Cathy D. Ross, retired executive vice president and chief financial officer, and Shannon A. Brown, senior vice president and chief human resources and diversity officer, discussed their paths to their roles and lessons learned along the way.
The event is a part of the dean’s lecture series from the Labry School of Science, Technology and Business.
Valerie King, assistant professor and business and program director in marketing and Timothy Rose, assistant professor and business and program director, initiated the series to bring a learning opportunity to Cumberland University business students and to spotlight the Labry School of Science, Technology and Business.
Both Ross and Brown have received numerous national and local awards and serve on corporate and nonprofit boards of directors. Both are recognized as among the top most powerful and influential executives and directors in America with extensive experience in global business.
“If there’s one thing about Shannon Brown, he’s a champion of people,” said Ross, who retired in 2014 after 30 years with FedEx.
In her role, Ross was responsible for the company’s worldwide finances and financial goals and initiatives.
Brown, who joined the company 35 years ago as a package handler, said his relationship with Ross was critical to his role. Brown is the most senior human resources officer with FedEx and oversees the company’s global initiatives and practices to find and retain quality employees.
Rose moderated the event and called the duo “two of the best in America who have ever done it.” Rose questioned the duo about their past and what drove them to their positions.
Ross said her time growing up on a farm in Henderson, about 17 miles southwest of Jackson, taught her valuable lessons.
“I look back at that experience and think that was probably one of the most valuable things I experienced in my life, because on a farm, you learn to work. You have high values. Your ethics were unquestionable,” Ross said. “You did what you said you were going to do. You were a member of the community and church. You took care of the people around you, because you knew they were going to step in and help you. Those values were embedded in me as I went through the rest of my career.”
Brown said his drive came from his time with the Boys and Girls Club of Memphis, which often took him to executive houses.
“I just woke up one day and said, ‘You know. I want one of those big houses, too,’” said Brown, who started down a path of success, propelled by his job at the newly formed FedEx in Memphis.
The two discussed lessons they’ve learned along the way about leadership, dedication and more.
“The greatest thing is to learn to think, because when you move out into the real world, you’re going to have whatever you learned in college. Well, trust me, whatever you majored in college is probably not what you’re going to end up doing by the time you’re our age. You’re going to have different experiences,” Ross said.
“I just learned the key thing about running a company is you have to take care of people, especially people you’re responsible for. I don’t care who you are as a person. You’re nothing if your people aren’t performing,” Brown said.
Ross said she learned to overcome potential limitations people often set for themselves because of their backgrounds.
“Whatever your background might be, that’s not who you are. When you walk into that room, what you are and what you bring with you is your brain, your knowledge and you should sit at that table and bring something of value to that,” Ross said.
“Our philosophy is people, service, product. Let’s take care of our people. If you take care of your people, they’ll be creative and do a great job for your customers. If you take care of your customers, they’ll come back and continue to do business with you,” Brown said.
The speakers also met with Cumberland students in small groups for “fireside chats” and participated in a business forum open house sponsored by the Trane Corp.