The Relationship Business

An Honors Symposium testimonial by ELC Scholar Jazmyn Ferguson, the 2018 1ST Place Winner in the Award for Excellence in Business Commentary.

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When you make the bold decision to double major, you run the risk of taking an extra year to graduate and scholarships running out due to a four-year limit. Then you’re left to find other resources to afford completing your degree. You spend the semester “Googling” any and every scholarship you could possibly qualify for and you send in countless essays. That is my story as a fifth year student at the University of Missouri pursuing a Bachelor degree in business with an emphasis in marketing and journalism, and strategic communications.

The Executive Leadership Council was one of those countless organizations I discovered during my search. In learning more about the organization, I was astounded to find such a premier network of Black business executives; a title I aspire to fulfill in my future. After seeing that I could qualify for the Award for Excellence in Business Commentary Essay Competition, I submitted my application in hopes the organization would see the potential in me to be a part of the pipeline of Black corporate talent they aim to build through their scholarship programs. Not only did The ELC see fit for me to receive a scholarship sponsored by The Coca-Cola Company, they provided me with the opportunity to network with inspirational ELC members at The ELC’s Honor Symposium and Recognition Gala held in Washington, D.C. on October 9-12, 2018. This experience provided me with a greater return than I could have ever expected!

During Gala Week, The ELC hosted 58 scholars from universities across the country at the 2018 Honor Symposium, the largest group of scholars they’ve awarded at a single time in their 32-year history. The four-day event consisted of intensive professional development training through a series of workshops, panels and meetings. Through these sessions, we had the opportunity to connect firsthand with Black senior-level executives that are proud to call themselves members of The ELC.

From the outset of our experience, we learned that no matter our intended field for the future, we are in the “relationship business.” Those are the stimulating words of Skip Spriggs, President and CEO of The Executive Leadership Council. Spriggs’ message in our opening session provided us with the tools and advice we needed to have a successful week and career.He suggested to the ELC Scholars that we read the newspaper every morning and to remember that it is important to find a way to connect with individuals authentically.

Throughout the Honors Symposium, I went into each session with Spriggs’ message on the top of my mind. Remembering that I am in the “relationship business” gave me the confidence to listen attentively to the words and messages of each speaker and to determine how their stories connect to me personally. Conversations with individuals such as Leilani Brown, ELC Board Member and Author of “From Campus to Cubicle: 25 Tips for Your First Professional Year,” helped me to understand that in order to bounce back from the setbacks I may endure in life, I must combine the aspects of my experiences, my accomplishments and my relationships. Trenton Manning, Associate Vice President of Human Resources at Nationwide, taught me that while the cycles of success and failure may consist of all the same components (Belief, Potential, Action and Results), what determines whether you succeed or fail all starts with your mindset. Conversations like these continued throughout the week with countless words of wisdom from numerous accomplished Black executives. The greatest way to learn is through experience and I am grateful that these individuals were vulnerable and gracious enough to share their learning experiences with us.

As the first place recipient of the Award for Excellence in Business Commentary Scholarship Program, I was fortunate to have been given the opportunity to organize a breakfast session and moderate the second annual panel with senior executives from The Coca-Cola Company. This year’s panel consisted of candid conversation under the theme, “Bridging the Gap,” which offered insights into The Coca-Cola Company and focused on topics such as “Advice for an Aspiring Executive” and “Bringing Your Authentic Self to Work.”

The Honor Symposium week ended with the anticipated 2018 Recognition Gala with the theme, “Beyond One: We Are Greater Together.” My cohort of ELC Scholars and I were exposed to a beautiful and influential crowd of nearly 2,300 CEOs, senior executives, community leaders and politicians while the organization paid tribute to us, as well as this year’s honorees, The Hill Family and JPMorgan Chase & Co. As I sat at the table with the Coca-Cola executives, I couldn’t help but stare around the room with wide eyes filled with inspiration and ambition. Coming from a predominately-white institution, I am always reminded that I have to work twice as hard to make it just as far in our world as a Black woman. Seeing people like me that have been able to succeed despite injustices and biases filled my heart with joy and my mind with inspiration to continue on.

Attending the ELC Honor Symposium gave me the ambition and encouragement I needed to reflect on my undergraduate experience and to prepare to be the best I can be in all that I do beginning with my career.

Thank you to my fellow ELC scholars for allowing me the opportunity to learn with you and to learn from you all. As we begin our journeys in determining where we want to go in life, I encourage you all to leverage the relationships built during Gala Week with The ELC executives, as well as with one another.

I have to give a special thanks to The Executive Leadership Council, especially Roxanne Caesar, our corporate sponsors and workshop presenters, and The Coca-Cola Company (Wanda Rodwell, Greta Sims, Helen Smith Price, Tanika Cabral, Monica Howard Douglas, Jamael Hester, Katelyn Jackson and Jessica Zielke). If it weren’t for these newly established relationships, I quite possibly wouldn’t have had the opportunity to attend The ELC Honor Symposium or to even successfully complete my undergraduate degrees with the financial assistance I needed. Receiving the scholarship was rewarding enough, but the experience I had at The ELC Honors Symposium was truly life-changing.

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