Magazine article Working Mother

This Is How She Does It

Magazine article Working Mother

This Is How She Does It

Article excerpt

Blair Christie's mom used to encourage her to close her eyes, imagine what she wanted from life and then go after it. Blair fully believed this would work, because it's just what her mom did to get back on her feet after a difficult divorce. "She truly believed that if you could see it, you could achieve it," says Blair. "I owe all of my success in life to her."

Topping the list of Blair's many successes: a ten-year marriage to Joe; daughters Julia and Cameron; and becoming the youngest female senior vice president at Cisco. After almost a decade with the IT giant, Blair oversees a global team of 200 and reports directly to CEO John Chambers. She describes the renowned innovator as authentic, energetic and very competitive-adjectives that also apply to Blair herself, say her coworkers. "John is very honest and open, and he allows you to be very direct," she says. "And there's a lot of humor in the office. You can hear John's laugh a mile away."

Blair's own ability to find humor in stressful situations can be traced back to her childhood - and to her optimistic mom, Susan. A glasshalf-full outlook has helped Blair through some difficult times. She was just 13 when her parents split up after 20 years of marriage. "I knew I needed to be a role model for my girls," her mom says today. "My choices were to curl up in a fetal position or to make the best of a bad situation and learn from it."


After the split, Blair's mom moved her family to Annapolis, MD, from Atlanta, GA, so she could stay with her parents while she looked for work. Blair was entering high school, and this change meant dealing with a new school and leaving a home and friends she loved - all while coping with her parents' divorce. Her first day at her new school was nerve-wracking. "I didn't know a soul. Who was I going to have lunch with?" she worried. On top of that, she came down with mono: "I had to have my tonsils and adenoids removed, and I was out of school for the first month." Despite the early drama, Blair soon had a big, diverse circle of friends. She played tennis, loved to read, became a cheerleader and acted in plays.

In tenth grade, Blair began waitressing at the Donut Shack before school to fund her many hobbies and activities. "I remember all those tips in nickels and quarters," Blair says. What she didn't realize was that her mom, who had risen from entry-level bank teller to branch manager and was now working full-time, still struggled to support the family. "I didn't know how financially challenging those times were," Blair recalls.

When it came to college, Blair decided on Drexel University in Philadelphia, a five-year program that allows students to combine school with paid internships that help fund tuition. "I got tremendous experience," she says. Her favorite internship was in the public affairs department of PECO, the public electric company in Philly. Her boss and mentor, Nick DeBenedictis, later became the CEO of a water utility. Blair followed him there, working part-time during college and then full-time after she graduated.


It was during her second year of college that Blair met her future husband through friends. "We started dating and never broke up," she says. Blair describes Joe as a warm person with a great smile. He remembers her curly blond hair and beautiful eyes. "He comes from a large family, and I come from a small one," Blair says. "He played football and lacrosse, and I don't even like to jog. But we have similar values and believe the same things are important." They married in 1998, when Blair was 26. "I am sure I was more ready than he was," she says with a laugh. "I bet he could have waited a little longer."

Blair's next career stop was a small tech firm, where she did investor relations for two years. A networking call she made to Cisco asking for professional advice turned into an invitation for a job interview. "I met with fourteen people that day," Blair says. …

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