Why do you do what you do?

My dad called me “princess,” and he began teaching me about the business when I was eight years old. He had founded one of the original U.S. distributorships for imported automobiles – in Detroit: "If we can make it here, we can make it anywhere."

To me, he said, "I don’t want you to follow in my footsteps; I want you to stand on my shoulders."

As the first woman to manage an engagement at McKinsey & Company, I demonstrated that a woman could develop client relationships, as well as bring clarity to their problems. But partnership presented a different hurdle. A consultant to the firm characterized it this way: "Electing a woman partner requires changing the concept of not only what a partner is but also what a woman is."

Hello, "glass ceiling" (a term that hadn’t been coined yet)!

I realized that I had to "move on" to "move up." I became the first woman to manage a profit center at Citibank and then the first woman to serve on the executive committee and board of directors of a Wall Street firm. I stepped in as CEO to lead my father’s company out of the 1980s recession, enabling him to spend his last years at home. I now advise early stage companies and help them achieve their "firsts."

To today’s women leaders: Don’t beat yourself up because you can’t obliterate the glass ceiling; it will take a few more generations. Stay focused on deploying your unique talents where you can make the biggest difference – and know that paving the way IS a meaningful legacy.

— Mary Falvey

Photography by Ahmet Aydogan