Have you been looking for a little inspiration in your life? Perhaps you need to kick that procrastination habit; maybe you’re yearning to start a new business. Well, how does this sound: “Be ready for whatever emerges, courageous and committed to the power of change.” Not only was Beth Comstock a prominent GE exec, but she was also the first female vice chair in the company’s 120-year history. Here are some things you probably didn’t know about this corporate influencer.
She’s a Small-Town Virginia Native
With a title like vice chair on her resume, you might imagine Beth to have big city roots. Quite the opposite. She’s a self-proclaimed small-town Virginia native who found herself in a unique position in her mid-20s.
She was newly divorced and the single mother of a four-year-old girl. She’d also describe herself as shy, once upon a time. However, even at this pivotal moment in her life, she couldn’t shake the feeling that it was time for a change.
What did she do? She moved to the biggest, fastest place on the planet – New York City. She started with a local cable company and then moved her way through an array of media relations jobs at both CBS and NBC.
Plenty of People Told Her She’d Fail
When Beth got the call from NBC – to make the jump from CBS – she was offered a position that would put her in charge of media relations for their news division. The job had been vacant for a year. No one wanted to take it because the world of TV news was on the downslope.
People actually told her it was career suicide. But, the same strange force that drove Beth to move to New York, also told her to take the job, in spite of all the naysayers. What happened next?
She Helped Create MSNBC
When the world tells you no, but your instincts tell you yes, that’s usually when miracles happen. Soon after Beth accepted the position at NBC, she became integral in the creation of MSNBC.
As of August 2018, MSNBC was the second-most-watched network across all of basic cable. It also touted over 1.8 million prime-time viewers in that same month. If that’s not a legacy, what is?
She Nearly Missed Out On the Role of Senior VP at NBC
During Beth’s tenure at NBC, the position of Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications at NBC opened up. It stood vacant for six months. Given Beth’s track record at the company, she was sure someone from HR was going to reach out to her and ask her to interview for the position. But, the call never came.
Finally, she met with HR and wanted to know why they’d passed her over for the position. They said they thought she wouldn’t want it because it required a lot of travel and she was a young, single mother.
Fury set in. Beth was furious at herself for not speaking up sooner and laying claim to the role. In the end, she got the job. But it taught her a valuable lesson about speaking up for what you think you’ve earned and can achieve.
She Turned Down Steve Jobs… Twice
While at NBC, Beth began working closely with Apple to distribute NBC’s content via iTunes. During that time, she got to know Eddy Cue, Steve Jobs’ right-hand man. One day Eddy approached Beth with an opportunity to be the general manager of iTunes. When Eddy didn’t feel like he was making enough headway, Steve Jobs himself reached out to Beth.
When Steve called me to seal the job offer in November, it came so out of the blue that I couldn’t think of anything to say, except that anyone would be stupid to not consider such a great opportunity. I went to Cupertino as a next step, meeting with a number of people at Apple, culminating with Steve himself.
A few days later, he left a message on my cell phone: “This is Steve Jobs. I just wanted to say how much we’d like to have you work for us at Apple. We’re about to make something really big happen. You haven’t seen anything yet. If you have any questions, I’m happy to talk to you directly.”
I felt honored and excited, but queasy. Could I just leave NBC? In 2006, Apple wasn’t yet the juggernaut it would become with the iPhone. An inveterate planner, I focused on all the reasons I had for turning Apple down.
Guess what happened next? A few years later, Steve Jobs came back to Beth with another job offer, a bigger opportunity, and laid it all out on the table. Basically, he wanted Beth to be on his team. In the end, Beth declined Steve… again. She chose not to uproot her young daughter from New York to California, resting in her belief to put family first.
She Believes in the 70/20/10 Rule
Beth is a firm believer in the 70/20/10 rule. She believes everyone should spend 70% of their time on the “now.” Truth is, most of us spend 100% of our time on the “now.” But, Beth considers that a mistake. She believes we should only spend about two-thirds of our time on the “now” and leave room for the “next” and the “new.”
The “next” should earn about 20% of our time. That includes thinking about your major priorities, in the span of the month or even the year, for both yourself and your team.
Finally, the “new” should earn about 10% of our time. That includes things like technological changes and new ideas being brought to the table by the team. Life is ever-changing and that’s why the “new” deserves a little room amidst all our days in the “now.”
She Believes Failure is the Pathway to Success
Beth has gone on record saying she’s convinced the Silicon Valley‘s mantra that, “Failure is the ultimate way to success,” is true. She believes that failure is the breeding ground for creativity and passion. One of her favorite quotes is:
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. – Samuel Beckett
Pretty interesting, right? Beth actually fights against the stigma that we should fear failure. She believes that a fear of failure often causes us to keep our ideas locked in a box. Wonder if she feared writing a book?
She’s a Published Author
On September 18, 2018, Beth’s first book, Imagine It Forward was released. In it, she and her co-author, Tahl Raz, confront change. Change is hard for most of us. We all can become resistant.
So, Beth teaches us how to grapple with the changes we face every day, on a personal and professional level. With a highly-detailed blueprint, Beth points in the direction of change and gently nudges us off the ledge. One of her editorial reviews reads:
“This book is full of wisdom about how to thrive in a bureaucracy—and then transform it into an innovation machine. Beth Comstock is one of the most effective and admired executives of our time, and she tells the engrossing inside story of how she rose to the upper echelons of GE and spearheaded a sea of change.”
– Adam Grant, New York Times bestselling author of Originals, Give and Take, and Option B with Sheryl Sandberg
She’s One of Fortune and Forbes World’s Most Powerful Women
Every year Fortune ranks the 50 most influential and powerful women in business, from chairs to executives. Forbes does the same thing. They scour the business world and highlight 100 women they consider to be the smartest and toughest entrepreneurs, CEOs, philanthropists, and more.
Beth has landed on not one, but both publications’ lists. The insights in her bios are inspirational enough. But, thankfully, she’s taken all that, shaken it up, and formatted it into a self-improvement gemstone, Imagine It Forward.
She’s Now a Director at Nike
Still, Beth’s not done trailblazing. She went from a top-notch NBC exec to a record-setting GE exec, to a Director at Nike. And, in the midst of all that, she published a top-rated book that can help change the lives of others.
The list doesn’t end there. She’s also a trustee of the National Geographic Society and a former board president of the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian National Design Museum.
We know what you’re thinking. When does the woman find time to sleep?!
Beth Comstock: Pushing Us to the Edge of Greatness
Pretty Impressive, right? Someone who’s been able to achieve that much greatness in her lifetime is certainly able to teach the rest of us a thing or two. Imagine It Forward is sure to pave the way for many other trailblazers out there.
I definitely hope you pick up a copy of Beth Comstock’s new book. It’s full of some inspirational and life-changing tips that are going to change the way we all do business.
While you’re riding that energizing wave, we hope you’ll also enjoy these 50 productivity tips that will help you focus, save time, and stay motivated. Now, go on out there, be a change maker and start innovating.