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Content Guy's Note: "The MNB Interview" is designed to engage with business thought leaders who I like and respect, and who have something to say. It will run each workday from August 23 - 30 while I am traveling cross-country on a road trip with my son, and has a simple format. I posed to each of the interviewees the same 13 questions and requested that they answer at least 10 of them; I told them that their answers could be as short or long as they wished, and as serious or irreverent as they liked. What I was looking for was a window into how they think and feel.

Today's MNB Interview features Trudy Bourgeois, founder and president of The Center for Workforce Excellence.

One of the great privileges of this job is the opportunity to meet people who have done stuff. And I don't just mean business and academic achievement. I mean the tough stuff, the kind of stuff that most of us never have to deal with. Like Trudy Bourgeois, who in the 1960s integrated the elementary school that she attended in Alabama. Or who, in the 1980s, became the first in a family of 10 kids to graduate from college, and went on to become a pioneer by becoming the first African American woman to rise to the level of VP in the CPG business. For the past dozen years, Trudy has led the company she founded, The Center for Workforce Excellence , an organization that focuses on leadership development, diversity and inclusion, executive coaching and employee engagement. She is the member of several boards of directors, including the Network of Executive Women (NEW). And today, she's on MNB...

The MNB Interview

What's the most important thing you've learned in your career?

Trudy Bourgeois:
Without a doubt, the most important thing I've learned is…to remain humble. My mother used to tell me that the same people you see going up will be the same people you see coming down. Be kind to everyone and they will support you throughout your career. She said that I must always treat everyone well, remain kind and stay humble. Humility will always keep you hungry – and it has done just that for me. It has always kept me striving to do more…and has helped me realize that this is all so much bigger than me. God is using each of us in His own way to make things happen far beyond what we can even imagine or see.

What's the biggest - and in retrospect, the most important - mistake that you've ever made, and how did you grow from it?

Trudy Bourgeois:
When I worked in corporate America, I did not understand the value of building strategic relationships inside and outside of my organization. I worked very hard and consistently delivered — always exceeding expectations. But success in corporate America is contingent upon developing and maintaining successful relationships. It’s the key to influence and advance an agenda. I made the mistake of not realizing that.

On the other side, however, I learned a very valuable lesson and knew that I was not going to make that same mistake again. Since starting the Center for Workforce Excellence in 2001, expanding my network has been my key focus. Whether through my work with the Network of Executive Women or other such industry organizations, my relationships are of the utmost importance to me. Building deep and wide relationships with my clients has helped me to expand my value, build new capabilities and remain relevant. In essence, what I have learned is this: your work will get you in the door - but your relationships will ensure your success.

What is the most significant thing you do each week, and why?

Trudy Bourgeois:
Simply stated, I take white space. I make an appointment with myself…just to think. The tragedy for leaders today is that they don't make time to think. The focus is on dealing with putting out the current fire or the latest crisis. The trends that could dramatically improve and change our businesses for the better pass us right by in our busy-ness. That is why I take time — 30 minutes to an hour each week — to simply think and strategically plan. During that time I read the magazines and books that help me to take current. I also use that time to challenge myself to see where I need to build new capabilities. In addition, I focus on process improvement. I truly value this time. If I don’t take it I miss it. I feel it!

What is the most irreplaceable or essential piece of technology you own, and why?

Trudy Bourgeois:
My iPhone is most definitely my most essential piece of technology. Without a doubt. Not only can I easily text and keep in touch with my family and friends while I'm on the road, but I get a number of pushes on a daily basis as related to my clients, business in-general and our industry. I've also setup Google advanced searches, so I'm notified immediately when something is happening with my clients. That helps me stay sharp. I love the multi-tasking capabilities. I have to admit I am still striving to focus on one thing at a time. One day I’ll get there.

What is your favorite movie (and is there a business lesson in it)?

Trudy Bourgeois:
I do not watch a whole lot of movies, but one that really resonated with me was Crash. It's an older movie now, I know. The business lesson in that movie was about the negative impact of bias. In short, bias robs us of getting the best from the people around us. That's a powerful lesson. If each of us raised our awareness for how bias blocks our ability to connect, respect and value those that are different than ourselves I believe that the world would be a better place, businesses would be more profitable and employees would be healthier. A powerful lesson … particularly for the global business world today.

Kirk or Picard? And why do you prefer one's management/leadership style over the other's?

Trudy Bourgeois:
What a great question! I'm not a big "Star Trek" fan, but I'm familiar enough to comment. I believe I would choose Picard. Leaders must be able to evolve – constantly. The moment you stand still and get locked into one style, you enter a danger zone. Picard was better able to adapt and change. Captain Kirk did teach us some timeless leadership principles, so I don't want to completely discount him. In my book, "The Hybrid Leader, " I discuss and site research on the necessity of leading with BOTH male and female leadership characteristics. That hybrid style better describes Picard. Today’s leaders must be agile and flexible not rigid. And, they must be open to change. The workforce has changed and now leaders need to change.

