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Q+A with the Executives’ Club of Chicago President and CEO Ana Dutra


Earlier this month, Ana Dutra took over as the new president and CEO of the Executives’ Club of Chicago, a more than 100-year-old membership organization for Chicago-area business leaders.

A longtime member of the club, Dutra knows firsthand the value it has to offer. Born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, she came to Chicago 22 years ago after entering the corporate world with IBM. Dutra said it was the Executives’ Club that allowed her to develop meaningful relationships as she began to establish herself in the city.

“When I started to … network within the community, it was through the Executives’ Club that I did that. I started to get involved in the committees, the mentorship program, the leadership circle and all of that,” she said. “It created for me a tremendous sense of gratitude to the club.”

Last year Dutra founded Mandala Global Advisors, which advises clients engaging in international growth, mergers and acquisitions, and turnarounds. Prior to that, she served as CEO of consulting for the Los Angeles-based executive search firm Korn Ferry.

Dutra currently serves on the boards of various institutions, including Lurie Children’s Hospital and the International Women’s Forum. She and her husband, a surgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, are the parents of three teenage daughters.

The Daily Whale recently sat down with Dutra to discuss her business experience and her current engagements with the Executives’ Club. An edited version of that conversation follows.

DW: Why did you decide to take on this new role with the Executives’ Club?

AD: When this opportunity came up I thought it was mutually a great match because it would give me an opportunity to build on a foundation that my predecessors had created for the club and then take it to new and broader spaces. Also for me it was a phenomenal platform to put into play all of the things that I love to do, which include innovation, connectivity between people, leadership development – all of the things that the club stands for.

DW: Tell me about your personal leadership style.

AD: I have a very decisive but collaborative leadership style. … I have a tremendous amount of energy. … I’m always seeing possibilities. Of course some of these [attributes], when they are overused, there’s a down side. Sometimes I do move very fast and I do get exhausted because I spend so much time with people. But I love to get to know people, help them to grow and connect people.

DW: What do you and the board envision for the Executives’ Club moving forward?

AD: I think that every organization like ours needs to leverage the content and the membership and the speakers to promote innovation, connectivity and development. If you want to boil into three words, our vision is promoting innovation in the Midwest and the city of Chicago, helping to develop the leaders of the future, and making connections amongst businesses and leaders.

DW: Are there any upcoming club events for which you are particularly excited?

AD: We just opened our season. We had Debra Lee, who is the CEO of the BET network, in our Diversity & Inclusion Breakfast Series. We had almost 800 people in attendance and the energy in the room was just incredible. We had David Abney, the newly-minted CEO of UPS. We were actually joking because he had been in his job a week longer than I had been in mine.

What we’re trying to do is bring to the club new speakers, people who are doing innovative things that stand for particular causes, like diversity inclusion, innovation and technology, and the debate in health care.

DW: What qualities do you believe business leaders must possess to be successful?

AD: There are the traditional things that companies are looking for, “Do you have the right experience; the right background; the right skills?” That’s all great and it’s [a] ticket for admission, but at the end of the day what’s going to truly distinguish the winners from the non-winners … is their ability to be agile in uncertain and ambiguous situations.

It’s their energy and empathy for others. And what I mean by that is you need to be capable as a leader to put yourself in your stakeholders’ shoes – the employees, the shareholders, the suppliers – so that you can understand how to create win-win situations. Great leaders do that naturally or learn to do that.

DW: Tell me about your upbringing.

AD: I’m the daughter of a self-made man. My dad was really big – even though he was an attorney by background – in the media world. Not only was he the chief operating and chief marketing officer for one of the largest media conglomerates, but he was also a soccer announcer. I joke when people don’t understand, I say, “Imagine, my dad was the Harry Caray of soccer” in a country where soccer is everything.

My mother, she’s a woman who put her life on hold to raise me and my sisters. When we were grown up she went to school and got a law degree and started to work. She’s actually a pastry chef now. I learned of all the caring and the empathy for people from my mother.

I grew up in a very, very diverse community. … I also grew up traveling the world and spending my summers in different countries. What that does is it changes your mindset because the world has no boundaries. To this day I land in a country, I land in a city that I don’t know and very quickly I’m observing my environment. … It’s all about adapting to where you are. That served me well when I decided to move to Chicago.

DW: What was your first impression of Chicago?

AD: It was cold. It was darn cold. I still have a story that on the first day the temperature was 32 degrees. It was a Saturday and a friend called wanting to go do something and my husband and I said, “Oh no, we’re staying home because it’s too cold.” And she said, “Oh boy.”

But Chicago has an incredibly vibrant and diverse community, which makes it easy for people from other countries to feel at home here. You have the Midwestern warmth – people are truly welcomed into the city. Our first home was in Evanston. There were people from all over the world. So you don’t feel different, you feel very welcome to the city. That’s one of the things I love about Chicago.

DW: Tell me about your family.

AD: [My daughters] all have different interests. My eldest daughter is at University of Illinois in Urbana in the School of Media and Advertising, but she’s very interested in business. My middle daughter, her passion is she works with children in the autism spectrum, and she’s going to college to study that. My youngest daughter, she has diverse interests. She’s a very competitive swimmer. She is, like my mother, a phenomenal pastry maker. And she designs clothes and accessories. She even had her own website a couple of years ago.

DW: What are some of your hobbies and interests?

AD: I do triathlons. My last race was the Racine Ironman. And I am a very avid yoga and meditation practitioner. Yoga and the meditation, it’s my calm side. And my very competitive side is on the triathlon side.

DW: Who are some of your personal mentors?

AD: Michael Moskow, he’s chairman of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. He’s somebody who has mentored me throughout my years here in the U.S.

Sometimes I’ll ask for advice from people who are much younger and less experienced than I am just because they will see things from a different vantage point. It’s just phenomenal to hear their reaction. … The interesting thing is that sometimes you don’t even have to ask. If you just keep your ears and your mind and your heart wide open, you will learn lessons in every situation you’re in.