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VOL. 132 | NO. 33 | Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Women in Business Took Different Paths to Leadership

By Don Wade

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Once Lori Spicer Robertson had determined she wasn’t going into medical school, she shifted to a graduate business program at the University of Florida. She got an internship with a trade association for nurses in Washington, and then worked in public affairs and as a web master.

It was tedious. Confining. And blew up the dream she thought she wanted straight out of grad school.

“Work at a high-profile PR firm, swanky city, nice condo, nice car,” she said.

Instead, Robertson, 34, returned to Memphis. A White Station High School graduate, she would go on to work in communications for the Greater Memphis Chamber (three years), then at Regional One Health (three years), and then for First Horizon National Corp, which operates First Tennessee Bank, for three years. Her charge there: start changing the corporate culture from yesterday to tomorrow.

“I learned more in that role than in any role I’ve been in – I was a young person trying to push diversity and inclusiveness in that environment,” said Robertson, who since last May has been chief communications and engagement officer at United Way of the Mid-South.

Robertson will serve as a panelist at The Daily News Publishing Co.’s “Women in Business” seminar on Feb. 23 at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. The event will begin at 3:30 p.m. and include a discussion and Q&A. Susan Hunsberger, senior vice president, chief human resources officer at ServiceMaster, will deliver the keynote address.

Also serving as panelists: Keri Wright, chairman and CEO of Universal Asset Management Inc., and Meg Crosby, principal at PeopleCap Advisors. A wine and cheese reception will follow the event. Seating is limited; register online at seminars.memphisdailynews.com.

Ever since she returned to Memphis, Robertson has been very active in the community; she had a stint on the Memphis Urban League’s board of directors. And it was actually one of her bosses at First Tennessee, a man who had seen her working in the community, who suggested she do a career self-inspection.

“He told me your passion shines through doing community work,” Robertson said. “He asked me that day, `Are you in the right place?’”

She believes she has come to United Way at just the right time.

“Because United Way’s making a strategic move to address poverty,” she said, referring to UW’s “Driving the Dream” program. “That energizes me every day.”

Crosby’s company, PeopleCap Advisors, essentially goes into corporate cultures and diagnoses problems and ways to address them. That means going into situations with open eyes and minds.

“There are so many different personalities,” Crosby said. “You may be an assertive female or an introverted, intuitive male. And we see that.”

Crosby says they look at six areas within an organization:

Is there a clear vision for the company? Is the leadership respected? Is there sufficient talent and is it deployed in the right places? What is the company’s culture and is it working? What is the company’s structure and is it compatible with the organization’s strategy? And is there good, clear communication within the company?

Wright was a pilot and giving flying lessons as a teenager. Today, at age 34, she runs her own global aviation company.

Her advice: believe in yourself when your natural inclination might be to doubt. Wright says she was bullied as a child and didn’t like to speak before classmates. She wasn’t a social butterfly, but soar she could.

“Trust me, I didn’t have (abundant self-confidence) when I was young and teaching people how to fly,” Wright said. “I definitely knew how to land that airplane, though. And that’s the same in business today: land the plane. Get the deal done, provide confident leadership/expertise or direction. The other things are luxury items and if any other person in business is completely honest, they will tell you they don’t always have high self-esteem or complete self-confidence on every item in business.”

Said Hunsberger: “The insight for me is people are unique and leaders come in all shapes and sizes. But they have common things that they do. It’s not what they say, but things that they do.”

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