Michelle Robinson was flying from Chicago to New York on her company’s jet when the vision for her best life crystalized.
Robinson was near the beginning of her career as an industrial engineer. She was on the flight because the CEO lost a friendly wager he made with her during a company networking event. Michelle rightfully predicted victory for her alma mater’s football team – the Purdue University Boilermakers. So, dinner was on the CEO.
That dinner turned out to be more than an unforgettable meal. For Robinson, the experience opened her eyes to the heights her career trajectory could climb.
“All this was meaningful. it showed me the way to different things and put me in areas I had never been before. I wanted to be at the [corporate board room] table,” Robinson said.
Fueled by insights gathered and mentoring relationships built on the dinner excursion, Robinson fast-tracked up the corporate ladder. She became one of the first African American women to complete the global company’s management training program and become a certified master black belt (continuous quality improvement expert) for GE. She went on to serve in vice president and executive vice president roles at two global corporations and a Washington D.C.-based research institute.
“I’m a strategic player and problem solver helping people look at things differently,” Robinson said. “My ability to help others has produced many innovations that led to organic growth for me and my teammates.”
Before joining Advocate Health Care in 2018 as a Vice President of Business Development, Robinson was the first woman of color to serve as president of a regional blood bank, which delivered safe and lifesaving blood products to hospitals throughout the Chicagoland area.
Yet, despite her impressive resume, Robinson – who also serves as First Lady of St. Peters AME Church – said she is proudest of her efforts to help African American and underserved youths surpass her achievements. In fact, she considers a large part of her life’s mission to be opening the eyes of young people just as her eyes were opened on that private jet trip years ago.
“You can’t achieve what you can’t imagine, and you can’t imagine great things if your sights are limited. Robinson said. “But when you combine imagination with a little faith, you can accomplish anything.”
In 2012, Robinson and her husband, Rev. Jon Robinson, started the BUOY Foundation, to help close any gaps – academic and otherwise – that could prevent participating youth from attending college. The Foundation offers free tutoring, college campus tours, meet-and-greets with corporate leaders, and other resources that help inner city teens see higher education and career success as realistic options. The foundation also offers a summer STEM program, which encourage students to excel in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, and consider careers in related fields.
“Everything you do has to do with math and science,” Robinson said, adding that an engineering education gave her career a good start.
However, she is quick to point out that her work with the foundation is rooted in teaching young people about self-esteem because “If you don’t have self-love, you can’t’ begin to love anyone else.” And ultimately, love is the most important component of a successful life.
Since its inception, the BUOY Foundation has helped dozens of inner-city youth get accepted, earn scholarships and graduate from Ivy League and other top universities across the country.