,

This shows that it may take longer for women to be successful. Be aware of this so you don’t internalize this. There is nothing wrong with you! But know that you have to have 100% domain expertise, especially because your soft skills are taken for granted as a woman.”

Finally, on the topic of being heard and gaining credibility she shares some sage wisdom,

“People can discover how smart you are by the quality of the questions you ask.”

Check out Whitney at HBR or on her website.