What impact did HBS have on your life and the life of others?
Harvard Business School prepared me to be a strong leader. Some of the most important lessons I learned were recognizing the key issues in any situation; discerning what data and other information would be most helpful in understanding and addressing those issues; observing the dynamics people bring to the workplace; and leveraging resources for greatest impact. I gained many years' worth of business experience in just 18 months at HBS through the case study method. Serving as AASU President also increased my leadership insights.
Today, I serve as national site director and chief diversity officer for Year Up, one of the best-performing and fastest-growing youth service organizations founded in the past century. Year Up helps young, urban adults move from poverty to professional careers in just one year with tremendous success. Our students come to us with a high school diploma or GED and typically earn an annual salary of about $5,000. Within four months of completing Year Up, 85 percent of our graduates are working full time and earning more than $36,000 per year, or are enrolled in college full time. Since stepping into this role, my team has doubled the number of students we serve in just three years. Every single day, I see the fruits of my labor in the young adults we serve.
On the path to Year Up, however, my career spanned sales, marketing, and diversity roles in large corporations including IBM, Procter & Gamble, Nestlé, and Delta Air Lines. In fact, I was the first African American female officer at Delta Air Lines.
While in these corporate roles, I continued to impact my community through my volunteer leadership activities. Shortly after graduating from HBS, I was elected president of the Cincinnati chapter of the National Black MBA Association (NBMBAA) and later joined its national board. While at Delta, I served on the boards of the Herndon Foundation and Leadership Atlanta, was vice chair of the Atlanta Convention and Visitor's Bureau, and board chair of the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Atlanta. More personally, for the past eight years I have been a Big Sister through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta and was foster mom to 3- and 5-year-old siblings (now 8 and 10 years old).
These volunteer roles increased my leadership experience at an accelerated rate relative to my corporate experience. For example, at NBMBAA, I was leading seasoned MBAs, working with them to craft our strategic plan, generate a comprehensive proposal to bring to the annual NBMBAA conference in Cincinnati, and establish our first fundraising gala to finance our strategic plan. As chapter president, I met one-on-one with the president of Procter & Gamble, John Pepper. Most of this took place while I was a brand assistant at P&G, my first year or so out of Harvard.
I feel that my career has been fairly eclectic—from sales to marketing to diversity to operations to general management. Between my corporate and nonprofit careers, I became (and continue to be) an entrepreneur. But that is another story for another day. In short, I pursued what I wanted to do and what I felt would help me grow professionally. As I was coming up in my career, I would literally say to my managers, "Put me in, coach!" because I believed I could step into most any role and achieve success. Harvard Business School helped me gain the business knowledge and confidence to feel that way. While at HBS, I would strongly encourage African American women to join a diverse study group early on. This may sound obvious, however, we all have a comfort zone that causes us to seek people who are most like ourselves. Therefore, you must be proactive to make it happen. As a strong believer in the benefits of diversity, I know that learning from others with very different experiences and perspectives from your own will greatly enhance your learning and enable you to build lifelong relationships with amazing colleagues—one of the most valuable aspects of being a part of the HBS community.
Finally, I would encourage you to be bold in considering what you want to pursue when you graduate from HBS. Identify, research, and evaluate numerous opportunities before narrowing your focus. Understand your strengths, as well as what excites you, what motivates you, and what drives you. Only then will you be able to make decisions that are right for you, versus simply following the traditional paths expected of business school graduates. Once in your career of choice, understand your own value. Share your unique perspective and insights. And do not hesitate to be the leader that you are!