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Women changing the world
Entrepreneur sees higher calling in aiding women who want to make a difference

By Douglas E. Caldwell

San Jose Business Journal

May 15, 2005

 


Linda Alepin hopes to change the world -- one woman at a time. Ms. Alepin, an entrepreneur and a former high tech executive, is leader of the Global Women's Leadership Center at Santa Clara University's Center for Innovation in Entrepreneurship, part of its Leavey School of Business.

 

"For years I have had a vision of doing something very special for women," says Ms. Alepin, whose own climb up the corporate ladder got her to corporate officer status at Amdahl Corp. Now she's thinking well beyond the confines of Silicon Valley with the leadership center, which is bringing together small groups of women from around the world to learn the advanced skills needed to change ideas into reality.

 

"You no longer can hold anything locally. Silicon Valley, despite the fact that many times we think we're the only place in the world, we really are part of a global organism and women need to think globally," she says. "We started to see that in order for the world to overcome some of its biggest problems -- peace, poverty, hunger -- it's going to take women leaders. It's going to take women stepping into that gap that exists in leadership. That led us to call ourselves the Global Women's Leadership Center."

 

The GWLC is believed to be the second such center in the United States. "We're unique in terms of a global women's positioning," Ms. Alepin says. "There is another center at Rutgers [University] back East. They tend to be focused on policy. We're more focused on developing women's leadership rather than thinking about land reform, those kinds of things."

 

This summer, the center plans a special 12-day conference at Santa Clara University for women from around the world. Most are from not-for-profits, with about half from countries other than the U.S., she says. "It will be a jump start for anyone with a major project they're not sure they can achieve. It's focused around their success. They have to come with a project that they don't know how to accomplish. We will help them plan out the next four to six months of that project.

 

We will coach them for four to six months afterward on about an every other week basis to help them achieve their first big milestone," Ms. Alepin says. A Ugandan woman, a member of that country's parliament, will attend this summer's session, Ms. Alepin says. "Her project is basically to involve more young women in politics in Uganda. As tough as that is in the United States... it is even tougher in a place like Uganda because of the cultural barriers, the economic barriers, the religious barriers.

 

But she really feels that for women's rights to be served longer term, that it's important for women to get into politics." Whether it's politics, business or nonprofits, she says tapping deeply into women leadership could very well reshape history. "What we're trying to build is a global network of women who dare to shape the futures of their organizations, communities and even the world," Ms. Alepin says. "It's about bold women who really want to do something and forming a network of those people.

 

Using the Internet and other technologies, we've stimulated dialogue and education and more leadership capability in many people around the world who feel they are tied together through that commonality of leadership ability." "What drives Linda is to make the world better. She does not have small dreams," says Linda Thompson, director of human resources at Adaptec who worked with Ms. Alepin at Amdahl. "She has focused a lot of her energies on helping women but the business world isn't big enough -- it's the whole world." "Linda has planted a lot of seeds and some of them are going to bloom spectacularly," predicts Ms. Thompson. "She has an 'abundance mentality.' Linda is someone who believes that the more you give, the more you create, that there's an abundance for everybody."

 

Ms. Alepin's selection to lead the center doesn't surprise those who know her. "She's the consummate professional. She's hard to describe in words other than 'professional,'" says Larry Fillmer, development officer for major gifts for Auburn University. He worked with Ms. Alepin at Amdahl for a number of years. "She was just unbelievably helpful and encouraging, always asking the very probing, detailed, kind of question that made you really dig deeper into the business to understand it," Mr. Fillmer says.

 

A Stanford University graduate in economics, Ms. Alepin's first job was with IBM, where she stayed for 11 years. "I then went to work for a company just out of startup phase called Amdahl Corporation, Amdahl being one of the largest competitors to IBM in the mainframe business. I stayed there for 18 years." Her career there was highlighted by working as head of strategy and helping the company come back from a pummeling when mainframes lost favor to PCs in the early 1990s.

 

She convinced Amdahl to spin off a nascent effort to provide education via the Internet with her as the leader of what was called Pebblesoft. The company was backed by Asian financiers who quickly abandoned the fledgling company when Asia went through an economic downturn, Ms. Alepin says. That led her to join the Center for New Futures, an international consulting and executive education firm with offices in New Jersey and California, where she is a partner today.

 

Her association with Santa Clara University began modestly as a substitute for Amdahl's chairman on the SCU business school advisory board. "They have 'cultivated' me very well," Ms. Alepin says with a laugh. "I have been very receptive because this is a wonderful institution. That is why today I am helping to run the Global Women's Leadership Center."

 

Ms. Alepin adds that the best organizations are realizing the potential of their women leaders. "I think everyone is barely touching their potential but women have more straitjackets on than men do because of the way the culture has shaped us," she says. "Companies, if they're really smart, have hired very intelligent women with great capabilities and they should be very concerned about maximizing those resources."

 

Douglas E. Caldwell is associate editor of the Business Journal. Reach him at (408) 299-1835.

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