Meet Bella Goren, mother of two daughters and CFO of American Airlines. Bella didn’t have the typical start to a career in business. When her family immigrated to America from the former Soviet Union, fourteen-year-old Bella didn’t speak English. She credits much of her success to both of her parents. She refers to her mother as a remarkable woman, and we sat down with Bella last week to talk about some of the lessons her mother taught her.
4word: Tell us a bit about your mother. What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned from her?
Bella: My mother, Ellen Davidov, was a very bright, hard-working and accomplished professional woman, but without a doubt, what was most important to her were her family and children. Both of my parents left their lives in Odessa, Ukraine, so that their children would have an opportunity to live in a free country and have an opportunity to achieve their potential. Although life in the Ukraine was difficult, it took tremendous courage to leave everything familiar behind and begin a new life. My mother always encouraged me to be independent, persevere and set my goals high.
She also embodied those values for me. In 1999, at age 69, she joined the Peace Corps and served in Kazakhstan for two years, which took amazing courage and drive. She was the third oldest Peace Corp volunteer in the history of the service. No words could truly convey my sense of pride and awe when I think of my mom and the inspiring life she led.
4word: Did growing up with a mother who valued a strong work ethic and her family affect your own desire for a career and family? How so?
Bella: My mom always worked. In the Ukraine, the workweek was six days and, of course, when we immigrated to the US, she had to hold more than one job so that she and my father could provide for us. However, despite the fact that she worked “day and night,” I always felt that she had time for our family and me, and that we were her priority.
So it never occurred to me that I would have to choose one or the other – my goals were to have a career and a family. And since I was always told and shown by mother that nothing is impossible, these goals were ingrained in me from a very early age.
4word: And now that you have two daughters of your own, how are you passing along those same lessons (about the importance of hard work, family and confidence in yourself) to them?
Bella: My husband and I are so fortunate to have two wonderful daughters, ages 27 and 21. In my view, the best way to pass along lessons is by example. Our children observe and absorb our actions far better than our words. I also think that it is good to teach them responsibility, starting at a young age: studying hard, helping the community, working and being there for their family and friends.
It is also important for each of us to know that we have unconditional love and support from our families. My mother was “never too tired” to drop whatever she was doing and help me if I needed help. Now, no matter what my day might be like at the office, if my daughters need my help, they know they will have my full attention at any time because they are my top priority.
4word: What advice do you have for mothers who are trying to instill in their daughters the same confidence that your mother instilled in you?
Bella: One of my favorite sayings is: “If you don’t believe in yourself, why should anyone else?” Of course, confidence in itself is not enough. Achieving your dreams requires hard work and perseverance. All experiences – positive and negative – create learning opportunities.
In my speeches to women’s groups and other audiences, I often highlight these principles among the lessons I have learned from business and life:
Inspiration comes from within. We must find the drive and passion to make a difference, which comes from finding personal satisfaction in what we do.
Individuals don’t succeed in a vacuum. Teamwork is critical to success in business, in the community and in our family lives.
It is important to stretch ourselves and get out of our comfort zones. Taking on new challenges with enthusiasm can help us learn something valuable.
Working hard is critical. It is important to persevere and not let setbacks discourage us from pursuing our dreams.
What lessons did you learn from your parents that have served you well in your adult life?