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Janet Matricciani: One Trip to Russia Away from a Career in Consulting

Janet Matricciani is a seasoned business woman, leader, and adventurer. In her decades of experience, she’s served as a CEO and COO of both public and private equity-backed companies. Her track record includes quadrupling a public company’s market value to over $1 billion, growing Capital One’s installment loans business to $8BN from $6BN in three years, and more. She’s recognized by her peers for her out-of-box thinking, focus on transforming businesses, and laser-like focus on both revenue growth and cost reduction.

She began her career as a McKinsey consultant, where she used her Cambridge engineering and Wharton finance education to drill deeply into every process and activity, improving them by focusing on the end-user and profit maximization. Currently, she serves as an interim COO at JLM Consultants, where she advises independent fintech and edtech companies on operational processes, data use and customer experience.

Takeaways

  1. Say yes to adventure, always
  2. Leaving your comfort zone might be challenging, painful, and ugly, but you’ll always be glad you took the jump.
  3. Resilience and grit are the single most important things you can have in life.

Transcript

BRYAN WISH: I’ve loved getting to know more about you and your back story. I’d love to know the One Away Moment you want to share with us today.

JANET MATRICCIANI: The One Away Moment that sort of changed my career or how I think about things, I’d have to say that was right at the beginning of my career and after I left university. It was all about saying “yes” to adventure. I was at university in the UK. I was at Cambridge and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do afterward. Funny enough, I was studying engineering but there had been an advert by a Ph.D. student saying, “Engineers who want to learn Russian, come find me” kind of thing. I’d studied Russian at secondary school. I went and found him because I thought I should keep it up, I was the only person who did.

Because of that, I managed to keep up my Russian at university. My director of studies, which is like a lead counselor in engineering, knew that I had spoken Russian and told me a group is coming from the Central Electricity Generating Board are coming to visit here and they’re coming from Moscow, a Russian delegation to learn more about how we do things around nuclear power. He said, “They’re coming in the summer for a couple of weeks and I volunteered you to translate.” To which I said, “What?” He said, “Yes, you know, you speak Russian and you do engineering. It’s perfect for you.”

I was terrified because my Russian wasn’t good enough to know any of the technical words and I sure didn’t want to start a nuclear war by not explaining something. Of course, I said yes. I believe in saying yes to adventure. It was the most extraordinary time between these folks. It was about ’87-’88. We had a coach and we took them on different visits. We had the meetings and I was not the lead translator.

I was the translator of jokes which I seemed to manage fairly well. That led to me realizing I wanted to have an experience working in Russia which was very unusual at that time. It so happened that the engineering company that had given me a scholarship to university was friendly with a company that had the first British/Soviet joint venture in Moscow. This was the time of the Soviet Union, 1988, before the fall of the Berlin Wall. They got talking and said, “Yes, what a good idea. We’ll send her out there.” 

In October of ’88, off I went to Moscow. I’ve been told I’m the first British woman to work in Moscow who wasn’t a diplomat. I didn’t meet any other when I was there. A friend of mine said to me – he was studying Russian economics – and he said, “I’d give my right arm to do what you’re doing but I’d be too afraid.” As far as I’m concerned, there should be no room for fear in your vocabulary.

The busier you are, the less you have time to be afraid. So, off I went to Moscow to work for John Brown Engineering’s joint venture with Setco. I spent a year out in Moscow working for them, presenting at trade fairs, going on completely extraordinary trips. I went to Kazan, the capital of old Tatariya, where even foreign tourists weren’t allowed but we had a factory there. When you left the factory, I asked if I could take photos. It surprised the head of the factory. It said, literally in Russian, “Today you worked hard. Tomorrow you’ll work harder. All for the glorious progress of the Soviet people.” It’s just very interesting, very different. It gives you a breadth of thinking that’s much wider than staying within one culture or similar cultures. I loved it.  

BRYAN WISH: Let’s go back to Cambridge and the professor volunteered you. What was that experience like for you? How did that experience unravel to you ending up going to live in Russia and take these opportunities on?

