CK Insights

March 9, 2018

Women Who Inspire Us: Susan Ungaro

Heather Caufield

For the second installment of our “Women Who Inspire Us” series we spoke with Susan Ungaro about her sources of motivation and inspiration, as well as her hopes for the next generation of female leaders.


Susan Ungaro’s 40-year career spans leadership positions in publishing and the non-profit world. The recipient of many diverse editorial and non-profit leadership awards, she served as editor-in-chief of Family Circle magazine and president of the James Beard Foundation.


When I began my first job in public relations nearly 12 years ago, the James Beard Foundation was one of my very first clients. Working directly with Susan for more than five years had an incredible impact on me at a critical time in my career. It helped shape the picture of the kind of leader I wanted (and still strive) to be: one that is strong and demands the best of their team, but is also kind and compassionate.


CooperKatz (CK): Where do you find your inspiration?


Susan Ungaro (SU): When I started working, I soon realized that my most inspiring ideas for life and work came from people I met and lessons and stories I heard from them over a cup of coffee, lunch or dinner. I made it a practice to try and meet someone new at least once a week – from people with whom I worked to people I wanted to meet (you’d be surprised how many people are willing to have coffee if you are genuinely interested in what they do). Listening to others tell you their success stories, ideas for living a good life, or even ways they handle stress, always inspire me to live and work better, smarter and happier.


(CK): Do you have a compelling quote or piece of advice that keeps you motivated?


(SU): As a former magazine editor, I love inspiring quotes. In fact, when I was editor of Family Circle I created a column called “Words to Live By.”  Some of my favorite quotes that propelled me when feeling challenged were two my parents often cited: 


From my father: “If you don’t reach for the stars, you’ll never get to the moon.” 


From my Irish mother (and Eleanor Roosevelt): “A woman is like a tea bag; you never know how strong it is until it’s in hot water.”


And finally, I once heard someone say the 10 most important two-letter words are: “If it is to be, it is up to me.”  When I looked it up, I found out it was first said by the African-American artist William H. Johnson, whose paintings now hang in the Smithsonian American Art Museum.  I love this simple sentence, since it expresses the need and belief, that sometimes one person can make a difference!


(CK): What do you hope to see from – or for – the next generation of female leaders?


(SU): As the mother of two sons and a daughter, I have great hopes and expectations for the millennial generation. In my own children and their friends, I admire their fervent belief in equality of the sexes and commitment to helping create a kinder and more diverse society. The cultural and psychological barriers that were prevalent when my husband and I were young adults have been torn down.  Being a working mother and having a husband/partner who truly shares childcare duties and support his wife having a career is much more common these days. For decades, the number of women CEOs on the Fortune 500 was dismal.  Last year, 32 women made the list –up from 21 the year before. I believe my children and grandchildren’s generation will continue to inspire and support more women as presidents in corporate America. Behind very successful women, is a supportive network of other women and men!



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