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Asking the big questions

“Are you sure this is going to mean something to them?” The question from my boss, Dr. Marta Loyd, the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute’s executive director, was a search for reassurance more than it was an invitation for me to offer an opinion. She asked after showing me a final draft of a speech she was preparing to deliver last week.

“Absolutely,” I say, smiling.

She, like other humble people, has a hard time seeing herself as inspiring. We who have worked with and for her know better, and now a number of central Arkansas businesswomen know, too.

Marta (to her staff she is always Marta … Dr. Loyd is a title she’s proud of but not one she expects people close to her to use)  was the keynote speaker at last week’s Women in Business luncheon, hosted annually by the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce. She was asked to speak when Chamber officials learned about her story and recognized the power behind it.

Marta has accomplished a lot in her life, both personally and professionally. For 17 years, she was instrumental in the growth of the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith, helping the school blossom from a solid community college to, arguably, western Arkansas’ greatest educational resource. She served 12 of those years as vice chancellor for university advancement, raising tens of millions of dollars that served to fund the university’s expansion and helped hundreds of students have opportunities in higher education that would not otherwise be available to them.

That part about the students, that’s where Marta really lights up.

“Back when I was at the University, every time we’d go out to eat in Fort Smith, I’d ask our waiter or waitress what their plans were for their education,” she says. “A number of times, they’d tell me, ‘I’d like to go to school, but I just can’t afford it.’ And I’d give them my business card and tell them to come see me and I’d help them figure out how to make it work.

“It embarrassed the heck out of my kids when I’d do that, but it was always uplifting when those young people would call for an appointment and enroll in college.”

I’ve heard that story from Marta a number of times now, and it doesn’t get old. It’s a microcosm of who she is.

That desire to help people has always been there, but her career goals shifted pretty distinctly in her mid-30s.

“I put very little serious thought into my future when I was young,” she told the packed house at the Women in Business luncheon last week. “I wanted to be a dental hygienist because I could work part-time, make a good wage, and be a wife and mother. I accomplished all of that by the age of 26.”

She realized that while dental hygiene is a fine career path, she was meant for something else.

Her opportunity to step into higher education came when Westark College (now UA-Fort Smith) was hiring a part-time continuing education program coordinator. The job requirements were a bachelor’s degree and “organizational experience.”

Citing her organizational experience from church committees and the school PTA, Marta got the job. Not too long after, she was approached about helping to start a dental hygiene school at the college. She took that on for no extra pay, but proved herself and made connections with key people in the college’s administration.

Along the way, the University earned her loyalty by giving her an opportunity to stay home and care for her son after he was involved in an accident that almost claimed one of his eyes. Marta had to take off two weeks to care for him, and the timing couldn’t have been worse. It fell right when she was supposed to finish and submit a key application for the new dental hygiene school, and her taking off the two weeks meant a six-month delay in the project.

But the college’s president at the time, Joel Stubblefield, didn’t hesitate in telling Marta to take the time off.

“You do what you need to do for your son and don’t worry about this until you’re ready to come back,” he told her.

She’s never forgotten that. In her own words, Marta determined then “that if I ever became a leader, I would do all I could to make sure people didn’t have to choose between work and family.”

After returning to work and successfully starting the dental hygiene school, Marta was hired to work in development. The university’s vice chancellor for university advancement at the time, Dr. Carolyn Moore, brought Marta under her wing, promising her she would teach her everything she knew about development and that someday Marta could take her job. Dr. Moore also encouraged Marta to pursue advanced degrees, first her master’s in educational leadership and then her doctorate in educational leadership and policy analysis.

Dr. Moore made good on her promise. When she left to pursue another opportunity, Marta was named as her replacement. She was Marta’s first true mentor, and their relationship framed how Marta has approached her work ever since.

“I have always looked for opportunities both to be mentored by others and to mentor other people myself,” Marta says.

