Anne-Marie Slaughter likes to be in the middle of things

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Anne-Marie Slaughter, president and CEO of the New America think tank, served as director of policy planning for the U.S. State Department under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She returns to her hometown to talk about her vision for the future. Courtesy Royce Carlton Anne-Marie Slaughter, president and CEO of the New America think tank, served as director of policy planning for the U.S. State Department under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She returns to her hometown to talk about her vision for the future. Courtesy Royce Carlton

A Charlottesville native whose keen intellect and deep foreign policy knowledge led her to become the first female director of policy planning for the U.S. State Department under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Anne-Marie Slaughter has never forgotten her roots. She is one of this year’s Tom Tom Founders Festival Founders Summit keynote speakers, as well as a participant in the Hometown Summit luncheon, “Future city: America’s local innovators,” where she will talk about our shared future challenges and also highlight Charlottesville’s potential as an agent of connection and renewal.

When she visited Brussels, Belgium, as a little girl, Anne-Marie Slaughter’s formidable “grand-mère” instructed her on etiquette: “You are in Belgium, and here we speak French.” Young Anne-Marie did her best, though it was a struggle for the preschooler. Now fluent in French and a renowned expert in international relations, Slaughter is having a gemstone that belonged to her grandmother set into a pinky ring. “I want to be able to look down at it and remember grand-mère’s discipline,” she says. In truth, it could serve as a reminder of everything that set her on her path.

That path originated in Charlottesville, still a sleepy Southern town in the 1950s. Slaughter’s father, Ned, earned his law degree at the University of Virginia and later founded his own law firm (he’s now a lawyer at MichieHamlett on Court Square), while her mother, Anne, built a career as a professional artist, co-founding the McGuffey Art Center in 1975. The family lived west of town off Barracks Road, and Slaughter began her education at the K-8 Belfield School, the precursor to St. Anne’s-Belfield, because there were not yet any public kindergartens in the county.

“She had an extraordinary education, all the way through,” says Anne, who was often recruited to help with her daughter’s ambitious school projects. “For a second grade Middle Ages assignment, we made a chicken wire knight in full armor,” she laughs. “Anne-Marie has always loved to read, has always excelled academically.” While accurate, these are relative understatements. Her daughter once plowed through more than 100 books over summer vacation, and at St. Anne’s, originally an all-girls high school that only became co-ed two years before Slaughter arrived, she won the Bishop’s Prize, the school’s highest award, for “loyalty, courage, honor, leadership and especially for character.”

Anne-Marie Slaughter attended St. Anne’s-Belfield from kindergarten through high school and says longtime history teacher Pam Malone inspired her professional path of having high standards and fierce integrity. Family photo
Anne-Marie Slaughter attended St. Anne’s-Belfield from kindergarten through high school and says longtime history teacher Pam Malone inspired her professional path of having high standards and fierce integrity. Family photo

Her youngest sibling, Bryan, also an attorney with MichieHamlett, remembers a more typical big sister. “She would babysit me and get to talking on the phone, and she’d burn my ravioli,” he recalls, though she did operate a successful bread-baking business out of their home kitchen for a time. (“After that, we had to replace the stove,” intones her father.)

Forever dreaming of owning her own horse, she made a deal with the neighbors to take care of their two in exchange for riding privileges, and she and best friend Janie Battle Richards roamed the countryside for miles around. “Charlottesville was an idyllic place to grow up,” says Richards. “We had wonderful freedom in the summers just exploring, having adventures on horseback.”

“Riding was important to me because it was something physical I could do,” says Slaughter, who was not particularly athletically inclined. “And life’s all about getting back on the horse, isn’t it?”

Codes of conduct

Summer trips to visit her Belgian relatives and other European cities gave Slaughter an appreciation of cultural differences, even with her nose in a book in the back of a VW bus. Her early life was populated by strong women, like her mother and grandmothers, who taught her the value of honorable behavior and forthright speech. True to form, when her Belgian grandmother visited the U.S., Slaughter (still pre-K) decided it was time to turn the tables. “Grand-mère!” she said. “We are in America now, and here we speak English.”

