Charlene Wheeless: PRWeek Hall of Femme 2016

Principal VP, global corporate affairs, Bechtel

What would you do if you were not in PR?
I’m very passionate about animals, especially dogs — rescue dogs in particular. I also enjoy mentoring and advising people, so if I didn’t work in PR, I’m confident I would be a psychotherapist specializing in animal-assisted therapy for people suffering from trauma, anxiety, depression, or PTSD. 

And the animals I would hope to partner with would be dogs from animal shelters or rescue groups.

Talk about the last time you experienced a truly fist-pumping victory moment.
I’m an achievement junkie so I’m always looking to the next thing. But, I have had a few victories at work over the past couple of years that have proven that with thought, persistence, and resilience, it is possible to make a significant impact at a company. 

My oldest daughter graduates from Boston University in May. I’m pretty sure that will be a fist-pumping victory moment.

When was the last time you endured a real "agony of defeat" moment, a total wipeout? What did you learn from it?
Just a few months ago. I learned that I can’t control what happens, only how I choose to respond to it. And I learned to trust, but verify – and then verify again.

How long ago was the last time you truly took the time to recharge your batteries? What did you do?
I half-charge my batteries a lot — when I go to church, play with my dogs, shop for shoes, or binge-watch trash TV all day even though I know I don’t have that kind of time.

A full recharge? At the end of last year I attended a two-day event called Life50 that was about "putting more life in your life." It was an incredible two days and I came back with a new view and new energy. I promised myself that this year I would learn to meditate. I have eight months left to get started.

What is it about the communications industry that frustrates the hell out of you sometimes?
That we always seem to have to prove the value of what we do.  When’s the last time someone said to a lawyer, "How do I know the law is valuable?"

When have you seen this industry or your organization really shine?
I’m very proud of many of my PR colleagues around the world, and I’m often in awe of what they do, not just for their companies, but how they use our discipline to bring awareness to key issues — to create change. comes to mind, a group dedicated to ending domestic violence and sexual assault, but there are many more. Our industry tends to shine in times of crises, too. Maybe we are all adrenaline junkies.

Words to live by?
"Assume good will" by Abraham Maslow. If you do, you rarely find yourself angry.

Favorite drink?
During the week or with dinner a good California cabernet sauvignon chilled to about 54 degrees. Some of my favorites: Jordan, Insignia, and Far Niente. On the weekend, sour apple martini with a splash of sour mix. I don’t drink a lot, just often.

What would you tell your 20-year-old self?
Calm the hell down — it’s just not that serious.

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