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THE SUNDAY PROFILE

In Full Bloom

Judy Rosener grows orchids, dines with world leaders and got her PhD at 50. And through her theories on gender differences in business, the UCI professor wants to ensure every woman has what she's had.

November 03, 1996|JANET WISCOMBE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A professional woman who runs a large merger and acquisition company arrives early for a flight. She stops in the airport bar for a drink.

A man approaches her. "Would you like a little company?" he asks.

"Sure," she responds brightly. "Have you got one for sale?"

*

Judy Rosener, a beguiling 66-year-old feminist in a designer suit, delights in telling such jokes and shattering stereotypes. Whether sharing the stage with Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf and Jack Kemp or delivering a speech to female heads of state in Stockholm, she is a natural performer who can transform even the most mind-numbing event into a little ol' chat with grandma.

She is "Maude" with a PhD, an iconoclastic management professor at the University of California at Irvine who first popped into the national conscience in 1990 with a seminal article in the Harvard Business Review, declaring that men and women are different after all. She went on to write a couple of blueprints for business including her most recent book, "America's Competitive Secret: Utilizing Women as Management Strategy."

She argues that women thrive in non-hierarchical ways and prefer cooperative, shared leadership; men are more inclined toward styles of "command and control."

"Both are good," she says. "I'm not saying women are wonderful and men are horrible. I'm saying we've got to utilize the skills of professional women. It's not just a social justice issue. It's an economic imperative.

"Women make excellent leaders. They cope well with people and diversity. They are always dealing with three kids and two cookies."

Rosener is seated at the kitchen table of her home on Lido Island in Newport Beach. From her chair, she can look into a handsome living room or gaze out at a patio where koi splash in a pool beneath a gurgling waterfall. It is here in this paradise of tropical sounds and flowering orchids that she and husband Joe raised three children--all now successful professionals with degrees from prestigious schools.

She admits she has guilt pangs about a life that has been remarkably blessed: "I'm just a nice Jewish girl from a poor family."

She's also a flaming liberal with close connections to the Junior League; a hell-raising politico who defines herself as a happy homemaker; a social animal as comfortable in a five-star restaurant as hanging out with the guys at the local coffee shop; a Cadillac owner who once sported a bumper sticker that read "It's OK to be a Democrat in Orange County"; an impeccably groomed grandmother of four who refers to herself as a dumpy old bag; and a champion of social justice who shops at Neiman Marcus, makes a killing on the lecture circuit and has been known to board her orchids.

Boards her orchids?

"Yes," she repeats. "Board my orchids."

Rosener comes from a highly educated family of Jewish Russian immigrants ("People who believed education is an investment not a cost"), has been married to the same man for 45 years, enjoys close relationships with children and siblings, hosts elegant sit-down dinner parties, writes memorable thank-you notes, grows roses, works out with a personal trainer, contributes generously, travels internationally and always flies first class.

"She does shout," husband Joe deadpans.

*

At an age when most people are beginning to unwind, Rosener is revving up, relishing fame and fortune and having a hell of a good time. In recent weeks she's spoken in Mexico, dined with world leaders in Europe, dipped into Washington for lunch with Hillary.

Which reminds her. She has got to remember to pick up her black dress at the cleaners for a trip to Boston. She's going to meet with members of her women's group, an august assemblage of famous actresses, CEOs, artists, politicians, fashion designers and judges.

She says she can't mention the name of the group: "Then everyone would want to join. You have to be asked in. We're all very visible and stuff."

She drops several names--big names--then begs their identities not be disclosed.

By her own description, she is a highly optimistic, enthusiastic person.

"I get excited when the roses bloom," she says. "But I know I have security most people don't have. I can afford to be outspoken. That's why I don't tell women, 'You can do it too.' That isn't fair. I came from an intact family. I lived in the same house growing up. Joe is an anchor.

"A lot of women don't have that context."

To questions about life's inevitable difficulties and disappointments, she tries in vain to come up with something juicy. "Everyone has their ups and downs," she says. "But we really haven't had problems. There haven't been any tragedies. Not even any broken bones or [traffic] tickets."

Joe can't think of much to add: "There've been a few business deals that didn't work out. It's been a wonderful life."

Joe has just come home from a swim at the club. He pads into the kitchen in bare feet and shorts to make himself a mountain of a salad with a snowstorm of Parmesan, commenting about his wife as he chops vegetables.

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