JANET MATRICCIANI: You are what you experience and how you treat people and the choices you make. Just to be clear, it was nothing to do with the students. I was translating for a professional group of delegates from Russia. I think it was from Gazprom, an electrical engineering company, who was coming over to meet the Central Electricity Generating Board which is Great Britain’s electricity and nuclear generating group. It was in the summer. No students at all. It was awesome, in the literal sense of the word, experience. What led me to be able to do it was because I’ve always taken challenges on different things because I kept Russian up even though I was studying engineering and you could do one subject at Cambridge; unlike American universities.

Because I have always wanted an adventurous life, when I was 18, I went around Central Africa on my own and from Kenya through Uganda, Tanzania, and got stuck In Burundi in the middle of a civil war which was very interesting. It expands your mind. You have to think on your feet and see things differently. Sometimes you meet the people when you travel alone. Though, I wouldn’t quite recommend that level of adventure to other women the same age. Though as I said, I had a fantastic time.

Wanting a life of adventure has allowed me to say yes. I will say this: a life of adventure will bring you much more pain but perhaps much more joy, much more adversity than a standard life of choosing a company and wanting to stay there or having an experience where you stay there 20 years. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, though it’s less common nowadays. 

BRYAN WISH: You kept an open mind to opportunities and you were always saying yes. You said you always wanted an adventurous life and you had a lot of worldly experience at a young age. How did you grow up? Was there anything in your upbringing where that was always kind of prominent? Was there a reason for this desire to escape?

JANET MATRICCIANI: I love how you called it a desire to escape because that’s probably half of it. Escape from any option to have a boring life and just a desire to learn, to continuously learn, improve, self-learning, see the world, and see different perspectives. Yes, you’re probably right that my childhood affected me. When I was 8 years old, my mother decided I would be vegan and in England, at that time, in the schools, you ate what they gave you for lunch. It wasn’t like the amazing choices you get in America. You got meat, two veg, and a yogurt thing or something. So, I couldn’t eat lunch at school. From the age of 8, I was the only kid in the school who brought a packed lunch.

This continued through my secondary school which is ages 11-18. I was always different and stuck out. I was very good and very quick with math, I got through to the final round of a British Olympiad and was the first girl for 10 years to do it. To my school’s disgust, I walked out because I realized in the exams, that I wasn’t going to invent calculus within three hours, I wouldn’t be able to do them because I hadn’t been taught ahead and even Isaac Newton didn’t manage that. It made me different.

If you are different, you have two choices. One is to celebrate it and the other is to curl up and hide it. I would always encourage people who feel different, who are different, to celebrate it. Be unique. Be your unique self. It will be tough. It will be harder to find your way than people who fit in boxes. Your whole life, it will be harder but it will be more exhilarating. 

BRYAN WISH: I love that. Your values are standing out for your full self. When you were raised like that as the only person with a packed lunch, is that something you tried to hide? 

JANET MATRICCIANI: It’s really hard to hide it when you’re getting out your packed lunch in the cafeteria. No, for various reasons, it was difficult to hide. Part of what led to my sense of adventure was I could have been considered quite nerdy at school because I was so good at math. I didn’t want to be that boring, nerdy person. No offense to anyone who is good at math but I loved dealing with people and talking to people. Have I ever tried to hide it? I think it’d be impossible.

I feel when I came to America for business school and stayed, that I’d have a huge advantage because Americans think English people are kind of different, eccentric, or see things differently. They’d just put me in the bucket of all English people being different without knowing that my English friends consider me quite different too. That’s not entirely what happened. I think I’m still seen as unique in what I do or have achieved or have gone for or failed to achieve in the U.S. 

BRYAN WISH: What I’m getting is throughout your entire life, you felt different from a lot of people. It made you start to think outside the box in a way that, “What’s out there in the world for me that maybe just isn’t right in front of me.” Is that fair?

JANET MATRICCIANI: I’d say two things. One is without a doubt, I’m ambitious and I’m glad that this world is not being attributed negatively to women anymore even though bossy or abrasive is still attributed to women rather than assertive and forthright. Yes, there’s always been that desire and thirst for learning. I’d like to stop time and visit every country in the world. I’ve been to over 100 and learn every language in the world. There won’t be enough time. I’d also say I’ve created things that make me different.

