President, Valley Forward Association
Describe your very first job and what lessons you learned from it.
My very first job was a part-time stint in high school at Jack in the Box. I learned to take people at their word. I was held up at gunpoint one afternoon when working the cash register and didn’t believe the perpetrator was serious. Another employee and I thought the guy was joking, so we refused to give him the money and chuckled at the idea of being robbed. It soon became apparent the heist was for real. I quit that job the next day.
Describe your first job in your industry and what you learned from it.
My first job as a journalism graduate from Wayne State University was as a reporter for a weekly newspaper in Gross Pointe Shores, Mich. I learned that no matter how thorough you think you are, you need to double and triple check your facts. In covering a political story that ran on the front page of the newspaper, I referenced one of the state’s legislators but mistakenly used his brother’s name. It turned out that both brothers held office, an honest error, but a major faux pas for a journalist.
What were your salaries at both of these jobs?
I made minimum wage at Jack in the Box — a little over $2 an hour (I’m a dinosaur).
I turned down a trip to Europe with some of my college buddies to take the reporting job right out of school (big mistake) and earned about $10,000 a year.
Who is your biggest mentor and what role did they play?
After the journalism stint in Michigan, I moved to Phoenix and sold my soul (according to my journalism school friends) and went into public relations. I got a job as an account coordinator with one of the largest agencies in town (it no longer exists today). It was there that I met Bill Meek, president of WFC Public Relations and my biggest mentor. Bill was and still is a curmudgeon, but he’s a loveable one and among the smartest people I know. I used to sit across from him, on the other side of his expansive glass desk, and take notes as he pontificated on every subject under the sun. He’d peer at me with penetrating blue eyes that seemed to defy the bifocals, which rested at the end of his nose, creating an intimidating image that Bill undoubtedly enjoyed. I learned all about Arizona history and every issue of significance to the state, from water management and health care to transportation and economics. He taught me about politics, how to run a public affairs campaign and who the movers and shakers were that influenced decisions in our fast-growing region. He encouraged me to get involved in the community, and it was through his prodding that I joined Valley Forward Association in 1982, the environmental public interest organization that I later became president of and have now served for the past 17 years. Bill has played a huge role in my life and I continue to learn from him. We have lunch at least once a month, but he doesn’t intimidate anymore.
What advice would you give to a person just entering your industry?
Be proactive, get experience (even if it means offering yourself for free as an intern) and follow your heart. Find something you like to do and it will never be work — it will become a passion and give you immense gratification.Always be nice and treat people with respect — you never know when you’ll need them on your side. Listen a lot and be open-minded. Network and build relationships. Articulate your goals, believe in yourself, work hard and always have fun.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing instead?
Probably consulting with the ultimate goal of supporting world travel. After 17 years of managing a nonprofit organization, I can’t see myself in the corporate world. As the years go by, it’s about balance for me. Professionally, I advocate for a balance between economic growth and environmental quality. Personally, I strive to work hard and make a difference while balancing a busy family and maintaining an active social life. If I weren’t doing this, I’d find another way to collect great memories.