I am among a long list of people who have benefited from Marta’s mentoring. It’s not just a sentiment with her, an abstract concept in which she expects people to learn by her example from afar. It’s a muscle she actively exercises. She builds time into her schedule for it and expects her mentees to do the same.

What that has done is create a unique kind of culture, first among her staff at UAFS and, for the past 2 ½ years, here at the Institute. It’s a culture where people aren’t afraid to make mistakes, so long as they learn from them. Where it’s understood that the good of the team always comes before the good of the individual. Where we all believe in the concept that Marta used to close her speech last week, which was a quote attributed to Frances Moore Lappé:

“If you expect to see the final results of your work, you simply have not asked a big enough question.”

Marta’s story is indeed inspiring, not simply because she has found success, not even simply because she proved that you can change directions in your career mid-stream and still accomplish a lot. Her story is most inspiring, to me, because of how she’s gone about her career. She is the type of Level 5 Leader that Jim Collins writes about. She leads with humility and by sticking to her values. It’s refreshing to see that a person like that can find such success, and it’s a privilege to be part of that story.

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Got a Photograph, Picture Of. Passion Project

Some things happen on a whim. With a bit of luck and a pinch of magic, you never know what you can achieve.

I’ve lived in central Arkansas 44 of my 45 years (I spent a year in Seattle, which I lovingly refer to as both my Gap Year and “the taking of the plaid”). I’ve long been familiar with and an admirer of the Arkansas School for the Deaf. Driving along Markham in Little Rock, I’ve seen their scoreboard noting “Arkansas School for the Deaf Leopards.” I’ve been a fan of the English rock band Def Leppard since my brother Craig received Pyromania on vinyl shortly after its release in 1983. I saw the band at Barton Coliseum every time they came through the state and always wondered if the connection between the two was ever made by someone who could put the two together.  

Fast forward a few decades. I hear about Def Leppard’s show at Verizon Arena and I think “somebody’s got to get these two groups together.” All those years and it hadn’t happened! Why? Well, nobody had taken the initiative to get the word out. I thought, “well … why don’t I do that?” Isn’t that what the Internet is for?

First thing was to post a picture of the scoreboard and the band on my Facebook page and make a comment about this needing to happen. Hundreds of “likes” and “shares” later, I thought … “OK. There’s something here.”

So, I decided I’d try a Change.org petition encouraging people to sign as well as tweet at the band, post on their Facebook page, etc. 1,500 signatures later, innumerable retweets, shares and posts, and this thing had gone viral. I just thought I’d try and connect a matched pair and hopefully bring some publicity to an organization I really admire as well as a band I love. 

I posted updates to the petition signers with some frequency encouraging them to share, tweet or otherwise get the word out. Working in conjunction with ASD’s director of public relations, Stacey Tatera, we doubled our outreach. She is an unparalleled champion of the school and the students.

The last 10 days before the show I really ramped up the outreach, posting daily. The Friday before the Wednesday show I heard from Verizon Arena’s PR staff. They’d heard me on a radio interview I did promoting the petition with 102.9 KARN. I can’t thank KARN enough for putting Verizon in touch with us. Verizon Arena staff worked with the band’s management and public relations to make this happen. We’d originally wanted the band to take a photo in front of the scoreboard. Schedules didn’t allow for such a trip, but the band really wanted to make the connection with the school. They invited us to bring a replica scoreboard to pose for a photo before the show.

Visiting the school before the event was a remarkable experience. The students were beyond excited. In talking with the faculty before the show, they reminded me how much the school and the students want to be a part of the community. The nature of the campus, physically beautiful but almost remote owing to the nature of the park that welcomes visitors – as well as the added layer of communication challenges with civilians – can make the faculty and students feel disconnected. Having the spotlight shown upon them and their good work really seemed to go a long way in helping bridge the gap.

