Life Lessons: Perfectionism and Forging New Paths

Anne Sceia Klein W64 (Photo: Dave Moser)

Anne Sceia Klein W64 founded her own PR firm, Anne Klein and Associates, in 1982; it was later renamed AKCG. Klein owned the firm until 2017 and continues as an advisor. Last year, she co-authored a book, On the Cusp: The Women of Penn ’64, that tells the stories of 19 University of Pennsylvania alumnae who influenced women’s roles in business, the professions, academia, and society at large. In a conversation with Wharton Magazine and Knowledge@Wharton, Klein, 77, talks about forging her own path, the perils of perfection, and the friendly ultimatum she gave her husband before they married.—Mukul Pandya


My parents had a very strong influence on me as I was growing up. I had three aunts who were not married, and I learned a lot from my parents about caring, especially taking care of the elderly, giving back, being honest, working hard, and winning. My father used to say: “A giraffe never took a step forward unless she stuck her neck out.”

I was raised to believe, “You can do anything you want.” But I discovered that I really could not do everything I wanted. Most of the guys in my class went off to Wall Street—that wasn’t my direction, because I was discouraged from pursuing a career in corporate finance. My aspirations were very tempered by the environment, and I tried to mold my life on whatever doors opened for me.

The biggest decision I made was to start my own business. I had been in the banking and oil industries, and I felt I wasn’t getting anywhere. One night, I was complaining to my father, and he said, “Why don’t you think about starting your own business?” It was probably the most frightening step I have taken. But it was also the only logical step. The industry was contracting, and within nine months, my department at the oil company went from about 75 people down to five. So in retrospect, it was a good move.

My guiding philosophy in dealing with people is teamwork. I think the only way you can teach teamwork is to show it. You must involve people. And you have to be honest and credible.

The only experience I’ve had that I consider devastating was when I found out that I couldn’t have children. I don’t know if I’ve made my peace with it. I worry sometimes about what will happen to me if something happens to my husband. But I have the facility of pushing bad stuff away. My husband has the same philosophy: Don’t anticipate everything that’s going to occur, because some things never happen. Deal with it when you must.

When I was young, I was always striving for perfection. I had to win. I had to be number one. I had to do a great job. As I’ve gotten older, I have realized that you have to accept that you can’t always be perfect, but you can strive for being excellent. You have to love what you’re doing. You have to know who you are. You have to figure out what gives you joy and what you love to do. And you can’t be very strict.

I learned to love country music because my husband loves country music. He learned to ski because I told him I’d never marry anybody who didn’t ski. So you have to be flexible.

What matters most to me in life is family, my husband, and my friends. I want to spend time with them. I want to spend time on all the things I had to let go over all these years. I know people who’ve stopped doing things and everything deteriorates. I don’t want to do that. As long as I can, I’m going to keep doing something.

 

Published as “Anne Sceia Klein W64” in the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of Wharton Magazine.

 

 

 

 

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