Moving the Peanut A Little Every Day
Ames MPA 1997 has been influenced by many things over the years: travels
around the world while growing up, a Quaker grammar school that taught
her to question authority, four years at Yale University, a couple of
years at Harvard Business School.
But it was
a relatively obscure history book that she selected from a friends
bookshelf in 1991, when she couldnt sleep while on an overnight
business trip to Washington, DC, that, in many ways, really changed her
up Harvest of Sorrow and was stunned that 8 million people could
be starved to death and I didnt know about it, Ames said,
referring to Robert Conquests 1986 account of a man-made famine
in the 1930s that wiped out millions of Ukrainian peasants following Joseph
Stalins plan to collectivize Soviet agriculture.
book stayed on my mind, said Ames, who was working as a consultant
following a stint as a line buyer and senior manager for a billion-dollar
retailer, now out of business.
year, Ames saw an ad in the Wall Street Journal about a mid-career
volunteer program being started by the Peace Corps in the newly independent
states of the former Soviet Union.
the time, I was being heavily recruited by the retail industry, but I
felt something was missing, she said. I was fascinated by
the breakup of the former Soviet Union, and I had a lot of experience
launching new products from my retail background. When I was a line buyer,
I was sourcing 90 percent of my line out of the Orient and had developed
a lot of negotiation skills. It didnt matter to me that I couldnt
speak the language or knew very little about the region. I thought I could
of Sorrow still on her mind, Ames contacted a former Business School
classmate who knew Elaine Chao, then-president of the Peace Corps, and
asked if she could use his name (illustrating the power of personal networks,
Ames says). He agreed, and Ames cold-called Chao. The two got together
and six weeks later, Ames landed in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev.
was very intense, she says. Nothing is hard after that experience.
Today, after six months working in state government, however her first political position Ames is rethinking that statement.
the experience Im going through now might rival Kiev, she
is as the new director of the Massachusetts Department
of Economic Development, a position appointed by the states
governor and lieutenant governor and only the third time a woman
has held the spot. Although her days are filled with regular duties
staff meetings with her bosses and other cabinet members they have,
to date, been anything but typical because Ames is building her staff
job is very similar to other startups, she said from her office
on the 21st floor of a building that offers a 180-degree view of the Charles
River, Beacon Hill, and Cambridge. Its been amazingly fast
paced. Theres a certain element of chaos in that youre hit
with many things at the same time that seem to have the same importance.
to stay in control, Ames has reached back to lessons learned in the retail
industry, as well as during her two-year stint in Moscow, where she managed
a $30 million investment portfolio for a venture capital firm just before
the nations capital markets crashed in 1998.
should have to go through a capital market crash, Ames says, laughing
again. It prepares you for anything. It now takes a lot to throw
me. Im used to managing where theres a lot of motion and youre
underresourced. I take things as they come. The key is to have a real
focus on your mission. Its a centering thing.
razor-sharp sense of focus with the uncertain, cyclical nature of working
in politics, and its easy to see why Ames sees herself as hyper.
a real sense of urgency, she says, describing the org chart she
put up in her office on her second day and the mission statement and strategic
plans she crafted during the first few weeks. With the political
cycle, you dont know how long youll be in a position, so I
have as much a sense in my current position of lets move the
peanut an inch ahead every day as I did in the unstable, volatile
as Ames is, her career goal has not always been to shoot for the top.
This has meant shes made a lot of lateral moves over the years.
salary history looks like the Himalayas, she says, moving her hand
up and down. But my lifestyle is set up so that I have no debt,
except for a mortgage. Being able to adapt that way is a strength. When
youre starting out in your career, you have to be strong about what
you want and not let compensation be a barrier.
knowing what she wants to do has also meant continuing her education
part of the reason she came to the Kennedy School in 1996 for a year in
between her experiences in Kiev and Moscow.
that in order to be able to move between the sectors in my career, it
was important to be equally credentialed educationally as well as managerially,
she says. After four years in Kiev, I also thought it was important
to enter back into the American culture. The Kennedy School was a safe
place because of the Mason Fellows. They are a very diverse, smart,
and welcoming group of international students who were adjusting to the
United States at the same time as I was. In many ways, I felt more at
home with the Mason Fellows than with the other American students.
the person in charge of ensuring that job creation, business expansion,
and economic prosperity in Massachusetts continues, Ames is immersing
herself in the Internet and in the Bay States economic history.
seen profound changes, she said. The vector of venture capital
is unprecedented in the history of this state, or any state with the exception
of California more than $4.5 billion in the first six months of
2000. Thats more than three times the amount invested as a whole
10 years ago.
the states economic boom, Ames says she knows much work needs to
be done, including making the right infrastructure investments and working
to avoid a digital divide of the haves and have nots. To help with that,
she recently hired Jack Troast MPA 2000 to join her team as director of
policy development. The rest, she says, shell take as it comes.
Its all a crap shoot so you might as well do your best every day, she says. Thats something I really learned in the Soviet Union. Life is a gift, so I try to make the peanut move ahead everyday.