Simmons Leadership Blog

Women leaders choose differently than men says ZipCar cofounder Robin Chase

Robin Chase

Nationally acclaimed transportation innovator Robin Chase revolutionized how people think about car travel. She is best known as co-founder and former CEO of Zipcar, the world's largest car-sharing company, and GoLoco, the first company to combine ridesharing, social networks, and easy payment systems.

But did you know Chase described her best vacation as being "away from cars and the city?" You also might be surprised to hear Chase's view about the tough choices women have when it comes to their careers and family.

How did you get started in your career?

Which one?! I heard this great quote at a talk: "My father had one job in his life, I'll have seven jobs, and my son will have 7 jobs at the same time." Almost all of my starts have been fortuitous, meaning they found me.

What do you like most about your job?

The autonomy. I like having a vision and working to make it happen.

Why do you think women still have not attained more leadership positions in all industries/careers?

I know some people will hate me for this answer, but "biology." While I've always been ambitious and hard working, having and raising three children took a lot of hours, months, and years out of my climb. Sure husbands can and do some of it. But I think some women, when forced to choose between career and pressing family problems, choose differently than men. I know that without my unique and amazing husband, I couldn't have lived the life I have, had the freedom, or taken the risks.

Was there a mentor who made a difference in your career, and can you share his/her guidance?

Lots and lots of people helped along the way, in big ways and small. The person who picks up your child from school when at the last minute you got tied up, helped. The champions who have stood behind me and pushed me onward, helped. The people who took the time to explain things to me and listen and give wise advice, helped.

What was the last book you read?

I'm reading Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. I recommend it to every person who has to communicate or market or design something. It is really fantastic and corresponds exactly with my experience of branding, marketing, and selling.

How do you think women can support other women on their path to success?

Be kind! Offer your time and support and small favors when needed. And think of them when it is time to recommend someone for a job, honor, a talk, or press.

Any tips for work/life balance?

I'm bad at it from a daily perspective, but happy with my choices from a life perspective. I worked part-time or no-time with babies. I worked part-time while I had kids less than school age. My husband and I have this theory - after the fact,  so I can't tell you if we actually practiced what we preached - but for family sanity, having a maximum of 60 hours between you and your spouse means a viable home life. I think we stretched that quite a bit, but it seems like a nice goal to keep in the back of your mind.

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and whom would you take?

A walking, swimming, paddling, or sailing vacation (away from cars and cities) with my family and one other family. Lots of unstructured time and enough novelty in the mix to make it very fun.

If you could dine with anyone, past or present, with whom would you dine and what would you order?

Such a silly question, but I'll bite: Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Ghandi, Darwin - some interesting and world changing minds. I don't think I would even notice the food. Maybe soup, so I could actually choke something down without being distracted for a second from the conversation.

Do you have a favorite quote?

Here's one appropriate for entrepreneurs, by Thomas Watson of IBM: "If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate."

Who's in your iPod playlist?

Whatever my kids put there for me.

You can see Robin Chase at the 2012 Simmons Leadership Conference, the premier professional event for women, April 5, at the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston. Follow the conference live on Twitter @SimmonsConf and #SLC12.

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