Arkansas Deaf Leopards

The band was extraordinarily nice and took a good deal of time with the students. They told us they’d heard of the connection and were thrilled to be making it official. But better than that, to me, was the spirit of the community that helped bring this event together. We’ve met some wonderful and nice people along the way. This was in evidence last night as those students were the real rock stars of the evening. They took pictures with as many people as the band did last night. Every time they threw up the “I Love You” sign – which doubles as the standard heavy metal hand gesture.

Matched pairs, I tell you.

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Saving lives, one used bar of soap at a time

A used bar of soap can save a life. It’s true. Just ask Clean the World.

Clean the World is a nonprofit organization that collects used soap and toiletries from hospitality and corporate partners. They recycle the donated products to ensure they are completely safe for reuse and then distribute them to people in need around the globe. The ultimate goal is to prevent millions of hygiene-related deaths each year.

In August, the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute became one of Clean the World’s hospitality partners. We’re one of more than 2,250 hotels and resorts working with them, 17 of which are in Arkansas.

“Often times when you recycle items, which we do a lot of, it certainly makes you feel good,” said Joel Smith, general manager of conference services at the Institute. “But this program is more tangible to me. You can see your efforts put to a good humanitarian cause.”

For instance, Clean the World responded to the Nepal earthquake in April 2015 and shipped 5 million soap bars to West Africa to help stop the spread of Ebola in 2014. Since 2009, they have distributed more than 22 million bars of soap in 96 countries.

But it’s more than just giving out soap, it’s teaching people how to use it properly. Their Global Soap Project focuses on improved hygiene practices, such as hand washing, in order to reduce the number of children who die from hygiene- and sanitation-related illnesses. (That number is more than 1.8 million each year.)

On top of the humanitarian benefit is the environmental benefit. Instead of sitting in a landfill, the discarded soap bars and plastic bottles get reused in a meaningful way.

“This is such an easy thing for us to do,” Smith said. “We just simply toss the used soap and shampoo left in our rooms.”

The only difference is now the soap is tossed into a bin that goes back to Clean the World instead of a trash can.

He continued, “The housekeeping team is glad we are doing it. They always advocate for a good cause. They feel like they have a part of helping someone who needs it.”

So the next time you visit the Institute, don’t worry about leaving the used soap or shampoo behind. It won’t go to waste. It will help save a life.

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Memories of Gov. Rockefeller: An interview with Mary Storey

To those of us at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, Mary Storey’s name is easily recognizable from her role as a member of our board of directors.

But in 1966, Storey was recognizable to much of the state, as she had just been crowned Miss Arkansas. As a result of the robust travel schedule that came with her title, she often bumped into Winthrop Rockefeller, who at the time was campaigning to become the first Republican governor of Arkansas since Reconstruction.

Storey admitted that she was a bit star struck the first time she met Rockefeller. “He was one of the most kind-hearted people I think I’ve ever been around,” Storey said. “He was extremely sincere. He was thoughtful of other people. Being so young at the time I met him (she was in her late teens), of course I was nervous being around him.”

Both she and her husband, Bud, were involved in Rockefeller’s 1968 bid for re-election. One of her fondest memories from that time was getting to ride the campaign train. The train started in northern Arkansas and moved south, stopping along the way for the governor to address vot­ers. Storey recalled the enthusiasm with which voters came out to meet the governor. “Some people would buy tickets along the way and hop on,” she said. “Most people would just meet us at the train stops.”

Her work on the campaign also landed her a job on the gover­nor’s staff in his second term. She worked as an assistant in the governor’s public relations office, headed by John Ward, that was known simply as “WRPR.” The office was near the capitol building in Little Rock, and Storey said it was not uncommon for the governor to pop in reg­ularly.

“The governor would come there quite often,” she said. “He loved to come over for lunch, just to get out of the governor’s office and to have a place where he could kick back, put his feet up, chew the fat and have a few laughs with people. It was a re­ally relaxed atmosphere for him, and he loved that.”

