A conversation with alum Linda Ahlers and author Jane Plitt
Wednesday, October 17, an audience of over 100 SoHE student and the public gathered to hear from visiting author and business consultant Jane R. Plitt, who was introduced by Linda Ahlers (Retailing ’72), fall 2018’s Alumni Executive in Residence for the Kohl’s Center for Retailing
Plitt started the event with a “Using Business for Social Change” keynote, focusing on late-1980s entrepreneur Martha Matilda Harper whose creative business model is a reflection of today’s business for social change. In 1888, at age 32, Harper left 25 years as a servant and used her mere $360 life savings to launch “The Harper Method,” a franchise of beauty shops. By 1928, 500 locations were open nationwide, all owned by women, the majority of them considered economically “poor.”
Plitt found that Harper’s business story was forgotten by history, so she decided to start researching the woman and a book about her. “I thought, ‘if I don’t do it, who will?'” Harper’s life lessons are still relevant more than 100 years later. They include daring to dream big and being a leader who elevates others through experiences, training, and education. “She led by example, but also sent these ladies around the world,” Plitt stated about Harper. “She instilled a belief in them that they could do it, and then let them do it.” Plitt then used what she had learned in her research and professional career to outline ways for to students to think about businesses for social change.
Ahlers, the retired president of the Marshall Field’s department stores, then interviewed Plitt. Together, they spoke about women in business, reinforcing the importance of leadership, how good leaders stay on top of a changing market and master change—including social change and retail changes—while maintaining a sense of humor.
Both took time to answer questions from the audience, which included requests for advice on starting a career, insight on social entrepreneurship trends, and using business roles to find positive social outcomes. “With change and revolution come opportunity,” concluded Ahlers.
About the Women and Leadership Event
This third annual event is sponsored by SoHE’s 4W Initiative in collaboration with the Kohl’s Center for Retailing. The goal is to bring women who are doing innovative work in the consumer space to campus to engage and interact with students and the general public. “It is very important for 4W because economic opportunity, and opportunity for personal growth that can be supported in the consumer space is important for women at all income levels,” states 4W Director Lori DiPrete Brown. “4W programs are a discussion of jobs, careers, material well-being, and lifestyle.
Improving the Educational Experience
Annual gifts provide immediately available discretionary funds that the Dean uses develop students’ educational opportunities in ways that encourage more than intellectual growth. Individual support makes a profound impact on inspiring the next generation of Badger leaders and ground-shakers.
Click “All Ways Forward” to start making a difference.