I went to Wharton Business School. That’s what brought me to America. I marched up to the editor of the journal and said, “I want to write a column every week.” He was like, “Do it once and we’ll see how it goes?” So I wrote this column. Then I asked an American friend, “What’s the most English name you can think of?” And she said, “Fiona.” And bam, that was it. It was sort of satirical and funny about my experiences as an English woman at school in America and some of the things that were being done.

I’m famous for that now from my business school time. They republished the column a couple of years later because they thought it was so funny. I was also pretty unafraid where others were focused on the job that comes afterward or hanging out with friends and having that experience which I liked to. For me, I like making people laugh. I think humor is huge in good times and bad times. I love writing and I like being funny. Also, if you are witty in Great Britain, Her Majesty, the queen, does find you, chops your head off, and puts it on a spike outside Buckingham Palace. So if you’ve got any witty friends who disappeared, that’s probably where they are. 

BRYAN WISH: What do you think you’ve learned about yourself exploring?

JANET MATRICCIANI: Part of it is the joy of helping others. I remember when we landed – one time I was on Pan Am’s last flight that was going through Saudi Arabia back to the UK. The plane landed and there were problems with the plane. We were stuck and all put into a hotel. The pilot and the crew all disappeared. This is my last day with Pan Am. I’m no longer employed by Pan Am. No other airlines were taking us. Some people had babies in nappies and they didn’t have nappies or baby food. I just remember getting involved and helping the front desk and being at the airport and at the hotel front desks sort of demanding nappies or diapers, as you’d say in America. Demanding help and demanding we get sorted out and marshaling people forward. 

I think my life would be easier if I could escape the need to do the right thing and care about other people. It’s an integral part of who I am and I always give myself the bar, “If I don’t like myself, would my kids like me?” The answer to that is no. That is the single most, paramount important thing in my life – them and their view of me. I read somewhere, somebody said, “If you can be a moral exemplar to your children, that’s the greatest thing you can be.” I like to hold myself to that bar. Of course, people without kids could do that with friends and so on. 

I also learned if you throw me in the deep end, I will swim. It might look ugly. It might be painful. I might make a lot of noise about it but I will swim. On my second night in Moscow, the managing director of the joint venture dropped me. He said, “I’m in a hurry.” It was 1:00 in the morning. We’d had a big dinner with the team. Dropped me outside the block of flats or apartment buildings where I was living and said, “You know your way back, don’t you?”

Of course, I knew my apartment number. Hadn’t paid a lot of attention to the block of flats. It was snowing. It was October. This is so eye-opening to see things differently. At that time in Soviet Russia, there were 20 apartment buildings the same. Identical. I didn’t know which one was mine. When you put in the code to get in the building, it didn’t work that well.

You’d have to put it in 2 or 3 times. I kind of remembered where my building was and I’d go up to one and put in the code, can’t get in. It’s freezing, well below zero. It’s probably -10. Try again, doesn’t open. “Oh, I got the wrong building.” Go to another building, the same thing. After about 10 buildings, I’m slightly panicked and it’s 2 in the morning and I’m bloody freezing.

This man comes up to me and says to me in Russian, “Can I help you?” I doubt it. I can’t tell which apartment building is mine. They all look the same and I can’t get in.” He said, “I know what building you’re in. Do you know the code?” “Yes.” “It’s this one.” He took me to one. I’d probably tried it already and it worked after a couple of times. I said, “How did you know this was my building?” “Oh, it’s the only one that’s approved for foreigners to live in.” Well, that just hadn’t occurred to me as a concept but that is how it was then. Again, just these different ways of looking at things. Also, I laugh about it now. I was not going to freeze to death or sleep in a metro subway station which probably would cause me problems. 

I don’t know that I knew it would all be okay in the end. It’s like folks who say, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” Some people, unfortunately, and very, very sadly, do choose to terminate their lives after difficult experiences. I don’t know if it will all be okay in the end but I think the most important thing has to be to enjoy the journey. Or get through, as Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” The famous British wartime expression, “Keep calm and carry on.” Whether or not it will be alright in the end, enjoy the journey. 

BRYAN WISH: Let’s go back to you going to Russia. What did you do there? How long were you there? What made you say you wanted to come to the U.S. and get a degree at Wharton and build your life in the U.S.?

