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Mindsets on Steroids: A Conversation with Dr. Tashni-Ann Dubroy

In my Mindsets on Steroids blog series, influential leaders share their secrets to help you win by finding your inner desire to change, ignite your passion, and instill life patterns. If what you were doing right now would get you there, you would already be there.

Subscribe NOW for Mindsets on Steroids: influential leaders unpacking secrets that help you find your inner desire to change, ignite your passion, and develop new life patterns--all to help you win! 

Dr. Tashni-Ann Dubroy was named the 17th president of Shaw University in August of 2015. She then led an incredible turnaround to improve the university’s culture and sustain it financially. Before entering academia, she left a successful corporate career at BASF to follow her passion and start her own hair care business, Tea and Honey Blends, which is still operating today. Dr. Dubroy holds a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from North Carolina State University and an MBA from Rutgers University.

After a career in corporate America and running your own company, how did you get on the path to becoming president at Shaw?

“They had a chemistry position opened, and so I applied for the job and nailed it. I started at Shaw as a chemistry professor and very quickly got promoted to department chair, then to special assistant to the president for process optimization, and lastly to the position of president.

“I gained the presidency at Shaw within five years of being at the university, and I also am the second youngest president at the institution. I was 34 when I started and came into a turnaround situation. I inherited a six-year decrease in student enrollment. I also inherited a $4 million budget gap and two years of net losses on the balance sheet, so very quickly I had to lead teams to turn around the institution. So far Shaw has been extremely responsive in terms of their ability to do the work and get the job done.”

Lasting change starts with inner desire. What internal triggers have set change in motion in your life?

“I am intrinsically motivated. My mother always said that when I was a young child she never had to tell me to study… at the end of the day, I know from within what I want to do. When I have my eyes set clearly on a goal, I work to achieve it.

“I would like to tell you that I am only passionate about one thing and that that one thing is education. I would like to say that, but if I’m being true to myself, there’s a passion that I have from within with anything that I choose to do, whether it’s entrepreneurship, whether it’s education, young people, or giving back. Everything that I take on I ensure that I commit myself to it.

“That type of internal motivation really helps me to be successful in all realms of my career and personal life. I think the evidence for that is my history of being quickly promoted in every setting I’ve been in. I always say I can’t hold on to a job because I keep getting promoted.

“If I look at the variety of positions I’ve been able to master in my career, I think there are some common skills that are shared across all of these positions, and it’s interesting for me to see the challenges that I’m facing in the college presidency setting I’ve been able to solve because of the analytical skills, organizational skills, and people skills that I’ve developed over the years in each of these roles.”

Passion fuels explosive growth. What ignites your passion?

“I do get a lot of energy from being around people. I’m a people person and I enjoy giving back. If there is something that entails educating young people – especially young girls – and helping them to be confident, to be successful, get rid of perceived barriers to success that they may have, or eliminate real barriers to success, those are the types of things that I’m passionate about. That’s what keeps me going.

Where does that passion come from?

“My mother is my most early influencer. I have a very strong mom. I saw her working very hard to help our family. I saw her make sacrifices even up to having to migrate out of the country while her kids were back in Jamaica. She migrated to the United States while we were in Jamaica. I think those types of things certainly resonate with me today. I have a young daughter – she’s seven years old – and the things that my mother instilled in me are the things I’m cultivating in her as well.”

Consistent life patterns are often the missing component to greatness. How do you find discipline in your life?

“I have been waking up early from a very young age. My mom used to wake us up at six o’clock in the morning for no reason at all. So we were up very early in the morning and just up to be up. She created a bunch of early risers in the family and soon it became a habit for me.

“I wake up at 4:30 every morning and that’s just part of my morning routine. I wake up ahead of the family. I’m able to do so much work and by the time they’re up I can focus on them. That type of disciple I now realize is not common. Every time I speak about it, people are shocked,” she says with a laugh. “It’s not that I don’t get sleep – I do – it’s just that to have this type of schedule I have to wake up early.”

What is one result of change, passion, and discipline in your life?

“While I was working in corporate (at BASF), I was making a very good salary, and my husband and I were very well compensated in the jobs that we had. I remember when I started Tea and Honey Blends, I learned from one of the VPs at BASF that it was a potential conflict of interest with our customers, so I was either going to have to quit my company or have to quit corporate.

“I remember going home and speaking to my husband about the impact that me leaving would have on the family, and he said he would support me in whatever decision I made. I remember thinking about him in terms of how much more of a burden he would have to take in order to help the family’s finances, and so I told my VP in corporate that I would stay. But that night when I went home I was literally sick to my stomach. I couldn’t eat; I couldn’t sleep. I knew that I had made the wrong decision.

“Usually I don’t like to renege on decisions, but I had to go back in and I had to tell her that I wanted to take the risk to leave corporate while I was young and explore entrepreneurship. It was one of the best decisions that I have made in my entire life. I got an understanding of what it was like to own my own company and be responsible for ensuring people can meet the needs of their families, as well as just understanding taking a company from an idea and then executing. I think that’s an example of how passion and making a bold decision are how I approach everything in life. I make bold decisions and I don’t make any small plans.”

You can follow Tashni-Ann Dubroy on Twitter at @PhDTash.

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