After gaining experience in graphic and environmental design, Valerie Thompson set her sights on a leadership role. In the spring of 2022, she joined Yale’s Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders Live Online (BPCL LO) program to acquire the necessary business expertise that could help her land a promotion. Following the program's conclusion, she swiftly achieved her objective and assumed the position of Executive Director at FairWays.
How did your career journey lead to your current role?
I’ve always liked to draw, and creativity runs through my family. My father is an artist and his father as well, so art has always been a part of my life. It wasn’t until college that I was introduced to careers in art, and after leaving a business major, I eventually stumbled upon graphic design and loved it. After graduating and not being able to find work in the field yet, I moved to Columbus, Ohio and freelanced full-time for about 7 years. Family issues moved me back to my hometown of Toledo, Ohio and I was eventually hired at ProMedica, a health and wellness organization, as a graphic designer.
After about 5 years in the graphic design role, I transitioned into environmental design, and worked in that area for another 4 years. During this time, a project that I presented impressed the head of ProMedica’s philanthropy department, and he offered me my current role as Executive Director of FairWays, an initiative from ProMedica that aims to help eliminate women’s disparities in social health outcomes.
What motivated you to participate in BPCL LO?
The environmental design role I had at ProMedica had never existed before. When I discovered how much activity we had in that area, I was able to become a point person, creating process and structure around it. It strengthened my skills in team building, presentation, administration, and strategy, but it didn’t necessarily change my position. The honing of these skills and the increase in responsibility made me want to advance my title. It just so happened that during the process of proposing a new director role, I received an email about the program. It was almost magical how it directly addressed the exact position I was in—a creative who wants to advance to a leadership role yet has no business training.
I’ve always rolled the idea of going back to school around in my head, but the time and financial commitment for a full degree wasn’t something I was ready for. This program’s shortened timeframe, lower cost, and virtual set up provided a combination that I couldn’t resist. Plus, it’s Yale… there is no better credential to have! That mixture appealed to my supervisors as well.
What did you enjoy the most about your program experience?
Honestly, the very first exercise [the Reflected Best Self Exercise] was my favorite. Having to ask people in your circle to write about you, it’s something I would never have done otherwise, and it provided insights that I still cherish to this day. You don’t always know how people feel about you, and a lot of leaders, especially women, wrestle with that. It helped me start the program with confidence, because even the exercise of having to ask people to do that was an uncomfortable challenge that I had to overcome.
I have always found negotiation intimidating, but now that I see it in a new way, I have successfully implemented these principles into so many of my dealings with people… both professionally and personally. I have no doubt that those concepts were laced into the thinking that created the presentation that got me promoted.
Can you share any specific learnings from the program that you have applied at your organization? What was the impact?
The most impactful sessions for me were the ones on negotiations that talked about the “Pie” and the “Tree” (taught by Professors Daylian Cain and Barry Nalebuff). I have always found negotiation intimidating, but now that I see it in a new way, I have successfully implemented these principles into so many of my dealings with people… both professionally and personally. I have no doubt that those concepts were laced into the thinking that created the presentation that got me promoted. How you are able to determine what is truly fair and knowing what is easy for you yet important to the other, are two of the strongest weapons I’ve ever utilized in my strategies.
Here are two examples:
I am on the DEI committee for our local advertising association chapter. A film created in Toledo won one of our awards, and the creators wanted us to help them get more exposure. I was able to connect with the Chicago chapter (10 times our size) and get them to screen the film in their city. Their chapter did not have any DEI activity yet had a connection to an urban TV station that they couldn’t figure out how to engage. The screening introduced their chapter to a whole new diverse community of creatives and their sponsor loved the exposure; we were able to have our name associated with this prestigious event at no cost; and our winners were introduced to connections that are going to take them to the next level of opportunities.
(This actually happened during the program and I shared it with the professor, proving that it doesn’t take long for this strategy to work!)
Same association above, just today I was able to secure a presenting sponsorship for our awards this year with the pie and tree tactic. The only Black-owned radio station in our city will be able to have our DEI awards named after them and get premier exposure through our awards show and promotion; from them we get a live remote, DJ, show host and promos for free; our winners will be interviewed on their station for further exposure; and we increase diversity simultaneously in our sponsors and vendors.
Those lessons were gold… I look at everything through those lenses now and can see win-win-win-win situations so much more quickly and clearly.
What advice would you give to a fellow creative professional considering a program like BPCL LO?
The cost for the program is definitely an investment. First, the knowledge gained is certainly worth the money. But second, if price is a deterrent, consider asking your job to pay for it. My company does not offer tuition reimbursement for certifications, but my department absorbed this cost in their budget anyway after I stated my case; so, it can be done. A lot of executives get put into those roles without proper training, and it ends up costing the company when mistakes have to be rectified or they are forced to rehire. From a pie and tree perspective, this class is a cost savings. Less expensive than a full degree with targeted lessons you can immediately apply at work the next day, preparing you for the executive team. Position the program like that to your bosses and it will be hard for them to say no.
Learn more about Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders Live Online