JANET MATRICCIANI: I was only in Moscow for a year. It was extraordinary. I remember one time I was going on a business trip meeting our business partners in the airport lounge. I was the only person in the lounge. Of course, it was before cell phones and I hear somebody on the phone – a couple of chaps walk in and start dialing. I hear them go, “Where is he? He’s supposed to be accompanying us. These were vendors I was accompanying on a trip. He’s supposed to be accompanying us. Where’s your representative?” I said, “I think it’s me you’re looking for.”

And they were like, “Ah, right.” The assumption that you’re a man or male has always been with me in almost everything I’ve done. If I said to you I was the first woman, I’d be saying that about almost anything I’ve done. I think I’m proud of showing that pathway forward. I’m mentoring women who also want to have this kind of different pathway and do something and I’m available to mentor others. I think that’s what gives my life meaning.

After I came back from Moscow, I worked in engineering, and then I went to a consulting company, the LEK Partnership. There I learned detailed financial modeling which put me in a great place at Wharton Business School to already know those sides of things. Again, wanting an adventure, they had an opportunity to work in a Paris office. They like who speaks French. I’m like, “Me. I’m bilingual.” Not quite, but not bad. They had me tested by a French woman in the London office who was also a friend of mine. So, of course, she goes, “Oh, she speaks it perfectly.”

Away I went. I had a brilliant time there. Then I came back to the UK and then the company wanted somebody in the Munich office. I said, “I’ll go. Me, me. I’ll go.” They said, “Do you speak German?” I was like, “No, why? Is that a problem?” They were like, “Just a little bit.” I said, “I’ll learn it.” In three months of evening school, I learned German. I took the Deutsch [0:21:13] test. German is a foreign language. Passed it and they sent me to Munich. I had the most extraordinary time working for German companies but also working for the [0:21:26], the organization unifying Germany after their wall came down, helping merge or sell East German companies so that the economy could continue. It was great. It was hard in German. I was quite lucky I didn’t have to speak German in all business meetings after all. 

BRYAN WISH: I don’t think a lot of American students today take that path and can explore those options. What do you think?

JANET MATRICCIANI: I think the opportunity is there if you’re willing to push for it. I didn’t get to go to Moscow just by being offered it. But I did push for it after I had done the summer with the delegation from Moscow. I think you can if you – there are companies like Merck and the pharmaceutical companies where you can take a career progression. I have friends who have done this. You go to different countries. You might spend three years in China and then two years in the UK and then four years in Germany.

I worked at McKinsey which is a management consulting firm and when I was with them in Miami, I got to work in Jamaica on the reform of the financial sector and that was fascinating. I got to work in Venezuela because by then I spoke Spanish. That was a really interesting experience. Then in Caracas and I go to sort of travel around when I was there. These are experiences that an American person could have but you can still have an adventurous life and never leave the U.S. 

When I was working at an online education company in the U.S., I was speaking at a lot of education conferences and met a lot of private equity and venture capital firms and one of them got to know me and they said, “You speak a lot of languages. We like how you to present things. You have a good strategic understanding and you know a lot about art. We’re buying this company that does audio tours in 53 companies and we think it’d be great for you to run it.” I said, “You mean you think it’d be great for you that I run it?” They were like, “The same thing really, Janet.” It was a brilliant experience. It’s the single most complicated business I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen hundreds of companies at this point. You put your headset on. You got – remind me where you live, Bryan?

BRYAN WISH: I’m right outside of Washington D.C., Fairfax.

JANET MATRICCIANI: Okay, Washington D.C. So the National Gallery of Art, the Phillips Collection, the Renwick Gallery, and so on. Of course, he did a lot of the places in New York and the Statue of Liberty and Alcatraz and so on. I was traveling a lot because we were in these different countries where we had tours at museums and historic sites. I got to run that because I put myself out there speaking at education industry conferences and also because as I’ve often found, from friends I heard, the position had been offered to 3 or 4 guys before it was offered to me. They told me. They came up to me and said, “I was offered that position but art? I don’t want to do something with art all over the world because I don’t want to deal with that.”

It wasn’t what they wanted which is fair enough but for me, it was the most extraordinary, brilliant adventure and a chance to – I love business, problem-solving, collaborating with people, and getting deep into the data. To me, business is the greatest competition ever invented. It’s such fun and you can do good and focus on that and the opportunities will come. I was traveling quite a bit but home on weekends and on and off weeks. I could be with family but it was also tough. I’d go to Italy and they’d insist on talking to me in Italian which I don’t speak. I found that I could sort of nod my head and make up a few words. It was also very technical. We had software and hardware. We had software as a service before that was even used as a term. I love that deep business learning.

