"The program gave me a close-up view of political, business and social issues and trends, information that is invaluable to me as an entrepreneur and active participant in the success of our great state. The speakers were incredible� they inspired us and stretched our minds. The opportunity to connect with successful and dynamic California women leaders was a main highlight. Being part of Leadership California is like being part of a powerful sisterhood."

—Ursula C. Mentjes, M.S., ACC
President and Certified Business Coach
Potential Quest, Inc.
"I have enjoyed my involvement with Leadership California. Our trip to the state capitol was most enlightening. As a result I have gotten involved with the Los Angeles African American Women's Political Action Committee. Thank you, Leadership California, for sparking a genuine interest in the political process."

—Shawn Farrar
Director Corporate Diversity
Sempra Energy
"The CIT program brings together successful women from all over California, and gives them the opportunity to build a network with other successful women. It's a way to learn about the important issues in our state, and to get ready to take the next step in your professional life."

—Isela Vilchis Hoenigmann
"Leadership California has provided me a panoramic view of issues, challenges and opportunities for this lovely state that I live in. The program was my introduction to women of unbelievable talent, experience and passion who are set to make a difference. The feeling to want to be more, to accomplish more, is simply contagious. I hope to know these women for the rest of my life."

—Rosario Montes-Arena
Manager, IBM Software Executive Briefing Program
Silicon Valley & Worldwide Briefing Program
"As a young immigrant woman working in the nonprofit sector, it was inspiring to see women leaders in action, to be able to network with them, and talk about the issues that are relevant to our communities and our state. I feel honored and privileged for the opportunity to participate in such an awesome program that weaves women leaders from different sectors and geographies of California to engage in a conversation about the social, political, and economic fabric of California."

—Winnie Hui-Min Yu
Development Associate
Asian Law Caucus
San Francisco
"I've spent half of my work life in the corporate world, and the past ten years in the nonprofit world, but neither taught me how to be who I am at work�the whole pastiche of talent and spirit. I found role models who excited me, the true state of our state of California (which frustrated me), work partners continually learning like me, and friends."

—Peta G. Penson, Ed. D.
Oakland Unified School District
"Leadership California sessions feature influential speakers and lively discussion on timely issues shaping the economy and workforce. The session on work-life balance struck a chord with me, where key leaders advised us to map out a personal career plan. Networking with other women was invaluable. Leadership California is an engaging and downright fun experience."

—Roberta Tinajero-Frankel
Kaiser Permanente Community Benefit Dept.
Healthy Eating, Active Living Project Manager
"Simply put, Leadership California is time well spent that will benefit me personally and professionally for years to come. I've not only kept in contact with my fellow classmates on a social level, but have had opportunities to work with some of them on business projects as our professional paths crossed. The sessions gave in-depth looks at the critical social issues that many Californians face, inspiring me to get more involved in my community�s outreach programs."

—Teena Massingill
Manager of Corporate Public Affairs
Safeway Inc.


    Monday, April 24, 2017                          Janet Napolitano: 2017 Legacy of Service Award


BOLD LEADERS IN THE MAKINGJanet Napolitano with the UC Santa Cruz women's soccer team. She will be honored with a Legacy of Service Award at Leadership California's Legacy of Leadership celebration on April 24, 2017 in Los Angeles. Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta.


JANET NAPOLITANO was named the 20th president of the University of California on July 18, 2013, and took office on Sept. 30, 2013. She leads a university system with 10 campuses, five medical centers, three affiliated national laboratories, and a statewide agriculture and natural resources program.

NAPOLITANO is a distinguished public servant with a record of leading large, complex organizations. She served as Secretary of Homeland Security from 2009-13, as Governor of Arizona from 2003-09, as Attorney General of Arizona from 1998-2003, and as U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona from 1993-97.

NAPOLITANO earned a B.S. degree (summa cum laude in Political Science) in 1979 from Santa Clara University, where she was Phi Beta Kappa, a Truman Scholar, and the university’s first female valedictorian. She received her law degree in 1983 from the University of Virginia School of Law.


President, University of California

Transformative Leader in Law, Government, Academia fulfills each Role with Resolve

by Carol Caley
January 12, 2017

This article has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: President Napolitano, your career switches have been both phenomenal and inspiring. From practicing law, you became a U.S. Attorney, then Arizona Attorney General, Governor of Arizona and then U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security. You’ve been University of California President since 2013. Tell us about your remarkable career trajectory. Did you have a plan, or did you leap at opportunities that came your way, or both?

A: I DIDN’T HAVE A PLAN PER SE. Most people I meet in leadership positions didn’t have a straight linear trajectory, but you do have a sense of where you’d like to be, where you’d like to devote your energies. I’ve always had a desire to be in public service of some type. I did not contemplate being in Arizona. I ended up there because I got a judicial clerkship there after law school, and I decided to stay. Then different opportunities arose, and I took them.

Q: Some leaders call it a “jungle gym” approach to their career: being able to swing from one place to another, not go on a linear path.

A: THE KEY THING is being prepared and being flexible. Thirdly, being willing to accept some risk.

Q: How so?

A: WHEN I MADE THE DECISION to run for elective office—that’s a risk. I was a Democrat in Arizona, and I could lose. That was very easy to see. I had to say, well, that’s the risk, but on the other hand, this is an office I could win, and that I’m prepared to take. So being willing to jump into that pool was a big decision, but it was the right decision.

Q: So it took some courage and nerve to put yourself out there.

