Friday, April 23, 2010

Lessons in Leadership

“It doesn’t matter where you are, it’s where you can go,” said Sandra Miller Jones, founding chair of Segmented Marketing Services, Inc. The Winston-Salem native spoke this evening to several female Wake Forest University MBA faculty, staff, students and representatives from companies across the country; this was the kickoff event for the inaugural WFU MBA Women’s Weekend.

SandraMillerJonesShe left Winston-Salem to attend Howard University in Washington, DC, where she achieved her degree in Sociology. At the time, she was not entirely certain where the future would lead her – though she was learning valuable life lessons. In her last year of college, she worked for the National Housing Authority. She and a group of colleagues had completed a study and decided to take their thoughts to Capitol Hill for a proposal to Congress; they were shot down. Jones quickly learned that it wasn’t entirely about how much she studied or how many activities that she was involved in, but also very much about who she knew. The moral of her story: never underestimate the importance of building and maintaining business relationships – they are essential to one’s career and can aid one in truly making an impact in their chosen field.

Next Jones set her sights on an MBA from North Western University located in Chicago. She worked very hard, citing the fact that she knew that scholarship money was available from 1st National Bank in Chicago and so she went and asked how to attain the funding, and received the scholarship. “Sometimes it is just being there and asking for what you need,” she said.

Afterwards, she went on to work for Quaker Oats where initially she was one of three women within the marketing department. “Now over half of managers in marketing are female, why is that?” Jones questioned the intently listening audience. As she went on to explain the increasingly important role that women play within the business world, Jones brought up a conversation that she had recently with the Susan Ivey, the chairman and CEO of Reynolds American. “It’s not so much gender challenges, as it is balancing work and life,” Jones said, citing Ivey. Women still face the challenges of not only being a leader within the work place, but also the challenges of being moms, wives, etc. “It is not about what you have, but asking yourself ‘what am I willing to give up?’” she said.

As a leader within the Quaker Oats company, she led several initiatives to market products, such as Instant Grits, to those in the Southeast and to African-Americans. By getting out into the communities and giving out gift bags and products samples, Jones was able to use her personal experiences and values to create profitable opportunities for her company. “Bring your personal understanding and empathy to your brand,” she said.

As she went on to close, Jones encouraged the women around her to make decisions “for your life” and “set priorities for yourself” without the focus being on how others will perceive you. At the end of the day, it is about fostering and maintaining the relationships within our lives and each day, remembering that all you can do – is the best you can do.

-Molly Nunn

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