After working with Priscilla Hill-Ardoin on various community initiatives in St. Louis in the 1990’s, then Enterprise CEO Andy Taylor invited the former AT&T executive to a one-on-one meeting at Enterprise where he could share his vision for the organization.
“I saw myself sitting across from someone who was talking about the future as though it was unfolding in front of me right then and there,” says Priscilla. “No question, what he was saying was going to happen. After telling me Enterprise was going to establish a board of directors to help usher the organization into that future, I was invited to join the effort.”
Twenty years after that fateful meeting, Priscilla remains a part of the Enterprise family. With her counsel comes a wealth of knowledge with vast academic, professional and personal accomplishments.
In this candid interview, she discusses the challenges of balancing motherhood and a career, finding success in corporate America, her role on Enterprise’s board and the importance of inclusion and diversity.
What is your professional background?
After working in academia, I joined the Southwestern Bell (now AT&T) Management Development program to gain management experience. I thought I would stay a few years then come out and become a big-time consultant – 33 years later I retired from the organization. Along the way, I received an MBA degree from Washington University in St. Louis and later enrolled in St. Louis University School of Law and received a JD, with certification in International Law.
What are your proudest accomplishments along the way?
I am proud of my career, but without a doubt my proudest accomplishment is my family. I’ve been married 44 years and have two sons. We lost our older son when he was a young adult to sickle cell anemia. Now, being a grandmother, makes me walk taller and challenges me to be the best person I can be in a way my career didn’t.
I think when you’re a mother, your children must be your priority. No question there’s tension between motherhood and career – and I felt that at many times – but you get help along the way. My husband was a really good partner and contributed greatly to my success – I never took him for granted. I also allowed my kids to have a sense of what I did, so they knew where I was and what I was doing. Things are often off keel – there are times when work is demanding, but the home front is fine, and then there are times when something critical is going on in the family. Thinking of it as balance causes more stress. It’s about getting it done.
Professionally, I’m proud of not having just survived corporate America, but having thrived in it. I’m proud of that not because of the wonderful positions or the promotions, but because I was able to bring others along with me and open doors for their careers. I helped make a difference for others and that resonates with me still today.
What’s your experience with Enterprise Holdings, specifically, your role and what interested you in the organization?
Andy Taylor [current Executive Chairman] is what interested me in the organization. I admire Andy’s leadership style and the focus he brings to issues. I appreciate the investment Enterprise makes in the community, many in areas I care greatly about.
Serving on the board of directors has been nothing less than privilege. It has been an interesting and exciting ride. Through the years I have gotten to know many employees, attended rental meetings and leadership conferences and watched this company lead the industry in innovation. From new products to international expansion, Enterprise evolved from being a great rental car company to an even greater total transportation solution. I’m proud to be associated with such an exceptional leadership team and such a great group of employees.
As a board member I provide insight and oversight and work jointly with leadership on the organization’s direction and business strategy. I also look at any risk that might be coming down the pipe and what resources might be needed now or in the future.
You served as AT&T’s first director of diversity. How have you seen diversity initiatives evolve for organizations over the years, and why is it so important for organizations today to prioritize these efforts?
Corporate America still has a way to go when it comes to Diversity, but progress is being made, with well over 70 percent of Fortune 500 companies investing in diversity efforts. Today, the correlation between diversity and performance is widely recognized. Research now documents that a diverse workforce is positively related to productivity, employee engagement, customer service, reduced discrimination and other business metrics. Diversity should be a fundamental, must-have, critical component of any business strategy.
Diversity is honestly something I’ve seen Enterprise embrace. It is very forward-thinking for a privately-held, family-owned company, to first off have a board of directors with independent directors. But to have one of them be a Black female – that is quite rare for ANY company. Less than five percent of companies, private or public, have an African-American female on their board. Enterprise’s owners made the decision to do both of those things two decades ago. That’s a testament to their embrace of true diversity.
I could not be prouder of Enterprise’s recent statement pointing out that racism, in any form, must not be tolerated. To have our CEO, Chrissy Taylor, stand up and directly address employees and echo the company’s Founding Values and commitment to diversity and inclusion is incredible. Enterprise has always invested resources into community social service organizations that focus on underserved and disadvantaged communities. Likewise, Enterprise has invested in the best and brightest in communities of color across the country by providing scholarships, internships, and other opportunities that prepare future leaders. We’ve been a partner with local Urban Leagues across the country, and Andy has served on the national board of the Urban League – that’s what I call really using your platform.
I’m proud of the diversity of our workforce, the increasing diversity of our leadership, our talent development initiatives and most especially of the intentional focus we continue to give these issues across the company as well as the racial challenges besetting our country. I feel a sense of responsibility to continue to work with management on inclusion and diversity initiatives in any way that I can.
You’ve spoken at several Enterprise events over the years. What leadership advice would you give to employees?
Just do it! Too often many of us want to think of leadership as the person that sits in an imaginary ivory tower. Each of us has a responsibility to lead. Real leadership requires action and accountability – we must all be willing to lead from where we are. Leadership also requires a true focus on service, and I would be remiss if I concluded without saying we have the best example of leadership from our founder, Jack Taylor. He was a true model of a servant leader when he established the business philosophy to “take care of your customers and your employees first, and the profits will follow.”
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