One fall day in November 2008, I was the center of attention but hardly remember any of the details surrounding me. I’d been flown to NYC for the afternoon to give a presentation over lunch with the Jackie Robinson Foundation. Yes….that’s right. For LUNCH. The previous summer, I’d been an inaugural Rachel Robinson International Fellow in a partnership with JRF and CARE International, and spent a sponsored summer in Mozambique.
The entire program was culminated and funded by one Ms. Sheila Johnson, CEO of Salamander Hospitality, and the co-founder of BET. I spoke to the billionaire at the head of the table, and almost choked when she mentioned that she’d read some of my then-popular blog detailing my African adventures. I questioned what was happening in my life that I was given the right to break bread with this woman?. She gave me her email address, and we exchanged letters for several months about her international travels and humanitarian work. The reality of her life inspired to one day realize such work in mine…
I met another woman that day who left a lasting impression on my life. I introduced myself to her and thanked her for coming to the presentation. Through small talk, she told me that she’d just arrived from Switzerland. Our conversation went something like this –
Me: Are you in town for business?
Her: No. I came to see your presentation.
Me: [Composed blank-stare] You came all the way from Switzerland to see MY presentation??
Her: Yes…and to vote.
I was done.
Wait, what? Who is this woman? How…where…huh?? There were questions, and my mind scrambled. This woman looked so much like me. Was humble. Obviously powerful. A JRF alum concerned with international experience…MY experience…and so committed to casting her ballot on election day as then-senator Barak Obama was preparing to make history, that she didn’t dare complete an absentee ballot. To her, the presentation of a graduate student, and a bid for Obama’s first presidency, were worth the transatlantic flight. Her name was Michelle Gadsden-Williams.
Who’s That Lady?
Back then, she was the first African American executive director of diversity for Novartis, serving as Vice-President and Global Chief Diversity Officer. Today she’s the Managing Director and Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Credit Suisse AG, based in NYC, and a lupus advocate.
So let’s run this back —> a successful businesswoman (#LeanIn), a Black woman, a leader with a voice, a human who triumphs over personal struggles, who also has a heart for diversity, and can rock a wrap or natural, flawlessly??? Perhaps I’ve found my spirit animal…
That November New York day in 2008 was one of the most impressive days of my life. Impressive because I deeply believe that birds of a feather flock together, and being in the midst of the Successful always serves as high encouragement (on the low end) to keep going, and prophecy (on the high end) as to where i’ll end up one day.
Because women like Michelle and Sheila are committed to improving the world around them, I am a direct result of their work. Through everything that Michelle does, would you believe that she still tweets me? Responds to me emails? She’s still available while out impacting the world, and crafting it as she sees fit. Nothing like access and consideration from queens and kings from time to time.
So yes, Michelle. I kinda stan you. I’m a fan. I admire you. Respect you. Appreciate you. …all of these good things. Your impact reaches way past your office, or company for that matter, and ripples through moments you have likely forgotten.
“A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”
– Jackie Robinson
Throwback: DiversityInc Interview (2008)
Interviewer: What would you say is the hardest part of your job?
Michelle: I’d say it’s managing 55,000 people in over 80 countries around the world, and understanding what their unique needs are… (#shade)
I LOVE IT!!!!
Uptown Interview: Michelle Gadsden Williams Gets Frank About Career Management, Missteps and Motivation
For my fellow businesswomen, who is your business influence or role model? Share in the comments below to feature him or her, and tell the world what makes them a great influence!