Jackie Beaubian Majors
Graduate School of Education and Psychology | 1996
Chief Executive Officer, Crystal Stairs, Inc.
What does being an honoree of this campaign mean to you?
It's surprising and exciting. I don't often consider myself as a woman in leadership at the level to receive honors. Especially considering all of the extraordinary female change makers out there doing amazing things. But then I reflect on the impact of the work that I have been privileged to be a part of and rest grateful for the acknowledgment on behalf of myself and so many others. It is nice to be recognized as someone, a woman in particular, who has and continues to make an impact on things that matter: people and children.
What also excites me about this campaign is the title, "Outstanding Alumni | Women in Leadership." I come from a long line of strong women. My grandmother is 100 years old with only an eighth-grade education. She was a domestic worker all her life and actually paid my way through graduate school at Pepperdine. My grandmother who cleaned homes for a living paid for my master's degree. A woman who was born on a plantation in Mississippi after slavery had been abolished, paid for me to further my education. That is pretty incredible.
Another strong woman and leader I must mention is my mother, who is 83 years old (it's the new 60). She is a retired principal who, all of her life, had a significant impact on the lives of impoverished youth. There were many days where her students joined us at our dinner table. It's now that I truly appreciate the magnitude of the influence that she had on so many. The women in leadership, in my life and family, are an important part of why this honor is so special to me.
Describe your success story.
I started working when I was 15 years old. I worked as a grocery store clerk. I'll be honest, I didn't have to work to pay my rent, but I worked because my parents instilled in me the value of a strong work ethic. I knew my parents could pay for my essentials, but anything extra was my responsibility.
My career in early care and education began when I was 19, as a childcare provider at a center. I didn't know a lot of things, but I knew that impacting the lives of children and their families was really important. Even then, I worked with families that often didn't know where their next meal would come from. I remember I waited at the childcare center after closing time with a worried four-year-old, because her mom's car broke down and she had to ride the bus to pick the child up. I understood the importance of my presence for this family. That really became the foundation for my future; educating young children, supporting families, and strengthening communities.
My career from that point forward was centered around early care and education and included teaching, directing programs, building child-development centers, and executive management. Early in this journey, I joined a large child-development corporation where I would stay for 17 years. The organization's staff thought it would be important for me to get my master's degree in an effort to promote the educational authenticity of their leadership team. That's when I decided to go to Pepperdine. Pepperdine didn't have an early care and education major, so I pursued education. It was a perfect fit. Classes were offered at times that allowed me to navigate around my very full work schedule and commitments.
I remember an independent study class that I took. I wish I could remember the name of the professor, but she was the one who helped me understand that I could create an early care and education pathway specifically geared toward my career objectives. During this course, my professor held me accountable for conducting extensive research in early care and education. Based on that research, I determined how I was going to make an impact. Within weeks of receiving my master's degree, I began a 14-year tenure as an adjunct instructor of child development at the local community college. My time at Pepperdine affirmed for me that my passion for early care and education, my call to leadership, and my desire to be a community servant could all come together.
If I fast forward 15 years, my Pepperdine experience was a key contributor to my decision to take the big leap from executive in corporate America to the nonprofit sector. Another influence began the day I read an article in O discussing Suzy Welch's theory of 10-10-10. The 10-10-10 process is a way of thinking about how big decisions affect your life in 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years. The article highlighted a corporate mom who was struggling to make a difficult decision about attending her son's karate tournament or meeting the immediate demands of a work project. Using the 10-10-10 method to decide, she contemplated "in 10 minutes he'll be disappointed, but I'll be able to satisfy my boss. In 10 months, it will be a non-issue. However, in 10 years he could be directly affected by me missing that tournament." That was so impactful to me at a time when I was struggling to survive in my corporate job, because I was not able to be fully present in raising my children. Reading the 10-10-10 article was significant and a major turning point in my life and career.
At that point, it wasn't even a choice. Taking a leap of faith was the obvious next step in my journey. I felt suffocated by the bureaucracy of corporate America, which did not allow my passion, my integrity, and my goals to align. After making the difficult decision to leave, I took some time to reflect and determine my next step toward living an authentic life. For the first time since I was 15 years old, I did not have a job. In unfamiliar territory, I set out to bring structure to this time of open reflection. However, my priority was to spend much-needed quality time with my young daughters; time that I had lost to my impossible work demands. So, I carved out only an hour each day to career source. Although there was no rush, since corporate America left me in a comfortable place to take the time I needed, it was still a time of great uncertainty. I was over 40 and questioning whether my skills were even transferrable after 17 years with the same company. I was very nervous but determined and hopeful that my career could be all the things I wanted and needed it to be.
