Work-life balance was key for GE’s Kathy Cassidy

Kathy Cassidy of GE speaks to Fordham University graduate and undergraduate business students.

Kathy Cassidy of GE speaks to Fordham University graduate and undergraduate business students.

It’s OK to step off the treadmill.

So says Kathy Cassidy, senior vice president and treasurer of GE and GE Capital. Cassidy, a 1979 Fordham University graduate, talked with university graduate and undergraduate students on Monday about work-life balance, her life in corporate business and the lessons she learned during an eventful 35-year career with GE.

Some of what she said focused on her efforts to have a career and have a family, concerns that are just as relevant today as they were for her throughout her career.

“I’ve had a lot of younger folks on my staff say, ‘Look, I want a great career, but I don’t want to work 18-hour days. I want to have a life as well,’ Cassidy said. “So the question of balance always used to be a woman’s question up until probably 10 years ago, and I will tell you that it is as much an issue today for men as it is for women … because people want to have choices. People want to feel that they can control their lives.”

Cassidy, the mother of three grown sons and the grandmother of a 10-month-old, said she made a decision early on to base her career in the New York City area, rather than move around. She remembered commuting to the city while nine months pregnant and making career decisions based on both her professional development and her family.

Did those decisions curtail her career?

“Could I have made senior vice president more quickly if I had taken other jobs and moved around. I don’t know,” she said. “I was in an area that was pretty important for the company … I’m very comfortable with what came out.”

Some corporations, Cassidy said, have tried to make it easier for employees to step back from hard-charging jobs as they make decisions about family, whether or not to relocate and other big life choices. Working part-time through that stage in life is an option in some places, she said.

Cassidy, laid back and conversational throughout her hour-long talk, made a strong impression on the students who attended.

“It was fabulous. I think it was one of the best ones we’ve been to,” said Emily Osman, a leader in the undergraduate Smart Woman Securities group.

Cassidy’s appearance also brought together the Gabelli School of Business undergraduate students with the graduate school of business students. Similar events will be taking place in the future now that the two schools are under the common leadership of Donna Rapaccioli, the dean of both the graduate and undergraduate business schools.

That, too, was seen as beneficial by students.

“I think it was great, too, that we could come together with the graduate school of business,” said Emily Harman, also of the SWS. “That’s the first time we’ve done that.”

Cassidy will be retiring as of Dec. 31, beginning a new chapter during which she may serve on some boards, while building in some time for personal travel. She’ll be enjoying time with her grandchild as well.

The executive said she never thought she would spend 35 years at GE, but the company’s diverse interests always presented new challenges. Throughout those years, she said, she made hard choices to achieve a balanced life.

“It’s tough to do. There’s always conflict. But you can make it happen if you’re really committed to it,” she said. “I’m pretty happy with the way things turned out.”

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