In her close to four-decade-long career, Lisa Gable has played many key roles: Keynote Speaker, WSJ Best Selling Author, Presidential, Secretarial, and Gubernatorial Advisor, U.S. Ambassador, UN Delegate, Corporate Executive, with Leadership at the Highest Levels of Business, Government, and Military Sectors, Board Member, Public Speaker, Commentator, and Public Private Partnership Expert.
She has served four U.S. presidents and two governors; counseled Fortune 500 CEOs, authored her well-renowned book – Turnaround: How to Change Course When Things Are Going South, and represented global public-private partnerships and nonprofits with an end goal of moving organizations to higher levels of performance.
In a conversation with CXO Outlook, Gable talks about her educational and professional journey, reveals the challenges and her advice to becoming the wildly-acclaimed author, provides insight and values necessary to become a leader, and unveils the milestones achieved throughout her career.
Take us through your early educational journey and the prior industry experience that you bring to the table. How has this professional journey improved your ability to deal with complex issues directly and diplomatically?
I received a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations at the University of Virginia, in 1985 and a Master of Arts in National Security Studies at Georgetown, in 1987. The graduate program was designed to support military and intelligence officers who were at their mid-career point. With classes conducted at the Pentagon, 85% of the class was constituted of males while I was a 21-year-old female. My master’s thesis involved the analysis of the People’s Republic of China’s integration of dual-use technologies in the commercial and military sectors. This led to studying Mandarin Chinese in Taiwan for six months. All this research that was conducted is applicable in today’s geopolitical crisis.
Throughout my graduate studies, I worked full-time in the Reagan Defense Department and White House and enjoyed a front-row seat to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
I then moved to Intel Corporation, when the company was regaining semiconductor market share from the Japanese, to serve as a technical assistant and troubleshooter for Dr. Craig Barrett, who would become CEO and Chairman of the Board.
Following Intel’s loss of its x86 trademark, I was tasked with creating the global brand identity management structure as the company prepared to roll out the Intel Inside program worldwide. I left Intel to launch my own company to assist Silicon Valley tech companies like Intel, Oracle, Apple, and Quantum, who were also transitioning from B2B to B2C marketing.
For nearly 30 years, I have used the manufacturing processes I learned at Intel and integrated them with the art of diplomacy to turn around failing projects in business, government, and philanthropy. Presidents, CEOs, and philanthropists bring me on board to solve seemingly intractable problems. Examples include serving as the Vice Chair of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, visiting 52 military installations worldwide in the aftermath of the Navy Tailhook scandal; serving as the first female US Ambassador and Commissioner General to lead US engagement at the 2005 Aichi World EXPO—the first 100% privately sector funded engagement; designing and executing the largest self-regulatory effort on behalf of 16 food and beverage CEOs through a commitment to reduce calories sold in the US via a partnership with First Lady Michelle Obama and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and serving as CEO of FARE, the largest nongovernmental organization investing in food allergy research–restructuring the organization by 83%, securing 100M in financial commitments and increasing industry engagement.
Through my experiences, I learned that to best communicate with key executives, I had to identify objectives and produce measurable results. When things start to blow up, discipline is critical to digging your way out.
The number of women in the tech and legal sectors remains abysmally low. What is your take on this? How can we bring more women into those sectors going forward?
Mentoring and providing tangible support throughout life’s inflection points is critical to retaining women. Good mentors give women opportunities to engage when they face time constraints due to unforeseen personal or family medical matters.
In 1999/2000, my husband was diagnosed with a reoccurring malignancy and two autoimmune diseases soon after we adopted our infant daughter. I was fortunate to have strong mentors when I had to step back from my career as he had 7 operations in 3 years. My mentors helped me find opportunities for visibility and leadership through participation in boards and commissions, which met quarterly and via phone (both corporate and governmental).
Life-long mentoring relationships were critical for my advancement during tough times. By grooming and mentoring talent in your group, not only are you teaching them how to see future opportunities for growth, but you are also ensuring that they remain committed to the dream you co-created.
As a high-ranking diplomat, how did your political experience enrich quality leadership that contributes to a better society?
I have been honored to represent global public-private partnerships with the end goal of moving organizations to higher levels of performance.
Relationships to me are built by trust. I deploy a process of high touch, shuttle diplomacy when solving complex problems. I hold one-on-ones with those impacted by any changes we are making. I focus on hearing their concerns, understanding the past challenges they have encountered, and then ask them to identify the top outcomes they want to see as the result of our work together.
