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Top Sales Student Transformed Adversity into Opportunities

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Jindal School marketing senior Kathryn McCord was in her performance comfort zone when she spoke at the 2015 Scholarship Breakfast last November.

Dancer, dynamic salesperson, budding entrepreneur, Kathryn McCord exudes relentless energy — sparkling eyes, contagious laughter, an effervescent personality. No surprise that she is one of the top students in the Naveen Jindal School of Management’s Professional Sales Concentration, having recently placed in the top 10 at the prestigious Great Northwoods Sales Warm-Up at the University of Wisconsin.

McCord’s ranking, in addition to giving her close access to national recruiters and sales executives at the competition, opened new opportunities at home.

She was asked by Dr. Howard Dover, clinical marketing professor and director of JSOM’s Center for Professional Sales, to take on the position of business development representative in the school’s development office. The job involves assisting with sales and business development, as well as helping promote JSOM’s recent 2015 Scholarship Breakfast, an annual fundraising event. A scholarship recipient herself, McCord was asked to the share the podium, as the event’s student speaker, with Emmy award-winning musician, author and philanthropist Peter Buffet, son of billionaire investor Warren Buffet.

Peter Buffet with McCord after the event.

“Kathryn has been working with our development team since the start of the fall semester,” says Erica Yaeger, assistant dean of development and alumni relations. “We loved that she had experienced philanthropy and had an appreciation for the impact of philanthropy. This understanding, coupled with her coursework with the Center for Professional Sales, made her the perfect addition to our team. Her sales experience has given her the confidence to ‘make an ask’ and an understanding of how a scholarship can transform a student’s life.

“Kathryn also is a performer at heart, which is why we knew she would be able to speak with confidence and clarity about the importance of scholarship support to Jindal School students at the annual breakfast,” Yaeger says. “I also think she has such a compelling story that has provided her with a unique perspective of how to be an effective business leader.”

A senior marketing student, McCord was born in Dallas but grew up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kenya as the daughter of missionary parents — circumstances that have significantly shaped her life, she says.

“It was an amazing experience,” she says. “As part of the high school curriculum, we went on trips to live with different ethnic communities and learn about their cultures. There were great opportunities while in Africa, but also a number of violent incidents that happened around us. When I was 12, we were robbed. I was very scared.

“At that time, in the area where we lived, there was a high crime rate. As a female, I couldn’t go very many places.

“My senior year of high school, there were presidential elections between candidates from two dominating ethnic communities. It was generally believed that the elections were rigged, and violence erupted in some areas. Near us, there were riots going on, and you could hear gunshots going off — about three miles from my house. I was scared constantly and just lived with the stress. My goal was just to graduate, so I could return to the U.S.”

At 18, McCord began her studies in elementary education and anthropology at Wheaton College in Illinois. She had experienced borderline anorexia in high school but began binge eating in college, gaining 40 pounds in two years. She was referred to a counselor and provided a meal plan. It didn’t work, she said.

“Then one time in class, we watched a movie on apartheid and there was violence, and other students were laughing because it was staged,” McCord says. “And I just fought back tears. I told my counselor about that, and she asked if I’d ever had any similar experience. I hadn’t mentioned all these things from my past; I just thought that was kind of normal. The counselor realized that I was dealing with something much bigger than eating problems. I ended up dropping out of school and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.”

McCord went into intense counseling for several years.

“My parents and siblings were awesome and showed me a lot of love during that time and supported me. I can talk about it now, as I’ve healed a lot. Through my Christian faith, I have seen God do a great healing in my life. I am doing well today, and I love life.

“As a part of my healing, I started taking dance classes at Mountain View College in Dallas. In the end, I earned my associate’s degree in dance there, because I took so many dance classes.”

McCord also started her own business, called Smiling Mango, making headbands, earrings and bags from African cloth.

“It was a way to bridge those two worlds,” she says. “It was very therapeutic. But I didn’t really know how to market my products or sell them. I was encouraged to go back to school for marketing and to sign up for the sales program at UTD.”

One of her assignments during her first semester at JSOM was the creation of a marketing plan. She and five classmates designed a marketing plan for Smiling Mango, one she hopes to implement if she reopens the enterprise in the future.

Last summer, McCord landed a full-time internship at Hewlett-Packard in the company’s procurement department, an area she said she knew nothing about before her tenure there.

“Learning new products and engaging with brilliant people was the amazing thing about working at Hewlett-Packard,” she says. “It was mind blowing how smart the people were. I learned so much from them.”

“Kathryn is a rising star in the sales program,” says JSOM’s Dover. “She is a very committed lady who is being recognized across the country as one of the top sales recruits for May 2016.”

Upon graduation, McCord hopes to find a position in energy or high tech, she says. And she wants to continue to dance, growing her skills and eventually teaching dance classes — her favorite types of dance being salsa, ballet and modern dance.

“I love performing,” McCord says. “I loved speaking at the Scholarship Breakfast. I love having something rehearsed and then just nailing it. It is really fun — which is why I think I’ve done well in sales competitions.

“What excites me about energy is the opportunity to be consultative. I like working with people, and you spend a lot of time listening to the customer; you spend a lot of time working with them to meet their needs. What excites me about high tech is that it’s innovative; I love the intellectual stimulation.”

For McCord, her past defines her present, but no longer stands in her way.

Donna Steph Rian

Donna Steph Rian is a local freelance writer who is a frequent contributor to JSOM publications. Her credits include having served as a business reporter and retailing columnist for The Dallas Morning News, media manager and senior writer for UT Southwestern Medical Center, and a senior public relations specialist for Texas Health Resources. She wrote about JSOM's healthcare management programs in the most recent issues of Management magazine. Read more articles

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