Connections Past Issues

Alumni Profile

Bringing Yourself to Work

by Joanie Eppinga

It’s almost impossible to start climbing the corporate ladder with a mop and a bucket in your hands.

Unless you’re Gail Evans ’86. In 28 years, Evans went from working as a custodian at Eastman Kodak Company to leading a division at Microsoft. How did she do it?

Evans has a few answers to that question.

Work hard. As a custodian, Evans worked the graveyard shift. After work, she had two hours before heading to class at Nazareth, where she earned a degree in computer science before going on for her MBA at the University of Rochester. She’d attend school and then go home, take a nap and do her homework, and be back at work by 11 p.m. Evans kept up this demanding pace for six years.

Seek support from others. “I met a lot of angels along the way,” Evans says. “I wasn’t a number at Nazareth. The professors knew me and took an interest in me.” If she needed tutoring or moral support or just a conversation, she says, “they were there for me.”

Make a personal commitment. Evans says she always wanted to get out of her inner-city neighborhood. “I aspired to educate myself and get a good job,” she says. “My purpose was to be in a position to contribute more to my family and my community.”

Adhere to a moral code. “I live by my values,” Evans says. She notes that at every company she’s worked for—which includes Hewlett-Packard and Bank of America as well as Kodak and Microsoft—she arrived each day with the values her mother instilled in her: Be honest. Be respectful. Be caring. “Live your life by your values,” says Evans, “and everything will work out.”

Embracing these four tenets brought Evans to her current position as Partner Group Program Manager, Customer Knowledge Platform, Universal Store. But what does that title mean?

“It means I manage a team that crunches big data to find out the usage patterns of particular segments of users,” Evans says. “In other words, we find out what customers really want when they use our products, so we can innovate and meet their needs.” In this role, Evans leads numerous technical and business program managers who extend the service across Microsoft.

That’s a huge step up from her first job. Does Evans ever wonder if her success is all a dream? “Of course!” she says. “You can’t grow up really poor in the inner city and reach this level of career and not feel like it’s all going to be snatched away from you, for whatever reason.” Asked how she deals with that apprehension, Evans replies, “I have accepted that concern as a little voice. I don’t allow it to become a loud voice.”

Evans says a positive element of her extreme career arc is that it allows her to stay grounded as a high-level executive by remembering where she comes from. “I don’t try to be something I’m not,” she says. “I bring myself to work.”

For Evans, working hard, finding supporters, dreaming big and staying true to yourself are the components of success, whether you’re at the bottom of the corporate ladder or the top—or making the exciting journey from one end to the other.

Joanie Eppinga is a freelance writer and editor in Spokane, Washington.