One day while career sourcing, I drifted onto Oprah Winfrey's website and felt compelled to email this message, "OMG, Suzy Welch's 10-10-10 article could not have come at a better time. I'm going through a transition from corporate to nonprofit. So this was just perfect timing." To my surprise, six months later, Suzy Welch's office called me to discuss including my journey in her upcoming book called 10-10-10. To make a long story short, I met with Suzy and ultimately she decided to highlight my story in her book. My story, Authentic at Last, the Catalyst Within, symbolized a catalytic turning point in my career.
Four months later, a head hunter called me about a chief program officer position with a nonprofit college access program that supported low-income high school students with dreams of being the first in their families to go to college. This was not the world of early childhood education, but I knew that my expertise in transforming organizational infrastructure would address their most critical needs. I took a 25 percent pay cut to work for this nonprofit, but I was excited to channel my experience toward the important work of assisting communities in need. Within six months, I completed their three-year strategic plan, centered around infrastructure development and increasing program delivery. My strategy, inspired by my research experience at Pepperdine, my work experience, and my passion for serving others, led me to identify problems, work closely with frontline staff, document a plan, gain buy-in, and implement solutions. Working for a nonprofit brought me to an entirely new level of fulfillment and authenticity. But to truly achieve the work I was destined for, I would ultimately need to pursue my career goals of creating pathways for children and families living in poverty. My passion was and still is children birth-to-five and reaching children before society has told them that they're not good enough. I wanted to build programs that provide young children with the opportunities they need to thrive.
Crystal Stairs, Inc. then entered my life and it was destined to be. It is where my life's work is defined; the exclamation point on my career. I work daily with more than 600 extremely talented and passionate employees to improve the lives of families through childcare services, research, and advocacy. We also promote programs that empower families to reach self-sufficiency and enable them to provide enriched lives for their children.
At Crystal Stairs, I know what we do and why. We are community servants. We understand that we have to challenge our program delivery to ensure that we are providing programs and services that families really need. As families, children, and communities are changing, the services we provide have to change too.
Given the amazing staff here at Crystal Stairs, I am not (although I love it) working as much on the operations aspect of the agency and it has given me the opportunity to establish relationships with partners, legislators, and businesses, as well as be appointed to commissions, boards, and committees. I've established a reputation as someone who has real knowledge of what communities, children, and families are experiencing. I've been given an important opportunity to weigh in on the best strategies to support these families and communities. While I haven't always understood all aspects of my journey or where I was headed, I have loved every moment on this divine path.
How has Pepperdine played a role in your success?
Pepperdine was a solid foundation, not only of my education, but of the spirit of God. Christianity is a core pillar at Pepperdine, and I have to be honest that this is one of Pepperdine's gifts. It allowed me to accept my faith and let my faith guide my leadership style, as they weren't unconnected. Pepperdine also allowed me to be a working professional while earning my degree. I have such fond memories of Pepperdine. I never felt like I was going to school. I remember when I graduated, I was upset that there were no more classes for me to take. I met such good people and because I was an adult, the professors were more like friends. Many times in my late classes, while drinking a nice hot cup of coffee (because I literally just got off work), we would have amazing dialogue around education and/or theology, challenging our views, beliefs, and values. My experience at Pepperdine has equipped me for my current role as chief executive officer at Crystal Stairs. My experience taught me how to work with, motivate, and move staff; and how to see and treat everyone as individuals. Pepperdine is a special place.
Describe a lesson you've learned from a challenging time in your career or life.
Don't compromise your personal values. There's no sense in fighting an institution or an organization. If it no longer aligns with your values and goals—move on. I find this to be a challenge for a lot of people that are struggling to make a friend group, an employer, or even a church what they want it to be. We can impact culture but mustn't fight culture. One must be selfish and consider what's important for oneself. I want to learn from and contribute to every experience and at the point that I'm not doing either one of those, then it's time for me to remove myself from that situation and make space for someone else. And sometimes it's just about sitting back and saying, "Ok I'm not going to be on the front line, I'm not going to be a starter right now because I'm not aligned, but I'm going to sit back and watch and see how this tide rolls out." It will give you time to either figure out when you can get back in, engage, and be a starter, or whether it's time for you to move on.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I would describe my leadership style as situational, authentic, and approachable. I definitely believe that I am a leader that continues to try to perfect the idea of leading people from where they are, which requires the leadership style to be fluid. There are some people that need tough love, directness, and strength. Then there are others that need a softer, more collaborative approach. As a leader, I try to understand every perspective and every piece of the work. I don't sit on the top and look down. Whenever I feel like I am too far removed from the subject matter, I have to dig in—and I would describe that as an authentic leader. I don't lead from a bubble and make assumptions. I hope and I believe that I am an approachable leader. I have an open-door policy and am open to speaking to anyone, although this can create a burden in terms of respecting the hierarchy. I am everyone's leader and at everyone's disposal. I will say at the heart of it all, I am an operator, and I like to lead from a place of understanding. I look at all pieces of a project as opposed to just the goal and try to understand impact and real benefits.
