Visionary, smart, and decisive women have taught me values and skills throughout my life. From my mother, who raised two girls alone while she held a full time job, and powered as a union president to my numerous mentors who guide me daily. What better way to share these authentic, powerful women leaders with you than to share their stories.
Cindy Shumate has been a mentor and inspiration to me since I met her years ago through GBTA. Always a visionary, Cindy inspired me to always think outside of the box because she learned early on in her career that ALL stakeholders' perspectives matter. I remember sitting in the offices of one of her employers and brainstorming ideas with her and her colleagues. It was so inspiring for me to meet with her and learn from her. I value Cindy's perspective and love her enthusiasm.
1. Did you know when you were 15 that you would become as successful as you are today?
At 15, I had started thinking about what I wanted to major in at college. This was a difficult decision because there were so many things I was already involved in, capable of doing and interested in pursuing – music, dance, government, architecture, fashion design. I ended up opting for Journalism – not because I wanted to become a writer – but because I liked the public relations/marketing side of it and thought that it could apply to any of those areas that I was already involved in. I minored in both Fashion Design (clothing construction) and Dance. Thinking back, I should have majored in Landscape Architecture – but I didn’t know that would become a viable path for me (my ex-husband and I had a landscaping company for 20 years together – we both are still working in that field). As it turned out, the Journalism ended up being a great skill for all the corporate communications that supported my corporate travel program!
I tell a story about being in my early 30’s, sitting in my kitchen in sweats with 2 toddlers running around, asking myself, “How do people get ‘those’ jobs in New York?” It was about 20 years later as I was walking down Park Avenue to my corporate job in a fancy NY office building that I realized that I had one of ‘those’ jobs. The lesson was that we need to think big – even if we don’t know how we’re going to get there at that moment.
2. As the powerful woman leader that you are today, if you could talk to your younger self at age 15, what would you tell her?
Oprah’s magazine has just posed this question to about a dozen people in this month’s issue. In talking to myself at 15, I would have encouraged her to continue to trust in that inherent sense of confidence that she was gifted with. But to also choose her mentors wisely – to deliberately choose those people to whom she would listen to for guidance. I would encourage her to ask more questions and not think that she needed to be an expert yet – to be open to learning as much as possible. And I would tell her not to worry about her weight, or about the latest fashions (ironically) or about how she looked – but I would remind her that the people who are the most beautiful are those who are passionate about what they do and about the life they are living – and that her smile and her compassion are some of her best tools.
3. What was your first job and what did it teach you that you still remember today?
My first job was ironing the laundry for our next door neighbor – I was in 6th grade and I earned 50 cents an hour. But to get that job, my mom told me to type (on the manual typewriter) little cards and distribute them to the mailboxes in the neighborhood. It was my first marketing effort – and I got the job! I hated ironing – and still do – but I liked the small amount of money that I earned, even though I was not a spender. I remember the sense of security and satisfaction it gave me to count the money in the bank on my shelf and see that it was more than the last time I had counted.
4. How do you handle the parallel divide between doing something that you know you must do and the inherent, internal belief that it may not align with your moral values?
At one point in my career, I worked for US Tobacco, largest maker of chewing tobacco products. I am not a smoker and at one point in my high school years was actively campaigning against it – giving demonstrations to elementary schools showing how the tar and smoke could harm your throat and lungs. But I got this great job as the Corporate Event Planner. It was the first time I was doing some significant business travel, negotiating on a meaningful level and managing events that had an impact for the company (client tent at Pebble Beach golf tourney, client dinner in the US Senate building). In my first internal office meeting, the guy behind the desk literally loaded up his cheek in front of me and spit into the spittoon behind his desk. I seriously questioned my sanity in accepting the job. However, it turned out to be one of the best I’ve ever had. I not only traveled and had entrée into exciting venues, but it was the first time that I loved working for a boss – and he is still one of my best examples to date.
5. Looking over the horizon for the next 3-5 years, what changes do you visualize in our industry?
Social mediums will play a much bigger part in how people gather. Many types of business meetings will turn to electronic methods – and this will work well – for some meetings. But I hope we will always remember that we are people and that there is value in being in the actual company of other people, sharing their physical energy, reading the language of their bodies beyond what you can see on a screen, engaging in the chatter before and after the meeting. This value is not measured in metrics or money – but the value undeniably exists!
6. As you are based in the U.S., what do you think that we can learn from our global colleagues?
In working globally, I learned that some cultures value titles, some value efficiency, and for some the negotiation is a bit of a game. But I also realized that the longer we work in global teams on global projects, the more homogenized the global business world will become. Companies will find and adopt the efficiencies and processes that make doing business effective, no matter where you reside. I hope what we continue to learn about and celebrate is where our colleagues come from, what their families are like and how their cultures are similar, and different, to ours.
7. What keeps you up at night?
Back-stabbing. Distrust. Undermining. If these things are part of your environment, you never know where the next jab will come from, you never know who to trust. Your work always takes a back seat to these unproductive, negative and psychotic energies.
8. Who or what motivates you?
Honesty. Team building. Creativity. Collaboration. An environment that honors these qualities is one that supports an energetic effort – you want to be there – you want to give the best of yourself every day – you want to offer new ideas. Everyone is successful in this environment.
9. What advice would you give to someone who is starting his or her career?
- Be patient – the learning curve might be longer than you thought – but if you hang in there, you will realize one day that you’re not learning everything for the first time.
- Think it through … and then ask good questions … and apply what you’ve learned.
- Relax – once you get through the learning curve, then relax - just do your job and enjoy it!
- Be persistent – it’s not easy at first.
More about Cindy…
After 9 years as Executive Director of Global Travel and Meetings at a major cosmetics company based in NYC, I have recently stepped down. I am now remembering what life is like without commuting and an over-scheduled calendar. I will begin searching for my next challenge soon – or maybe it has already found me and I’m just not ready to jump into it yet. In the meantime, my life as a landscape designer has pursued me and I am actively working with clients, setting up a website and making money – on my pace!
Cindy can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you, Cindy!