A: I’VE BEEN VERY FORTUNATE IN MY LIFE. I went to public high school in Albuquerque and had a great time there. Attending Santa Clara University was transformative. That’s where I learned how to study, and what hard work was like. It also gave me opportunities to see the world and be exposed to new things. I spent a lot of my junior year in London, at the London School of Economics. And then I had a great experience at the University of Virginia Law School. A law degree is great to have, because it’s very flexible—you can use it in a lot of different ways, and I’ve certainly used mine in a lot of ways. Every step along the way was preparation of some sort.

Q: I never felt like I wasted my time in college classes that didn’t end up relating to my career. It was all good.

A: THAT TO ME IS WHAT COLLEGE or university is for, to open your eyes, show you new fields, classes you’d take that you’d never conceived of taking. You do it to broaden your exposure and experience.

  When people say that the UCs are elitist, I say, look at our student body. It’s the opposite of that: it’s an opportunity-maker.

Q: You get to see that in students every day in your role as UC president. It must be fulfilling to see discovery going on all around you.

A: ALL THE TIME! It’s a game-changer for so many students. A little known fact is that 42% of our undergraduates are the first in their families to attend college. I find that an astounding and exciting number. 

Q:  I read yesterday that UC freshman applications reached 171,000—a new record. Congratulations!

A: THANK YOU. When people say that the UCs are elitist, I say, look at our student body. It’s the opposite of that: it’s an opportunity-maker.

Q: There were early indicators that you were going places in your career: You were named “most likely to succeed” in high school and class valedictorian in college. What personal attributes do you think brought you the successes you’ve had? Were there other influences from family, mentors or others who inspired you or made connections for you?

A: AS A YOUNG PERSON, my parents were huge influencers. My dad was on the faculty of the school of medicine of the University of New Mexico, a public university. He became the dean, and served about 20 years. As I entered into my career, I moved to Arizona to clerk for Judge Mary Schroeder of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. She was a huge influencer and mentor, and we remain close to this day. Then I went into private practice with a law firm for almost 10 years. That’s where I learned to be a lawyer, and where I met John Frank, who was very well known in legal circles. He was a mentor and encouraged me to get involved in politics.

Q: So these two gave you guidance and helped you make connections?

A: THAT’S WHAT A GOOD MENTOR DOES—introduces you to people, encourages you to get out of your own safety zone and do new things, and gives you good advice.

We really needed to focus on culture change: How do you prevent sexual harassment, sexual assault?  

Q: Did your gender influence your leadership in any of your many roles, and if so, in what way?

A: I DON’T THINK IT HELD ME BACK professionally. I’ve always had a circle of good women friends, and they become a kind of support group. In Phoenix, I have a group of friends—they were all senior executives of some sort or another—a bank president, a newspaper publisher, etc.—there were ten of us. When Sandra Day O’Connor retired from the Supreme Court, she became a member of that group. We had dinner every month at a Phoenix restaurant, in a private dining room. Each Christmas, we had a big dinner at one of the members’ homes. It was informal; it was just a group of women friends. I went to Phoenix last week for the Christmas party—it was the fourteenth year in a row I’ve been there.

Q: In 2006, you were named by The White House Project as one of “8 in ‘08”, a group of eight female politicians who could possibly run for president in 2008. Can you share with us what you thought of that idea? Would you consider a run in the future?

A: OBVIOUSLY, THAT WAS A BIG COMPLIMENT, kind of an ego boost. If I might say so, my hands are more than full being president of the University of California, so my energies are focused there, and not so much on electoral politics on my own behalf.

Q: Speaking about your role as UC president, you’ve shown your capability and desire to lead with the kind of progressive ideas reflecting those of the majority of Californians in our diverse state. You’ve supported on-campus initiatives such as gender-neutral restrooms, raising the campus minimum wage to $15/hour, encouraging funding for public-interest legal careers, and enhancing resources for undocumented students. I read your article in the NY Times on the so-called “Dreamers”, undocumented young people brought to the U.S. as children by their parents. Your article helped us all get the facts about these young peoples’ status. In light of the recent national presidential election, do you think that extra attention should be given to university policies promoting respect and dignity for women, and increased support for women’s leadership initiatives?

A: WE PLAY A VERY IMPORTANT ROLE. We have lots of different programs taking place on campus to support our women students and women in leadership. I meet regularly with the student body presidents and representatives from the University of California Student Association. It’s delightful to see how many women are around the table, learning about leadership at the university. We want them to feel equipped to go out into the world and exercise leadership there.

Q: Do you have specific policies and programs that you could describe?

A: ONE THING SPECIFIC TO WOMEN has been our system-wide effort under Title IX to deal with sexual harassment and sexual assault. That’s been one of our larger initiatives over the last 18 months. What I found when I joined the University was that every campus was kind of doing their own thing. We didn’t have consistent policies, procedures, adjudication protocols, and sanctions. We really needed to focus on culture change: How do you prevent sexual harassment, sexual assault? So we’ve invested a significant amount of time to reform that whole area of the university. The reason I mention it here is because the survivors are primarily women. As you know, in 1991, I was one of Anita Hill’s lawyers, so I have been involved and concerned about this issue for quite a while. We still have work to do, but we’ve made a lot of progress University-wide over the last 18 months.

Q: Making consistent policy across the UCs makes a lot of sense.

A: WE’VE NEVER HAD A SYSTEM-WIDE Title IX officer. Someone who is working with the campuses, making sure we have that kind of consistency, and energy devoted to this area moving forward. We anticipate naming that person very shortly.




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