As I approach the finishing line on a fruitful career that started 35 years ago, I stop for a minute, take a deep breath and reflect on what kind of legacy I will leave behind to the people whose paths I’ve had the fortune to cross. To be honest, I hadn’t thought about this for the first two decades of my career.During my reflection, I think about who had the most impact on what I’ve achieved, and two people come immediately to mind. I find it curious that one of those two important people and I have never actually met, and the other one doesn’t know how much her words shifted the career I reflect on today.
The first person is Patsy Mink. She was one of the principal authors of Title IX, a civil rights law that was passed in the U.S. as part of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX states: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
I was 15 when Title IX came into effect, and high school and college athletics programs across the country changed overnight. Going to college was not in my parents’ minds or possibilities. I was the oldest of five children, and my parents had no money to help with my education after high school. If I wanted to go to college, I would have to figure it out on my own. I was a gifted athlete who could pitch a softball very fast, and I was able to get a four-year athletic scholarship to attend William Woods University in Fulton, Mo.
It was at Williams Woods where I met the second person who would impact my career, Dr. Florence Krause. When I was a sophomore, she attended one of my games. We didn’t know each other well, but I did know she was a very good American literature professor.
After the game, she approached me and asked why I never took any English or literature classes. I told her I was majoring in business, since math and numbers came very easy to me. I also confessed that I really struggled with English, spelling and writing, and that’s when she provided the pearl of wisdom that has shaped my career. She said my struggling was more reason for me to take these classes. That would be the only way for me to discover skills I didn’t know I had.
And it was because of Dr. Krause’s words that I found a passion for writing from the heart, to the point that I ended up minoring in English. So in addition to English and literature, I learned from Dr. Krause the importance of challenging yourself. I didn’t get my best grades in English classes, but I certainly enjoyed them the most.
When I look back at my career, I cannot help but smile and feel humbly satisfied. I wish I had the opportunity to thank Patsy Mink and Dr. Florence Krause today to tell them that because of their words and actions, one ambitious athlete from Missouri has gotten to see the world, climb the corporate ladder and be a part of the leadership team of one of the most important companies in the world. It was in part because Patsy fought to get Title IX passed, which gave me the entry into the academic world. And in part because Dr. Krause taught me something I still tell people from younger generations today: Never say no to an opportunity!
Throughout my career, I’ve worked with many wonderful people, whether I’ve reported to them, they’ve reported to me or we’ve worked side by side. I still have at least three more years before thinking about retirement, but I have not wavered from what I want to leave as a legacy.
I want to leave behind a solid company, robust profit numbers and a healthy operation, of course. But I also want people to remember me because I cared more about the people and their families than achieving the profit numbers.
What do you want to leave as a legacy?