This interview with Sheila Talton, chief executive of Gray Matter Analytics, a consulting firm for financial services and health care, was conducted and condensed by Adam Bryant.
Q. When you were a child, were you in leadership roles?
A. I was not. When I was younger, I remember being the only African-American in my Brownie troop and Girl Scouts, and I never got picked for anything. But when I got to high school, I was picked to be an organizer in my high school around civil rights issues. That was one of the first times someone said to me: “Sheila, you’ve got a point of view about this. Why don’t you lead us and tell us how we might want to organize and march and protest?”
I carried that through to college, and I was so passionate about it that I forgot to go to class a lot. As a result, I was asked to leave college, as I like to say, because I spent all my time organizing and protesting. That was during the Vietnam era.
So I got a job as a secretary at a forklift company. There was a salesman there, a white male, and one day he came over to me — and remember, I was quite militant — and he said, “Why are you here?” I said, “What do you mean, why am I here?” He said: “I’ve watched you. You’re capable of so much more.” He went on to compliment me about how I took initiative, and he said, “Why aren’t you in college?”