On one hand, Sharon James couldn’t have imagined years ago how things could turn out so well for the self-confessed “country bumpkin.”
And on the other hand, the Consortium fellow from the MBA class of ’89 at Washington University in St. Louis sees her professional trajectory as a series of “mistakes” that all led to the right place in the end.
James attributes much her good fortune to her experience with The Consortium, where she made contacts and prepared for her MBA program. The experience was so important, she resolved early on to give back by becoming a member of The Consortium’s Eagle Club. It took 25 years, but she met that goal last fall.
“Paying it forward. I really believe in that,” said James, who has joined an elite group of Consortium donors who have given at least $5,000 in three consecutive years. “Paying it forward for someone like me is a big deal. I couldn’t have afforded it without that fellowship.”
The fellowship not only brought her to Washington University, but to an internship at Edward Jones as assistant to the president — perhaps the site of her first “mistake.” James was offered a full-time job with the firm, but she turned it down for a job in New York City. She wondered if she would she have earned more, or perhaps become a partner by now if she’d taken that job.
New York was a big step for James. It was a chance to truly open herself up to a larger corporate, cultural and lifestyle world after growing up in Conway, S.C. “I didn’t just grow up in the country,” she said. “I grew up in the woods. I was as clueless as they came. I’m talking country bumpkin. But the difference was that I had a good work ethic, an above-average intellect and I applied it.”
In New York, she took a job with Chemical Bank. That, too, came at the expense of an opportunity in the treasury department for Exxon. “That was a mistake,” she said. “I could have had international experience. It’s a multinational company. I didn’t really understand how it fit into the bigger picture of business.”
Now, James is a business school teacher herself. She taught for eight years at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business and now serves on the faculty at Arkansas State University (see the university’s online program portal here), with her doctorate from the University of Minnesota in business administration and strategic management. She frequently refers students to The Consortium.
“These students haven’t had anyone encourage them to aim high,” she said. “It reminds me of South Carolina, frankly. They haven’t been prepared to have higher aspirations.”
But she knows it’s possible. She’s fond of telling her students how far she’s come, describing the opportunities they’re capable of achieving: “The country girl has come a long way.”