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Conversations with the Inspiring Vicki Wright-Hamilton

Today we’d like to introduce you to Vicki WrightHamilton.

Vicki, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I grew up as an Air Force brat and lived both in the USA and abroad. It was the experience of a lifetime that taught me how to adapt and accept change. Both of my parents came from humble beginnings but worked hard and earned several degrees, including their Ph.Ds. In our home, education was always the priority. While my mother was obtaining her Ph.D., I collected her data. I enjoyed using the computer and learning how it worked.

When I was in high school, I had the opportunity to learn a trade. I was trained to become a proof operator on an NCR machine. An NCR machine encodes checks with the amount of the check. I always knew technology would be in high demand. I understood that studying technology would be a great way to secure my future. From there I decided to major in technology in college. I received my undergraduate degree in MIS (Management Information Systems – the marriage between business and technology). This allowed me to gain the technical skills that would be needed in the workforce.

My first job after graduation was in programming. However, before I could program, my company required that I learn about every department in the business. This helped me to understand what programs were needed and how they would be used. I enjoyed the learning process. However, I did not like programming! Coding and fixing issues was too isolating for me. I felt like I had chosen the wrong career and was unsure about what I should do next.

Despite my concerns, I remained in that position. Three months later, an opportunity for a system analyst became available. I loved working with clients and understanding why the systems were needed. I thought that I would be in that particular role for a while, however shortly after taking the position I was selected to run an operations area for one of the business units. It was a brand-new unit and I was charged with building all of the systems in the department from scratch! I felt like I had won the lottery! Building the processes and operations was awesome. However, it was during this time that I experienced my first horrible boss. She didn’t treat me well at all and made me feel that I should just be grateful to have a job. I later learned she was very intimidated by my expertise and was not fond of black women. The situation escalated and I finally reported her to HR. This situation prepared me for future adversity. 

I was eventually promoted again and relocated to Tennessee. I was very happy to get away, but more importantly, to gain additional responsibility. A move to a warmer climate didn’t hurt either. I stayed in Tennessee for almost two years before I was promoted again. This promotion meant I would be living in a very small town. I knew that meant there would be nothing to do and very few people to socialize with and get to know.  However, the payoff was huge. My company was putting the down payment on my first home and I was less than two hours away from my family. I figured that I could always just go home if needed. I was newly divorced with a child so being close to family meant a lot. I also had the opportunity to learn about manufacturing. Another tool for my professional toolbox. In this role, I experienced challenges of working for a male boss, who had a wife at home to handle everything. In fact, his belief was that women should be at home. I had to make lots of decisions while taking calculated risks to do what was needed as a single mom and a leader of a non-stop operation. The bottom line is that I learned to stay true to my values and not to compromise on the things that were important to me. In other words, I established my “non-negotiables”. I needed to be true to myself.

I was selected for yet another promotion and this time; I was moving 4 miles from my parents. Although both of my parents were working, I knew that I would have some help, not to mention the opportunity to spend holidays with my family. My son growing up with his family around was a major plus. My career truly blossomed at this point. I was on the fast track with a ton of responsibility. However, I still was not paid the same as some of my male counterparts and did not get the same benefits. 

Two years later there were major organizational changes. Some of my areas of responsibility were given to a peer. Of course, I was disappointed, but I turned those lemons into lemonade. I had my own personal goals, so I went back to school for my MBA, and the company paid for it. This was one of the best decisions that I have ever made. At this point, I had been out of school for about six years. This degree gave me the ability to have comparable salaries to my competition. I took on projects that my peers didn’t want to do and that gave me lots of visibility. I would be remiss if I didn’t say that there were lots of risks as well. I learned that if I didn’t take “calculated risks” that I would not grow as a leader. Now a calculated risk meant that if it did not work out, there were other options with similar rewards. I stayed at this company for eight years.

After some time, I remarried and relocated. I took another risk. I quit my job and started all over. To me, this was a calculated risk, as I knew that I had relevant skills that were in high demand and I could get another job after my relocation. That is exactly what happened. At this point, I had experience in several industries including insurance, poultry farm, manufacturing and pharmaceutical. The newest position was at a software company. This was a significant position in my career journey. This software was designed to handle all aspects of the business regarding change and impact. It set the foundation for my future business decisions. It was also an internationally owned company. Understanding leadership in a foreign country and the differences in culture, later, helped me to further understand the importance of all aspects of diversity. I was one happy camper. Well, that was until the company decided to make another decision to close the US office and move everything back to corporate.

Once again, I was faced with another transition. Thank goodness that I kept my eyes on the “pulse” of the organization. I could tell by the changes in leadership, that this shift was a possibility long before it actually happened. This intuition gave me the foresight to seek new opportunities. I was able to leave this position and start another one five days later. This is the importance of knowing your environment and paying attention. Observing signs that are relevant, reading about the market trends, understanding your customers, etc. 

I started my new role in creating another new department for support and operations. Over time, I gained more responsibility and was promoted several times. I served as a leader for business resource groups and chaired committees to make sure I had visibility while gaining other skills that I could use later. I didn’t realize it at the time, but in hindsight, it helped me a great deal. During that time, the company reorganized our team again. I groomed another person on my team, and they were ready to take over my current position. It was then that I decided to move to another role outside of the company.

