A New Journey: ICAN leader Susan Henricks embarks on next chapter

For the early part of Susan Henrick’s more than 45-year career, she was the only woman in the department, let alone the room.

“I was the first female VP at one company and the first female president at another,” Henricks, former president and CEO of the Institute for Career Advancement Needs (ICAN), said. “Now, there are so many women in the business workforce. But, still, there are too few women at the top of organizations, too few women on the boards of organizations.”
Henricks, who retired at the end of January after around seven and a half years in her most recent role, noted that only 38 women lead Fortune 500 companies at present.

“That is 7.4%,” she said. “I truly believed that by the year 2021 there would be many, many more women in executive leadership positions.”

From Education to IT

Before Henricks embarked on a career in IT, the Northwestern graduate (Bachelor of Science, English and Education; Master of Business Administration, The Kellogg School of Management) aspired to teach high school English – that was, until she student-taught in Chicago.

“[I] was determined that this was not the path for me,” she said. “So, I graduated and began my business career in an entry-level IT position at a large insurance company.
“I learned how to code, how to be a systems analyst, how to be a project manager, and this early training has aided me greatly in my career.”

Henricks – whose notables include the Direct Marketing Association in New York’s Direct Marketer of the Year honoree – recalled how she progressed from being a trainee to being a project manager of major new system development projects. Next up, she would lead multiple project managers, teams and projects.

“IT was truly just starting to evolve at this time: COBOL and mainframe computers were the technologies,” she said. “PCs were not even invented yet!”

Post-mainframe system projects and immersing oneself in the intricacies of big corp operations, Henricks craved learning how to run a business.

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“I was very lucky that I had a CEO who was an incredible mentor and sponsor for me,” she said. “He gave me the opportunity to lead IT, to lead operations, to lead sales and marketing, and to then become the president of this direct marketing services business when he retired.”

Several years later, she noted the business (owned by a large global corporation), spun off and Henricks guided it through a successful Initial Public Offering.

“I then had the opportunity to lead two very large businesses,” she explained. “First at RR Donnelley in Chicago, where I had the opportunity to travel all across the U.S. and internationally – to many countries in Europe, to numerous cities in China, Thailand and Mexico.

“And then the credit card processing business at First Data in Omaha. What amazing experiences these were in terms of leading a business, working with really wonderful and smart people, and developing and creating teams to achieve results.”

Making Her Mark

In Henricks’ latest incarnation, she guided the Omaha-headquartered ICAN as president and CEO.

“ICAN is a leader development organization focused on helping people become even better authentic leaders,” she said. “And transforming organizations through inspiring, values-based, and skills-building leadership development experiences, programs and events.”

ICAN is known for its annual Women’s Leadership Conference – the largest event of its kind in the Midwest.

“I have always been passionate about developing my employees, empowering them in their careers, and investing in their potential,” Henricks said, adding that she was an ICAN customer and board member before joining the team.

“This position has allowed me a capstone on my career of focusing on that passion of developing leaders and teams – that has been a gift. It has also been meaningful to me to devote effort to the advancement of women in business through my work at ICAN, something that has been a constant in my career.”

Together, she said the ICAN team, faculty and board have expanded the organization’s reach, developed new programs, elevated its services, responded to the evolving business world, served growing numbers of leaders, and made a difference through its work.

In partnership with business leaders and organizations throughout the region, Henricks noted ICAN has developed “inspired, authentic leaders who transform the organizations and communities they serve.”

“[I’m] anxious to see what new experiences and challenges retirement will bring,” she said.
Henricks credits her success to three factors: “I always act with integrity – it is my No. 1 value.”

“Second,” she said, “I truly value teams and the people on those teams. And, third, it is these teams that achieve the results in business.”

But, the three words she lives by are quite literally emblazoned on a plaque in her office: Be Here Now.

“It reminds me that when I am meeting with someone in person, on Zoom or on the phone, that I must focus my attention only on them and really listen and discuss the topics at hand.”

In another nod to a thread that weaves through Henrick’s work, she summed up: “Integrity is the most valuable and respected quality of leadership. Always keep your word.”