"Don't compromise your personal values. There's no sense in fighting an institution or an organization. If it no longer aligns with your values and goals—move on."
Jackie Beaubian Majors (MA '96)
Who has helped you achieve success in your career?
I have to say, my mom and dad, which is probably cliché. My father was the first African American L.A. County Fire Commissioner. For me, dad was just my dad. He was the one who played softball in the middle of the street with me and got in trouble with my mom because we were destroying the kitchen trying out a new recipe. He was docile and easygoing. That's exactly who my kids knew as grandpa. I never thought that my father had an influence on my becoming the CEO of Crystal Stairs, until he died eight years ago. I realized then what great work my father had done for the civil rights movement. We were the third African American family in our neighborhood, which is now being gentrified. He was part of the civil rights movement, he dealt with our phones being tapped and the racism that came with his part in pioneering groups and organizations for people of color, like the Brotherhood Crusade and other major establishments that were very controversial at the time. He fought through that with great dignity and passion. My mom, on the other hand, is a no-nonsense, assertive leader. I realize now that I am part my father and part my mother. I attribute much of my success to both of them.
What's next for you?
I would say, in the short term, continue to advance Crystal Stairs and secure its place as the go-to early care and education agency, in terms of what we're doing, how we're doing it, and our culture.
What was your first job?
When I was 15 years old, I worked at a grocery store.
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
I love the creative space. Because of my leadership and administrative track, I've never been able to truly express my creative side. Yet, I recognize and appreciate the ability to touch someone's emotions and touch points through color, visual representations, and design elements. After leaving my corporate job, I had the opportunity to get a taste of the creative space. I planned several events, wrote grants for Chaka Khan's youth program, and helped a local nonprofit revamp their business and branding strategy. I think I have an eye for what speaks to people's hearts. I value creative design and the creative space because it's how we affect people's emotions and visually relay compelling stories. It's also why we don't use stock photos at Crystal Stairs because we have remarkable photos of the real families and children we serve.
What historical or modern-day leader do you admire and why?
I admire Michelle Obama most, but I don't admire her because she is brilliant or because she was the first lady; I respect her for her grace under fire, which demonstrates such remarkable strength of character. Women are the backbone of their homes and the partners they support. She is inspirational and articulate but keeps it real, and that's what I respect about her most—her authenticity. I have such profound respect for someone like Michelle Obama, who goes against tradition and remains true to her values and herself. A good example of her independence and freedom from preconceived ideas was her innovative and modern approach to traditional first-lady fashion. She set herself apart by embracing her good looks, good health, and choice to wear clothing that emphasized her toned physique, despite historical, and quite frankly, antiquated traditions. I value, respect, and admire her authenticity, strength, and determination to stay true to her values.
What is your mantra or favorite quote?
Don't let expectations of others affect your decisions; be and do your best. Be authentic!
How do you prepare for a busy day?
I believe coming to the table prepared and organized is so critical. On a busy day, in a presentation or any type of meeting, it's important to give yourself time to think and organize your thoughts. When people improvise or don't give themselves sufficient time for reflection, they're not respecting their work, colleagues, friends, or partners that they're interacting with. I believe that everyone deserves my respectful consideration and readiness in meetings, and this includes being prepared and informed. Preparation and thinking things through are very important.
I prepare for busy days, which is almost every day, by taking the time to write out my main thoughts, goals, and desired outcomes. If I am preparing for meetings, I review outlines in advance, gather information, and write out the main topics for discussion with bullet points. The other day, I went into a 30-minute meeting that I knew was going to be brief, and the outcome was already predetermined. I also knew I wasn't going to have much of voice in this meeting, but I wrote down my principal goals and the three topics that were most important. When the meeting began, the group leader asked who wanted to start, and I offered to go first since I was prepared. I didn't necessarily memorize my comments but retained my ideas because I took the time to write them out. Because I take the planning process seriously, I was able to state my goals with confidence. The work of preparing, setting goals, and identifying desired outcomes is a useful and effective methodology for me.
What is one of your favorite hobbies?
My very favorite hobby is anything that involves my kids. I like everything they like. The closer I get to who they are and what they love, the more they let me in. I want my children to be able to share everything with me, such as their language and music. This keeps me connected to them and their worlds. Don't get me wrong, I am not that "friend" mom; I am the adult, the mama, but staying connected to them means everything. In so many ways, I live through the possibilities of my children and who they can be.