Solving the problem through the eyes of my opponents and partners not only enables me to help create solutions that meet their needs but also results in market buy-in, sustainable partnerships, and profitable business models.
Walk us through the journey of becoming a WSJ & USA Best Selling Author.
The first lesson I learned is to listen to people who understand the business book market and know what content readers will seek at the time the book is published—not when the book is written.
I wrote my book in 2020 during the pandemic; however, it launched in the Fall of 2021 as people were returning to the office. The information had to be evergreen, not just a retrospective on the woes of managing during a pandemic.
Second, having a relationship with a team who understood what was important to me was key. My career spans political and professional appointments at high levels. I needed someone who would not push me to exploit relationships that I valued.
As a first-time author, you want an editor who is a coach. Rohit Bhargava, author, entrepreneur, and CEO of IdeaPress Publishing, the publishing company I went ahead with, suggested I use an editor who shared my temperament and work style. He could not have made a better suggestion. Genoveva Llosa taught me how to interweave storytelling into a “how to” business process book to not only entice the reader but also to enable them to see the application of my process to achieve real-world solutions.
Finally, writing a book is a commitment, but marketing it may be a harder task as you maintain a steady drumbeat following the excitement of the initial launch. This requires unwavering focus and diligence and a willingness to invest time and money in the success of your book.
Tell us about the book “Turnaround: How to Change Course When Things Are Going South” in a nutshell. What inspired you to write it?
In Turnaround – How to Change Course When Things Are Going South, I share my simple but powerful method for breathing new life into the most troubled ventures.
- Visualize the future—don’t fix what’s there; start from scratch.
- Break down the present—ditch what isn’t working; keep what does.
- Create a path to your future—map out critical decisions and actions needed.
- Execute with confidence and diplomacy—speed up by partnering well with others.
In 2020, my PR agent, Dani Mackey and Rohit Bhargava, encouraged me to write a book based on turnarounds I had executed in business, government, and philanthropy. They knew companies and organizations would seek practical advice during what we are now calling “the great realignment.”
I provide people with the tools they need and relevant stories about managing complexity. I also highlight the impact of change on people and the importance of mentorship and empathetic leadership.
What was the most challenging part while writing a book? What kind of research did you do, and how long did you spend researching before beginning Turnaround?
The book was written in six months during Covid. I was managing a nonprofit turnaround and trying to close a 100M fundraising goal during a very complex time, so I wrote on weekends and evenings. My husband swears he never saw me!
The book did not require research as I focused on my own lived experiences and lessons that I learned throughout my nearly 40-year career in business, government, and philanthropy. For anyone who is considering writing a book, I would advise them to maintain extreme discipline, concentrate in a quiet location without interruption, and find a good editor.
From the standpoint of an experienced professional, how do you foresee engineering and technology trends impacting the US business landscape going forward?
We are on the cusp of tackling some of the biggest challenges of our day through biopharma research and technology advances, but I am deeply concerned that our regulatory processes are not on par with the speed of innovation.
To regain our edge in innovation and manufacturing, we need to make things better, faster, and more cost-effective than our global competitors. Time-to-market is important, which means removing barriers at every step of the process, such as the cost of labor, regulation, and administrative reporting at the state and federal levels.
This year, I was honored to join the Advisory Council of the Krach Institute for Tech Diplomacy, whose mission is to advance freedom through trusted technology. The Institute advocates for designing and manufacturing critical technologies in our country for both military and commercial use. Addressing semiconductor manufacturing shortages and the security of our digital infrastructure is job one. In addition, energy independence is pivotal for business growth and a functioning democracy.
Finally, as we analyze the best approach to identifying climate change solutions, it is critical to ensure engineers are key players during ESG and regulatory discussions so that we can work hand-in-hand with the government to design a regulatory pathway that aligns with innovation and leverages existing technologies like nuclear for the highest impact.
What are some of the most challenging aspects you face in your current roles, and how do you mitigate them?
My mission today is to support the next generation of leaders and organizations that are solving the world’s biggest problems. I speak and write about the partnership, mentorship, diversity, and relationship building.
Here are a few pieces of advice that I give:
– To evangelize your vision, you need to ensure people are buying what you are selling. Spending quality time getting as many people as possible to see how your vision will benefit all of you is well worth the effort.
– Learn how to make “what matters to you, matter to others” by building relevance for any idea you are promoting, surrounding yourself with smart people, and using research and data as your secret weapon to open opportunities for revenue, visibility, and partnerships.
