Holly, please tell us a little about your background.
I come from a working-class family in the Upper Midwest; my father was a tool and die maker and my mother a homemaker. I didn’t go to college right after high school, in part because in my family that was something “other people did” as no one in my family had ever attended college. Instead I got married, had my children early and worked just about every kind of job involving ‘unskilled labor’ out there. I was a military wife for a while, but the marriage didn’t last very long so I worked in a shoe factory, picked crops, fried donuts in a bakery, baked pizzas, cashiered, and worked as a waitress. I tried going back to school, but just couldn’t afford it, as I often had to work three jobs just to get by.
Remarkably my big break came when I got a job selling hearing aids. That’s right, hearing aids. I had to get a state license as a “hearing aid dealer and fitter”. Having successfully passed my exams I began selling hearing aids and eventually worked my way to an administrative position. I only worked there for a little over three years, but it gave me the confidence and skills I needed to pursue other types of managerial work. After several other jobs in a variety of industries, I eventually got tired of the cold weather and took a position in Memphis with a marketing firm. I disliked the job almost immediately and they could only afford to pay me 50% of my first paycheck as they were waiting for a payment from a client. I decided to work out my one-year contract and start looking for a different job.
Fortunately the marketing job gave me some very unique experience and I was hired at FedEx because of it. About two years later, at the age of 29, I was promoted to a management position in Domestic Ground Operations Planning and Support at the FedEx World Headquarters. It was at that time that I decided, once again, to go to college. My boss couldn’t understand why I wanted to go back to school when I had such a great job and already had great skills, but I knew that any job could go away at any moment. So I worked full-time, was a single mom, and managed to finish my BA in economics and international studies with a core in American foreign policy and a minor in political science in 4 ½ years. I’m tired just writing about it.
What has been your biggest enjoyment while working with Alaska Family Services?
As a former member of the Board of Directors for Alaska Family Services (AFS) the things I enjoyed most were the people I worked with and supporting the mission of AFS. The main purpose of the agency is to support families. The state of Alaska has a terrible drug and alcohol abuse problem and as a result they have a great deal of domestic violence. AFS has a domestic violence shelter, behavioral health services, and a youth shelter for at-risk youth. One of their goals is family support and preservation, a noble effort. They look for ways to bring families back together whether they’ve been torn apart by drugs or alcohol, behavioral health issues, incarceration, or other issues. It was also nice to see women who were in terrible situations get the support they needed to get away from their abusers and become strong independent heads of their own households.
Why did you make the switch from running large corporate programs for companies like Fed-ex to working in Higher Education.
I really enjoyed my time at FedEx. It is truly one of the great companies to work for in the US. I also really enjoyed the level of responsibility I had, the people I worked with, and the skills I learned and improved as a result of being there. I left a much better analyst and administrator and I wouldn’t trade my experience there for anything.
While at FedEx I remarried and through a series of job and family commitments, my husband and I were living in two different houses in two different states. We did this for two years. I always say some people live together before they get married; we had to be married for a while before we were willing to live together. After two years of commuting between two states we had to decide exactly how much money we needed and what quality of life we wanted. So I left FedEx and moved back to the Upper Midwest.
I always had a love of learning and over the years that love had turned into a desire to teach. When I left FedEx I went to graduate school, got my MBA, and starting teaching part time at four different colleges and universities. I’ve been in higher education ever since. My husband had an opportunity to transfer to Alaska and I had an offer for a full-time tenure-track faculty position in the University of Alaska system and that’s how we ended up here. Almost two years ago I started working on my Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) degree, while once again working full-time. Fortunately the children are all grown up this time.
While working in higher education what message do you try to give students to help improve their future for business in the United States?
Beyond the required business skills I try to teach students a few basic life/work-skills like personal responsibility, pride in their work, being on time, working in teams, and consideration for others including how their actions impact others.
On a more business level I try to help them see beyond profits and personal gain. We talk a lot about ethical behavior and a business’s responsibility to a broader community. I like to tell students profits are a good and desirable thing, but not if they are obtained unethically. Profits allow businesses to hire employees, pay them well, expand and buy new equipment to improve productivity, ensure the sustainability of the business, and give back to the community. I also encourage them to be critical consumers of information and build awareness of the broader economic, political, and social environments, as they will impact how they do business.
What non-profit business plan have you helped to develop which became the most successful? Tell us about it.
For three years in my Small Business Management class students were asked to go out into the community and develop a business plan for a non-profit organization. This was a yearlong project that served as their mid-term and final exams. Working on these diverse plans with the students was a lot of fun.
Two success stories come immediately to mind. The first was for a start-up equine therapy program that used horses to provide therapy for at-risk and disabled youth and military veterans. One of my students was on the Board of Directors for the organization and based on what she learned in class she recommended they wait to launch the program until the business plan was complete. The business planning process led to the discovery of several different funding options and ways to provide services. They have been up and running successfully for more than three years now.