What I’m saying is the folks in the U.S. can constantly get a challenge. It could be in one company going to different departments or it can just be taking different paths.

BRYAN WISH: I like what you said. You can be global but you can still have an enriched experience just if you’re in the U.S. You can go for those pursuits and experiences even if you’re not traveling all around. Given your experiences, how do you think the business world gets us out of the deep end to kind of overcome these issues that are very pervasive and in the front and center of conversations today?

JANET MATRICCIANI: In all honesty, in many ways, I think the whole problem is founded on this belief or the issues or idea that difference is wrong. If you’re not like me, you’re stupid and wrong and bad and evil. No. You have a different opinion. Let me listen to you. Let me find commonalities. I worry, as a world, that we have lost the ability to listen to someone else to learn from them and find commonalities and progress forward as opposed to just further choose to want to convince them that we are right and we convince that if they don’t agree with us, it’s their problem. I think any form of difference makes it harder.

Yes, being a woman, being LGBTQ, being African American or black, any single thing that makes you different from the majority makes things harder but it’s also an opportunity if you can embrace it and if you can find supportive folks around you if you like to help you move forward. It will be harder. There will be things that happen. I have a million stories about being a woman in business and traveling and having it thought that my CFO must be the CEO. It couldn’t possibly be me because I was a woman. I was his wife. Made me roll with laughter. Got to see things with humor, not take offense to everything as well, I think. 

The thing I wished I’d known when I was younger is resilience and grit are the single most important things you can have in life. I probably don’t have enough. It’s hard. Things will happen that are hard. They just will unless you’re incredibly lucky. Make sure that you have a network of people around you who care to support you in the hard times and who push you to be the best person you can be. That’s one thing I wish I knew when I was younger. 

The second thing is the truth is whatever is written, most companies are looking for people who have done the same thing before. I had an executive person say to me, “We’re looking for the head of consumer lending. I have experience at Bank X. We’re just going to go to the nearest competitor and find somebody who has done consumer lending there for 20 years who is number two and try and give them the job.” Why? The world is changing. Retail is changing. Everything is changing. Different experiences make you broader, make you stronger, make you more able to communicate, make you more able to be empathetic, make you more able to work not with just executives but with folks at all levels, folks with little education, to folks with two PhDs in statistics if you care about them and want to connect.

You have to make that choice. If you want to be sure you’ll be employed forever, the easiest thing is to pick one field and be good at it. That will be your life and that’s okay. It will be easier but if you are having a life where you progress often, you have to change, you have to move, markets crash, things change, you’re going to have a different story, resume, unique background. You can’t fit in a box. It will be harder for people to understand the value you bring despite all the successes you’ve had, references, and so on. You just have to form your unique path. Again, have the people around you remind you that your uniqueness is a strength. 

BRYAN WISH: You said if you can get a lot of experiences, push yourself out in different environments, it allows you to maybe see and understand the difference a little bit more, be empathetic to other people’s experiences to connect and relate. I think we’re at a time right now where the vast majority of privileged people are starting to see the differences. Maybe they don’t understand fully yet and they’re not taking action to overcome some of these challenges yet. Let’s say you were put in charge and got to lead this effort globally or nationally in the U.S., where would you start? 

JANET MATRICCIANI: I always use to joke with people that I don’t believe in dictatorship except if I’m the dictator because I’ll be doing good and kind and wonderful. Everything would be great. That’s very tongue in cheek. The truth is that people who – often, unfortunately, anywhere in the world, people who rise to positions of power have to take certain actions that aren’t congruent with honesty, truth, decency, and all this kind of things. Then that changes who you are. Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts.

You have to be so careful to not become that. I was listening to a professor speak and he said, “CEOs become much more dictatorial when they get the CEO position.” I said to him, “That’s not me. I love to collaborate with people and I love to hear different ideas.” He said “Well, that’s fair enough. You’re in the 10% of CEOs who don’t become that way because you’re aware of it.” I think if you do everything from a basis of caring about people, goodwill comes. The best compliment I was ever given and believe me, I’m still in a process of self-improvement and learning and we could talk for hours about my faults and I’d love to do that offline. I was speaking at an annual conference. There were 1,000 people there.

