Happy Wednesday, everyone!
Can you believe that we are already at the end of March? As a graduating senior, life has been nothing short of a whirlwind—in the midst of final projects and future plans, it’s good to take a moment to pause and re-energize. I found that moment of pause in my conversation with this week’s Power of One guest. She’s a woman who’s endured hardships that hit close to home, and someone who has always stayed humble despite her overwhelming success. She’s an absolute light and someone I am honored to have learned so much from. Without further ado, I am proud to introduce Bianca Buckridee!
Bianca was born on the island of Trinidad (the same place my mom is from!) Her parents separated when she was young, and she moved to New York with her mother, who remarried. Because of a variety of familial issues, Bianca was taken by the state and placed in the foster care system in Brooklyn. Her source of strength during this time of transition, culture shock, and bullying by her peers was her education. Her teachers saw her intelligence and encouraged her to develop it. Her one dream was to make it to college and find the stability and normalcy that she had never had growing up. Despite facing incredible struggles, Bianca graduated after being placed in the care of her aunt and uncle, who supported her in college and became her source of strength and encouragement. She attended Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, where she studied Communications. There, she ran the university’s television studio and met some of her dearest friends.
After graduating, Bianca worked briefly in HR, but then transitioned to Chase Bank after hearing about a position on the radio. She was hired and began working as a Fraud Investigator, and although she excelled, decided to try something completely different. After speaking to her roommate, Bianca took on her next challenge: teaching at a charter school. Without any prior experience, she taught kindergarten and obtained her certification, then transformed a struggling third grade class into successful learners. Bianca’s passions then led her to the corporate world, where she worked for Certegy in corporate training and developed a partnership with various federal agencies to combat check fraud. She then moved to SunTrust, where she pioneered their interactions with customers on social media. She was recruited by Chase to build a similar program. After working at Chase for almost three years, Bianca moved to the Bay Area and worked as the Success Director for Sprinklr (a social media management system), and currently serves as the Senior Director of Strategic Marketing at BMC Software. Bianca’s innovative approach to gathering customer feedback through social media has led to several important recognitions: the Social Media Leadership Award from Best Practices in Banking, Bank Innovations 2013 Innovators to Watch, Webby Awards Honoree for Social Customer Service, and even being featured on the cover of American Banker. She’s spoken at events like SXSW, DreamForce, NetFinance, and the Social Customer Service Summit. She says of her life: “I’m at a place that I never dreamed was possible.” Bianca’s story is nothing short of inspiring and I’m honored that she would share with me a little bit of what has made her who she is today.
Who’s someone that you credit with shaping who you are today?
“Definitely my Aunt Lucy. She’s really like a mom to me. Unconditional love from her and my uncle was so important: it didn’t matter if I ended up as a CEO or a janitor—they loved me and were proud of me no matter what. They love me the way that I am, and having that sort of footing really helped to propel me. My aunt is really joyful about life—we had a really tough childhood and was really poor, but she never made us feel less than. We lived in this world of love and comfort and stability despite those circumstances, and it was because of her joy and willingness to keep fighting for better. A lot of that rubbed off on me. There have also been a series of influential women in my work life—they always encouraged me and saw the best in me, and encouraged me to explore the ideas I had.”
Tell me about a moment when you knew that you were making a difference.
“Teaching was the greatest job that I ever had. After I had finished my year in kindergarten, the principal invited me to teach the incoming third grade class. In addition to a variety of behavioral and educational issues in this group of students, that year’s FCAT proved crucial for the survival of the school. There were kids who punched holes in the walls, stealing from each other…it was a mess! When you have kids behaving that way, it’s never just one thing—there’s a variety of factors contributing to it. At the same time, there were also some really good kids who were being overlooked because of these behavioral issues. Nothing really seemed to be working, so I went home over Christmas and was telling my aunt (who’s like a mom to me) about my frustrations. In true Trinidadian fashion, she asked me “What if it’s you?”
I was startled, and thought about it on the plane ride home. In my mind, I began thinking about the traditional ways that we were teaching students. I realized that when these kids were coming home, they were playing video games, something that really captured their attention. I thought “No wonder we can’t get through. We can’t compete with that. So how do I develop lessons based on that model?” We started using a cart of Apple iBooks that nobody was using to create PowerPoints with pictures and sounds. We’d teach the main lesson and let the students do daily lessons on their own using the computers. It was a bold idea, but we didn’t really have anything to lose! What ended up happening is that the smarter students in the class would race through the PowerPoints and then take the time to help the students who weren’t learning as fast. It created this mentorship model that was truly amazing. We kept encouraging them, and soon they began to take ownership of their education, which we helped by always encouraging them and their skills. At this point, technology was hardly being used in the classroom, so it drew some resistance from some of the more traditional faculty. But it delivered results! I never thought about upsetting the apple cart. To me, my focus was that the students felt joy, and felt like they were doing something that mattered. This class that was destined for failure ended up not only succeeding in those tests, but also developing a love for learning.”
Tell me about an important lesson you’ve learned that’s shaped where you are today.
“I really had to learn how to put my life before my work. I feel like I spent most of my twenties and thirties gunning for the right jobs and exposure. And I feel like the universe told me “oh, you want it, here it is.” The world gave me everything I wanted, but it wasn’t what I needed to fill my soul. What I really needed to fill my soul was learning to be confident in just being. I don’t check work emails after work, I set really firm boundaries, to make sure that I’m making the most out of my life. I still love my job and give it everything while I’m there, but it’s not who I am. There’s more to life than just your job.”
What’s a challenge that you’ve faced that others might relate to?
“Throughout my career, I began to realize how other young women of color want and need to see people like them being successful. It becomes really real to them—something that’s attainable. I think to see someone like me who started out at the bottom of the banking ladder, literally in the call center, and then ending up on the cover of a banking magazine, it makes them think “Hey, I could do that too!” The other side of the coin is, you also become a target. So it’s hard because on one hand you have people lifting you up and looking to you for guidance, but on the other, there are people who are looking for every opportunity to set you back. It really helped me to focus on my vision and my team. Looking at what I needed to do in order for all of those things to come into place helped to keep me centered.”
What’s some advice that you give to someone wanting to pursue their dreams?
“In my twenties, I had a ton of bravado. Because of my childhood, I always had to fight for everything, so I would always think to myself, “what do I have to lose?” Now that I’m in my thirties, I’m a little bit more contained! But when you’re in your twenties, you really just have to go for it. I follow the 10-10-10 rule: will this matter in 10 minutes? 10 months? 10 years? An example of that was between when I was choosing between my former and current job. I was strategic in realizing that that opportunity was going to help further develop my skills in marketing which was an area I really wanted to grow in. I was trying something new, and I think people like to see somebody who’s unwilling to sit on the sidelines, someone who is always willing to invest in themselves. We’re moving away from the idea that we have to stick with one job for all our lives, it’s very different.
If I had to give one piece of advice, it would be this: try anything and everything. You never know where you’re going to end up. I had no idea that getting a degree in Communications would open up so many paths for me. I graduated and took the first job that paid my bills instead of waiting for something in my field, and I went from being an executive administrator to leading social media operations for the largest bank in the nation. You can’t just overlook things because they don’t look like the future you envisioned for yourself. Taking a chance and trying something can build that foundation that will propel you to success.”
I am still in awe of a woman who has overcome so much, accomplished so much, and found herself in the process. I left our conversation feeling refreshed and inspired to pursue my dreams fearlessly, yet remember that they don’t define me. The world needs more strong men and women like Bianca, and I hope you’ll use her words to give you that little extra motivation to go out and be extraordinary. You never know who you might inspire along the way.