One other memorable experience with the governor involved traveling with him to promote Arkansas and Santa Gertrudis cattle. Rockefeller took a group of young people, including Storey, with him to California to appear on television and meet some key people.

“My eyes bugged out,” Storey said of the trip. “I had never been on an airplane, much less a private plane. He wined us, he dined us. … We had a lunch with the Rose Bowl queen. He took us to Disneyland. He flew us up to San Francisco. He just went all out to entertain us. After that, I felt very comfortable around him and truly adored him.

She and Bud both look back at the late 1960s as a magical time in which they were able to be part of a sea change in Arkansas politics—a change led by Winthrop Rockefeller. “It’s a real highlight of our lives,” she said.

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As you make your summer plans ...

Between the scenic views, wonderful camping, hiking and fishing spots, you probably don't need any more reasons to visit Petit Jean Mountain this summer. But we're giving you some anyway.

The Winthrop Rockefeller Institute will host five programs and a number of culinary classes over the next 75 days. It all kicks off with the Conference on Normal Tissue Radiation Effects and Countermeasures. That translates to the acronym CONTREC. CONTREC, which kicked off yesterday and continues through Saturday, is an international gathering of scientists who work in the field of radiation injury research. What is radiation injury, you might ask? It's when the tissue in your body is damaged because of exposure to radiation.

The researchers coming to CONTREC will present findings related to three types of radiation injury: cancer treatment (the most common), radiation emergencies (think dirty bombs or nuclear meltdowns) and space travel. Yes, space travel.

It just so happens that we have one of the world's premier radiation injury institutions right here in our Arkansas backyard at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS). Who knew? Well, UAMS' chancellor, Dr. Dan Rahn, did. And last year he helped us connect the dots to work with Dr. Martin Hauer-Jensen, the director of UAMS' Division of Radiation Health and a worldwide leader in radiation injury research. Dr. Hauer-Jensen has brought in scientists from all over the globe (Switzerland, Australia and the United Kingdom, to name a few) for CONTREC. This conference is NOT open to the public, but we hope to share some of what is discussed through our social media feeds, so keep an eye on @Rockefeller on Twitter later this week.

We go from tackling a health care issue of global magnitude this week to helping spur local agricultural and economic development next week. On Thursday, May 14, we're hosting a Business Workshop for Landowners. It's only $30 (or $50 per couple - cost covers lunch and snacks, too) for a full day of instruction about how to take the farm or timberland you own and turn it into a profitable business, whether through starting a hunting or fishing club, an agritourism venture or a host of other opportunities.

This program was developed by the Natural Resources Enterprise folks at Mississippi State University. Adam Tullos and Daryl Jones are walking encyclopedias when it comes to land management for business purposes, and we're excited to have them here. We're also partnering with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, and they'll bring their Arkansas-specific expertise to the workshop. The registration deadline is Friday (May 8), so sign up soon.

June is Shakespeare month here at the Institute. On June 12-13, we're hosting a St. John's College Great Books seminar, in which participants will read the Bard's The Merchant of Venice ahead of time and then be guided in discussion of the text by Dr. Victoria Mora, a vice president at St. John's and an expert in classic literature. Then the following Saturday, June 20, we're hosting the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre's performance of As You Like It. The performance will be an abridged (1-hour), family-friendly version of the play, which includes one of Shakespeare's most famous lines, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players." The free performance, Lord willing and the creek don't rise, literally, will be held on the Institute's front lawn. It makes for a great family outing.

And finally, we're gearing up for our Social Entrepreneurship Boot Camp in July. We'll have more details later, but suffice it to say it's shaping into a pretty spectacular program. The keynote of that event, an interview of Steve Clark conducted by Roby Brock, will be free and open to the public.

And we haven't even touched on our amazing culinary classes, including Table for Two (still some openings for summer classes), Chef's Tasting Dinner, Made From Scratch and Basic Training.

There's something for everyone at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute this summer. We'll see you soon.

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