I spoke in the morning and I was waiting to go up to speak on the stage in the evening and give out awards. I was standing next to the guy in charge of all the audio/visual stuff, the media, lights, and so on. He said, “Janet, I’ve been doing this for 26 years. I’ve done individual companies, big companies, small companies’ conferences. You’re the first CEO I have ever met who genuinely cares about their employees.” I said, “It’s funny you should say that but come on, how did you know?”

He goes, “I heard you speak in the morning and I’ve been watching how interact with people during the day. So, I know.” I said, “Well, it’s true and I appreciate that.” That is the most important thing to me. What are you going to take with you when you die? You can be driven. You can want results. I’m as competitive as the next person and I want to win and be successful and change the world and make customers’ lives better and make employees’ lives better and feel part of a group that’s going somewhere. 

You said to me, what would I do if I was in charge of everything. I would teach the power of debating and listening to all levels and make sure that happened. So that you’re always getting both sides. This is not a political comment. I was told by someone and I don’t know if it’s true or not that Bill Clinton, to form an opinion on something like the Israel-Palestine dilemma or something like this – would have the chief Rabbi or an eminent expert on one side and an expert on the other side and he’d listen to the debate to help him form an opinion. That’s great.

Listening to the people who disagree with you is more powerful than listening to the people who agree with you, if you’re listening and if you have a curious mind, and if you want to be flexible and learn and adapt and understand. I think that the poorest people are the people with the least, in my experience, are the most generous and the kindest and the most giving. It’s extraordinary. I know a couple of billionaires, not super well, not that many. I know people at all different levels. Of course, traveling through Africa or India, you meet people on a different end of the spectrum. It’s extraordinary, the kindness that is extended at the lowest financial levels of society. It’s a lovely thing to be around. 

BRYAN WISH: I love what you’re saying about care and listening. Why do you think people at the lowest are also the most generous and caring?

JANET MATRICCIANI: That’s a question for people much wiser than me on sociology. Maybe it’s because people who have experienced a lot of difficulty and adversity – I wouldn’t say it’s just financial. It’s also people who’ve experienced a lot of adversity maybe in their families or other ways. They’ve opened themselves up. They’ve become more empathetic. That makes them more giving to other people. People who have constantly in pursuit of money or who are interested in looking more important than their neighbors have less time to pause and think about real values and real meanings perhaps.

I find injustice incredibly hard to deal with. I want to shout, “It’s not fair” and come up with all the cliches, “If there is a good god, why don’t good things happen to good people?” And yes, I’m very familiar with Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning and the book Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People and I get it. There’s a lot of different sides to the story but I admit that I find that frustrating when you meet the most wonderful people who are going through really difficult times and it’s much more upsetting than if someone horrible is going through a bad time. 

BRYAN WISH: Every sentence and everything we’re talking about is this triumph and desire to overcome and needing to understand and gaining perspective. It’s interesting to me how you approach the answers to questions because I think there’s a lot of consistency yet difference. There are central threads to a lot of the things you’re saying and it’s inspiring. For someone like myself, almost 28, and my friends, to have that kind of voice and strength from you, who has gone through so much is inspiring. 

JANET MATRICCIANI: That’s very kind of you. I’m a work in progress. I’ve worked in marketing, in engineering, in many different countries. I was the CEO of a private equity company, and I’ve been the CEO of a public company where I took from $230 million and turned around the operation to over $1 billion. A company of 4,500 folks who I believe, through actions collaboratively with the team and having various inputs made lives better for customers and employees. That matters to me. For many years, I’ve been asked, “Who do you admire the most?” I couldn’t think of anyone who I truly admired in every way.

I finally found someone. It’s a Polish person called Witold Pilecki. He was a Polish officer in the 2nd World War. People weren’t believing what was happening at Auschwitz. Rumors were coming out and no one could believe people could treat other people so horribly. He said, “No one believes this. I am going to get myself put into Auschwitz.” Even knowing there’d be almost certain death. He committed a small misdemeanor on the street. Gets himself sent to Auschwitz. He’s going to organize resistance there. He tries to organize resistance, does what he can, he can’t believe what he sees––which we’ve all read about. He smuggles information out but the allies aren’t believing him, not believing it could be this terrible.