Pam Malone, a longtime history teacher and former headmistress of St. Anne’s, was a quieter influence during high school. Slaughter felt that in another era Malone could have been as famous as her father, Jefferson historian Dumas Malone, and says, “She has inspired me more and more as I forged my own path as a professional woman. She had high standards and fierce integrity.”

For similar reasons, Slaughter was drawn to her boss at the New Dominion Bookshop, proprietor Carol Troxell, who offered an ideal summer job to the young bookworm. Troxell, whose death in January shocked the community, was a smart, independent woman—well-read, fluent in French and a history buff besides.

“The bookstore had real resonance in my life,” says Slaughter. “Carol just made her own way,” and ran her business according to a code that has reverberated with Slaughter ever since: Do the right thing. To this day, it’s a code she tries to impress upon her sons above all else. “It’s the notion that you are not beholden to other people, you’re beholden to a set of principles.”

Slaughter remembers the Charlottesville of her youth with affection, but also knows that by the end of high school she longed to move to a bigger city. “In the ’70s, it was not that easy to be a smart girl,” she says. “I spent a lot of time at football games and parties, basically acting dumb, and going off to college was an escape.” That teenage lens has long since fallen away. “As I’ve gotten older, now I see the close-knit community and the physical beauty of the place. My kids laugh that my accent starts to deepen as we near the Blue Ridge.”

On the ground

The word used by every friend, family member and former teacher when describing Slaughter is “grounded.” Given her lengthy résumé and the professional heights to which she’s ascended, the descriptor seems a stretch. She holds four degrees (bachelor of arts from Princeton, juris doctorate from Harvard, masters and doctorate from Oxford), and has held various professorships, a deanship and a director-level position in the U.S. State Department. But her easy laugh, warm presence and self-deprecating manner set people at ease. “She doesn’t change,” says best friend Richards. “She’s totally authentic.”

From her scholarly work on international relations to her personal interactions, Slaughter strives to create links with people and their ideas. “I’d rather be at the center of a web than the top of a ladder,” she says, referring to alternate models of accruing power. “I have a more horizontal view of the world, and I want to be as connected as I can.”

“At New America, I am more and more convinced that we have to tackle our problems in this country from the hometowns out. I grew up wanting to get to Washington, but I now think places like Charlottesville are going to be every bit as important in figuring out solutions to all sorts of issues, from the environment to work to health care, and the hometown summits of the world are much more important than they ever have been in my lifetime.”—Anne-Marie Slaughter

Friends and family say she achieves those connections better than most, even under the stress of a heavy workload. “She is so mentally and emotionally agile that she can pivot,” says Richards. “She taps into an emotional thread with people and situations, and she quiets all the outside noise and focuses just on them.”

Most of all, Slaughter loves new challenges. Unflinching in the face of obstacles, she nonetheless had to overcome a serious dread of public speaking to get to where she is today. Her family remembers her terror before her first moot court competition and when giving speeches to accept awards. “Just breathe!” exhorted her mother Anne.

Eventually Slaughter mastered her unease, and also learned to assert herself early in her career in a male-dominated business world. “With those first internships, if they weren’t calling she would pick up the phone and ask, ‘Why aren’t you hiring me?’” says Anne, chuckling. “And then they would.”

The big leagues

Countering the image of a typical ’60s dad, Ned Slaughter discussed career options with his daughter from an early age while other dads plotted marriage strategy for their girls. “She decided by age 6 that she would be a lawyer,” says Ned, “and we joked about our future firm, Slaughter and Daughter.” Though her path ultimately shifted away from practicing law and instead toward teaching it, she and her father have always been close, and he remains a confidant today.

