Speech: Wendi Strong, 2014 Corporate Honoree

BRETT GALLOWAY: Good evening everybody, I’m Brett Galloway, and I have the honor of sharing a few stories with you about the lessons I learned about caring, sharing, and, daring leadership from Wendi Strong, who I worked for eight years at USAA.

About five years ago, after hosting a big press conference Wendi asked for feedback. She loves feedback, she can’t get enough. And I told her she was great, she always was, really brilliant, but Wendi knew I was holding something back. She knew there was some criticism that I really didn’t feel comfortable giving. So, she pushed me, pushed me, until I gave it to her. Finally, I said, well, Wendi, your hair was in your face. Now, show of hands, how many men have good luck with that advice.

But a few weeks later, well actually, right directly after that she looked at me right in the eye and she kind of cocked her head and said, wow, thank you.

Thank you very much. And a few weeks later she followed up after another event and she said, did you notice that I pulled my hair back? And I thought, well that’s pretty humble and that’s pretty cool that she came back and to me, followed up to demonstrate to me that she was listening, and that’s Wendi, so caring leadership.

In addition to being Mentor of the Year, Wendi could be mother of the year. She could be Friend of the Year, Citizen of the Year. She is so thoughtful and loving, and a wonderful person to work with, and work for. So committed to family, hers and others. One time she asked me what I was getting my wife for Christmas, and I said well I don’t know, Sue wants an iPhone, and she wants a Coach purse, and I asked Wendi for her advice on which one to give.

And it was the only order Wendi ever gave me directly. She said, you will not give her one or the other, you will give her both. And I did. [LAUGHTER]

Finally daring, one day Wendi learned that an executive title review at our organization would result in a demotion for some of her team, including me.

That was a surprise for her, a surprise for all of us. She had not been part of the process. And she was on fire, understandably so. A few weeks later, our CEO left the organization and Wendi’s first order of business with the new CEO was to restore our titles.

Now imagine that of all the priorities you have with your new CEO as the Chief Communications Officer, your first priority was to restore the title to your team. We all got our titles back it was a really gutsy move, and I obviously still remember it to this day.

I left USAA two years ago, and people say you don’t leave your job, you leave your boss and I promise you that is far from the truth. I did not leave my old job because of Wendi Strong. I got my new job because of Wendi Strong and all that I learned from her.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I am very proud to present to you our 2014 Plank Center Corporate Mentor Awardee, my friend, advisor, cheerleader and mentor, Wendi Strong.


WENDI STRONG: My gosh, I had a speech written for tonight. And I thought it was going to be fine until I learned earlier this evening that the award that I was going to be given was to be named after Jack Koten.

I cannot tell you how humbled I am by that and I cannot tell you how humbled I am to stand in front of this group of the giants in our profession. One of the real privileges we have at this point in the development of the field of PR is that the people who created our profession, the people who founded our associations, the people who wrote our textbooks and the people who taught us everything we know are still with us, many of them are here in the room with us tonight, so how lucky are we?

We truly stand on the shoulders of those who come before us, and I am definitely doing that tonight. I did not know Jack Koten, and I know a lot of you here did. So, but I wanted to do my best, and so I hope you’ll bear with me to do credit to Jack Koten, one of the real greats, one of the really, the most impressive, committed people to our, who has ever been in this profession. So, I hope you’ll bear with me, I’ve learned a lot about him tonight, just in the short time that I was aware that this award was going to be named after him.

And I think it’s very fitting that this mentorship award is actually named after him. Since he was a mentor to so many, probably many of you in this room, and he was a mentor to Betsy Plank. I do remember when Jack died earlier this year. I remember the reaction of his friends and colleagues who so clearly loved him dearly who respected him and marked his passing with the kind of grief that follows the loss of a truly great man. All of you know that he was one of the founders of the Page Society, which is really all about mentoring, mentoring each other and mentoring new CCOs and that was an organization that I joined when I first came into my leadership role and that helped me with so much of what I was challenged with as a new leader.

And many of you who are in this room are a part of that organization. There were all of you have mentored me in one way or another. Jack was probably the spiritual father of corporate responsibility in America. I know he’s very committed to philanthropy, and especially to the arts.

And he really put forward the idea that corporations were obligated to do societal good. Something that was a new idea in the 1960s, 70s. Something that we take for granted today. So, in seeking to learn about Jack Koten tonight I went and talked with his children. Sarah and Mark Koten who are here with us tonight and I have to tell you that any of us who are parents would want nothing more than to hear our children talk about us in the terms that they talk about their father.

He was loving, he was always positive and he sounds like the greatest people person who ever walked the face of the earth. He believed that people could do anything. And that’s really what this program is about tonight. Helping others feel that they can do anything. And he was an advocate for everyone.

They confessed to me that they didn’t really know what he did because when he came home from work at night and they asked about his day, he started with well let me tell you who I had lunch with today and he would start talking about someone, Roger Bolton, Ron Culp, one of his colleagues, one of his friends, and he talked about these people that he had had contact with during the course of the day and how impressed he was with them and how much he learned from them. And how he admired them. And he brought those lessons back into their home.

One of the things that Mark and Sarah told me was that he would be so proud of the fact that this award was being named after him, and he would be so happy to know that this group of people were together tonight and thinking about him because they said these are his people.

We are his people. Jack was also a champion for women in our profession as I understand. So that makes it extra special for me to be able to accept this award tonight. And I see Ann Barkelew nodding. So, I’m deeply humbled. I’m honored to receive this award in Jack Koten’s name and on behalf of all the professionals.

Who have benefitted from his extraordinary life? So, I want to say thank you to the Plank Center board. Thank you to my team, past and present who are here with me tonight. Most of all, thank you to all the people in this room who have mentored me, coached me, taught me, and inspired me.

So, in memory of Jack, I would ask that we all redouble our efforts to serve others, to remember that it’s important that we think everyone who comes across our path can do anything, and that we convey that to them. That we inspire people, that we motivate people, that we lead people. And that we love people. Thank you very much.



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