September 25, 2017 Meet Our Members

Athena Member Feature: Billie Otto

Interview By The Athena Alliance

The Athena Alliance isn’t just an organization dedicated to achieving gender parity in the boardroom. We’re a collection of outstanding executive women, like Billie Otto, with the skills and experience necessary to make this push a reality. Without these incredible women, we would be missing an integral part of the solution to America’s boardroom diversity challenge: connections. We’re proud of our Athena network and each of the women included, so we’re starting a series to share a peek into each of these amazing lives and what they bring to a boardroom table.

We’re very excited to feature Billie Otto as first in our series, as Billie is from the Seattle area and represents our expansion as a community. Athena is growing as an organization, and we are looking forward to sharing our mission with members from Seattle, California and across the U.S. Let’s get to know Billie Otto.

What does your career journey look like?

I began my career in public accounting,  where I enjoyed serving a diverse set of clients in a wide variety of industries while working for and with a variety of different teams and leaders. From there I had the opportunity to support the growth of a newly-public company. I spent 16 years there in several executive roles including ten years as EVP and CIO working heavily on M&A activity. For the most recent three years, I’ve been with a national professional services firm and have had the pleasure of expanding my board work and advising middle market companies and CEOs.

Can you highlight ways in which being a female particularly shaped that journey?
Are there female or male mentors who supported you as you developed?

I didn’t spend much time thinking about my gender in the workplace until we had our first of two daughters. Shortly after that, I became a more visible leader in the organization and realized I had more than my daughters watching me evolve as a leader. I learned to embrace the idea that gender played a role in my leadership journey, and learned to recognize things I brought to the table that differed from my male counterparts.

I have had both male and female mentors in my career, but my role models and sponsors were mostly male. Their feedback, support, and guidance has been invaluable.

When did you decide board service was the next step for you?

I started serving on nonprofit boards very early in my career, but I didn’t really see the power of good corporate board governance until my work at a publicly traded company that began in the late 90’s. I was exposed to the Board every quarter and saw clearly how the role of an evolving, maturing board can impact the trajectory of a corporation and the outcomes for its shareholders.

How did you hear about Athena?

Early this spring, Liz Tinkham, Athena’s EVP of the Seattle Chapter, introduced the mission of the Athena Alliance to a group of board-ready women.

What are you hoping to achieve through your membership with the Athena Alliance?

I hope to get the opportunity to meet board members and CEOs who are looking to
make additions or changes to their board. Additionally, I hope to meet and support
other Athena members.

What is your proudest moment in your career so far?

When I left the public company and my colleagues after so many years, I left with great pride and no regrets. We had more than doubled the size of the company, but more importantly, we’d dramatically improved and expanded the capabilities and services we brought to market. It was wonderful to reflect on what we’d accomplished, the teams we’d built and the great future that lay ahead for the
company.

Will you share a time in your business career when you felt being a woman was used against you?

I can recall several points where I was the first or the minority, and that made things a little more challenging. I chose to see it as just that though – a challenge. I was fortunate that no doors were closed to me, they just might have been a little harder to open.

What would you say to women who are just beginning their careers and hope to make a difference as you have?

First I would say to have goals but to be flexible and opportunistic. Don’t be afraid to
take on challenges and move toward difficult and new things – it will make you that
much more a capable, trusted, and confident candidate for the next big challenge.

Thank you, Billie Otto, for sharing your insight and experience with us. We look forward to working with you as an Athena Alliance member!