Ausha Jackson spends her work time helping people leave a seemingly endless cycle of poverty.
Jackson had a good handle on making money at an early age. When she was just 16, she was baking and selling 200 cupcakes every day at school. Her take approached $500 a week.
But as resourceful and business-minded as she clearly is, Jackson puts her concern for those less fortunate ahead of her drive for cash.
As director of Strive2Thrive, Jackson and her staff are charged with helping those in poverty to find their way and become independent and productive members of the community.
Jackson shared some thoughts with Herald reporter Jim West recently in a question-and- answer session.
Q. What was your first job?
A. My first official job, at the age of 16, was working at CC’s Pizza on the buffet line, but I’ve always been an entrepreneur and business woman at heart. Prior to my first official job I used to sell cupcakes at my high school, just as a way to earn some extra cash. I would bake 200 cupcakes and sell them for 50 cents every day. I was making about $100 a day, $500 a week. That’s pretty good money for a youngster.
NAME: Ausha Jackson
POSITION: Executive Director, Strive2Thrive
FAMILY: Single with son, Samuel, 13
EDUCATION: Albany State University, B.S. in Marketing; Troy University, Masters in Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness; Troy University, currently seeking doctorate in Business Administration
Q. What was the first thing you spent money on when you received your first ever paycheck?
A. The most important thing to a teenager, a cell phone.
Q. What’s the single most effective technique you found over the past two years for keeping employees or volunteers motivated?
A. They first need to feel appreciated and know they are a valuable part of your team. My style of leadership is more of “servant” leadership, so I get involved and try to lead by example and model the type of leader that I ask my volunteers and employees to do. I think when they see that you’re willing to do what you ask them to do and lead by example it helps keep them motivated and they feel like a valuable part of the team.
Q. What led you to your current position? Why did you want to do what you’re doing now?
A. I’ve lived in Albany pretty much all my life and getting involved with the community is something I’ve always wanted to do. My personal motto is “be the solution to the problem.” I was not very familiar with Strive2Thrive prior to coming into this job, but I knew that we had a high crime rate, high teen pregnancy rate and so when the position came available I knew it was something I could tackle head on. I just kind of ended up here.
Q. Do you have a role model or mentor in your career?
A. I have several. I’ve had mentors throughout my profession and my education. I’ve had professors and teachers who have helped me. My mom is my biggest role model. She is just a super woman who is is always trying to lead me in the right direction and guide me and pray for me. I also have a wonderful pastor, Victor L. Powell at Rhema Word Cathedral. He is definitely a leader I try to model myself after.
Q. What is the biggest lesson you as a business leader learned from the recent recession?
A. It’s taught me and other business leaders to be resourceful. We’re being depended on to do more with less, and so that is requiring a higher level of creativity. We have to figure out ways to be creative and find the solutions that require us to stretch ourselves, our employees and volunteers more but still be effective. My team motto is “make a habit of making it happen.”
Q. If you could turn the clock back on one aspect of technology – examples e-mail, automated phone systems, cell phones, PDAs, etc. – what would you most like to see go away?
A. Probably the automated telephone systems. We’ve lost a certain touch with people. We’ve become so addicted to technology that we don’t provide the level of customer service that we once used to have with that face to face conversation.
Q. What is your favorite work-related gadget?
A. I don’t know if I could live without my iPad mini. It’s so compact and it’s like having a computer and a cell phone in one in your purse — lightweight, easy to carry around. I’ve got to have my iPad mini.
Q. What is your favorite tradition?
A. I enjoy family time. My family makes a commitment to celebrating birthdays. Anybody whose birthday comes up, we do it big. We go all out and we have those family values, whether it’s birthdays or Christmas or anything. We just come together and try to have some kind of tradition.
Q. What was the last book you read? Do you have things you read daily or regularly?
A. I do try to read my Bible regularly. I did say “try.” The last book I read was by a local author and pastor, David Wilson. The name of the book is “Leap and Let God Catch You.”
Q. I’m up and going by? And what is your morning routine?
A. I’m up at 4:30 a.m. every morning, working out from 5 until 6. I get dressed, get my son up and ready for the bus and then I’m at work by 7:30 a.m. It’s non-stop from there.
Q. What famous person would you like to meet, and Why?
A. I would like to meet Michelle Obama. To me, she’s just a person of class. She’s very effective and I enjoy watching her and the way she presents herself and how hard she’s had to work to get to where she is. She has used her platform to encourage healthy eating and healthy habits, I think she’s a wonderful role model.
Q. Favorite hobbies or activity outside work?
A. I enjoy interior decorating. I would love to be an interior designer one day and when the stresses of work get to me I try to find somebody’s house or room to decorate.
Q. If you could take back one business decision you made in your career, what would it be?
A. I try not to regret a lot of things, but to use every business decision as a learning opportunity. I think if there’s anything I could do over again it would be just try to walk away and not make a decision right then — especially if I’m emotional or upset. I think that patience is something I’ve learned over time, especially in business dealings.
Q. Best thing about your job?
A. I love helping people and serving the families in Strive2Thrive. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing lives being transformed and knowing that you have something to do with it. So when I see families that are coming out of poverty and they’re making strides and leaps and bounds, it is the most rewarding. There is no amount of pay that could reward you like seeing a life transformed.
Q. Worst thing about your job?
A. I think not being able to help everybody. Of course, with limited resources, there’s only a limited number of families we can help. Then there are the families that are not quite ready. It’s hard when you have to turn away a family or person who is looking to you for help. You want to be super woman and help everybody, but knowing your capacity and what you can do is sometimes difficult.
Q. The most beneficial course I took in school was?
A. Business Communications. It was taught by Dr. Cynthia Bennett at Albany State University. She was, by far, one of the most difficult instructors I’ve ever had, but I took a lot away. Working in the Chamber environment you have to interact with so many different people, and learning their communications styles, their leadership styles is really important in how I communicate things.
Q. What would be your dream job if you were able to pick a position outside your current career path?
A. I’d love to be a real estate agent or an interior designer or both. I really see myself at some point getting into real estate.
Q. Finish this thought; “on the first anniversary of my retirement, I see myself…
A. Somewhere on the beach with my feet kicked up and thinking about all things I was able to accomplish over my lifetime.
Q. What is the one trait a strong business leader cannot afford to be without?
A. I think that a business leader must be a visionary, and that sometimes the vision or the way to get to that vision may change. Starting out, we have our minds set a certain way and we see a certain vision, then life happens, things happen. Keeping hold to that vision but being flexible and adaptable is the key.
Q. Crystal ball time: What’s your call on when the economic recovery for our area will be in full swing?
A. That’s a hard question. I say that within the next ten years, if we can get the right leadership in place, get some businesses here, and industry, I can see this economy being in full swing.
Q. What kind of music might I find on your list of most played on your iPod?
A. I like R&B and neo soul music so you might find some India Arie or Erykah Badu or Musiq Soulchild. I don’t like the rap music I used to listen to when I was a teenager.
Q. What do you think is the biggest change Albany will see in the next 10 years?
A. Again, I think we have a huge opportunity to attract industry but we need the right leadership in place. It will have to be a mixture of the old and new. We’re going to have to have some young, emerging leaders to step up to the plate and really move this community forward, with the guidance