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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on February 2, 2000. All rights
Women in Business: Josie Ottman
Not everyone who makes it in the IT world needs be a technophile. Take
Josie Ottman, for example. Although she founded her own website
strategy and design firm — the Ridge Group on Prospect Avenue — she
started out in marketing, first at Home Box Office, and later at Dow
Technology may be the building block of the new economy, she says, but
information is at the heart of it. "People don’t want to see the
technology, they want the information," says Ottman. "I’m constantly
amazed at how little time business users spend online. Business people
are characterized by the fact they have no time and no patience to go
poking around. I think people just want a good reward to time spent
ratio when they go to a site."
Ottman, who also leads the New Jersey chapter of the Association of
Internet Professionals, founded the Ridge Group in 1997 with three
former colleagues from Thomson Financial Services: Rich LaFauci, Russ
Iuliano, and Dick Carney. "Three Guys and a Girl Consulting — that
was my running joke when we came up with a name," says Ottman. Iuliano
had been an independent consultant, LaFauci an editor at Mainspring
Communication in Boston, and Carney the general manager of Buyside
Magazine, a financial publication, in San Francisco. "We bring
strategic skills, product design skills, and analytical skills all
together, and all of us understand business and financial
information," she says. "Just like in any partnership you learn to
appreciate what each other brings to the table. They have skill sets
and things that I don’t."
From the outset, Ottman and her partners declared a niche for
themselves in the yet-untapped realm of business-to-business online
services. Her clients today include American Banker, a financial
services daily, and Books24X7.com, a subscription-based seller of
technology information. The company outsources many of the programming
aspects and focuses on end-user efficiency. "We interview people and
try to understand their behaviors and design a service around those
behaviors," says Ottman. "We believe usefulness is what differentiates
Although she’s been called an IT person, Ottman downplays her
technical skills and says that she used to be a "classic female math
phobe: Marketing seemed like it was pretty straightforward, but I
avoided anything related to economics, finance and accounting like the
Working in the IT world is possible, she says, because she knows how
to work with people and considers herself something of an information
specialist — a role she had been practicing since her childhood days.
"My brother and I grew up playing this game watching TV, where you had
to guess what the ad was for before the company name came up," she
says. "I’ve always been a big consumer of information and a part of
understanding information is interacting with people. I’m a social
Ottman grew up in Greenwich, where her mother was an active community
volunteer and her father commuted to a marketing job at Bristol-Myers
in New York. Ottman majored in American literature at Middlebury
College, Class of 1977, and at graduation, took someone’s advice to
"go to what’s new:" she joined Home Box Office, working as a
secretary, at a time when hardly anybody knew what cable was or would
become. She talked herself into jobs as a copywriter and eventually
into marketing positions.
At the age of 52, Ottman’s father, now deceased, made a radical career
change that made a huge impression on her: he left marketing to become
an institutional investor analyst. "To have someone totally change
their life at 52 shows that we’re our own worst enemy at deciding what
we want to do," she says.
At about the same time, Ottman began to feel she had hit a wall in her
own career at HBO. "I was just finding myself with a budget to
manage," she says, "and I kept looking at these reports and I became
very aware that there was actually a system to business, principles
that I didn’t know much about, and curling up with an economics book
just wasn’t going to happen."
So Ottman decided to apply for an MBA program — and shot high: "I
said if I don’t get into a top school I’m not going and luckily I got
in to Columbia."
After summer jobs on Wall Street in investment banking, she turned to
marketing for financial services at Thomson (then called Business
Research Corporation), where she met her current partners. She moved
to a similar job at Dow Jones, where she was responsible for a
creating a new pricing structure for the Dow Jones News Retrieval
One of the few women in the IT world — and the only woman in her own
business — Ottman acknowledges having bumped up against the glass
ceiling once or twice, but not always not knowing how or why exactly.
"You experience it when you walk into a meeting and you’re the only
woman in the room," she says. "It can just get kind of lonely."
But women and men alike make great compromises to be in this kind of
business, says Ottman, who recently married Elliott Mossman, a
professor of Slavic studies at University of Pennsylvania. "The
successful women whom I’ve worked with have been willing to make
serious compromises — like spending less time with their family —
but very successful men make the same compromise," she says.
Ottman left Dow Jones in 1997 to found the Ridge Group, and that
career move came from a desire to be more effective in her own job.
"It was a great opportunity to be able to do things quickly," she
says. "In the consulting business people don’t hire you until they
really need help, and when you tell them what you think they’re really
Sometimes it’s not always want they want to hear, however, so Ottman
must exercise her diplomacy skills. "CEOs say that implementing change
throughout the organization is one of the toughest things," she says.
"Sometimes there are good reasons to resist change, and in the mix
between the change people — like me — and the status quo people, you
can get a good result. Ideally, if you believe a change needs to
happen, you try to communicate the reasons for it, and usually you can
do that through research, getting the customer speak for you. Then
it’s not what Josie Ottman thinks, it’s what our customers are telling
In many scenarios, companies let the technology overshadow the product
— the information they are trying to convey. "In one client we’re
stripping away Java, and stuff that was considered state of the art,
because it didn’t work," she says.
Just as the Ridge Group helps its clients hone in on its audience and
enhance its effectiveness, running a small consulting firm has enabled
Ottman to say focused in her own career. "There’s something magical
about a small organization — the smaller the organization, the
clearer everyone’s goals are," she says. "There is a wonderful time in
a company when they are struggling and their success is not insured,
because it binds people together."
— Melinda Sherwood
08540. Josie Ottman, principal. 609-924-8864; fax,
609-924-9636. Home page: http://www.ridgegroup.com.
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