What’s the most valuable lesson that you have learned in business?




After 33 years as the CEO of a non-profit, it’s difficult to identify a single ‘most valuable’ lesson that I’ve learned in business. Every time I think there is nothing left to learn, something new emerges. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of leadership is the consequence of success. 

Good or bad or in-between, success comes with its own rules and expectations. 

Besides falling in love and marrying at 53 years old, starting a non-profit in the mid-’80s, was probably the gutsiest thing I’ve ever done. The falling in love stuff was scary; the launching of a non-profit on a shoestring budget was insane. We had raised $7000 from a ‘Bachelors Auction.’ It’s true, we sold men to raise money, something I’m not sure could be done anymore. But in 1986 it worked. 

With that money, 912 sq. ft. rented office space and a donated machine (worth $160,000), The Rose was born. Its purpose was to provide breast cancer screening to any woman regardless of her ability to pay. 

After coming from Corporate America, learning the nuances and regulations of a nonprofit was difficult enough; convincing people to donate to our cause was a constant effort and for an introvert like me, the most terrifying. But the greatest challenge came from providing medical services in the shadow of the largest, most renowned Medical Center in the world.   

Texas is ‘big’ for many reasons and then, as now, it had the dubious fame of having the most uninsured residents than any other state in the nation, people who needed medical care and were dying because the healthcare system didn’t work. The demand for our services has never stopped. 

Today, The Rose, a Center of Excellence, provides direct medical services, from mammography to biopsies to access into treatment, to 40,000 women a year and educates another 22,000. Ours is the most successful mobile mammography program in the State, covering 41 counties—that’s a lot of people to serve and a lot of miles to cover. 

So what have I learned? What is that one most valuable lesson?

Dorothy Gibbons, CEO, The Rose

Inspiration marks the leader

Being the leader of any business means being a lot of different people and somehow staying true to yourself. Leaders understand the importance of building relationships but each segment of our public expects and requires different approaches. Even when I find myself ‘acquiring’ a different persona, I can never be a different me. 

To my employees, I’m one person, to funders another, and the board of directors presents an entirely different set of needs and expectations. The patients we serve are many different groups: the recently diagnosed woman or man who is terrified of the treatment ahead, the client who demands extra attention, the ones who need financial help; all need special handling.  

Different groups, different people, they all share one expectation: inspiration. What they expect to find in me as a leader is that nebulous quality that extends beyond trust and competence, the quality that touches the human aspect called ‘heart’ and moves them.  

Women get it done

For the past three decades, I’ve worked almost entirely with women. Usually, when I say that, people groan and express sympathy, a response that annoys me to no end. Ironically those remarks most often come from other women. I’ve never understood where the myth started that women are difficult to work with, but it is time for it to end. Of the 120 people I employ, 118 are women and two are men. Men are great but women get it done. 

Hiring an employee isn’t always about the process, but the purpose it serves.

We tell employees: “The Rose picked you.” I believe that every employee is drawn to The Rose for one of two reasons: either we needed them or they needed us. Either we needed their particular skills, experience, and compassion, or they needed to be in a place that nurtures them during a difficult time in life and armors them with the courage they will need later. 

Trust your intuition 

‘Too old, too wise and much too successful to let other people’s opinions determine my worth.’ I didn’t always live by this motto. It took decades to embrace this sentiment fully. But today I understand why self-worth, in whatever terms we determine, is so important in life and in business. 

For me, it has meant trusting my gut in spite of cold, hard facts and knowing whatever I choose to do is a risk. It has meant incredible successes and mind-numbing failures. It has meant extraordinary public applause and scathing criticism. 

For the women we have served, it has also meant life and a chance to survive. 

My most valuable lesson? A single one doesn’t exist.What I know for sure is: if it matters to you, then do it.

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