By Steve Bailey. This column first appeared in the Post & Courier.
Congratulations, graduates: Take a bow because you have earned it, whether you are getting that diploma from high school or college. We are proud of you.
Now comes the hard part, that elusive, scary thing called “success” in your life ahead. In an effort to help, we’ve asked four experts in success — four who have done it — what made a difference in their lives.
Imagine the odds against Joan Robinson-Berry leading the massive Boeing plant in North Charleston.
One of nine children growing up in a gang-ridden suburb, she was 18 when she found out on TV that her dad, a Los Angeles cop, had been stabbed to death by two thugs. She saw her brother killed by a relative. The streets were a dangerous place.
But here she is, the vice president and general manager of Boeing South Carolina, which has 7,000 employees building the giant 787 Dreamliners. How did this happen?
“I wake up every day ready and eager to learn, to share and to love. That’s who I want to be; that’s what I value. And I live those values in everything that I do,” she says. “In my corporate experience and my more than 30-year career I have found the biggest obstacle is courage. The lack of courage is fear – a powerful emotion that paralyzes, hides, denies, doubts and even deceives.”
Robinson-Berry doesn’t deny where she came from, but doesn’t let it define her either.
“I lost friends and family to the streets of Los Angeles. I lost my father. I lost my brother. There are moments when fear wins, but as a child I learned that I could be stronger than the fear. And the fear passed and in its place grew a passion for the things that I believe will subdue the guns and the gangs and the violence and the ignorance that allows those things to grow – education, community and love.”
By high school, she realized she had an aptitude for math. It was a guidance counselor who told her to ignore the naysayers and encouraged her to take a calculus course at a nearby community college and apply to a four-year college. She has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering.
“In college being the only African-American female student in the engineering department — and, yes, without a girl’s restroom — created major challenges. Any one of those other tragedies or setbacks from earlier in my childhood could have changed the course of my college life. I had to figure out whether I was going to be a victim or a victor.”
Her advice for the Class of 2018?
“No matter your pursuits, the 4 Cs — competency, confidence, connections and courage — are central to being a successful leader.
“And nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Intellectual horsepower alone will not be sufficient enough. Unrewarded genius is so common as to be a cliché. Persistence and determination in pursuit of a dream are vital to the ability to lead one’s self and others to a future that is beyond the dreams of today.”
Lt. Gen. John Rosa: Core Values
The secret of his success? John Rosa sounds every bit the military man he is.
“Three things – we keep it very easy to remember: Honor, duty, respect,” Lt. Gen. Rosa told me.
Rosa knows more than a little about success: He is a retired three-star general who was superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy before taking over The Citadel in 2006. When he steps down at the end of June, he will leave as one of the longest-serving leaders of the 175-year-old military academy. He was, by the way, quarterback of the Citadel Bulldogs from 1970-72.
Rosa, 66, says his success started with the “core values” he learned in his Italian family and particularly from his father, who spent 30 years as an enlisted man in the Navy. He learned precision, attention to detail, doing it the right way.
“Changing the oil in the car was a four-hour task” because you did it dad’s way, Rosa remembers.
Those same core values were reinforced in the military and at the Air Force Academy and The Citadel. They apply just as well in civilian life, he says.
— Honor: “You are the only person who can compromise your integrity. Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching.”
— Duty: “Taking the toughest job when your team needs it most.”
— Respect: “Honor and duty are tough, but the toughest one may be respect. There has never been a time in my life when the country is more divided. I would love for us to better understand respect for each other and our differences.”
John Pearson: Blessed are the mentors
Ask John Pearson about his success, and what you hear is “we,” not “me.” This is a coach talking, a super successful coach.
The 6-foot-7 J.P., as he is known at Porter-Gaud, is an imposing figure who has won three straight state basketball championships. In all, he has spent 26 years coaching at Porter-Gaud, including the last 12 as head coach, with a record of 230-82.
The secret of his success? Mentorship, having good people around you and consistency. “We have a nice little formula,” he says.
Randy Clark, who built the Cyclones into a perennial state power in his 26 years as head coach, “taught me the right way to handle the coaching situation.” Together they won three state titles. “Coach Clark was not only a great mentor but my best friend.”
In addition, the 50-year-old J.P. says he hires “coaches who are better than me.” And finally, he says: “We are consistent, and the kids are never surprised.” There are going to be good seasons and bad, but “we never quit. We are persistent.” And it is always — always — about playing the game the right way.
His advice to the Class of 2018:
“Whenever they encounter someone willing to help, they need to grab onto that person. Hold onto that person. Learn from that person. Coach Clark was that person for me through all the ups and downs.”
Amy Barch: No shortcuts
It took Amy Barch six months to even get in the front door.
She moved to Charleston in 2010 and wanted to volunteer to work with prisoners at the county jail. But no one would return her calls. “They were just avoiding me at that point,” she remembers.
So Barch tried a new strategy: Call the front desk and ask to be transferred — and it worked. Someone finally answered the phone and let her come in. She started volunteering, had a false start or two, but eventually found her way, starting a program that has been hailed as a national model to help inmates transition to life after prison.
“If I hadn’t had grit or determination or whatever you want to call it, I definitely wouldn’t be here today,” she says.
Barch’s Turning Leaf Project is small but effective: It involves an intensive boot camp and job placements for about 60 former inmates a year, designed to help them change their attitudes, thinking and behavior.
Unlike other re-entry programs, Turning Leaf pays former prisoners for taking its courses. It more than pays for itself by keeping them from returning to jail.
Barch, 39, says the secret of her success isn’t very exciting: It’s aiming high and working hard. “In this culture, we look for quick fixes, shortcuts. We want it now,” she says. “The value comes in setting goals that are high enough that they are hard. The really hard work is the success.”