CEO of United Way Dallas
With the dynamic six-foot tall blonde at the helm, United Way’s programs are making a huge impact in the areas of great need. Since taking over at the non-profit in 2011, she’s brought in over $400 million in donations to fund programs in education, financial stability and health initiatives.
Jennifer Sampson, the CEO of Dallas’ United Way, is a powerhouse in every way. Since taking over at the non-profit in 2011, she’s brought in over $400 million in donations to fund programs in education, financial stability and health initiatives. With the dynamic six-foot tall blonde at the helm, United Way’s programs are making a huge impact in the areas of great need across the city. When it comes to style, she traded in her dark suits, pearls, panty hose and sensible shoes from her former career as a staff accountant at Arthur Andersen for classic pieces with some flair. “Over the years, I’ve become more confident in my own skin and my personal style reflects my authenticity—with more flair and originality. And, I’ve never let my height keep me from wearing high heels,” Sampson says. “One of my guiding principles in life—and in fashion—is to live faithfully to your authentic self.” She often pairs one of the many Mi Golondrina pieces in her closet with skinny jeans. “I like sophisticated, but not stuffy. Fashion forward and relatable. Creative and professional—all of which Mi Golondrina embodies,” she says. “With the right balance, you can be both substantive and have fun with what you wear.” We sat down with this boss lady to figure out how she balances work and family and what advice she would give to young women who are just starting their careers.
Where did you grow up? What are your best memories of childhood?
I was born in Dallas in 1969. We lived in San Francisco, Baltimore and Killeen, Texas while my dad served in the Army. He started a dental practice in Arlington, Texas in the 1970s and I grew up in a wonderful loving home with high-achieving parents who expected a lot from me—and who assisted in motivating me to want to achieve great things.
What were you like as a child?
Driven, independent, opinionated, strong-willed and competitive. And a little mischievous.
In high school you were an accomplished athlete, what did playing sports teach you that you have applied in the business world?
Playing sports taught me many things—leadership skills, discipline, how to train myself to know my own limits and goals, respect for my teammates and coaches, resilience and perseverance on how to overcome adversity. The one quality that I believe all successful people have in common is resilience. Some call it hustle, moxie or true grit. The military calls it “intestinal fortitude”—the ability to overcome adversity, learn from it and push through to new heights.
What are your other favorite cities besides Dallas?
Fort Worth—my husband Edward grew up in Fort Worth; San Francisco—my father did his residency at Letterman’s hospital on the Presidio Army base and we lived there when I was very young; Waco—Sic ‘Em Bears! Florence, Italy—one of the most beautiful and romantic places in the world.
Who has been the most influential woman in your life?
My mother. My mother worked outside the home and partnered with my father to raise my sister and me. She’s smart, kind and caring—and beautiful. She taught us that women can be good wives, good mothers and still find passion in our professions.
What’s a big moment in your personal life that helped define the woman you are today?
03.19.04 at 7:12 p.m. The moment my son Hilton Edward Sampson entered the world.
Being the CEO of any organization is not a 9 to 5 job. I haven’t overcome the challenges—don’t expect I ever will—but I think about it and work on it 24/7.
How do you balance work and family life?
I suspect every working person who has a family will tell you that the biggest challenge is balancing family life with the constant demands of the job. Days start very early and they end late. There’s a series of trade-offs and sacrifices. Being the CEO of any organization is not a 9 to 5 job. I haven’t overcome the challenges—don’t expect I ever will—but I think about it and work on it 24/7.
What was the last great book you read?
New Power by Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Spending as much time as possible with the people I love and working to build something of enduring value—doing work that excites and energizes me and occasionally hurts my brain.
What is your favorite place to go on vacation?
Anywhere with Hilton and Edward—and no phones, computers or tablets.
What do you never travel without?
A notebook. Although I am never without my technology, there is no substitute for a pen and paper. Whether scribbling down a to-do list or writing about something that inspires me, I like not having to power something on to record my ideas. A friend introduced me to Moleskin notebooks a few years ago. I carry a large one around in my work Tumi and a small one in my purse.
Find the smartest people you can—people who inspire you. Surround yourself with them, follow them, and become a life-long learner.
What talent you would most like to have?
I LOVE music, and when I was younger, I always dreamed of being a professional singer and performer. In my early 20s, I accepted the fact that my rock star dreams were hugely disproportionate to my musical talents and abilities. I studied accounting and accepted a job as an auditor with Arthur Andersen in Dallas.
What do you value most in friends?
I believe the true wealth in life comes from the quality of our relationships—and I am grateful to be richly blessed with good friends who are open, genuine and honest. We tolerate each other’s frailties, appreciate our differences, and honestly criticize when necessary. Over many years, we participate in each other’s celebrations and marriages, and in our children’s milestones. We are there for each other during good times and sad times. The richness of our lives is all about the people we share it with.
What advice do you have for young women starting their careers?
Find the smartest people you can—people who inspire you. Surround yourself with them, follow them, and become a life-long learner. Raise your hand! And always be open to opportunities.
How do you style your Mi Golondrina?
I’ve been wearing Mi Golondrina for years. First because I fell in love with Cristina Lynch. And then because I fell in love with her Mi Golondrina pieces. The tunics are my favorites—I wear them with jeans on the basketball court and at baseball games. And I pair them with leather pants in the fall to spice things up a bit. I have so many happy memories wearing my Mi Golondrina—from picking up my son from summer camps in Maine and Texas, to dinners at Joe T. Garcias in Fort Worth, to visiting the Coliseum in Rome on family vacation. I’ve especially enjoyed being creative with different sleeve styles. There is nothing she can’t design. And I have them all. I love the incredibly soft fabric, the beautifully vibrant colors and the intricately hand-stitched embroidery distinctive of the Mi Golondrina line. Cristina is an incredibly talented social entrepreneur—continuing to create more and more job opportunities for women as she grows. She is beautiful and charming—inside and out. And she is capturing hearts and minds while building an extraordinary Texas based social enterprise with limits that know no bounds.