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Anna Catalano Is in the Room Where It Happens -- In Part Because Someone Spoke Up for Her When She Wasn't

04/30/2021 | 10:14pm EDT

By Emily Glazer

In Personal Board of Directors, top business leaders talk about the people they turn to for advice, and how those people have shaped their perspective and helped them succeed. Previous installments from the series are here.

Anna Catalano stumbled into the energy sector as a freshman in college after snagging a ride home to Kansas City with the son of a division manager at oil company Amoco Corp. Instead of working as a guard at a local library during the summer, she joined Amoco doing secretarial work. By the time she graduated college, she already landed a full-time job at the energy firm.

Ms. Catalano moved up the ranks at Amoco and hoped to one day work in Beijing since her parents immigrated from China and she spoke Mandarin fluently. But when the opportunity arose, she was expecting her second child and a room full of male executives initially thought she wouldn't want to go. Luckily, one of them decided to ask her -- and she excitedly moved across the world.

"It was an assumption that was made about me, but thank God for the other man in the room," Ms. Catalano said. "That is the one move that majorly changed the trajectory of my career."

Ms. Catalano, who spent decades in the energy sector, joined BP PLC when it merged with Amoco in 1998. She ultimately left the oil giant as its chief marketing officer after spearheading the "Beyond Petroleum" campaign. Since then, she has served on a number of company boards, including advisory Willis Towers Watson PLC and chemical firm Kraton Corp., advocating for sustainability, equality and other issues.

When she first joined a corporate board 18 years ago, she said she was often the only woman or person of color.

"I'm comfortable asking those questions that no one wanted to ask."

Here are four of her most valued advisers:

Jaymin Patel

President at Clarim Acquisition Corp.; Executive Chairman, Cloud Agronomics, corporate board member

Ms. Catalano met Mr. Patel on the Willis board, before it merged with Towers Watson.

When it came to the merger, Ms. Catalano said Mr. Patel wanted to take the time to speak with employees and check in on how they were doing. During mergers there are often situations where employees don't have the full picture, she said.

"When business is faced with difficult financial decisions, it's always good to have voices in the room to say: 'What's the right thing? Yes it'll cost a little bit more but this is the right thing we need to do, '" she said.

Shelly Lazarus

Chair Emeritus of advertising firm Ogilvy

Ms. Catalano worked closely with Ms. Lazarus during the "Beyond Petroleum" rebranding and often turned to her for advice on how to navigate complicated internal dynamics.

"When you're an oil company, and you're trying to convince people at an oil company that sustainability and green is important, there are naysayers inside the company," Ms. Catalano said. "She is someone who really helped me navigate what I call 'the land mines.'"

Ms. Lazarus counseled Ms. Catalano on different approaches to win support internally, such as gathering a larger group of people together and gaining the confidence of others, Ms. Catalano said.

"She really understands the broader picture of many, many stakeholders and many people who can impact how a company is seen," Ms. Catalano added.

Curtis Chin

Milken Institute Asia fellow, former U.S. ambassador to the Asian Development Bank

Ms. Catalano worked with Mr. Chin when he was an executive at public relations firm Burson-Marsteller in Beijing and she worked in marketing at Amoco more than 20 years ago. She said they've stayed in close touch through the years and she turns to Mr. Chin to get an expert opinion on what's happening in Asia and how to talk about it.

"Curtis is someone I go to when I want to talk to someone about impact communications, how to make an impact, how to understand the broader world global picture," she said.

Since Ms. Catalano sits on boards that are considering a lot of global matters in a nonpartisan way, she often looks for Mr. Chin's perspective. Lately, for instance, they've discussed hate crimes against the Asian-American Pacific Islander community, she said.

"I look at him as a role model for how to communicate in a way that makes people want to keep communicating with you, which I think in the current environment is really important," she said. "He doesn't shy away from controversy, he makes statements in a way that invites conversation."

Toby Redshaw

CEO of consultancy Verus Advisory, former Verizon Communications Inc. 5G executive

Ms. Catalano said since she met Mr. Redshaw in an innovation group in Chicago, he "stretches my brain."

She said when it comes to technology, directors often just think of cybersecurity rather than considering how technology will change the business from a strategic standpoint, what innovation like 5G will enable and how business may be threatened or flourish.

Ms. Catalano said her biggest fear when she left her full-time job was "going stale." Mr. Redshaw helps her continue to learn, whether it is about virtual reality or convincing her recently to get an Oculus headset.

"In my role as a director, I do not want to be someone who is taking up a chair in a boardroom that doesn't understand the impact that things like technology have on a business," she said. "I need to make sure I can bring that to the room. I don't want to be one of these people who sit around just talking about the way things used to be 20 years ago."

Write to Emily Glazer at emily.glazer@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

05-01-21 0014ET

Stocks mentioned in the article
ChangeLast1st jan.
AGRONOMICS LIMITED 3.23% 24 Delayed Quote.93.75%
BP PLC 1.06% 287.15 Delayed Quote.11.50%
DJ INDUSTRIAL 0.68% 35061.55 Delayed Quote.14.56%
GOLD 0.11% 1803.59 Delayed Quote.-5.09%
KRATON CORPORATION 2.15% 37.53 Delayed Quote.35.05%
LONDON BRENT OIL -0.28% 74.13 Delayed Quote.43.83%
S&P GSCI GOLD INDEX 0.01% 1052.3407 Delayed Quote.-4.71%
SILVER 0.18% 25.2449 Delayed Quote.-4.46%
VERIZON COMMUNICATIONS -0.13% 55.88 Delayed Quote.-4.89%
WTI -0.53% 71.93 Delayed Quote.48.80%
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