Newly minted Duke Energy Florida President Melissa Seixas was the guest of honor in the latest installment of “Conversation with a CEO” — a series of chats with influential business leaders facilitated by Moez Limayem, dean of the University of South Florida’s Muma College of Business.
During Thursday’s discussion, Seixas and Limayem touched on a wide range of topics, including the “glass ceiling” that confronts many women who pursue positions in the upper echelons of the corporate world.
“It’s not a myth,” Limayem said while asking Seixas how she navigated the challenges of her 30-plus year ascent at Duke. “We look at the numbers, not just in your industry, in every single industry, you look at the C-suite, you look at the board, and we’re still not where we should be in terms of gender representation.”
Seixas said she considers herself fortunate and privileged but also inspired to have worked for so long at Duke, which is currently led by a female CEO, Lynn Good. Also, Seixas’ immediate processor, Catherine Stempien, is a woman.
“At the very head of the table, we have a female leader who’s done extraordinary work,” she said. “So when I looked at my immediate leadership and chain of command, it was more women than men. I have really seen and been given opportunities by both male and female leaders over the years.”
Seixas went on to cite some of the qualities that have helped guide her journey as a leader at Duke and its predecessor companies.
“Regardless of whether you are male or female or whatever your background is, excelling at the job you are in” is crucial, she said. “Building the reputation that you are collaborative and that you are willing to learn, you’re willing, even, to make mistakes so that you can learn from those — owning your mistakes, moving on and perfecting your craft, whatever it is.”
On the topic of making mistakes and failing, Limayem paraphrased a favorite quote that’s often attributed to Thomas Edison: “I did not fail dozens and dozens of times — I just discovered different ways that [something] did not work.”
Seixas, in response, said, “Failure is a very emotionally packed word,” adding that she likes to use the term “fall short.” She likes to ask herself, “How did I fall short? What else can I do differently? And if it has an impact on the team, then I work even harder to close that gap.”
Limayem responded: “This is a great lesson for my team. They should stop telling me that I failed and tell me that I fell short. I like that.”
Seixas also offered some words of wisdom to anyone who’s trying to get ahead in their career.
“Be an active agent in your own development,” she said. “If there’s an area that you’re interested in learning, talk to your manager, talk to your supervisor, talk to those colleagues. And it doesn’t have to be anything formal. It can be informal … just soak up everything.”
She added, “Never think that you’ve got it down or that you don’t have anything else to learn. Because I can tell you that after 34 years, I am stretching my mind in all kinds of ways that I had not imagined.”