When I made the decision to leave the classroom to join the private-sector side of education, I took that wealth of knowledge with me to the corporate world. I quickly learned that the corporate side of the education industry was very different from the public side. Forty years ago, the private-sector side of education was dominated by men. Like Condoleeza Rice, if I had waited for someone who looked like me, I would’ve waited a long time. For me, the role models available were the men leading the industry. Fortunately, I had several top-level executives who took an interest in my career. Not only did they see my potential, but they also actively helped me network and develop the skills necessary to move up the ladder.
On the private side of the education sector, I have taken the “entrepreneurial leap” by moving from large education publishing firms and EdTech companies to small startups. Once the startups were self-sustaining, I would move again to another challenge—maybe a mid-level company trying to break into the larger ranks or a large company trying to get its hands around a recent acquisition. In each move, I always looked for a mentor or sought the guidance of a mentor to help me navigate the changes ahead. Looking back on my career, I realize now that one of my best mentors was my late husband, Charles Blaschke. I met him about the time that I started at IBM, which was one of my first jobs with a big, public company. I was an executive in their K–12 division. Charles had his own company, Education TURNKEY Solutions, which helped education companies under federal and state education policy and directed the dollars that flowed to policy priorities. He helped me understand the nuances of policy and how federal and state dollars impacted decision-making by superintendents and top-level administrators. Having him as a mentor while I was at IBM really helped me grow professionally.
Fortunately for me, IBM also had a great purpose-driven employee culture. They were committed to developing the individual because they wanted all employees to reach their full potential. I had one manager there who really impacted me in a big way. After receiving my employee evaluation, which admittedly was a mixed review, my manager said, “Don’t worry about the low scores because I am going to help you become the number one employee in our division!” From that moment on, he transformed from a manager to a mentor. Most managers don’t do that. A good mentor will tell you what to improve and actively work to help you become better at what you do. That is the difference between a mentor and manager.
While I needed mentors that were in my profession, the more I progressed in my career, I found myself gravitating to mentors who were not in the same sector but who were leaders in their sector. Through my networking and involvement on boards and philanthropic organizations, I discovered other successful professionals who had a wealth of experience to share. I developed relationships with these people and built a cross-industry network of people who helped me build the skills necessary to be successful across industry lines. Since many of the boards I served on were in education, I often found myself serving as a mentor to other board members who needed the expertise of someone from within our sector.
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