As it turned out, Slaughter was never at a loss for employment. “It’s evident that I’m restless,” she laughs, and hesitates to name a favorite job. “They’ve all been pretty wonderful for the phase of life I was in. When I first became a law professor, I remember thinking, ‘I can’t believe people pay me to do this, to read and think and talk.’” She never expected to be in academia, but she realized that teaching allowed her the connections with students that she enjoyed.

Anne-Marie Slaughter’s newest book, The Chessboard & the Web, prescribes a network of linked, like-minded entities that can work in tandem with the traditional chessboard moves of geo-political strategy.
Anne-Marie Slaughter’s newest book, The Chessboard & the Web, prescribes a network of linked, like-minded entities that can work in tandem with the traditional chessboard moves of geo-political strategy.

In 2002, she left Harvard Law School to become dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, settling there with her husband and two young sons. In that position she gained leadership experience and honed her worldview, writing three books and dozens of scholarly articles about America’s strategic interests and its place in a new world order. But even as her academic career steadily progressed, there had always been one job in her sights.

“If you’d asked me in 1980 what was my dream job 30 years down the road, I might well have said director of policy planning for the State Department,” says Slaughter. An assistant secretary-level position responsible for developing the long-term strategic view of the U.S. in foreign affairs as well as managing the requirements of day-to-day diplomacy, the job was created in 1947 and had never been held by a woman. When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered her the post in 2009, she jumped at it.

The changes this new job entailed were significant, not least of which was having to leave her family in New Jersey and commute to Washington, D.C., during the week, returning home only on weekends. There was also a new set of rules to learn. “Honestly, the hardest thing was the politics of the place,” says Slaughter. “I really hated being as cynical as you needed to be to flourish there, but I learned it.” The upside was worth it, she says.

“There I was sitting down at 8:45 every morning with the secretary of state and offering my opinion, and being able to do some things myself that really did make a difference. You do have an impact.”

Her next impact, though completely unanticipated, would be just as far-reaching.

Pivot point

While serving in the State Department and balancing the work/life trade-offs with her husband, Andrew Moravcsik, a professor of politics at Princeton, Slaughter began to worry about her 14-year-old son, who was struggling in school, acting out and rejecting adult intervention. Increasingly she realized that despite the all-in support of her husband, she simply couldn’t be the caregiver she wanted to be from a distance, and so at the end of two years in her dream job, she stepped down and returned to Princeton.

Her decision was dispiriting because she loved the work, but not wrenching: Family came first and it was the right choice for her. More unsettling was the reaction to her choice from some of her high-powered female colleagues, which ranged from dismissive to derisive. Most surprising of all was the immediate response to her essay about the whole experience published in The Atlantic in 2012, entitled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.”

One of the magazine’s most-read articles of all time, the piece ignited a furious debate about the role of women in the workplace and at home, and about how society and systems might change to accommodate the balance. For Slaughter, the debate turned into a multiyear diversion from her foreign policy focus but she took it head on.

Addressing the concerns of a generation of young women struggling with societal expectations, she shared her views in scores of lectures and interviews, as well as in a book, Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family. She’s been stunned by the outpouring of emotion on the subject. “When young women come up to you and say, ‘You changed my life, you made it okay for me to do something that I was dying to do,’ that’s huge,” she says.

It is also a confirmation of what Slaughter has believed all her life: In doing the principled thing rather than the thing many people expected of her, she has become exactly the kind of independent, “go your own way” woman she admired in her youth.

Hometown heroine

As ever, Slaughter is excited about the future. Currently president and CEO of New America, a think tank devoted to “renewing American politics, prosperity and purpose in the Digital Age,” she sees countless opportunities for interconnected solutions to the nation’s—and the world’s—toughest issues. At the upcoming Tom Tom Founders Festival’s Hometown Summit, she’ll come back to her roots to talk about her vision.

