Illustration of Caroline Feeney
Illustration: Joel Kimmel
Caroline Feeney ’91
Lessons in Leadership
by Sherri Kimmel
Caroline Feeney ’91 was recently named CEO of U.S. Insurance & Retirement Businesses for Prudential Financial Inc., making her part of a select group of women today who are CEOs. Feeney joined Prudential, where her sister and role model, Angie Feeney Knightly ’89, was already working, in 1993. Caroline, a double major in economics and English, moved steadily up the career ladder while raising a son and daughter with her husband, Rob. Among other awards and recognition throughout her career, Caroline became the first woman to receive the Round Table of New York’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018.
Q. Once you set goals in your career, how do you know who can guide you in the right direction?
Find somebody who is able to see some of the work that you do, but is not necessarily in your direct reporting lines. It may be someone you’ve met through a networking meeting, through work on a project, or by hearing them speak and seeing there’s something in their leadership style or their values that resonates with you. The connection is important in a mentoring relationship.
Q: What’s your advice for new mothers balancing a career and motherhood?
You are going to have good days when all those plates seem to be spinning perfectly, and then you are going to have days when a plate comes crashing down on your head. You have to be OK with that. You have to give yourself a break and be able to laugh at yourself. What works for somebody else won’t necessarily work for you. Pick those words of wisdom that you think will work for you, where others have hit the bumps in the road and learned from the experience.
Q: What is your advice for raising daughters to overcome stereotypes about what women can and can’t be?
One piece of advice that I give my daughter is be confident that you can do anything you set your mind to. This also plays out in the workplace. If somebody is tapping you on the shoulder to do something, clearly that person sees something in you. Even if you doubt your ability to do that thing, they see that you have the potential to do it. Take that step forward, and take that risk.
Q. Women are still a minority in top leadership. How do we increase the pace of change?
We need to develop real awareness that having more women advancing their careers, or achieving real gender equity, is not a zero-sum game. It’s a win for everybody. Female talent remains one of the most underutilized business resources. There’s definitely a growing demand in senior leadership ranks across industries for the kinds of skills and personality traits that are very often associated with female leadership — things like accountability, fairness, open-mindedness and strong communication skills. The growing awareness around that is going to help increase the pace of change.
Q. What was the most unexpected lesson that you learned in your career?
I received advice from a senior leader who actually told me to lose my empathy gene. I chose to ignore that piece of advice, because I already knew that having empathy actually made me a far more effective leader. It’s enabled me to connect to my team and put myself in people’s shoes in a difficult situation. It was an unexpected lesson. The best advice you can get is to understand your style and your strengths as a leader and do what’s comfortable for you, and not pretend to be something that you’re not.