The Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit kicks off in two weeks with a twist on mentoring: 35 high school seniors will interview certain inspiring women leaders—including fashion entrepreneur Tory Burch, Lululemon (LULU) CEO Christine Day, Gilt Group Chairman Susan Lyne, singer Rosanne Cash—about success and how to get there.
Also in this mix of MPW mentors: Tyra Banks. The supermodel-cum-media entrepreneur created the TV hit, America's Next Top Model, has released her first novel, Modelland, and is doing a variety of web projects. For a lot of young women, Banks epitomizes power. Last week when I interviewed her for the MPW-Yahoo (YHOO) Power Your Future series, she spoke a simple truth about a lot of powerful women (and many men too): Success, more often than not, is born out of insecurity.
Banks grew from introvert to "mean girl" to "freak girl"—tall and gawky and insecure—by her early teens. "I became a victim of mean girls," she says, adding, "I became the victim of myself."
But then on her first day of high school, a girl tapped Tyra on the shoulder and asked, "Are you a model?" That was all it took to give her a little self-esteem. Starting to model in 11th grade, she was college-bound (with acceptances from UCLA, USC, and Loyola Marymount) but got a chance to go to Paris to model. She deferred college and gave herself a year to become a supermodel.
And she did—because, she says, her mother told her that she had to distinguish herself from the competition. Before leaving for Paris, Tyra spent countless hours in the library, studying the top fashion designers and models over the decades. "I have to get a signature walk," she told herself. Her first year in Paris, Banks broke the record for most fashion shows by a newcomer.
She wrote Modelland in between empire-building and going to Harvard Business School. In the fantastical novel she is speaking to girls and young women as insecure as she used to be. "I want to expand the definition of beauty so more girls can feel beautiful when they look in the mirror," she says.
Now Banks, 37, wants to have her own kids—and marriage to her longtime boyfriend, investment banker John Utendahl, isn't essential to her plan, she says. Children would be a huge commitment for a woman who has few hours to spare as it is. But if Banks had one more hour in the day to do something good, how would she spend it? "I think I would get the phone numbers of certain girls who reached out to me and were having some issues with their self-esteem," she replies. She says she would ask these girls to look in the mirror, find one thing great about themselves—their nose, toes, whatever—and next month, look again. And again.
Real power, says Banks, is "the power to make change, the power to be effective"—and all about passing it on to the girls. "It's the power to make them feel better," she adds.
What is the No. 1 trait that has led to your success?
Warren Buffett's is focus—according to Alice Schroeder, author of the Buffett bio Snowball, who spoke, as I did, at a corporate event at the U.S. Open last week.
Getting ready to go on stage, I thought, what's my key trait? Curiosity, I guess. It keeps a journalist alive and open to ideas.
So I was innately curious to interview Billie Jean MOREPatricia Sellers - Sep 6, 2011 11:04 AM ET
Ever since Fortune, in 1998, started ranking the top women in business (yes, we were first), I've been asking the stars of the Most Powerful Women list how they reached the top and how they stay there. One month away from revealing our 2011 MPW rankings, now seems a good time to share some of their best career tips. Here is my Top 10:
1. Don't plan your career. Most of MOREPatricia Sellers - Aug 30, 2011 10:48 AM ET
When Ursula Burns went to Washington and met with President Obama last Friday, at least two people in the room personified her notion of what leads to great success: "The biggest differentiator is not how you are born," says the Chairman and CEO of Xerox (XRX). "It's how you're influenced throughout your life."
Barack Obama had a remarkable single mother to influence him. As did Burns, who grew up on New MOREPatricia Sellers - Aug 16, 2011 10:55 AM ET
In every successful career there is a moment: You could quit. But you resist, wisely.
For Andrea Jung, the chairman and CEO of Avon Products (AVP), this moment happened right after college, when she was in the management training program at Bloomingdale's. All day everyday, there she was in the stockroom, switching vendor hangers for store hangers on thousands of pieces of clothes. "I remember calling my parents around Thanksgiving and MOREPatricia Sellers - Aug 9, 2011 2:20 PM ET
The McDonald's (MCD) boss behind the healthy upgrade to its U.S. menu is practicing what she preaches: She recently lost 90 pounds.
Jan Fields, who started at McDonald's 33 years ago cooking fries and is now the fast food chain's U.S. president, was soon to turn 55 when, she says, "I woke up one day and said, "Oh my God, how did I gain this much weight?"
Like millions of her customers MOREPatricia Sellers - Aug 2, 2011 3:38 PM ET
FORTUNE -- As the most powerful woman in children's television, Anne Sweeney meets a lot of girls who wish they were Selena Gomez or Miley Cyrus or tomorrow's superstar.
But Sweeney insists that she sees plenty of accomplished women in business who do that very same thing.
"I see a lot of women of every age trying to be something else," says Sweeney, the co-chair of Disney Media Networks and president of MOREPatricia Sellers - Jul 19, 2011 2:34 PM ET
You might think that a woman who sells $20 billion worth of beauty products in a year would have been, in her youth, a girly girl.
Not Gina Drosos. "I was a total tomboy," she says.
The top boss of Procter & Gamble's (PG) global beauty division is, like quite a few of Fortune's Most Powerful Women, a recovering jock. Growing up in Atlanta with a brother and a neighborhood packed with MOREPatricia Sellers - Jul 13, 2011 3:15 PM ET
|Make $30 an hour, no bachelor's degree required|
|The 'chicken poop' credit and other bad tax breaks|
|McDonald's gives Charles Ramsey free food for a year|
|Hedge fund guru says moms and trading don't mix|
|Why Waze is a hot takeover target|