DETROIT and cars, Hollywood and films, Silicon Valley and chips. It's hard to think of one without the other. Here's a new link in the business landscape. Henceforth, when you hear Wellesley, Mass., the home of Wellesley College, think of top-level executive women.
More than any other college -- large or small -- Wellesley has groomed women who shatter the glass ceiling. Wellesley women take up far more seats in executive suites and corporate boardrooms than their numbers suggest they should have. They are overrepresented, too, at places like the Harvard business school, a fountainhead for occupants of the nation's corner offices.
To cite just a few of Wellesley's major achievers, there's Lois D. Juliber, '71, president of Colgate North America; Ellen R. Marram, '68, president of the Seagram Beverage Group; Shirley Young, '55, a vice president of General Motors, and Marion O. Sandler, '52, co-chief executive of Golden West Financial, a large savings and loan association.
Influencing business policy, there is Alicia Munnell, '64, a top Treasury Department official recently nominated to the Council of Economic Advisers. And of course there's Hillary Rodham Clinton, '69, the once and future corporate lawyer and director.
Just how does Wellesley, a school of only 2,200 students, do it?
This good fortune certainly wasn't planned, college officials said. Wellesley's outstanding record stems from -- in addition to bright students -- a strong, popular economics department; a dynamic professor, Carolyn Shaw Bell, who taught at the college from 1950 to 1989; and programs that encourage networking among alumnae and between alumnae and students, people said. Wellesley, in fact, could be an inspiration to other colleges that want to help their graduates go where few women have gone before, into the business world's upper echelons.
Evidence for the Wellesley edge abounds, starting with the number of companies that look to Wellesley for executive women. In 1994, 75 companies recruited at its leafy campus west of Boston, far exceeding the number at similar-sized elite colleges like Smith and Amherst.
Some executive recruiters say they sense that Wellesley women know how to really succeed in business. "I have always felt this was true, and I've always said I want my two daughters to go to Wellesley," said Julie Daum of Spencer Stuart, a big search firm.
Several studies lend credence to a "Wellesley factor." When Business Week magazine named the "50 Top Women in Business" in 1992, four went to the school. Only one other college claimed more than one spot on the roster -- the University of Wisconsin, which matched Wellesley's four but which also has six and a half times as many women students.
Of the 390 women who serve as directors of the Fortune 500 companies, at least 17 went to Wellesley -- more than any other college -- according to Catalyst, a women's advocacy group (headed, it happens, by a Wellesley graduate, Sheila Wellington).
And Carol A. Scott found evidence in her 1992 survey of America's senior executive women. Asked by The New York Times to look at the colleges attended by those women, she found 8 Wellesley graduates among the 439 respondents. That is 64 times Wellesley's share of the female college population and more than any other college except the University of California at Berkeley (with 9, but also five times as many women students).
"I thought you were out of your mind when you called, but I see that there's something to it," said Ms. Scott, a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles's Graduate School of Management.
And don't forget Wellesley's position as a dominant supplier of women to the Harvard business school. In 1975, for example, Wellesley sent more women to the Harvard business school than any other college. Twenty years later, Wellesley graduates still made up the biggest contingent from any women's college, though by then Harvard and Dartmouth were sending a few more proportionately.
Success, of course, breeds success. "There's a self-reinforcing mechanism at work in terms of student selection and faculty recruitment," explained Victor Fuchs, an economist at Stanford University who wrote "Women's Quest for Economic Equality."
Indeed, many Wellesley women are now feeding into the pipeline that leads up to the executive office. All told, about a third of Wellesley's graduates go into the business world, more than any other career.
As an all-female school, Wellesley starts with an edge. Numerous studies show that graduates of women's colleges, compared with women graduates of coeducational institutions, develop higher levels of self-esteem and do better in their careers.
But when it comes to business, Wellesley still outdoes its rivals -- a thought that raises hackles among some of them. "When you look around at the Seven Sisters, I think you'll find similar results," said Barbara Reinhold, director of the career development office at Smith.
True, of those elite traditionally women's colleges, Vassar can claim Geraldine Laybourne, president of the Nickelodeon network, while Smith can boast of Rochelle B. Lazarus, president of Ogilvy & Mather North America, and Laura D'Andrea Tyson, director of the White House's National Economic Council. Columbia's Barnard College has Phyllis Grann, chief executive of the Putnam Publishing Group. And Radcliffe College at Harvard has Joan T. Bok, chairman of the New England Electric System, and Lisa Henson, president of Columbia Pictures.
