Bonnie Barczykowski on Embracing New Opportunities

Female CEOs are rare to find, even at non-profit organizations with revenue over 10 million. According to the 2014 Guide Star Nonprofit Compensation Report, female representation at the CEO level declines as budget size increases, even though women make up 75% of the nonprofit workplace.

That’s why we were excited to come across and talk with Bonnie Barczykowski, the CEO of Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri. Bonnie carved out a unique career path as she progressed to the top. Her personal journey to becoming a CEO shows that there’s more than one way to advance toward a professional goal.

Read on for Bonnie’s insights on managing career shifts, writing a book, and her mantra (it’s one you might want to adopt for yourself).

In the past you’ve worked in the airline industry and as the owner of five Curves fitness franchises. What have you learned through prior work experiences that has most influenced and helped you in your role as CEO?
“When I hear students anguish over learning something they swear they will never use again, I remind them that they are learning to learn. The skill of “learning to learn” has helped me in all my past experiences, from knowing all there was to know about a Boeing 727 to the nuts and bolts regarding nutrition, kinesiology and incorporating a business. These experiences helped me in my role as CEO to embrace learning and use my knowledge to move the organization forward.”

What was the greatest challenge you faced in becoming the Girls Scouts CEO?
“Remaining relevant to the needs of girls today. Girl Scouts has served so many different generations – it’s inspiring to be a part of an organization that’s been around for 103 years. The organization has evolved so much in that time, so the biggest challenge has been communicating who we are and how we help young girls today.”"Be willing to reinvent yourself." - Bonnie Barczykowski

What was your first job? What did you learn from it that remains with you today?
“I graduated with an undergraduate degree in education, so I saw myself being a teacher for the next 30 to 40 years. After teaching 1st grade for a short period of time, I transitioned into sales and marketing in the airline industry. When I started out, I hoped to live by the mantra ‘she changed lives’. In every career, whether it was through my work or relationships, I still wanted to impact people’s lives. I think this theme has defined my work throughout my career, but how I carry it out changes dramatically throughout the years.”

While running the Curves franchises you wrote a book called Make the Harder Choice. Did you have a specific approach to writing this book? What sort of insights did you gain from the experience?
“One of my personal accomplishments I’m most proud of is writing and publishing Make the Harder Choice. I wanted to provide a simple and easy read that would provide daily inspiration to people choosing a healthy and fit lifestyle. At the beginning, writing and publishing the book seemed like an impossible feat. Throughout the process, I was reminded that achieving a goal requires breaking down the necessary steps. Writing the book was only one small part of the process – I had to learn how to request an ISBN number, find an editor and hire a publisher. Step by step, I accomplished it!”

You have a great husband and three children. How do you do it? How do you manage work/life balance? Do you believe this balance is more difficult for women?
“I was always better at work because I had my family to come home to and I was better at home because I had a career that I loved. I don’t believe there’s a perfect way to balance work with life; I approach it as balancing all that goes into my job and balancing all that goes into my family. For me, having dinner as a family every night I am in town has always been a priority. This never meant that I expected my job to accommodate this priority; instead, late nights at work simply meant late family dinners. My kids are older now and joke that the Barczykowski dinner hour is never before 9pm!

I believe as women we place added stress on ourselves because we want it all to be perfect. I think when we accept that our idea of perfect may be a little distorted, we begin to relax and enjoy all life has to offer – even the stress that comes with it!”

What advice do you have for young women looking to have a career similar to yours?
“My biggest advice to women is to be willing to reinvent yourself. For women, sometimes there’s a fear of branching out from what we know. The first step is determining the steps you need to take to make the change and putting into place a plan to achieve what you want.”

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Emily Knippa

Emily Knippa is a St. Louis-based marketer and writer who focuses on content marketing, career development, and personal finance. She enjoys meeting people pursuing inspiring career paths. She’d love to meet you at the next United Way event. Say hello to Emily on Twitter at @emilyknippa.