Barbara Austin Clark Stevenson takes enormous pride in mentoring and sharing her corporate and entrepreneurial savvy with people committed to work and learn. But those she works with should expect that they will be required to deliver their personal best, just as she demands of herself. Ethics and values instilled from childhood remain her compass for success.
“My grandmother used to say that any job worth doing is worth doing well, and any job worth doing well is one to take pride in,” Stevenson said. She strives to follow that advice in every business and personal journey, taking pride in every job, no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential.
Stevenson began her executive career in commercial insurance at Electronic Data Systems (EDS), where she had answered an ad and convinced the recruiter that she should be the last interviewee. Years later, she joined Oracle, another large information technology company, and “the world opened up.”
Stevenson attests that life is 10 percent what happens and 90 percent reaction, showcasing a multi-year career spanning 19 countries, many industries and diverse cultures. She quickly understood how to navigate the highly competitive and male-dominated corporate climate.
“You have to be flexible; you have to roll with the punches,” she said. “I am your original bootstrap girl. You fall down, do a good doozy and then get your ass up and keep going. I’m not a june bug stuck on my back with legs flailing in the air and whining. I have managed pretty much on my own terms, even when my hard-headedness caused some angst.”
Co-owner with husband, Ron, of Prescott’s American Financial Security, LLC and American Financial Investments, LLC, Stevenson said she feels blessed every day that she met Ron and that they are partners in business and life. “Our clients love it.”
She says her professional relationships go well beyond taxes and consulting. “They know more about me than my family. If my job were only about sitting in a back room and not interacting with clients, just shoot me now. My light does not shine in a closet.”
Stevenson can walk into any room and bond with strangers, a knack perfected early on through attending nine schools before the fifth grade because of her father’s job. Her worldview was shaped by family, a debate teacher, a swim coach and EDS’s Ross Perot. She completed three degrees in less than five years while working part-time. Still, she says she learned more on the job than from any class.
And, she loves a debate. “I can argue both sides of anything – because I had to.” She recalls words from her swim coach, “Effort is great, but if it doesn’t result in you being first or second or third, you did not win, unless it was your personal best. And then you had better learn to take pride in that.”
The notion that “everybody who shows up is a winner is crap,” she says. “The first time anybody says, ‘You failed’ to those people, they simply won’t have any coping mechanism. Sometimes you need to learn that your personal best won’t win. You just keep a smile, keep going and be grateful for what you have.”
As a manager of four employees in accounting, financial planning and business services, Stevenson is very involved and also very hands off. “I am very clear in defining expectations, and both offering support and holding people accountable.”
The former elementary and high school educator remains a teacher at heart. She takes pride in role modeling life lessons: refusing to take “no” for an answer, focusing on solutions versus complaints, maintaining trust and values, proving yourself in a business environment before demanding more, learning as much from bad managers as good ones and recognizing the positives in achievement by “dreaming about it, planning for it, and making it happen.” QCBN
By Sue Marceau, QCBN
Photo by Sue Marceau