Christina Van Houten, '96
Christina Van Houten, '96, is SVP of Industry and Solution Strategy at INFOR and Founder of Women@Work. She grew up in Oklahoma with her mind set on pursuing a career in public policy. After high school, she studied at Georgetown University and then worked in the public and nonprofit sectors of the government for several years. It was a great experience, but she soon realized that she needed to enhance her liberal arts background with an MBA education to gain the practical skills one needs to be successful. In her own words:
“I chose Booth because I thought it would most take me out of my comfort zone; I knew it would push me the most…. Throughout my life thus far, I had never felt like a fish out of water (e.g. socially, intellectually, etc) - Booth did that for me.”
While at Booth, Christina developed a knack for what she calls “Human Portfolio Optimization.” At the time, women made up only a very small percentage of her class (roughly 18%) and her project groups were generally comprised of her and 5-8 men, many of whom had come from Wall Street. Recall that Christina came from a liberal arts background - she had never even opened an Excel workbook! Her competitive drive and entrepreneurial spirit went into high gear - she knew she needed to make herself relevant to the team. Christina dug deep and worked hard to figure out where and how she could do something well that others couldn’t - a way to optimize her abilities within the context of her project teams. This approach of Human Portfolio Optimization has proven relevant time and time again throughout her career (and, likely, many of ours as well). It’s the ability to quickly assess the skillsets of your team and optimize accordingly, and she first discovered this dynamic through her education at Booth.
Shortly after graduating from Booth and inspired by a business plan she wrote for Professor James Schrager’s class, Christina started her own company designing, manufacturing, and selling women’s athleisure apparel under the brand Aviddiva: Activewear for Everywhere. After three years and accumulating another 6-figures of debt, she realized there was no money in the business and it was time to walk away. In her own words,
“As painful as it was to clear out my inventory for pennies on the dollar, I knew the brand was now a sunk cost, and it was the right thing to do. This is true of a lot of things in life: sometimes you just have to rip the band-aid off, walk away, and just move forward to the next thing.”
After dissolving her business, Christina joined an internet start-up based in Boston and thus began her journey in the technology industry. From there she joined ProfitLogic as employee number ten, which was subsequently bought by Oracle. Note here the unintended move from entrepreneur to corporate employee - but that didn’t stop her spirit one bit. Through this acquisition, she went from the proverbial corner office to a cubicle position where she now reported to someone she previously managed. It was like starting over. Rather than throw in the towel, Christina’s inner entrepreneurial shone bright, as well as her talent of human portfolio optimization. She quickly found a way to optimize her skills and make herself relevant to senior leadership, and subsequently quickly rose within the organization.
Fast forward a few years and today you will find Christina in the position of SVP of Industry and Solution Strategy at Infor. In this role, she leads product development where a lot of the initiatives are really complex and cross-functional across the organization. She has thousands of people reporting to her and regularly leverages that dynamic of Human Portfolio Optimization to assemble teams with the right mix and promote productivity as a diverse group.
A powerful female leader in her own right, Christina is often called upon to share her experiences and the lessons she’s learned from years of negotiating gender dynamics and other “taboo” topics throughout her career. Ever the entrepreneur, she recently launched Women@Work - a platform she founded for emerging working women to connect with and learn from one another around the world.
Included with the launch of the platform is her first book called Men@Work:A career girl's guide to navigating male archetypes. Men@Work is the first of what will be three in a series, including Fashion@Work: A career girl's guide to creating a personal brand, which is launching in Spring 2018, and Babies@Work: A career girl's guide to surviving pregnancy and parenting. Beyond the books and related content, Women@Work also has several initiatives, including The Mentor Marketplace, among other engagements. On a personal note from the author of this article - I strongly urge you to check it out! Christina has generously included several downloadable sample materials, and her book may be the perfect solution for some of your holiday needs.