A Q&A with Hickory Farms CEO Diane Pearse (MBA ’86)

Alumna Encourages Women Leaders to Take More Risks

This academic year marks the 100th anniversary of women enrolling at the Driehaus College of Business. To commemorate this milestone, we cast a spotlight on successful alumnae who are making meaningful contributions in the world of business and leading the way for future graduates.

Currently the CEO and president of Hickory Farms, Diane Pearse (MBA ’86) has witnessed a world of change for women employees and leaders during her 35-plus years in business. During her career, Pearse has helped shape omnipresent brands such as Redbox DVD, BP Amoco and Crate & Barrel. In this Q&A, Pearse discusses how pushing herself outside of her comfort zone has led her to where she is today.

What is the path you took to get where you are today, including what happened that was planned and what was serendipitous?

The planned part of the path was choosing my educational field of study and the universities that I attended, as well as my first employer out of undergrad. The rest of the path was based on my philosophy in life and career. That philosophy is to have a constant hunger to learn and to push myself outside my comfort zone to feed that hunger and to grow. That also includes being much more afraid of boredom than being afraid of change. By taking this approach, many more opportunities and options were available.

I take a short-term view of planning, which focuses on gaining or honing specific skills. However, I have never really focused on longer-term career planning, as I believe it limits the possibilities. I honestly believe I am in the position I am today because I thought of my career more broadly and as a journey of constantly learning and taking risks to push myself outside of my comfort zone.

They say women lead differently. How do you lead, and can you share an anecdote about your leadership style?

As a generalization, yes, I believe women do lead differently. However, the traits of a good leader are the same no matter your gender. Good leaders need to be strong, smart, decisive and authentic. In addition, leaders today need to have a more caring and human side. It is okay to be vulnerable and willing to admit mistakes. I think women have an easier time showing this more human side.

Do you have any advice for young women seeking to get where you are now?

Believe in yourself and your abilities. As women, we tend to be our own worst critics and expect more perfection from ourselves than men do. Women are often less willing to take risks unless they believe they have ALL the skills and experience that a new role requires. Instead, focus on a constant hunger to learn and take risks to push yourself outside of your comfort zone, which will sometimes be before you are completely ready. Be much more afraid of boredom than you are of change and challenge.

Read more about Pearse and other DePaul business alumnae in Business Exchange, the alumni and friends magazine of the Driehaus College of Business.  

Learn more about the DePaul MBA