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How She Got There: Carol Fulp’s Path to Becoming President and CEO of The Partnership Inc.

Carol FulpSixty years after the civil rights movement, a lot has been written in tribute to the great leaders who fought for social justice and helped open doors. But not much ink has been given to the children of the movement who bravely walked through those newly opened doors.

One such former child is Carol Fulp, who marched on Washington as a 12-year-old girl. Equal to the good fortune of growing up during the groundbreaking era is the responsibility she feels to build on the progress that was made.

“So many had sacrificed, fought and died in order to achieve equal rights in this country,” Fulp says. “As heirs, our part was and still is now to seize these new opportunities, do well and bring along other African-Americans.”

Over the years, this responsibility that propelled Fulp forward merged with her career so that “bringing along others” became the objective, her purpose, her passion. Here’s her path, and the lessons she learned along the way, to becoming the president and CEO of The Partnership Inc.

Initial Career Goal

“As an African-American female growing up in the 60’s, I had limited opportunities. My aunt Gertrude, an entrepreneur and civic leader who was larger than life and always doing for others, was my hero. But I didn’t have a lot of role models in the corporate world and I wanted to be a teacher.”

Then Historic Change Happened

“More institutions became available to blacks, and I went to the University of the State of New York to study psychology. I wanted to understand how the mind works, how people think and how to influence others—I wanted to broaden my horizons.”

First Job After College

“Doors were opening for blacks to work in corporate America. I was recruited by Gillette to be a customer service representative and quickly moved to sales, where I was asked to help recruit new employees from historically black colleges. I welcomed the opportunity to engage others in corporate. And I soon moved to human resources, where I advocated for people of color and eventually created the company’s diversity program. I was at Gillette for 11 years and was the employee relations manager when I left.”

Moving to a Community-Focused Company

“Involved in the community and in politics, I knew that I wanted to move to community relations. One night, at a civic event, I happened to be sitting next to the president of WCVB, Boston’s ABC-TV affiliate, and struck up a conversation. Three months later, the head of human resources position became available there. Though my initial intent was to find an opportunity in community relations, the culture of this organization was appealing. WCVB is the community station—more community programming is created there than at any other commercial station in the country. WCVB valued what I valued, and I knew I could thrive there. I arrived as a human resources manager and later leveraged my skillset to become director of human resources and community programming. I had no TV programming experience. But I had a lot of experience in the community and I was known as an innovative and fair manager.”

Combining Her Passion and Ambition

“After 11 years at WCVB, I knew I needed to go back to the corporate world to grow. Again, it was through a contact I had made through my community engagement—Elizabeth Cook—that I made my next move. She was on the board of John Hancock Financial and she recommended me for a newly created position. I pitched creating community programs linked to their large-scale sports properties such as Major League Baseball and the Boston Marathon so it would be known that when John Hancock sponsored something, the community always benefits. I started as assistant vice president of community relations and rose over the years to become senior vice president of corporate responsibility and brand management.”

Three Months That Changed Her Life

“I had continued to be civically involved, and as a result, I had the honor of being appointed as the U.S. representative to the 65th General Assembly of the U.N. by President Obama. Eleanor Roosevelt and Coretta Scott King had served in this role. It was a life-changing experience. When you stand at the podium of the U.N. and look out at the sea of ambassadors, it hits you that so much of the world is black and brown. Also, at this time—it was 2010—women’s initiatives were talked about every day, and you quickly understood that when women are economically empowered, their children, community and country are better off. I returned to John Hancock after my three-month leave of absence, and created a marketing program with colleagues in the business sector, called ‘Women Count.’”  

Current Position: President and CEO of The Partnership Inc.

“But after my experience at the U.N., I would ask myself, what am I called to do? Then the presidency of The Partnership, a leadership development organization that trains executives and professionals of color, became open. My good friend Bennie Wiley had served as president until 2005, and for me, leading the Partnership would be an opportunity to develop the next generation of leaders and to help corporate Boston look more like the U.N. I’ve had to learn how to be a CEO and run an organization, but when you have passion, you become fearless and you figure things out. When your objective is bigger than you, you don’t let the small things stand in your way.”

Last Words

If there is any advice I can give women today it is this: As women, we need to stop worrying so much. I wonder how further along I would be if I hadn’t spent so much time and energy worrying in the early stages of my career. If you make a mistake, it’s just a mistake. It doesn’t define who you are. So apologize, analyze what you could have done better and move on. Because you have a greater destiny ahead.

▶ Read more from the September 2016 newsletter.

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