Former chief executive of Aveda Corp., Marilyn Tam was turned down flat for the first two jobs she sought after graduate school. After she learned her dream employer — the World Health Organization — required 10 years' work experience, she went after an executive trainer's job with a bank, and was told women were hired only as tellers, she said.
“So not only was I discriminated against for being an immigrant, small person and one of color,” said Tam, a Hong Kong native who came to America in the mid 1970s to earn, in four years, her bachelor's in food and nutrition and master's in economics at Oregon State University, “but also as a woman.”
Still, the future powerhouse female executive didn't use the setbacks as an excuse not to succeed, she told The Oklahoman on a telephone interview from her home in Santa Barbara, Calif.
Tam, who went on to serve as former president of Reebok Apparel, vice president of Nike and principal of several of her own entrepreneurial ventures, will give the keynote address at the Oklahoma City University's fourth annual women's leadership conference 8 to 11:30 a.m., March 7 in the Gardner Conference Center at the Meinders School of Business, NW 27 and McKinley.
Presented by the Meinders School, Chaparral Energy and Chesapeake Energy Corp., the event includes a panel discussion on personal branding by local executives Stephania Grober of Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Gail Huneryager of Crowe & Dunlevy, Jenee Lister of Merrill Lynch, Donna Miller of Chaparral and Ashley Perkins of Cox Communications. Cox's Mollie Andrews will moderate.
The second girl born to a traditional Chinese family, Tam said she was told early on that she was worthless, and consequently learned relatively early — by her late 20s — not to seek approval from outside sources.
At age 7, she was shipped off to live with an aunt, Tam said, and from then through age 11, worked with their maid's daughter as a child laborer, assembling 100 plastic flowers for $1 from their living room or on the streets.
Comparatively, many American women were conditioned from childhood to be good daughters, students, wives, mothers and community members, Tam said. “Today, we're still being conditioned that we have to have it all — career, kids, self actualization, the right partner and oh, by the way, we have to look good, too. It's crazy,” she said, “a tremendous burden for anyone.”
Tam advises women to align all of their decisions with the unique life purposes they individually seek, and let go of anything that isn't in accordance. “We don't have to wait, but make a difference where we are,” said Tam, who started as an assistant buyer for May Department Stores.
“Lots of people ask me what my favorite job was,” she said. “My answer always is: the one I'm doing now, or otherwise I wouldn't be doing it.”
Tam founded the Us Foundation, which has collaborated with other nonprofits to aid in Haiti, with New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and elsewhere, and has authored three books. Her latest, “The Happiness Choice: The Five Decisions That Will Take You From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be,” focuses on finding balance in mind and body, personal relationships, one's spiritual core, finances and community.
If you go
To register call Melissa Cory at 208-5540, email firstname.lastname@example.org or go to msb.okcu.edu/news-