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In the Nation's Interest

2016 Awards Dinner Spotlight: Ilene Gordon

by CED September 02, 2016

What advice do you have for those who aspire to careers in leadership, or have just started to serve in a leadership capacity?

First and foremost, be an authentic leader. That means being genuine and walking the talk – make decisions consistent with what you preach.  Be human, let people know a bit about you as a person.  And, authentic leaders don’t have to be right all the time, nor do they need to be the first one in the room to talk.  Listening is a skill every leader should master.

Second, good leaders know that they can’t do it all and that it doesn’t pay to be a micromanager.  It’s essential for a leader to build a team of capable professionals, trust them to get their jobs done, but hold them accountable. Leaders should delegate in their personal lives as well. Home maintenance, vacation planning and childcare are a few examples of things that can be professionally managed by service providers.   

Finally, business acumen is a must, whether the business is public, private or non-profit. Aspiring leaders should get an MBA or take a business education course. 

What was the best advice you received in your business career?

As a young executive, I was encouraged to take risks.  However, as an analytical person, I always make fact-based decisions.  So I’ve learned to take calculated risks - risks that are based on all available facts rather than on gut feeling.

Plus, when I was growing up, my mother always asked me what my plan was; in January she wanted to know if I had plans for the summer. To this day, I always have a plan, and a couple of back-up plans as well, just in case plan A doesn’t work out as anticipated.

Has your company spearheaded a particular philanthropic initiative that you would like to share with CED's members?

Ingredion is a major contributor to Girls 4 Science, a local organization that encourages Chicago-area girls to pursue STEM studies. As a young girl I was good at math and I liked it.  My father was an accountant and he urged me to be a math major. But not all girls have STEM role models to encourage them at a young age.

Ingredion has been supporting Girls 4 Science for several years. It’s a grass-roots program started by a local mother whose daughter was interested in the medical field. The program exposes girls ages 10 – 18 to STEM careers and encourages them to study STEM subjects. Girls 4 Science provides mentorships, study groups and organizes field trips to manufacturing plants, including Ingredion’s.

This summer, we employed two interns who are alumnae of the program. We spearheaded the development of a summer aviation program with a local university. And, for the past few summers, Ingredion has sponsored scholarships to send Girls 4 Science students to space camp in Huntsville, Alabama. Every year I have lunch with the girls who attend the camp to hear about their experiences and to talk with them about STEM careers and the importance of education. Their brimming enthusiasm is both encouraging and rewarding.