Women and minorities, states Pamela Thomas-Graham, CEO of CNBC.com and executive vice president of NBC, belong to "a unique moment in history" in which unprecedented economic opportunity co-exists with continuing impediments to advancement.

"There' s no question that there are barriers, people who are going to try to make us feel badly about our prospects, people who are going to say it' s not a glass ceiling, it' s a concrete ceiling and you' re never going to overcome it, you' re never going to get there," Thomas-Graham told participants at Wharton' s Whitney M. Young, Jr. Memorial Conference Jan. 19-20. "But I actually think that we are going to get there. If we stay optimistic, stay realistic and stay focused, I think we can change the world."

Thomas-Graham knows about focus. As head of the online arm of one of the world' s largest business news and information gathering networks with a presence in the U.S. and 140 other countries throughout Europe and Asia, she is a high-profile rider of the current dot-com roller coaster. In that role, she has presided over fast-paced growth and expansion that tripled the organization' s workforce during the first five months of her tenure.

However, the impact of the stock market turndown that began last March was felt at all levels of NBC, including its emerging on-line initiatives, and forced a change in strategy.

"On a dime, our management team had to turn from focusing on growth of our market share to trying to get the business to break even," she said. "Now I' m in a situation where I had to lay off 5% of my workforce. So all of us as managers had to be incredibly nimble and flexible and rapidly adapt to all that was going on."

Still, she remains a proponent of "calculated" risk and bold actions, a strategy she credits for the career successes that led her to become the highest-ranking female line manager at NBC.

During her address at the conference, Thomas-Graham shared "six rules of the road" for business success. The first is: Take chances.

Despite uncertainties in the economy, including the sobering possibility of a recession, Thomas-Graham urged her audience to always think in terms of new challenges. "Should you even consider taking risks in an environment where the economy might be slowing down? Throughout my career, I' ve found it very important to have a mindset that says I have to keep taking chances, because that' s how you learn, that' s how you develop and that' s how you grow," she said. "Even though the economy is more challenging, it' s still going to reward people who are creative and innovative and have vision."

Such pluck is not just for entrepreneurs. Thomas-Graham drew a lesson from her own experiences as a consultant for McKinsey & Co. Armed with both an MBA and law degree from Harvard University and willing to put in the requisite long workdays, she was the first African-American woman to be named a partner with the firm. A comfortable future seemed assured there, yet the lure of the Internet eventually proved irresistible.

"I thought that it was really important, after having done the same thing for ten years, to take a risk and put myself in a situation that was going to be important for the future. Understanding how Internet companies work and what it takes to manage them and what it takes to make them profitable is going to be a critical skill for managers going forward ... While it can be frustrating and difficult, it' s a wonderful thing to shake up your career and try something different," she said.

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