YET none of these colleges -- nor any other college or university -- has produced proportionately as many corporate women in high positions as Wellesley. Neither Smith nor Barnard nor Radcliffe produced a list that matched Wellesley's.
Vassar conceded the point. "Recruiters do say that Wellesley students are very business-oriented," said Clare D. Graham, director of career development. "Our alums have tended to have a focus in communications and the arts."
Wellesley's president, Diana Walsh, cannot explain precisely how Wellesley came to produce graduates who ascend to jobs like senior vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (Margaret Yeo, '64) and executive vice president of Bloomingdale's (Christine Miller, '66).
Ms. Walsh cited the school's past as the key ingredient. "Wellesley has a history of women's rights, a culture of women struggling to succeed in a man's world," she said.
Many graduates agreed that Wellesley's culture influenced them mightily. Many also credited the grounding they got at Wellesley's economics department, which was recently ranked No. 2 (according to the traditional standard, published citations of its members' academic work), behind Williams, among the liberal arts colleges in a study by Michael Robinson of Mount Holyoke College. Ms. Bell has retired, but the department still has widely respected teachers like Marshall Goldman.
Uncommonly for a women's school, economics is usually Wellesley's most popular major, or at least second. And that is a longstanding phenomenon, not a product of the go-go 1980's, which lured many bright students into business.
More important, "Wellesley has Carolyn Bell, who within the school set a model," said Margaret Hennig, dean of the Simmons Graduate School of Business. "She made it legitimate even during the antibusiness period, the hippie period, for Wellesley women to get involved with economics and business. She obviously influenced enormous numbers of women."
And they agree. Ms. Marram, of Seagram, remembered the first meeting, in 1989, of Wellesley's Business Leadership Council, a group of 93 high-powered alumnae. "A bunch of us sat around after dinner, and soon we were all talking about Carolyn Bell," she said. "She was a fierce promoter of Wellesley economics graduates. She used to tell us that we should brag, that we should let people know what we can do."
To that, Ms. Bell, a graduate of Mount Holyoke who at 75 still writes a monthly column for The Boston Globe, pleads guilty. But she says she "never pushed any particular field for people."
"It was a personal value that any woman should be able to support herself and her children, whether or not she has to," Ms. Bell said. "Wellesley produced women who were responsible for themselves, and that may have helped."
Whatever it was, it worked. Marsha Williams, for example, was majoring in archeology until she ran into Ms. Bell. "She made economics come alive," said Ms. Williams, now treasurer of the Amoco Corporation. "It made me not be afraid of being unable to hold my own in a business setting."
Wellesley also tries to expose students to the business world. Ten years ago, it started a program called "Wall Street Warm-Up." It takes 20 to 30 students a year to Manhattan, stationing each with a Wellesley graduate in a brokerage or investment bank.
Whether it is for their first job or years later, Wellesley graduates use these contacts. Some networking is formal, through the Business Leadership Council, which began as a forum for busy graduates to help the school, but quickly became a place where members compared notes about work.
BUT much more of this power-networking is informal, a matter of keeping in touch by women like Adele Morrissette, '77, a director at Cowen & Company, a Manhattan investment bank. She is not a member of the leadership council. Nor did she go to Wellesley with a business career in mind. By the time she was a junior or senior, however, "I knew there were a lot of Wellesley women in business and that they were breaking barriers," she said.
When it came time to look for a job, Ms. Morrissette met Donna Ecton, '69, now chief executive of Business Mail Express Inc., who was recruiting for the Chemical Bank. "She really championed me," said Ms. Morrissette, who took the job, then got an M.B.A. "I would not be a Wall Street investment banker, were it not for her."
Ms. Morrissette keeps up with several Wellesley women, calling on a former client, Robin Smith, '61, the president of Publishers Clearing House, as a mentor; trading information with an alumna employed by a venture capital firm, and steering Cowen to a search firm run by Patricia Morrill, a Wellesley graduate.
This kind of mutual support happens all the time. Ms. Juliber, for example, joined the board of the State Street Boston Corporation after Nannerl O. Keohane, a former Wellesley president who is now president of Duke University and a member of both the leadership council and State Street's board, recommended her.
No wonder, then, that Wellesley graduates keep turning up in corporate circles. And because few colleges have picked up on Wellesley's bottom-line success -- only a couple, like Simmons College, have started groups for alumnae in business -- Wellesley may well remain a mother lode of executive women for a while to come.