Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Ann-Marie Campbell and her family immigrated to the United States shortly after she completed high school. After losing her father at a young age, she was primarily raised by her entrepreneurial grandmother, who taught her about retail from an early age. In 1985, in order to pay for college, she took a job as a part-time cashier at a Home Depot in North Miami Beach, Florida. Today, Ann-Marie is the executive vice president of over 2,000 Home Depots operating within the United States, with a combined total of nearly 400,000 employees.
How did Ann-Marie move from an obscure cash register in south Florida to the top of the corporate ladder at a Fortune 500 company? What can we learn from her hustle and wise decisions that can be applied to our lives?
Own Your Future
Ann-Marie’s tenacity and resilience, clearly seen as she climbed the ranks at Home Depot while successfully completing graduate school, raising two young children alongside her husband, and investing in her community are examples of how to proactively take ownership of one’s future. She had to work incredibly hard, which meant many late nights and early mornings. It meant sacrificing the good in pursuit of the best. Throughout our lives, we’ll need to make difficult decisions, but by owning our futures rather than passively allowing life to happen to us, we’re giving ourselves the respect we deserve by choosing to become active participants in shaping our experiences and results.
Without taking ownership of our futures, we’ll always be at the mercy of someone else’s vision and goals.
Instead of waiting for permission to pursue career advancement, we should proactively look for opportunities to develop professionally and personally. By becoming the CEOs of our own careers, we’re making a conscious decision to take command of the outcomes that are within our control, such as skills training, professional relationships, public image, and more.
Without question, challenges will come, and some days it may feel easier to let someone else sit behind the driver’s seat of your career and life. But without taking ownership of our futures, we’ll always be at the mercy of someone else’s vision and goals.
Stay Curious and Humble
“Fail fast, learn from it, and move on.” That’s a perspective Ann-Marie brings to work every day, and it’s one of her chief assets, according to Tom Wrobleski, a Home Depot consultant.
Campbell’s strength is her willingness to experiment. Ann-Marie really knows how to drive change. She’s naturally iterative and understands how to fail fast and move on,
Ann-Marie’s humble curiosity and high tolerance for failure have proven valuable to her as a leader in a time when a rapidly evolving retail landscape has heralded the closure of many brick and mortar stores. Home Depot continues to remain relevant because of their commitment to dynamism. This is due in no small part to Ann-Marie’s leadership, who has embraced the need for innovative change.
By not allowing archaic tactics to hinder them from reaching new consumers, Home Depot has chosen to remain nimble, giving their brand a longer shelf life. We should approach our professional lives with the same humility and elasticity, upskilling and cross-training as needed in order to thrive in new iterations of technology and the demands tied to an evolving market landscape.
Professional dynamism of this variety not only relies heavily on a humble acceptance of one’s knowledge limitations but also maintaining a high level of intellectual curiosity. Curiosity pushes us to move past the status quo and into uncharted territory. It’s what Walt Disney praised when he said,
Around here...we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we're curious...and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.
Mentorship Is Essential
Because Ann-Marie listens to the experiences and concerns of Home Depot’s workforce, she is better attuned to who she should invest in. In part, this desire to mentor others stems from her own experience that proved pivotal early on in her career. Lynn Martin, then Home Depot vice president, met Ann-Marie as he toured the North Miami Beach store where she worked as a part-time cashier.
Her tenacity and assertiveness stood out to Lynn, helping him identify that investing in her professional development would be wise for the company. Ann-Marie’s timely boldness when asked a question that no one else at the store was able or willing to answer enabled her to stand out above her peers, proving an essential turning point in her professional development.
Learn from Ann-Marie: hustle hard, stay humble, be curious, and share the journey with others.
Today, Ann-Marie carries on the legacy of her mentor by publicly celebrating the accomplishments of hard-working team members, praising them for their efforts both big and small. She makes a point to conduct regular onsite visits and host town halls with store employees. When she interacts with the employees, who she recognizes as being on the front line of the Home Depot army, she makes it a point to offer them guidance, keeping an eye out for how she can offer direct advice based on an employee’s unique circumstances. Most telling of all is the fact that despite Ann-Marie’s substantial successes, she continues to be mentored by others, including Home Depot’s chief financial officer Carol Tomé.
Ann-Marie’s story is one-of-a-kind in so many ways, yet the accomplishments and progress she has made are available to all who are willing to put in the effort to take ownership of their future. By developing a humble curiosity that is comfortable with failure but driven enough to not let it have the final say, we are positioning ourselves to succeed in a way that someone with low risk tolerance is unlikely to. And through the support of mentors and others in our community, we don’t have to go on this adventure alone. So learn from Ann-Marie: hustle hard, stay humble, be curious, and share the journey with others.