Three alumnae — Kim Oliphant Smith, ’77, Marsha Stone, ’89, and Carolyn Mosby, ’94 — are blazing a trail of success in corporate Indianapolis.
Grab a glass and fill it halfway. Is the glass half-full or half-empty?
For three Indiana State University alumnae, that question is a no-brainer — half-full.
As female leaders in Indianapolis, the abilities of Kim Oliphant Smith, ’77, Marsha Stone, ’89, and Carolyn Mosby, ’94, to see the potential in every situation is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the tools in their repertoires that make them leaders of the pack.
Climbing the ladder
Admittedly, the climb has taken a lot of patience and drive, but all three women agree the effort they put in was worth it, given their views from the top.
Upon graduating from Indiana State with a bachelor’s degree in social science education, Smith earned a degree from Indiana University School of Law and began her insurance career in 1980 as a claims attorney with a large insurance company in Indianapolis.
Fifteen years ago, Smith, a southern Indiana native, joined Indiana Farmers Mutual Insurance Company as vice president of human resources and general counsel. She worked her way up the company hierarchy, from senior vice president to executive vice president, before being named the company’s president and CEO in 2014.
“Sometimes I think people focus a lot on the next job they want, and I’m not sure that always works well for everyone,” Smith said. “If you do the job you’re asked to do and give 150 percent, the next opportunity will come your way.”
That was the case for Mosby, a native of Gary who earned a bachelor’s degree in radio/TV/film communications from Indiana State. In 2010, she became the fourth president in the nearly 40-year history of Mid-States Minority Supplier Development Council, which certifies ethnic minority businesses and serves as an advocate for the economic well-being and growth of Mid-States MSDC-certified Minority Business Enterprises.
Prior to joining Mid-States MSDC, Mosby served as chief marketing officer for Kiwanis International in Indianapolis. As the organization’s first African-American executive, she provided strategic leadership and direction for all global marketing, branding and communications for the nonprofit. She has also served as a consultant for Dell Computers in West Chester, Ohio, was vice president of marketing communications for Veolia Water Indianapolis LLC and worked in state government with the Indiana Department of Administration’s Minority Business Development.
“Being the CEO of an organization or corporation has always been on my radar as a position I wanted to seek,” Mosby said. “When the opportunity to take this position became available, I had people ask me about it. I actually recommended someone else for the position at first, but a minority business owner and corporate executive came back to me and asked me to apply, so I did.”
Life is often about knowing how to spot an opportunity when it arises, something for which Stone has a knack.
A certified public accountant by trade, Stone, who hails from Clayton and earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Indiana State, has been employed with the Indianapolis Airport Authority for 20 years.
Her association with the airport began even earlier, though. After beginning her career as a CPA at George S. Olive & Co., now BKD, the airport became her first client and the one month every year she spent handling the business’ audit became her favorite time of year.
When a position opened up at the airport in 2004, Stone jumped at the opportunity and has since served as the airport’s auditor director, assistant finance director and finance director before being named CFO in 2009.
“Then (in 2013), my boss said to me, ‘You can do finance in your sleep. For you to progress in your career, would you consider heading the commercial enterprise function?’” Stone said. Since then, every moment in the position has been interesting and exciting.”
Once responsible for “counting the money,” Stone is now in charge of bringing home the bacon for the airport as the person responsible for oversight of all revenue sources, such as parking services, food/beverage and concessions, 9,000 acres of land/property development, leasing hangars and other properties owned by the airport authority, etc.
Stone is also tasked with attracting airlines and air service, as well as handling public affairs and customer service — for which the airport has been named No. 1 in North America for three of the last four years.
One of the proudest moments of her career, Stone said, was being a financial leader in planning and construction of the $1 billion new terminal that opened in 2008.
“If anyone had asked me in college if I thought I’d end up in a senior role at an airport, I would have said no,” she said. “But when the airport became my first audit client, I fell in love with the industry and it was a dream when I was called for a job here. My career at the airport has had an awesome progression, and I know I’m blessed to have such a rewarding career.”
A similar go-getter attitude has allowed Mosby to drive all of her career decisions.
“I’ve had to think about where I want to be at the end of my career and work backwards,” she said. “I wanted to be an expert in my field and get experience in a lot of industries within the communications/marketing/PR arena, so I’ve worked my way up at positions in a variety of industries — state government, nonprofit organizations and corporate America.”
As the former chief marketing officer at Kiwanis, Mosby was responsible for 90 countries and was on the executive team that had a large staff. Luckily, she had mentors to show her the way as she rose through the ranks.
“A career in leadership is a lot of responsibility, and I’ve been lucky to always have great, supportive bosses who coached me and allowed me to use their resources to get exposed to leadership training,” she said.
Tapping into positivity, Smith learned, can also go a long way in career progression. She approaches hurdles on the job as opportunities to put her skills on display, instead of a barrier she can’t overcome.
“I’m not certain that I feel like I’ve faced a lot of leadership challenges because of my gender. Maybe that’s because I have a pretty high level of confidence in myself and have always felt like I can do whatever I set out to do,” Smith said. “It’s the philosophy I’ve applied throughout my career — follow my heart, passion and ambition. For me, I haven’t put time into thinking about challenges my gender might pose. I’d rather spend time pushing forward and working hard at any opportunity that comes my way.”
Advice from the top
While it’s important for business leaders to be forward thinking, all three women reached back into years of experience for advice for women who will follow in their footsteps.
Should those footsteps lead into male-dominated fields, Mosby said it’s essential to hold your head high and trust in your abilities, just as she has when navigating careers in industries such as natural gas, steel, telecommunications, not-for-profit and state government.
“It isn’t uncomfortable for me, because I am not shy and the positions I’ve held require me to be the face and voice of an organization,” Mosby said. “Luckily, I’m not easily intimidated or shy and am the first person to speak up. I never feel out of place — no matter the industry or how many men might be in the room.”
When necessary, it’s OK to make yourself a seat at the table, which Stone has done as the only board member who is not an airport CEO for the airport’s trade association, Airports Council International-North America. She recommends women not be afraid to go for a role that seems unlikely — because you might just get it.
“ACI-NA is an organization that wants to bring women and new vision into leadership positions, because aviation has been such a male-dominated field,” she said. “It’s rewarding to sit at the table, and I’ve found incredible female role models, in my field and others, who are doing just that. I’ve watched them balance everything in their lives, including raising families, while finding success in their careers and as members of their communities. As part of the new generation of women who are now taking leadership positions in the industry, I feel like I’ve been part of a shift in our society across the board — a shift to seeing more women with positions at the head of the table.”