This new position was one that I was nervous and excited about all at the same time. I had always wanted to be a COO (Chief Operating Officer) but had never had the chance. Well, now I was getting that chance. In addition, I wanted to be on the Board of Directors. I also got that chance while working with and for private investors. This was a phenomenal opportunity for learning and growth. I had the chance to work with an amazing leader who took a chance on me. He gave me areas that I had not directly led before. 

Although, I feared failure, I learned that failure was a part of the learning process. Failure was my “first attempt in learning,” and I learned a great deal. I was not criticized or ridiculed but coached. It was the first time in my career that I received words of encouragement after a failure. This is where I learned the importance of not beating people down for mistakes. Instead, you truly use it as a learning experience. At the end of this experience, we sold the business. This was another great experience to learn about a contract sale.

I then found myself looking for employment. I went to a party that I did not want to go to and through networking found out about an opportunity and after many months of interviewing, I got the position. This was my dream job. Yes, another opportunity to create a new department. This was right up my alley. I knew that it may not succeed, or they could decide not to move forward. However, I also knew I was gaining great experience at a large organization. So, I took the risk. Yes, I was able to gain additional responsibility with a promotion, not to mention working on projects of a lifetime. Then, the day came for another organization consolidation. I worked myself out of a job and the department was decentralized. It made perfect sense for the kinds of workflow changes needed.

At this point, I had the opportunity to volunteer for organizations to provide my strategic and technical skill sets to those that could not afford the talent. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity, but my family had to eat as well. I was looking for new opportunities. However, the market was not the best since we were experiencing a recession. One day, I received a call from a previous mentee with a lead. She told me that she knew of a client who needed my skillset. After several conversations, I was offered an opportunity to consult. It is important to note that I had no intention of owning a business. This was a stopgap only, for me. The project was expected to last three months. I was fortunate that it lasted for two years. I have now been in business for ten years this year.

My journey as an entrepreneur has been filled with ups and downs, just like any business. However, the reward of seeing positive changes for my clients has been extremely rewarding. There is a lot to consider when you work for yourself. There is always the good, bad and the ugly to consider. I can honestly say I have not worked a job. I have been paid to have fun because when it wasn’t fun anymore, it was time to leave. I understand that every day will not be roses, but if it met my 80% rule of “good days”, it is still a go!

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I believe everyone’s career journey has ups and downs. Some of them will be fun jobs, great bosses; positive company culture; advancement opportunities, etc. At other times, you can experience company re-organizations, mergers, new leadership, change in vision, etc. These are the times when you will not be in control of the final decisions. This can be hard, as the change can sometimes feel personal, although it is really about business. The organization is only doing what is right for the business to succeed and not you, personally. At the same time, there are things that are within your control. Be patient with yourself, you will make mistakes. You will fail (first attempt in learning) as you grow and develop. These will be the biggest lessons and will take you the furthest down your personal development journey. 

From women’s perspective, we have progressed in some areas, but we still have a long way to go. Pay equity, having a voice at the table, not just a seat at the table, top decision-makers in high-level positions and so on. You can’t let these things be a barrier. Use them as motivation and your ability to influence and impact change. Through it all, don’t forget to give back and pull others along. Everyone needs someone and you can be that someone for another individual.

Please tell us more about your work, what you are currently focused on and most proud of.
I am the CEO of, VWH Consulting, the business I started over a decade ago. I am a leadership coach, corporate strategist and change management advisor. Through my work, I serve an array of high-matrixed organizations across the country as a visionary advisor, with a focus on operational excellence that balances people, process and technology. I deliver consultation services on several corporate issues which include but are not limited to:

  • Transformational initiatives
  • Change Management
  • Leadership development
  • Employee Relations

My area of specialty encompasses strategic development and execution of innovations for companies across multiple disciplines. I partner with executive leadership to develop a broad range of organizational improvements through risk mitigation, cost management, and training and development.

I pride myself on having the natural gift of advancing organizations by working with their current management to develop a specific strategic plan of action to execute and achieve their goals. I am a change management expert with a solid track record of changing lives and taking organizations to another level. I am most proud of the positive outcomes that my clients have experienced as a result of our work together.

Do you have a lesson or advice you’d like to share with young women just starting out?
Let’s begin with networking: Networking is extremely important, but I believe it is often misunderstood. It does not mean to collect business cards or just to introduce yourself and shake hands. The power of networking is cultivating new professional relationships. I often hear that people just don’t know how to begin the conversation or meet to introduce themselves to someone new. You should always have a strategy when going to events on the people or person you want to meet and why. If you find yourself in a situation where you are just with a group of strangers, but have a defined purpose, then apply the tips as needed.

Tip #1: When searching for your name tag, pay attention to who else is attending. This will help you get a sense of who will be in the room.
Tip#2: When getting refreshments, you can make conversation about the food.
Tip#3: When standing next to someone, ask them if they are from the city that you are located in. If not, ask where they are from. This can start a conversation in other areas. You might even find some things in common.
Tip#4: When having a conversation, you can ask about the non-traditional things, like hobbies, any vacation plans, etc. Get to know them as a person and not lead with…so what do you do? Or who do you work for?

It is important that you follow up with the people that you meet while networking. Otherwise what is the point? Do your best to follow up quickly, within 24-48 hours after the event. Send a follow-up email to each person that you met. Start by helping them remember where you met and mention something unique that you discussed. From there schedule a coffee or lunch one on one. Simply, following up can have such a wonderful impact on your business. 

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Image Credit:
Nick Nelson

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