More importantly, as related to "Star Trek," was how far ahead of his time producer, Gene Roddenberry, was. An African American female played a prominent role. An Asian played a prominent role. Remember…this was the 1960s! But he made sure diversity was represented. What leadership lesson can we learn from him? Simply, be authentic to who you are and your convictions. At end of day, it's all about connecting with others and unleashing the talent from others.

Content Guy's Note: "The Hybrid Leader" can be found on by clicking here.

Who has been the most influential person in your business life, and why?

Trudy Bourgeois:
James White, the CEO of Jamba Juice, has most definitely been the most influential person in my business life. When I left corporate America to start my business in 2001, James reached out to me and asked if I'd come work for him. I politely said no. But then James did something that changed the trajectory of my business. Truly. He said, "Well, if I can't hire you then I'm going to be your first client." James hired me to coach six women leaders from Purina Pet Care now Nestle Purina Pet Care to be groomed for VPs or higher roles(which speaks volumes about him and his focus on investing in others, huh?).

I had several small clients at that time, but because of James' business…I became a NATIONAL company. And I’m happy to say that five of the six are in VP or higher roles. One left the business world to care for family. That experienced motivated me to write my first book ("Her Corner Office"). It solidified my desire to focus on leadership development for women.

Content Guy's Note: "Her Corner Office" can be found on here.

Keenest insight (so far) from your life and/or career?

Trudy Bourgeois:
My keenest insight is simply this: There is something good and something valuable in each and every person we meet. Our job as leaders is to find that value, promote that value and showcase that value. When you help others, YOU are not only having the greatest impact on them…you're also making a long-term impact. Because the people you're helping pass it on, and pass it on and pass it on.

For my life and my career, my personal vision is "to unleash the greatest potential in every person that I meet." Whether that is my husband, my children, my family, my friends, my clients…no matter. Each and every person has value. And it is my job to bring it forth.

When it comes to food, what is your greatest pleasure and your greatest weakness?

Trudy Bourgeois:
I love fresh fruit. I love ice-cold water. I love hot green or chamomile teas. And I love a good glass of chardonnay. Sometimes in that order, sometimes reverse that order! 🙂

Most memorable meal? Where & what & why?

Trudy Bourgeois:
That one is easy…I was in a restaurant on the River Thames in London with my husband. We were on the first of our many trips to the U.K. together. And in that moment, I realized how truly wonderful it is to have a person to share your life with, your fears with, your adventures with. Over the amazing meal that evening, we talked about change, being open to change, stepping out in change.

You see, that was one of my first international trip. And I was scared out of my wits. Funny, huh given that I travel every week? But growing up in Mobile, AL, I had no concept about Europe or any other part of the world outside of the United States. In fact, I was just focused on getting out of Mobile…I could barely see past Alabama, let alone the rest of the U.S. But Europe? No way. Totally outside my comfort zone.

But my husband helped me conquer that fear. In that trip – over that meal – was my ah-ha moment about seeing life as an adventure. And how sweet and blessed it is when you have someone you love by your side when you're doing it.

Favorite place to go to eat/drink, not your home?

Trudy Bourgeois:
Absolutely…the beach. I love the water. I love the sounds. Give me a little fruit, cheese and wine, and I'll be set for hours.

What is the thing that you haven't yet done that you would most like to do?

Trudy Bourgeois:
Honestly, the thing that gets me up every morning (professionally) is driving the creation of an equal playing field in corporate America. And I want to be a catalyst for making that happen. A corporate world where people are valued for who they are, respected for their differences and embraced for what they bring to the table…that is not just lip service for me. I want it and believe it down to my core. And I'm working on it. Every day.

If you had to define the most important aspect of leadership, what would it be and why? (And, if you are so inclined, could you give an example of this quality in practice?)

Trudy Bourgeois:
Besides humility, the most important aspect of leadership is truly recognizing that it's not about you — it's about what happens because of you.

If we look at the greatest contributors on the face of the earth and think about leadership in a broad way, we see that you don't have to be the loudest or the smartest. But you DO have to have a heart for people. That's what it comes down to…a heart for your people. Look at the companies that are successful…those voted the best places to work. The common theme among them is that they value their people as their greatest asset. Whether it's Google, The Container Store or Coca-Cola. Their leaders see profit as the derivative of focusing on the people. The majority of people who lead today don’t get that. If they would get it, they could take it to the bank – and make a vital legacy impact.

Monday: Larree Renda, chair, The Safeway Foundation, & Executive Vice President, Safeway Inc.
KC's View: