September 2019: Pam Smith Viscione '79

For Pam Smith Viscione ’79 the word retirement connotes reduced activity and contribution, but that sure doesn’t describe her life since “retiring.” In fact, she’s busier than she ever was as a supply chain executive! After studying engineering at Princeton University at a time when there were few women and even fewer African-American women in the field, she began her 35-year career at Procter & Gamble. Now, in a new chapter of her life, Pam continues to take on new challenges and learning opportunities as she works on a Ph.D. in Leadership and Change at Antioch University (she recently earned her M.B.A. from Northern Kentucky University). She also helps her son with a new business start-up, manages family properties and plays on two tennis teams! Read on as Pam shares how her Laurel experience helped develop her ability to manage being the “other” in life situations and why it’s important to invest in relationships with people who are different from you.

What brought you to Laurel in Eighth Grade?
I came to Laurel as a result of consolidation of parochial schools in my neighborhood. Neither I nor my family had ever heard of Laurel but my pediatrician spoke to my parents about the School. Literally what brought me to Laurel was two public bus rides. After arriving at the Fairmount bus stop, I walked up to Lyman Circle. On average it was an 80- to 90-minute commute. The commute actually was enjoyable as there were normally three to five students on the bus heading to Laurel, University or Beaumont. We made great friendships, many of which still flourish today. In light of the sacrifices our parents made to have us attend these schools, the commute was really not that big of deal. It did inspire us to get our driver’s licenses the day we turned 16!
 
What extracurricular activities were you involved in at Laurel?
During Upper School I played on the Laurel basketball and field hockey teams. I played tennis on a Bonnie Bell junior tennis team but not on the Laurel team. Field hockey was my passion. I played goalie and loved it—my favorite was penalty corners. I loved the feeling when the entire defense collaborated as a team with a short-term specific objective and, of course, the feeling when we successfully defended! Laurel trained me well as a goalie and I went on to play field hockey at Princeton University.
 
What were the biggest takeaways from your Laurel education?
There were many positive outcomes of my Laurel education. The biggest were strong study habits, strong writing skills and great comfort and skill in public speaking. The study skills were critical to survive Princeton University’s engineering school. The writing skills and public speaking skills have served me well throughout life in school, work and community endeavors.
 
What advice would you give current students about making the most of their time at Laurel?
My advice would be to take time to invest in relationships with people who are different from you in nearly every way. This will serve you well as you enter a world which is extremely global and diverse. The ability to develop, maintain and leverage relations is a strong foundation for being an effective leader and follower in many environments.
 
At Princeton University you studied engineering, a field few women studied at the time. What was that like?
I was admitted to Princeton University as a psychology major. I transferred to pursue a B.S.E. in civil engineering and architecture the January of my freshman year. In the early 1980s, there were few women and even fewer African-American women in the Princeton engineering school. I would describe the experience as often feeling like the “other” or being the one who is different. I was a woman, I was African American, I did not begin the curriculum with the class and I was an athlete with practice four days a week and travel to games during the week and on weekends. At that time, the combination of athlete and engineering student was not so common. Fortunately, my Laurel experience helped develop my ability to manage being the “other” in life situations. The academic work was extremely difficult for me in the engineering school. Laurel had prepared me well, but I had not had taken the same level of math and science advanced placement courses as many of my engineering class peers. My graduating GPA was nothing to write home about; however, I graduated and moved on to a great career.
 
After college, you got a job at Procter & Gamble (P&G) in Cincinnati and rose to the position of Supply Chain Director. How did your engineering degree prepare you for your career in supply chain management?
After college I was hired by Procter & Gamble (P&G) as a first level manufacturing manager at a historic manufacturing facility in New York City. In addition to my roles in manufacturing, I was involved in purchasing, engineering, logistics, quality assurance and innovation. P&G Manufacturing targeted engineering students as managers because the company believed engineering taught great problem-solving skills that could be applied far beyond technical problem solving. Manufacturing in the 1980s was very people intensive and I found my problem-solving skills utilized more often in solving people/personnel issues.
 
You were at P&G for your entire professional career, including four years overseas. What drew you to P&G? And what kept you there for over 30 years, a tenure that is relatively uncommon now with people changing jobs frequently?
When I graduated from college in 1983 very few companies were looking to hire civil engineers due to demand in other areas and the economy (high interest rates). I interviewed with three companies and accepted the offer with P&G because it was the most appealing. The job offered the opportunity to manage a group of over 20 employees, the pay was the highest and it was in New York City. I worked for P&G for over 35 years because I loved my work. The company was big enough to give me new roles every two to five years that were different in the type of work, the location or the products I supported. I had the opportunity to work as an expatriate in Geneva, Switzerland, for four years. This was an excellent opportunity for my family and me. I also stayed with P&G because I continued to learn and grow professionally and financially. I proactively interviewed with other companies every four to six years. Many companies offered a higher annual salary; however, the people, work culture and long-term benefits led me to consistently decide to stay with P&G.
 
Congratulations on your retirement last year! Can you talk a little about the exciting and, maybe at times, challenging transition from working full time to retirement? What keeps you busy now?
Retirement as a word is interesting. For me it connotes reduced activity and contribution. My experience is everything but that. Prior to leaving full-time work, I began a Ph.D. program in Leadership and Change which is very engaging mentally and interpersonally with my cohort. I spend time managing several family properties and helping my oldest son with a new business start-up. I also play on two inter-league tennis teams. I am very fortunate to live in the same city as my mom and my only grandchild. I am busier than I ever was as a full-time executive for P&G. The transition from full-time paid work has been a challenge for me despite my many activities. The challenge has been the mental transition of not receiving a regular paycheck despite knowing my investments adequately support my family’s lifestyle. I worked since I was 16 years old for a paycheck that my family and I desperately needed. For me, there is some judgment, discomfort and uncertainty related to not working for pay and living this lifestyle based on my life experience. I am working on changing my perspective.
 
In other exciting news, you celebrated your 40th reunion at Alumnae Weekend this past May. And your Class of 1979 won the reunion challenge! Besides returning to Lyman Circle to celebrate your reunion, how do you stay connected to Laurel? What makes you proud to be a Laurel alum?
I keep in touch with Laurel through my classmates, through Facebook, and through in-person connections. I must admit that I have not stayed in touch very much with the School beyond written communications sent to me. Despite this, I am a very proud alum. My focus thus far in my Ph.D. program is on women and leadership. Several of my papers include references to Laurel and the many positive outcomes of a single gender (female) education prior to college.
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