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A Portrait of Mary Ramsay-Drow

A few weeks ago on a summer day in Boston, Mary Ramsay-Drow, CPS/CAP breezed onto the stage as IAAP’s 2010-2011 International President. It happened at the International Education Forum and Annual Meeting and, yes, she breezed.

That’s the nature of her personality—fast-moving, energetic, cheery and brisk. And she rose to this pinnacle on the winds of change. Under this year’s board theme, Passion and Purpose, she carries the momentum of her predecessors, a movement begun with Pathways to Excellence. Then came the boardsanctioned Project Plan—a blueprint drawn from a respected leadership manual, 7 Measures of Success: What Remarkable Organizations Do that Others Don’t.

Now approaching the Project Plan’s third year, significant benchmarks have been met, from innovative marketing to member surveys, an interactive web community and more. The future is clear: Continue the path to excellence and remain a vibrant and viable organization for the 21st century. In a word, be remarkable.

“You know how much change our profession has seen since the advent of personal computers, e-mail, the internet, social networking and other advances over the past couple of decades,” Mary says. “We’ve adapted and changed for the sake of our careers. Similarly, we are the willing change agents for the association—to keep it appealing to the next generation.”

Her IAAP Pathway Mary joined IAAP’s Milwaukee Chapter in 1988 and took to the association. She jumped in and started making a splash, sailing through two swift decades of change within the organization, the workplace and the global economy.

Wholeheartedly, she now leads IAAP’s membership into the next decade and with it, continued growth and development among the membership, chapters and divisions. To Mary, swimming upstream feels natural.

“Though it can be difficult at times, change is good,” she says. “I’ve seen it work its magic throughout my life.”

Also throughout her life, she saw more than one little corner of the world as the eldest of four children in a military family. Before she was 10, the family lived in six different cities, from Fort Leavenworth, Kan., to Verdun, France. Adjusting to change and embracing new opportunities was the norm. Even today, it seems she doesn’t sit still for long.

“As division president, I said, ‘I’m going out to see every chapter in my division.’ I made it to all but two. The thing I love most is going out and meeting members. That’s the part I get the biggest charge out of.”

On The Job For now, Mary has settled into the role of an executive assistant at Harley-Davidson, Inc.’s Milwaukee headquarters. Is she IAAP’s first international president to wear a “biker” T-shirt that reads, Witness Passion Forged in Steel? Probably. Most likely she is IAAP’s first international president to be a regular at Harley-Davidson anniversary events, like the 105th Anniversary held in Milwaukee in 2008, drawing over 200,000 people from around the world?

At every turn, her career has been on the fast-track, marked by upward mobility and milestones—job changes, promotions, volunteerism and elected offices. She knows the road that challenges and paves the way to opportunities. She recommends it for all.

“The more education you can get, the better you position yourself,” she says. “Things are starting to turn around, but companies are still making difficult decisions. That’s why I encourage people to be leaders in IAAP. It’s a way to build technical and alternative skills that transfer to your job, like delegating and learning to read a financial statement and working with groups of people who are very different from you. Since within the membership of IAAP there are regional and cultural differences because we go beyond North America to many different countries and regions, we need to work with people who may hold a different worldview.”

Mary enjoys the opportunity to travel and meet people. “This is selfish on my part. IAAP helps me grow in so many ways. It’s lifelong learning and we need to do that now.”

Key Influences + A Guy Named Fred International President Mary Ramsay-Drow is married to Mark. She’s quick to point out that he’s a positive influence in her whirlwind life. Sit down for a conversation and Mary will tell you about her husband of 16 years. She gives him lots of credit.

“Mark was supportive of me, even before we got married. It helps that he retired six years ago—so I’m fortunate that he often cooks and cleans and lets me off the hook on housekeeping. He’s always reading newspapers and magazines and cutting out articles of interest to me. He wants me to succeed.”

She talks, too, about her late father, Bill, a Vietnam veteran, a trumpet player and U.S. Army Bandmaster whose legacy is hero-sized.

“I’m very much my dad’s kid...strong and opinionated about things,” she says. “I was the first to try everything. I kind of led the way. Sometimes, that was good.”

She celebrates all the family: her mother, Mary K. Ramsay, two sisters, one brother and five nieces and nephews. And she applauds those who have helped her along the way, from IAAP members to friends, fans and colleagues.

Her admiration doesn’t end there. Add a guy named Fred to Mary’s list of important influences. She’s never met him personally but, yes, Fred is real.

His story is told in The Fred Factor, a motivational book by Mark Sanborn. Fred is a mail carrier whose customer service and passion for his job made him the model for Sanborn’s bestseller. Though the Fred Factor is simple and basic, Mary is a believer.

She embraces professional development as if it is a great adventure. That spirited, be-the-best-you-can-be philosophy— like her husband’s, her father’s, her fan’s and Fred’s— helped boost her to IAAP’s top-elected position. And that’s a long way from the restaurant where she was a teenage dishwasher and lasted fewer than three days. She has learned lessons since then and here is Mary’s interpretation of four principles, thanks to Fred:

  • Everyone makes a difference. Whatever your job is, if you do it well, it’s an art. If you love what you do, it matters and it will matter to others, too.
  • Everything is built on relationships. Learn to lead. Leaders use their abilities to inspire others to get out of their comfort zones—try new ways of doing things—and find the right path for the right reasons.
  • Continually create value for others. We need to be conscious not only of the primary effects of what we do, but of the secondary effects...the ripple effects that touch far more people than those in our immediate presence. Everyone wins with strong divisions, chapters, overall organization and the most important component, individual members.
  • Reinvent yourself regularly. Change is a key that unlocks the doors to growth and excitement in an organization and in your professional life—such as skill building, networking, excellence in the workplace, in IAAP and the world at large. Learning is a continuous process.
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