We love bringing inspirational women to our readers’ attention. As we all know, the ageless generation is out there doing amazing things, challenging the status quo and basically being…inspirational.
The First Woman in the Restructuring Field
Along those lines, we’d like to introduce you to Ms. Bettina Whyte. Now 68, Bettina grew up in Los Angeles but has lived throughout the US. She has been a lifelong restructuring professional, driving the turnaround of multi-billion dollar corporations, serving as either their interim CEO or Chief Restructuring Officer. She was the first woman in this field – which still remains male dominated.
Bettina has managed domestic and international corporations in almost every industry from oil and gas to the only publicly owned topless bar – to now serving as a Federal Court appointed Independent Agent in the Puerto Rico bankruptcy.
She describes herself as a “crisis junkie.” People who know her say she is tough, she is aggressive and that she is always honest and fair. It is not easy for a 5′ 1″, 100-pound blonde female to go into public companies in severe operational and financial turmoil and be taken seriously. However, it doesn’t take long before the top executives realize she is in charge and that they must change their current way of operating if they want their company to survive, much less return to a profitability.
Bettina says, “I’m not always the most liked person when I arrive, to the point that my dogs have received death threats and my car windows have been shot out. It is not fun to have to layoff a large number of a company’s employees, and I do not take it lightly. However, sometimes it must be done to save the corporation. In the end, I am usually well respected because I help enable and empower management to find the road forward to return their company to health.”
Despite all the drama of her job and having been awarded numerous industry and humanitarian awards, if asked to name her greatest accomplishment she would tell you it was learning how to swim at the age of 59. She had avoided water for years but finally decided enough was enough!
Bettina now spends most of her time sitting on public and charitable boards, fly fishing, hiking, planting her gardens and playing with her standard poodles.
We asked Bettina a few questions so we could get to know her better:
Who influenced you the most?
There are so many people who have influenced my life from mentors to best friends to business associates. But, like most women, I would have to say my mother. She taught me that woman did not ever need to take a second position to a man. She also taught me at the age of 5 that “life isn’t fair, so get over it and get on with it!” A very valuable lesson.
What was the best business move you ever made?
Starting my own crisis management firm when I was 32 years old. While I later went back to join larger, well recognized firms, it forced me to rely exclusively on my own talent, experience, common sense and gumption – not only doing the work, but selling. I was able to make a name for myself and that started my career on a trajectory upward. But, like with every success, it took commitment and passion.
What drives you?
I think I just don’t know how to stop. As soon as I think I am going to slow down, something else interesting comes my way, like Puerto Rico. I have flunked retirement 5 times! However, now, if something doesn’t bring me JOY, I try to avoid it.
Did you have a mentor?
I had a “real” mentor when I was in my mid- twenties. He was my boss, also a well- respected executive in the company, and he and took me under his wing, guided me and taught me more than I can ever say. I have mentored constantly throughout my career (because I saw just how important it is to have a mentor). In fact, I have resigned from two organizations, PwC and AlixPartners, where I was a Managing Director, because they were not going to promote a woman to the partnership. Fortunately, both organizations refused my resignation and did the right thing.
Studies have proven that having a mentor is one of the 3 most important criteria for reaching success. And, I do not believe mentors can be assigned. If you are someone’s mentor you are taking a risk - what that mentee does reflects directly on the mentor and can have direct consequences, both positive and negative. A mentor needs to want to mentor a person and help guide them because they have faith that the mentee has promise and with the mentor’s help they will succeed.
Tell us about your morning routine.
Unfortunately, nothing exciting or inciteful. I get up, take a bath and then feed the dogs. After that I usually hit the computer or head to the airport. Pretty bad, huh?! I do love to walk, but I never start my day that way. I consider it a sad statement about those of us who can’t just let go and enjoy life to its fullest. I still strive to reach that peace.
What’s your favorite part of the day?
Sunrises and sunsets and walks with my dogs.
What’s on your night stand or iPad?
(Actually, a Kindle) A murder mystery to help me go to sleep or to help me get through endless plane rides.
Name a product you can’t do without.
(the real stuff, not the spray)
What’s your mantra?
Be true to yourself because that is what you are and the reason you are here.
What do the next 24 hours hold?
I’ll be in a safari camp in Batswana.
What do you hope to accomplish?
Make a REAL difference with animals – saving them after disasters and helping finance and be hands-on with organizations that do the same. I hate animal cruelty and I once started law school to become an animal protection advocate. I was still working and couldn’t do both. But my passion runs hot in this area.
How do you want to be remembered?
With a huge party which is already funded in my will! I’m sure that is not what you meant, but, as I said, my mantra is to be true to myself and I hope others will find that enough.
We hope you enjoyed learning more about Bettina Whyte, and we look forward to sharing more inspirational women with you this year.