Florence Jewell (EMBA’96) on Servant Leadership and Global Perspectives
Georgetown McDonough joins the nation during the month of March to celebrate Women’s History Month. For the School of Business, this history began in 1960 when the newly formed school awarded its first business degree to a woman. This historic moment set the stage for the extraordinary achievements of six decades of female graduates, who continue to break barriers and pave the way for future generations of women business leaders.
To celebrate Women’s History Month, we are highlighting several stories of McDonough alumnae who pushed boundaries and found success in their personal and professional lives.
Florence Jewell (EMBA’96) was part of the first cohort in the Executive MBA (EMBA) program at Georgetown McDonough. In addition to her service in the U.S. Army Reserves, she has had a progression of increasingly large responsibilities at AT&T. She was awarded AT&T’s 2016 Women of Color STEM Award for her outstanding contributions as a global business leader and for her commitment to inspiring and motivating others in her community.
What did you do before you came to Georgetown?
I was born in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, a small town in the Delta of Mississippi with a lot of history. Teddy Roosevelt proclaimed it the “Jewel of the Delta.” It’s a historically Black town. After high school, I attended a community college in Memphis, Tennessee, with a focus on secretarial science. In 1974, the FBI recruited me to work in Washington, D.C. My assignment was clerical, data entry. After seven months, I accepted a role as a management trainee with Equitable Life Insurance. When they relocated their office to South Carolina, I didn’t want to relocate; so, I found my way to Booz Allen Hamilton as a research assistant. A year later, I started with AT&T and progressed to where I am today. Along the way, I earned my undergraduate degree from American University.
And then you came to Georgetown for your Executive MBA?
At AT&T, I was a candidate for one of their development programs, where you rotate every six months learning the business. I came in second. I was told I didn’t get selected because the number-one person had an MBA degree. That started me on my journey to not lose out again on an opportunity, and I got a master’s at Georgetown.
How was your transition to the program?
It was a shock. I wasn’t an executive. I had this inward anxiety, “Oh, I’m just a program manager, and I’m here with presidents, vice presidents of companies, and high-ranking people. Can I truly run with the wolves?” And I did.
Were there other women, veterans, or African Americans in the EMBA program?
Yes. In our cohort, there were three African American women, including myself, one African American male, and other people of color. There also were quite a few women. Business then was predominantly white male, so Georgetown was breaking down a door by trying to bring more women into the business program.
How did earning an EMBA affect your career?
In a short period after graduation, I got promoted. I accepted a position as an international product manager at AT&T’s headquarters in New Jersey. My area of responsibility was data services and offerings focused on multinational corporations and the international markets.
Secondly, I had never traveled abroad before Georgetown. Traveling abroad as a woman and a person of color, I realized in the countries I visited, people saw me as simply an American. They did not see me as an African American, and that was an eye-opener. Georgetown allowed me to experience that. I’m forever grateful because I then adopted this idea of going to a different country every year. Today, I have traveled to 23 countries, personally and professionally.
Did your approach to work change as a result of coming to Georgetown?
Georgetown taught me how to think critically and analytically — how to frame the issue, define the central issue, have the confidence to bring forth my ideas, and not be intimidated. During the first week of class, Professor John Daley said, “The one thing when you come out of Georgetown, you will write critically, think critically, and care not just about making money. It’s people and profit.” It was the Georgetown values that leapfrogged me into being a better and more effective leader.
How would you compare your sense of leadership based on your AT&T career with your sense of leadership based on your work in the military?
In the military, you’re taught and experience camaraderie and esprit de corps. In basic training, you get broken down to be built back up. You learn quickly your level of endurance. The bond in this type of environment is unbelievable. Equally, AT&T is about camaraderie, values, trust, integrity, results, and being a family. The AT&T culture is about “we are one, winning together.”
Georgetown taught me about people, principles, and servant leadership. I learned to really focus on people first — your workers and community — and profit second. As a leader, make people feel whole with inspiration, encouragement, engagement, and motivation. Make sure you’re spending time with them. Make sure they’re doing the work, learning, growing, and innovating. Stop prescribing. That’s what Georgetown taught me. It’s easy to give an answer for the team to go do; in the long run, coaching and mentoring are best.
How have you approached mentoring in your career?
Being actively engaged in receiving and giving back. Early in life, I wanted to be a teacher. When I entered the U.S. Army Reserves, I got to fulfill this dream as a trained career counselor and instructor for hundreds of non-commissioned officers over 17 years. Within AT&T, I’m still teaching and mentoring. AT&T has formal mentoring programs that I participated in as a mentee and mentor. Moreover, I was fortunate to be asked by one of the senior leaders to create, design, and chair a mentoring program, which expanded to our global organization.
What was mentoring like when you first started at AT&T?
I came in the door of AT&T as a district secretary reporting to a district manager who said to me, “Florence, you are a natural, you get this, the business.” He took time to mentor me not just on the business but office politics and where growth would be in the business. He would say, “Go where there is growth!” When I was promoted to my next position within AT&T, my division manager continued the one-on-one mentoring and included conversations on personal money management, which I greatly appreciate to this date.
What is your perspective on work-life balance?
I work internationally and I’m single, so striking a balance is between my down time and investing in something I love. But the world is moving so fast 24–7, and we’ve got operations all over. On a Sunday night at 8 o’clock, I’m on the phone with our Hong Kong team. Later in the morning, I may be using technology to connect with our team in India or the UK. You need to be available for the team during their time zones. If I don’t, how will we get to bond, know the issues, achievements, successes, and opportunities? Being a global leader is a balancing act, and balance is a challenge in our global environment. At the end of the day, your values, interests, and who you are will dictate your perspective on work-life balance for you.
Thinking back on your upbringing and career, what advice would you give young women today?
I grew up in the mid-’50s in a segregated town in Mississippi. My dad was a proud man and taught us about confidence. So I am confident in who I am and my personal abilities. I would say be confident, take more risks, build more relationships, and believe in yourself. If people see it in you, you just have to catch up with it.
This is an excerpt from the 60 Years of Alumnae: Memories, Milestones, and Momentum book, which shares the experiences and accomplishments of six decades of trailblazing women at Georgetown McDonough. Order your copy of the 60 Years of Alumnae book today to receive $15 off during Women’s History Month.