What would you do if you were not in PR?
I was a high school civics teacher by training and put those skills to work to build the Close Up Foundation almost a half-century ago. It has brought almost a million kids to DC so that young people and teachers learn firsthand about our democracy and find their voice. This has never been more important than it is now. I am still involved in the foundation and would probably devote more time to engaging with teenagers on this important topic.
My other passion has been helping women entrepreneurs, and I continue to do so as chair of the Women Presidents’ Organization.
Talk about the last time you experienced a truly fist-pumping victory moment.
I was with our team from India who were sharing with me the work they are doing with "Educate Girls," an Indian NGO that has enrolled more than a million girls into schools. APCO has been working with this great organization to get governments to adopt the program and leverage it across the country, as well as advocating a unique social financing model utilizing development impact bonds, which is the first of its kind. Creating purpose in our work always gives me fist-pumping moments.
When was the last time you endured a real "agony of defeat" moment, a total wipe out? What did you learn from that moment?
Last January, I received a call from my doctor to tell me she just examined my lab report and I had cancer. The idea that cancer was growing inside of me hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks.
I was on my way out of town for an extended trip, including participation at the World Economic Forum, which usually requires 150% of my energy. I decided that I would tell only a few people until everything was worked out and I had the initial surgery to determine the seriousness of the situation.
I was so thankful my husband and children took it upon themselves to keep up my spirits remotely and to organize everything for my return home – the second opinion, the surgery, the tests, everything. I started to focus on all the other things for which I should be thankful and what I needed to do to take care of the disease, which thankfully is behind me.
The experience changed my life because it reminded me of the things that are important and the things that are not. I am forever grateful for my friends, colleagues, and family who helped me forge my way through this episode and move on to a richer life.
How long ago was the last time you truly took the time to recharge your batteries? What did you do?
I recharge my batteries each year by taking our whole family to Cancun, Mexico, where we have spent the past 30-plus Christmas vacations. We spend time catching up on each other’s lives, play on the beach, go for long walks, hang out, and generally unwind. I have nine grandchildren, and there is no more fun in the world than being part of their lives in such an intense way and seeing how they enjoy each other and have become best friends.
What is it about this industry that frustrates the hell out of you sometimes?
Sometimes the industry is so worried about competition from other disciplines it loses sight of the strategic value it can add by just coming up with good and bold ideas that don’t pay attention to boundaries.
We should be redefining the value of our profession at a time when many of the issues we face come about because of a failure to engage with the right stakeholders at the right time, and misjudging or misreading various stakeholder groups and what is important to them. We have gone from a one-dimensional world of communications to a multidimensional world and have not yet learned how to lead in this world. A lot more thought leadership should come from the industry that helps to shape the future and not just play in our lane.
When have you seen this industry or your organization really shine?
I had a perfect example of this when I was in Dubai for the World Government Summit. APCO had the responsibility for the press room at one of the biggest and most important events for the government. The APCO team on the ground covered the more than 90 speakers and more than 120 interactive sessions, wrote them up for the outside world, and was supported by an editorial group at home and by APCO technical experts around the world.
This team worked seamlessly and around the clock in support of each other, despite the fact they represented more than 20 nationalities and a dozen languages. There was no ego involved in the editing, content development, or execution. That is the best of what we do.
Words to live by?
The one we have memorialized on the wall at APCO attributed to me is to "think big and have passion." This is important in our company and industry, as well as in life. We all work too hard not to do the things we love. Passion is the secret sauce to our success as a business and to each of our people as individuals.
There are two other phrases that guide me. One is from my mother, who had to flee from Poland and later from Cuba during World War II. I think of her difficult life, and then I think of my good fortune due to her struggle. She taught me that "where there is a will, there is a way." It has also taught me to be fearless and to always find the path to successful outcomes, no matter how difficult.
Finally, I think the most important professional development lesson I have learned came from Eleanor Roosevelt. She said "no one can feel inferior without their own consent." It was, and is, easy to be made to feel like a second-class citizen. A big moment for me professionally was when I realized any feelings of inferiority I experienced came from myself, and I was in control of that.
What would you tell your 20-year-old self?
I would encourage the optimism that I felt about life and its unlimited potential if you work hard and take chances. I would reinforce that good opportunities never happen at convenient times, and sometimes you just have to go for it and not look back. I would say having a life partner is a gift not to be taken for granted, and that having a family while developing a career is difficult, but the rewards far exceed the pain. It is what gives you perspective in life, and also makes sure you never take yourself too seriously.
And finally, I would say that not all people are good people. You will have your disappointments in trusting people you thought you could trust, so be prepared and don’t get cynical because the ultimate reward for a life and career well spent has to come from inside of you and your own sense of self-satisfaction and reward, which enables you to be a happy and fulfilled person.
If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say to you as you enter?
You did good and made a difference.