Then he realizes he can’t stop it from inside. He begs the allies by sending out messages, “Bomb it. I don’t care if I die. Bomb this place, the gas chambers. Bomb it.” They won’t do it. After 2 ½ years, amazingly, he gets himself out which is very rare to escape from Auschwitz. Goes back. He’s telling everybody what’s happened. Of course, they’re taking time to believe it all. In the end, the war ends and the camps are destroyed. Positive that it ended but terrible experience, of course.

He works for the Polish resistance then because the Soviets have come into Poland and he is tried for treason and he’s shot and he dies. He’s killed. What an extraordinary human being. If I ever could get to any level of arrogance which I certainly hope I can’t, all I have to do is think of this guy and I’m completely humbled. I don’t have that level of courage. I wish I did do something like that. It’s fundamentally a value to the whole world and extraordinarily courageous. I so admire that. 

BRYAN WISH: For someone to put their life on the line multiple times to get necessary information out and go through the danger and put other lives before him in one of the worst times of our world. I’d never heard that story. So good. When it’s all said and done, what are people saying at the funeral?

JANET MATRICCIANI: John Cleese, a very famous and wonderful British comedian who is part of the Monty Python team and is doing multiple different things now, was asked that. What do you want your epitaph? He said he was kind to people. I thought that was so extraordinary. He didn’t want it to say he was the funniest, British comedian or the most brilliant man in the world. He just wanted it to say he was kind. That’s a great goal. It doesn’t make you sappy, weak, or unable to get results.

Being kind to others, it’s part of my mission. I want to help other people and I particularly want to help younger folk than me in their careers. I’d like to do it by telling the truth. I told my oldest son, I want to call him the phrase, “Hiri” – how it is. How it is. People like to say, “Just imagine it and it will happen.” That’s not true. “Speak up always for what you believe and everything will be fine.” It won’t. Not in every company. Not in every culture.

A lot of places don’t want a strong, confident female leader and I have many successful businesswoman friends who once people get to know you, you hear of their struggles and I share mine. I think we have to share more of the struggles and the difficulty and the unfairness so that the generation coming up doesn’t expect it to be easy, doesn’t expect it to be fair but have the tricks and tools to know there will be things said about them that’s not true maybe publicly. They might not be able to react or be able to defend themselves. They have to have resilience and grit and self-belief to push forward no matter what. Wasn’t it Steve Jobs who said, “Only the crazy people change the world? Crazy enough to believe they can.” 

BRYAN WISH: Love that. Speak up. People may not always agree with you but you’ve got to do it.

JANET MATRICCIANI: You’ve got to do it but in a careful way. You read online, “Women just need to speak up and lean in.” I like to tell people, “I’ve learned in. I’ve learned so far that I fell in and hit my head on the bottom and it hurts.” That’s the first sentence in my autobiography I’m writing. It isn’t really like that and good and true and simple. There’s too much dishonesty and injustice and certainly, a bunch of people with bad qualities. It’s not going to be that simple. Sometimes you can’t speak up. You have to do it differently or softly or be pragmatic. It’s more complicated. 

You asked how to find me. I have my Just Janet series on YouTube if you Google “Just Janet” and put in Matricciani. It’s a series where I talk for 3 minutes about difficulties I’ve experienced in my life and what I’ve learned from them. A PR person said to me, “Janet, you shouldn’t have this series because it makes you look stupid because you’re talking about mistakes you’ve made and how you’ve learned.” That’s exactly my fundamental belief. We have to talk about this and how we learned.

I feel like America and perhaps the world wants to hear, “I got out of bed one morning and Bill Gates called me and said, “Hey, listen, can you just come run my foundation and do everything for me?” I said, “No sorry, Jeff Bezos has asked me to run Amazon. He’s going to take a break for a while and I’m just running out to be on the front cover of Vogue with Anna Wintour.” That’s what people want to hear but it’s not real life. Then it makes people not understand that their struggles are shared and known and they can get help and support from others. Anyone I can be helpful to can find me on LinkedIn. 

One Away Podcast
Bryan Wish

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