Knowledge is Power
Cindy Petitt is the smartest woman I know. She is knowledgeable about topics that most people don't even think about. In addition, she can point you towards research, a website, or a book on the spot if you want to learn more. I met Cindy through my Toastmasters group, and I just can't get enough of her. I confess that I selfishly assigned this writing assignment to myself because I knew I would leave the interview smarter and wiser than when I arrived. I was right.
I never knew Cindy at the height of her career, but what I deciphered from our conversation is that she was a high-powered executive at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) in Washington, D.C. As Cindy was explaining her career with the OCC, an independent bureau of the Department of the U.S. Treasury, she stayed focus on the duties. I startled her when I interrupted our conversation exclaiming, "You were a really BIG DEAL!"
After a moment of silence and several blinks of her big blue eyes, she responded thoughtfully and reluctantly, "I guess I was." The truth is that Cindy was one of the top executives in an employee pool of 4,000 at a governmental bureau that can make or break the financial infrastructure of America.
I had to know how one climbs the corporate ladder so mightily.
Cindy was one of five children in a military family. While she was born in South Dakota, she really claims no one location as home. She lived in 11 different places and attended nine schools before she reached the age of 18. When she reached Center College in Kentucky her love of knowledge kicked in. "College was the first time I really discovered the excitement of learning," she said. She earned her BS in Psychology and went on to receive a Masters degree at the National Training Lab in human resources and organizational development. "Through human resources you can shape the culture of the organization. It's about understanding people in groups and helping them with their potential," she explained. But she didn't stay there for long. She moved up and over to Strategic Planning, "I loved that!" she said. She was head of Quality Improvement where the required skills were very much in line with her graduate work. It was a program about to be dismantled, but under her leadership, it was turned around. That's when the powers-that-be began to take notice and put her in charge of the Diversity Program, again turning it around for the good. "Change does not have to be negative. There is no change that can't be done in a positive way," she explained.
While this D.C. ladder was exciting, it came with a price. Cindy is also a wife, a mother, and a self-proclaimed workaholic. "I went to work early and got home late. I worked weekends. I traveled a lot. My daughter, Ashley, would cry, and I struggled with the whole 'mom-thing' and conflicting feelings of guilt, and what I wanted to role model for Ashley. Then I thought if I were killed in a car-accident, she and my husband would have to make it without me. The relationship Ashley was able to form with her dad [in my absence] is so special. Eventually, I set bracket times [for family] that were non-negotiable.
When Ashley decided to attend the University of South Carolina in Columbia, Cindy and her husband decided to follow, moving to Bluffton. Cindy left her job and for the first time experienced life-work balance. "I didn't understand the concept of taking time to smell the roses, but the beauty of nature affects you physically. Here the sky is amazing; the live oaks, the water.it's beautiful. I can only tell you if I could go back, I would change a lot of things," Cindy said. But don't think she's not out there still moving and shaking things up.
Since the move, Cindy accepted a consulting position with the International Finance Corporation World Bank Group. Her first task was to complete a study about the barriers women encounter when they move into executive positions. From her findings, recommendations, and implementations, the number of women executives has increased and there is a completely different work environment with visible support, better for both women and men throughout the company. In addition, Cindy is a professional coach working with high-potential women, which she considers the highlight of her career.
A lover of books, a student of life, an observer of people, Cindy Petitt knows one thing for sure: "We are all put here on this earth for a reason. It's so important to get in touch with your heart, your soul, your passion, know what you want to stand for, and be true to that always."
Family: Jerry, husband of 36 years and daughter, Ashley
Favorite books: The Dream Giver, by Bruce Wilkinson and The Vortex, by Esther and Jerry Hicks. "I also think the most brilliant book is The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, but I hate the commercialism built around it."
Believes in: Thinking positive
Complaining is: "A very powerful form of bonding."
Last words: "It's important for everyone to find a way to give back. Not for self-interest, but a pure act of caring, generosity and believing in someone!"