Former CFO of Gilead, Robin Washington, Discusses Leadership, Learning, and Inclusivity During Leadership Dialogues Session

by | Nov 16, 2022 | Leading Organizations, Sanger Programs, Leadership Dialogues

On November 10, Robin Washington, BBA ’84, board member of Alphabet, Inc., Honeywell International, Inc., and, and former chief financial officer of Gilead, joined Professor Yesim Orhun at Michigan Ross as part of Sanger’s Leadership Dialogues speaker series. 

Washington, who was recognized by The Wall Street Journal as one of the Top 10 Performing CFOs in the S&P 500, began her undergraduate career at the University of Michigan with an intent to study English as a pre-law major. After shifting her trajectory to pursue a finance degree, she adopted the mindset of becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable. When asked where her resilience stems from, Washington attributed it to her understanding that without failure, there is no growth. On stage, Orhun noted the connection between that sentiment and Michigan Ross’ values. “As you know, we support failing hard and failing fast and then learning from that experience,” she commented. Washington agreed, emphasizing the role that all higher education institutions play in the development of this approach. “Educational institutions have a responsibility to create action-based learning environments for students to enable collaboration and support curiosity.”

Scaling beyond the topic of personal leadership, Washington stated that leadership at all levels is a key component of organizational success. Early on in their careers, leaders can be advocates for inclusive cultures by identifying opportunities for improvement within their teams, their departments, and their companies. Throughout her career, Washington has dedicated herself to being a mentor to women and minoritized peoples. “The most important asset a company has is its people,” said Washington. “You have to create environments that are open to everyone.”

During her closing comments, Washington addressed the student audience. “All of you are going to have a seat at the table one day. That’s a privilege; what are you going to do with it? How are you going to make the world better?” Inspired by Washington’s experiences, attendees left the session motivated to introspect about their own growth. “The opportunity to hear about Washington’s leadership journey was incredibly powerful and insightful,” said Michael Minelli, a candidate for Ross’ Executive MBA program. “At Ross, we aim to create future-ready leaders,” said Sanger Faculty Director Lindy Greer. “Robin is a wonderful example of that. Her journey emphasizes the importance of taking risks, pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone, and prioritizing learning and growth.” 

The next installment of the Leadership Dialogues speaker series will be held in the spring. Additional details will be announced soon. Learn more by visiting the Sanger Leadership Center’s website. View the Recording