NAME: Robin Wolaner
OCCUPATION: CEO, Vittana, a nonprofit that pioneers loans for students in developing countries
WHO SHE IS: She founded the wildly popular and prescient Parenting magazine at the tender age of 31, persuading Time, Inc. to become her partner and marking the publishing giant’s first time ever investing in a joint venture start-up. Just four years later, Time, Inc. bought Wolaner’s share, making her Vice President of its Publishing Ventures division, and a millionaire. It was an unusual story, and remains one of the most popular case studies in the Harvard Business School’s first-year curriculum. Since then, Wolaner has been the COO of CNET, founded baby boomer social networking site TeeBeeDee, and been a bestselling author.
WHY SHE INSPIRES ME: At a time when women were rarely in the C-suites of tech companies, let alone sitting on high-tech boards, Robin paved the way for the rest of us to believe it was possible. I’m pretty certain that Sheryl Sandberg wouldn’t be leaning into Facebook if Robin hadn’t first leaned into CNET. After the Internet bubble imploded on itself, undaunted, Robin reinvented herself again, launching another start-up and spinning out a book. She has inspired me to feel unafraid to ask the question, “What’s next?,” when I’ve felt that I couldn’t possibly do it all over again. Determined to give back and do something meaningful, in 2013, Robin took her entrepreneurial chops and compassionate vision to an organization committed to giving promising students in developing countries a shot at higher education. Whenever I feel stuck or stymied in my own career, I just think of Robin and keep right on going.