“At New America, I am more and more convinced that we have to tackle our problems in this country from the hometowns out,” she explains. “I grew up wanting to get to Washington, but I now think places like Charlottesville are going to be every bit as important in figuring out solutions to all sorts of issues, from the environment to work to health care, and the hometown summits of the world are much more important than they ever have been in my lifetime.”

She observes the rapid pace of change and thinks that the place to be working out solutions is on the ground, rather than in slow-moving government or university enclaves. “Part of what’s wrong with this country is that we’re so disconnected, and it’s ironic because we’re all connected all the time, but we are disconnected from our own communities and from people who are different from us.” She feels that it’s much easier to be connected to people of different backgrounds in a smaller town.

“The places I see renewal are exactly the small-town size—like Charlottesville, Columbia, South Carolina, and Indianapolis—places that are big enough to have an economy but small enough to still have communities, leaders who are familiar with each other, people who know each other from church or the rotary or Little League or whose kids go to the same school, and who have connections. I feel really strongly that we cannot demonize people that differ from us. We have to see others as fully human, who want the same outcome as us but may have different ideas of how to get there.”

Slaughter remains an avid reader—her routine is nonfiction in the morning, fiction at night—and communicator. “There’s a part of me that is never happier than when I’m reading and writing and thinking and left alone, but I know I need to also be in the world,” she says.

Her newest book, The Chessboard & the Web, prescribes a network of linked, like-minded entities that can work in tandem with the traditional chessboard moves of geo-political strategy. Wonder what Slaughter’s next move is? Look for her where she’s most challenged, right in the center of the web.


Hometown feel

The word innovation has been something of a local buzzword of late, most recently with the sale of the Main Street Arena building to Taliaferro Junction LLC and Jaffray Woodriff, who plans to build a 100,000-square-foot structure in its place. The building will serve as a tech company incubator, in hopes of attracting innovative companies and retaining established businesses that might otherwise leave the area.

New to the Tom Tom Founders Festival (runs through April 16) this year is the Hometown Summit, which brings together more than 140 speakers in 50 workshops, panels and discussions. The participants, from more than 40 small, thriving cities, will share innovative ideas and how to make them realities. Charlottesville native Anne-Marie Slaughter will take part in the plenary luncheon titled “Future city: America’s local innovators,” on Friday, April 14. Joining her on the panel will be Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke and UVA Darden School of Business Tayloe Murphy professor of business administration Mike Lenox. Here’s a look at some of the innovations in other cities—could Charlottesville take a cue from their playbooks?—that will be discussed at the summit:

Chattanooga, Tennessee: Since Andy Berke was elected mayor in March 2013, unemployment has dropped more than 2 percent and more than 6,100 new jobs have come to the region. The city’s biggest claim to fame, though, could be its connectivity: Every home and business is tapped into a fiber optic network that provides 10 gigabit-per-second service. Chattanooga has also established an Innovation District—an 11-story building with more than 60 businesses in the downtown area that brings together startups, creatives, existing businesses, scholars and students. “We’re seeing amazing connections occurring,” Berke says. “A lot of businesses are congregating around the area, meeting at coffee shops, having after-hours socials. We want to build a network for people so that we grow tech companies here.”

Charleston, South Carolina: Steve Warner, co-founder of Charleston’s Creative Parliament, an “all-volunteer adhocracy” of creative professionals dedicated to helping Charleston realize its full potential as a creative community, will participate in the “Cultivating Industries of the Future” and “Getting It Right: Downtown Development Districts” panels on Thursday, April 13.

Syracuse, New York: The Gear Factory, a 65,000-square-foot building being redeveloped with green infrastructure and a crowd sourced design layout, is located at the cross section of several diverse neighborhoods, and houses studio space for artists, musicians and entrepreneurs. Gear Factory owner Rick Destito will speak on two panels: Thursday’s “Does Your City Seduce Talent?” and Friday’s “Neighborhood Placemaking.”

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