NORMAN — University alum and former pom-pom girl Sharen Jester Turney has discovered the secret to business success and breaking the glass ceiling — work hard, lead from your values and end up as the CEO of a brand for women, run by women.
Turney is president and CEO of Victoria’s Secret, and the successful Ardmore native spoke this week at a one-day symposium on the University of Oklahoma campus hosted by the Oklahoma Women’s Philanthropy Network.
“When I travel around the world, one of the first questions people ask me is, ‘Where are you from?’” Turney said.
She suspects that question is primarily inspired by her Oklahoma accent. Turney said she is proud to be the daughter of a farmer and an auctioneer.
She grew up on a farm and didn’t travel much in those days, or have time and money for manicures and pedicures.
But Turney’s father told her not to be intimidated by people who knew things she didn’t know.
He said there would always be someone smarter, but they wouldn’t know the things she knew about chickens and peanuts.
Turney was not intimidated.
She attended OU and discovered she enjoyed business classes. She had learned the value of hard work, responsibility and curiosity while growing up, and those attributes helped her become successful in college.
One business class had the students set up a fake company. Turney was surprised when the professor named her as CEO.
Turney attended OU during the Barry Switzer days when football got most all of the attention.
A new basketball coach wanted to garner more support for the basketball team, so a pom-pom squad was created. Turney made the squad.
“We were asked to be ambassadors for the University of Oklahoma,” she said, remembering the squad once performed a ribbon cutting to commemorate the opening of an oil well.
The squad traveled by plane and, one trip when there weren’t enough seats with the team, she rode with the press and the public relations people. That experience influenced her to minor in public relations.
“Those were some very defining moments for me,” she said of her college days.
Turney had planned to teach business, but when the chance to choose between taking a safe teaching job at Ponca City or moving to Texas to take a job with Foleys, Turney took the risk.
Before making that decision, she asked a professor for advice.
The risk wasn’t life or death, the professor said. There would always be teaching jobs.
Turney took the job with Foleys and didn’t look back. As she climbed her way up the corporate ladder, she learned vital lessons along the way.
“Lead from your values,” she said.
She also learned that to combine motherhood with career she had to schedule her son onto her calendar so that she never had to miss his important dates like a school play.
From a position in a Neiman Marcus store she was selected to run the catalogue and website — a transition she first thought was a demotion.
Eventually her success and experience in those areas led to her recruitment by Victoria’s Secret.
“Surround yourself with smart people,” she said.
Victoria’s Secret designs its own product and has a strong commitment to philanthropic efforts.
“It’s been a very exciting road for me,” Turney said.
While she supports charity worldwide wherever Victoria’s Secret does business, Turney believes her first priority is to give back to the local community.
Giving has to “come from the heart,” she said.
She advised focusing “your energies on a few things where you can make a difference. We will run out of time before we run out of money.”
Women can be game changers on a global scale.
“We’re a very powerful group,” she said. “I’m so proud of the impact that women have had around the world.”