A second story comes from a group of students who did a business plan for the local recycling center. That effort eventually turned into the Mat-Su Carbon Crew, a student environmental club on campus. They later participated in The Great Power Race, an international competition promoting clean energy. They placed 8th in the world out of 1,000 colleges and universities and won the award for Most Collaborative Team.
You are well versed on international economics. Do you feel the American dollar will continue as the world reserve currency? Why? What could change this?
Yes, at least for now as there is no real viable alternative and with the current global instability there may be a status quo bias at the moment. The most likely alternative would have been the Euro, but the Eurozone crisis has removed that option. The Chinese Yuan is not an option either due to the government controls placed on the conversion of its currency.
The only other proposal on the table I’m aware of came from the UN in 2010 when they proposed a new global reserve currency based on a basket of four international currencies: the dollar, the euro, the Japanese yen and the pound sterling. The IMF would control this “basket of currency” and it would be treated like Special Drawing Rights currently are. I would be hesitant to give an international body this much control over reserve currency valuation, but there is some support outside the US. However, I would be surprised to see any moves in this direction during the current economic environment.
In the lower 48 states, there is a conflict upon whether we should drill for more oil in Alaska. As someone who lives in Alaska how do you feel about the subject?
People in the Lower 48 are probably watching the “oil boom” that’s happening in North Dakota with interest. Alaska used to be like that. What people outside Alaska don’t realize is that the oil in the Alaska pipeline is drying up. The pipeline used to carry two million barrels of oil a day and is currently down to about a third of that volume This creates a problem because the oil can’t move as quickly and while it used to take 3 days and arrived in Valdez at 100 degrees, it now takes about 15 days and arrives at 40 degrees. This means the pipeline is at increased risk of clogs, corrosion, and ruptures. At this rate at some point they will simply have to shut it down. And by law once they do that they would be required to dismantle it. It can’t be “mothballed”.
Even at its current flow rate, this would cut off 11% of the oil produced in the US. Rather than lose 11% of production, we would be better off to drill more wells and increase domestic production. Not to mention that the entire economy of Alaska would collapse without the pipeline. One estimate was that the state would lose two-thirds of its residents nearly overnight if it shut down. It would be like the mass exodus from Detroit when the auto industry left only from a state twice the size of Texas and much faster.
You posted a great article on your blog, “Who Are The 1%?.” How do you believe the divide and animosity between the “99%ers” and the “1%” happened?
I wrote that article out of frustration for what I see as unjustified attacks on “the rich”. You see this theme come up with some regularity in my blog. Why We Might All Fly On Private Jets and Banks and the New Normal are two other examples that address some of the same issues from different perspectives. I know several people in the 1% and they have many of the same day-to-day struggles we all have. They’re just people in a wide variety of occupations generally adding significant value to the community.
While this is a very complex question I will try to stick to a few key perceptions. First, the recession combined with the media attention placed on a few really bad individuals has caused “the rich” as a whole to be portrayed as greedy, evil villains who frighten small children and steal money from everyone else. This environment has been exacerbated and encouraged by an Administration that built its brand on class warfare and an entitlement mentality.
A second issue is a general ignorance as to how a capitalist economy works. I had someone reply to one of my posts on LinkedIn that they were tired of hearing about how the rich create jobs. He went on to say the only jobs the rich create is by hiring servants. Really? What about all the dental hygienists, billing clerks, and receptionists at your dentist’s office? Even those in the 1% who don’t own businesses employ people through their consumption. Every time they buy something, someone manufactured it, a shipping company shipped it to a wholesaler, and they sold it to a retailer who sold it to “the rich person”. I’m personally glad they were able to support all those jobs. The people of means also create money for other people. When a “rich person” deposits money in a bank, you can take out a loan from the same bank and buy a car. Unless you are prepared to pay cash, you better hope someone else has enough money to save.
I think many people have also lost an understanding of the level of control they have for their own success or failure in the economy. I discuss this at length in my post entitled, How YOU Can Fix The Economy. We’ve lost our sense of personal responsibility in this country and always seem willing to blame someone else when we fail. I think there is also a tendency to set unrealistic expectations about what our individual levels of wealth should be and the lifestyle we “deserve”. This is more of that entitlement mentality. We’ve forgotten that the great thing about America is that everyone has the opportunity to succeed with enough hard work and determination. It doesn’t matter where you start, only where you’re going. While we can’t all be part of the 1%, we can at least reach for it and hopefully improve our financial well being along the way.
What are your future goals?
My immediate goal is to complete my Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) degree with a likely time period being late 2013 or early 2014. Then it will be time to take inventory and evaluate where I’m headed next. I plan to continue writing and even if I eventually decide to leave higher education, I will always teach at least part-time. I see my three main areas of strength as an analyst, professor, or administrator, so my future will most likely involve one or more of these areas.
Holly, thank you for interviewing with us. Your answers are always educational and insightful.