To celebrate 50 years of coeducation at Kenyon, we’re profiling three dozen of Kenyon alumnae during the 2019-20 academic year. These women, merely a small sample of the thousands of female graduates who have earned Kenyon degrees since 1969, will discuss their undergraduate experiences and how their education in Gambier prepared them for their lives and careers.
The 31st alumna in our series is Janet Heckman ’76, whose long career in finance included over three decades with Citigroup and eight years at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, where she was the managing director for the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean, based in Cairo, Egypt. She majored in history at Kenyon and holds a master’s degree in foreign service from Georgetown University.
Where did you first discover your power?
My junior year abroad in the Great Lakes Colleges Association program at the American University of Beirut really opened my eyes to the world beyond Ohio and instilled in me a lifelong love of travel, living and working abroad. During that year I traveled throughout the Near East and overland to India. It also made me realize that the world was accessible and that as long as you were open to differences in culture, political systems and religion, you could make a difference anywhere.
Who at Kenyon inspired you?
Kenyon really helped to hone my thinking and analytical skills. The weekly essays required for my freshman English class by [Visiting Professor] Dr. [George] Kahrl and the rigor with which he marked them certainly have had a lifelong impact. This class helped to prepare me with the writing and analytical skills I would need for all that followed, both academically and in my professional life.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
My grandmother was a small businesswoman in Akron, Ohio. During the Depression, she was a single mother with two young children to support. Her advice was to prepare yourself so that you never need to depend on anyone else for your livelihood. This is one of the reasons why I feel so passionately about women in business programs, including women on boards which I have been involved in in the Middle East.
How do you prioritize your life and get things done?
After 32 years in international banking in Citigroup, I joined the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development eight years ago. Since then, my priorities have been focused on making a difference to people’s lives. In the Middle East and North African region, my key focus has been on sustainable energy — we financed Africa’s largest solar field in Egypt — SME [small- and medium-sized enterprise] development and women in business.
Key to making progress is developing the right team, inspiring them to believe and act on the vision and working closely with local government and private sector counterparts. The key is to focus on people, to listen to what their needs are and to ensure the outcomes help to change lives.
In my personal life, I am particularly pleased that our two daughters are both involved in professions which help to improve lives — Amelia in statewide Ohio politics, and Sorcha with environmental protection on the West Coast.
It’s critical to decide how you can make a difference — prepare yourself with the skills necessary to ensure that you can succeed.
How has your worldview evolved since leaving Kenyon?
It’s interesting, but despite having lived in 11 countries since graduating from Kenyon, I believe that my world view hasn’t really changed fundamentally. The liberal arts education at Kenyon taught me not so much subjects, but rather how to learn. It demonstrates how fundamental my time at Kenyon was to all that followed.
It’s wonderful that at the last reunion — 40 years — I still felt right at home with my classmates, as if we had never been away from beautiful Gambier.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Read about the previous woman in our series: Janae Peters ’10
Read about the next woman in our series: Stephanie Danler ’06