What impact did HBS have on your life and the life of others?
"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Philippians 4:13
This quote is so meaningful to me because I can still hear my mom and dad recite this scripture, and I can recall the countless times I heard it at Sunday morning service while growing up in small town America—Paducah, Kentucky. Life was simple, but values instilled in my brother, sister, and me by the most beautiful parents in the world were clear—all things are possible if you work hard, live right, and trust the Lord.
I sit here today after 26 years in financial services and consulting in a role that I love. I work at a bank that is the fourth-largest bank in the country with the largest market capitalization of any bank in the world. I know for a fact that God's grace, my parents' undying love, affirming experiences at Florida A&M University, and re-tooling opportunities at HBS form the collective underpinnings of my great fortune. If my parents shaped me and FAMU molded me, then HBS tapped into the potential that gave me the confidence to recognize I could have a major impact on large, complex organizations, on teams I lead, and on individuals who look to me as an example of what they can accomplish and achieve. Very few people look like me in the lending sector of financial services. I lead a team of 1,500 people across 10 states and have a P&L that rivals some mid-sized companies. HBS helped bring this journey to life. I tell my friends that "HBS fundamentally reshaped the direction, trajectory, pace, and intensity of my life in ways that altered it forever." For that, I am truly grateful.
But this fabulous journey wasn't a foregone conclusion. I never planned to attend HBS. As a matter of fact, when I was growing up in Kentucky I had never heard of Harvard Business School. It was only after attending Florida A&M University that I realized my life could look substantially different from my own narrow orientation. After 10 years of corporate banking experience, a failed engagement, and a nudge from the HBS African American Alumni Association, I applied to HBS on the belief that I would not get in. Thanks to God's grace, I did!
I associate HBS with the highest points and lowest points in my life. HBS unlocked a potential that gave me confidence to recognize that I could have an impact, motivate, and inspire. It was also a time when my mom was diagnosed with colon cancer and my dad with leukemia. They battled throughout my two years at school, and I believe willed themselves healthy to be present at my graduation in 1997. In November 1997, my mom succumbed to her illness, and in April of 1998 my dad passed as well. I've never seen darker times, and the loss rips at my heart even today. While their loss tested my faith mightily, I know my parents are with me every day and are extremely proud of my brother, my sister, and me.
I was a late bloomer, arriving at HBS 10 years post-undergraduate. I was the oldest person in my section. However, this point of differentiation became a significant point of competitive advantage. I honed my leadership skills in meaningful roles in the African American Student Union. Professors understood my practical and experiential wisdom and would call on me at pivotal moments when the answer was more nuanced than the net present values we all calculated the night before. So I learned how to sharpen my ability to dissect the essence of the problem and identify the opportunity. The other important factor that made HBS such a meaningful experience is my humble, working-class background taught me to take nothing for granted. Therefore, I approached every class, every self-assessment deliverable, and every interaction with my peers as an opportunity to learn and grow—to be better than I was the day before. All of these lessons play a role in the passion by which I lead, manage, teach, and mentor today.
I hope my legacy will be one of talent development. The best part of leading teams is the ability to develop future leaders. I love to mentor all ages and backgrounds because I personally get great satisfaction in watching others develop into their full potential. Their success and advancement fuels me, so that my energy comes from being a catalyst for the greatness of others. My service with the Knowledge is Power Program Academy and the Board of the Council of Urban Professionals is an example of this.
My advice to women who look like me is to believe that all things are possible and that your assets can be key differentiators in a sea of overachievers. Determine what anchors you and leverage what sets you apart. Then go boldly into your future with confidence that you have what it takes to be your best self in any situation. Finally, don't forget to reach back and bring someone along. We all succeed when the opportunities and accomplishments are bigger than our personal capacity to deliver.
Just remember, all things are possible…I'm living proof!