In my work, I meet some of the most fascinating people. Athletes, actors, artists, political figures – some famous, some not – but what I love most is that meet them outside of their public persona as performers or only defined by their work.
My favorite people to work with, however, are the amazing accomplished women who have created their own paths, changing the world in big and small ways. I am always curious about their strength, their ability to navigate the world and what made them who they are today. Mary Jo White is one of these women.
Several years ago I saw “Breaking News” on TV that showed Mary Jo being nominated by President Obama as the next Chairman of the S.E.C. When I had to ask what “S.E.C.” meant and since I’m not super interested in finance, it was hard for me to even listen to someone explain it. I can tell you, however, a little about Mary Jo.
She has prosecuted some of the most notorious criminals of our time. She was the prosecutor who put mob boss John “Teflon Don” Gotti away and has successfully taken down terrorists both at home and abroad. As the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Mary Jo wasn’t just Jack McCoy from Law and Order. She was Jack McCoy’s boss and the first woman to hold this position. I saw a segment on TV the other night where she was described as “the toughest prosecutor in the United States.” Not the toughest female prosecutor, the toughest prosecutor. When President Obama nominated her, he described her accomplishments and said, “You do not mess with Mary Jo.”
I have worked with Mary Jo over the years. She is as personable, genuine and kind as she as tough. It’s a rare combination, but that’s who she is.
The Senate confirmed her nomination and for a number of years she was the head of the S.E.C. I’ve not seen her in the courtroom or boardroom or wherever else she is kicking ass, but what I do know is that women like Mary Jo White pave the way for all women – and our daughters too. She is an inspiration who shows us what is possible and what, in our own way, can someday be.
I asked Mary Jo to share some of her thoughts on her life, work and family.
What were you like as a child? Active, pretty well-behaved (believe it or not), and a tomboy. I loved sports and liked school. My brother Carl, who is 5 years older, taught me to throw a baseball "not like a girl."
What makes you so fearless, especially working in male-dominated industries? Hard to say. I would give my parents the credit - instilling in me to always try to do the right thing and a strong moral compass. It isn't really a choice to act any other way, no matter what your environment is or who is in it.
How have you balanced raising a child and work? With great difficulty, like everyone else. You have to work very hard at making sure that you make the time and insist on having it both at home and at important events. It will never be perfect, but you have to keep striving for the balance that works best for you and your family. It is different - and difficult - for everyone.
Tell me about a highlight or something fun from your career as a private lawyer, as a prosecutor or at the S.E.C. Wow. There are a lot of those. On the serious side, one would be the night that Ramsey Yousef, a mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, was captured and brought to the FBI building for processing. I was U.S. Attorney at the time and was in the command center when Yousef came out of the elevator - in the custody of the FBI in handcuffs. I felt that at least some justice could now be done for that horrific crime. On the other hand, at the S.E.C., one fun highlight was throwing out the first pitch at the Nats-Mets game.
As someone who has already done so much in her life, what continues to drive you today? The same things that always have - my family, to do the right thing and help people with their problems through my work…and the dream to become Commissioner of Major League Baseball.
What would you tell girls today about becoming an accomplished woman? Be yourself, work hard and never think there is anything you can't do. Look for fun in work and life.