– Be transparent and open with investors, donors, peers, and colleagues when you communicate the changes you envision for your organization or project. Socialize these ideas with your core allies or ask for their input on how to communicate the new vision and ensuing changes.
It won’t be easy but by linking arms and using my processes, we can change the world together.
Give us an insight into how you approach a new project or campaign. How do you ensure the final output helps clients achieve their business goals?
A key point I made in my book is don’t undercut your allies for short-term gain but rather accommodate them so all can achieve the bigger objective. Keep your eye out for any unintended consequences, like negatively impacting an ally by hurting their business or their influence, or by cutting into an area that they see as valuable to their future.
More importantly, don’t burn bridges. If the economics of the business no longer supports the partnership, you need to be honest, clear, and diplomatic before announcing a change that will impact a partner’s business. You can create a soft landing through an introduction or devise a step-down process to support a gentle exit. You never know when you may need to seek their assistance again or find yourselves working together through a future merger and acquisition.
What are some of the techniques one can incorporate to build a strong community in the marketplace to better interact with consumers?
Communities are built on trust, common goals, and a structure where everybody has a win.
When I ran the largest self-regulatory effort in the food and beverage industry, we built relationships of trust with public health and government by acknowledging their concerns and recognizing they had many valid points.
There are 3 key lessons that I learned through this effort:
- Acknowledge the good things done by opponents and supporters.
- Recognize that most issues are too complicated for a “one-size-fits-all” solution.
- Focus on creating a solution that works for everyone, everywhere, identify the desired outcome, and loosen up the controls on the “how to.”
How has your leadership journey been so far? What facets of your personality and leadership style have helped cement your market position?
I have had amazing opportunities, from working in the White House in my early 20s to running some of the most impactful global organizations. I have had the incredible fortune to learn from and work with remarkable women who blazed a trail before me. From Indra Nooyi, I learned to demand unity of purpose. From former Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett, I learned to replace myself with another woman when exiting a high-level position.
Today, I am determining how I can best deploy the plethora of experiences with which I have been blessed to enable and support the next generation of leaders and those who are investing in solutions to solve big problems.
What have been some of your most noteworthy achievements throughout the years? What has been the driving force behind your current heights of competence?
I embraced my inner unicorn at a young age and never suffered from imposter syndrome. Early and often, I was the odd girl out. I had to fend for myself many times in rooms full of career admirals and generals, or Silicon Valley’s high-tech pioneers.
At 19, I served as the youngest political appointee in the Reagan Administration, speaking about the benefits of privatizing student loans. At 21, I received a full academic scholarship to a graduate program at Georgetown that was 85% of men who were mid-career national security experts. At 30, I had the military rank of a three-star general, serving as Vice Chair of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, reporting to the Secretary of Defense.
My success rode on making what mattered to me matter to others.
I learned to build relevance for any idea I was promoting, surround myself with smart people, and use research and data as my secret weapon to open opportunities for revenue, visibility, and partnerships. I linked arms as I climbed mountains. This skill enabled me to run the first privatized US engagement at a World’s Fair—and to be the first woman to serve in that role in 150 years. This mindset helped me design and execute the largest self-regulatory effort in the history of the food and beverage industry.
I did my homework before walking into a room–identifying the #1 point I wanted to make. I waited for the lull after a loud discussion to ask the question that needed to be asked. I owned the purple elephant in the room and used advanced preparation to bring critical facts into the conversation–as the elephant needs to be addressed before the underlying problem can be solved.
How do you manage to balance your professional and personal lives, given the demands of your job? What are some activities or hobbies that you like to give time to?
Partnerships are critical to my success in life. I am fortunate that I have had the opportunity to work with family members or seek advice from them, as all have had amazing careers.
Because I am “always on” in a professional environment, I relax by doing things that help me relax and think. I write, read, bike, and swim. I am also excited to return to travel which includes a polar bear adventure trip to Canada and hiking in Patagonia.
As a successful business leader, what would your advice be to young women aspiring to become business leaders in the future?
Understand that leadership and character are more important than perceived excellence.
Let go of that unattainable burden that you place on yourself and those around you. Adopt a philosopher’s mindset, one which acknowledges that life is and always has been uncertain. More importantly, learn that how you react to challenges has a positive or negative domino effect on those around you.
When the future is ambiguous, you have a choice to make. Become frustrated and angry, or control your response to uncertainty by framing your attitude with hope.