I remember the day my sister Stephanie was born. I was 4 years old, and I was so excited. I was, prior to that moment, the little sister of Susan, the eldest in our family. When Stephanie came, I got to be the big sister.
I will never forget when my mother brought Stephanie home from the hospital and took her into the nursery. Immediately I was there, and I announced — making myself as tall and imposing as I could — that I was going to be moving into the room with her because she was "mine." I claimed Stephanie as my own on that day. And from that day to this, I have never let go.
What's amazing to me is that "my baby" has grown into one of the most accomplished business leaders among African-American women in the field of science and technology. Having worked more than 25 years at defense leader Lockheed Martin, Stephanie was recently named president of one of the company's key businesses: Information Systems and Global Solutions-Civil.
IS&GS-Civil, a multibillion-dollar business, serves various nondefense U.S. government agencies, international governments and regulated commercial industries. My sister leads approximately 10,000 employees, who are responsible for a wide array of information technology systems and services in areas such as citizen protection, energy, health care, information and cybersecurity, finance, transportation and space exploration.
At present, Stephanie Cole Hill is the only African-American president — male or female — at Lockheed Martin. She reports directly to the other African-American woman at the top, Linda Gooden, who is executive vice president of information systems and global solutions.
"I am excited to have Stephanie join our team," Gooden said. "She is a phenomenal leader whose business acumen, expertise and commitment to excellence will ensure that Lockheed Martin provides the world's best information technology services and solutions to federal agencies worldwide. As African-American women, the two of us are among the few but growing number of minorities represented at top-level management positions in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Inspiring others to pursue exciting careers in STEM is a passion that we both share and tirelessly promote."
Stephanie said, "As a nation, we must increase the number of scientists and engineers that we are producing. Since the minority population will be a huge part of the workforce, we must commit to sparking interest in those communities for science, technology, engineering and math fields. This is imperative — not just because it's what is needed for my company's future success and for our nation's competitive edge, but also because it's the right thing to do."
A Sister's Admiration
As an English major, one with purely right-brain capabilities, I have to admit that I don't understand most of what Stephanie does. I know that she's smart. That's obvious. But a few times along the way, I have gotten insight into the gravity and breadth of her work.
For example, years ago, during Desert Storm, when Stephanie was a software engineer, she and her team developed the software that made it possible for missiles to reach their exact target as they traveled over thousands of miles. Some years later, she casually mentioned that she knew computer companies could make laptops that don't break when they fall because her team had designed one that was built to sustain significant "trauma" during harsh military environments, including being dropped from very high altitudes.
Most of the projects Stephanie has worked on over the years are not things she discusses with us so much — either because they are probably top secret or, more likely, because when we are talking, she isn't thinking about work. She's focused on whatever is at hand. Stephanie never brags about herself.
Unlike the stereotypical corporate female success story, Stephanie is also a devoted mother, wife, civic leader and friend. She is a fantastic cook, and she enjoys hosting Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners each year. She represents that rare woman who actually does have it all. The smile that usually lights up her face is genuine. Somehow she has figured out how to have the "package" without the often accompanying arrogance.
If you talk to Stephanie, you would never know just how powerful she is. Since the beginning, she has been humble. People who know her describe her as kind first. That's noteworthy, considering that for all of her adult life, she has worked in some type of leadership capacity.
I think she inherited that heavy dose of loving kindness from our mother. Doris Cole is a retired kindergarten teacher who, at age 82, still remembers the faces and names of most of the students whom she randomly sees as she navigates her life in Baltimore. Our mother taught us that kindness, honesty and integrity were essential elements in living a good life. Stephanie surely embodies all of those qualities and more.
Motivated to Do Great Things
She also shares the drive for greatness that fueled our father's life and career. The late Honorable Harry A. Cole was a trailblazer in his day. Growing up poor during segregation, Daddy decided early on that he would use his smarts, stamina and sheer conviction to beat the odds that stood between him and success. He shined shoes in order to earn enough money to enroll in Morgan State University, where he later earned the honor of being class valedictorian. He became the first black state senator in Maryland and later the first black judge on the Maryland Court of Appeals.
Daddy taught my sisters and me that excellence was the only option — which meant that under all circumstances, we had to strive to be our best. One thing we learned about our father after he died is that beyond his stellar career, Harry Cole also quietly helped hundreds of people who were in need — giving legal counsel for free, providing guidance on how to get out of sticky situations, offering financial support when tough times hit friends and strangers. He followed the biblical teaching that encourages us to help those whose need may be greater than ours, without bragging about it.
Stephanie embodies that teaching. In the spare time that somehow appears when she needs it, Stephanie has been actively involved in her church — as a member of the choir and as the leader of the children's music ministry for many years. She also participates in countless mentoring programs on behalf of Lockheed Martin and works in partnership with local schools to introduce STEM-related programs to students in elementary, middle and high schools.
"When I graduated from high school, I didn't know any engineers and didn't have any clue that this would be my career," Stephanie says. "Thankfully, I happened on it and I was able to pursue it. I think many people and many of our youth lack an understanding of how exciting and rewarding STEM-related careers are, and this prevents them from pursuing those careers."
What I have observed over the years is that "the right thing to do" for Stephanie is to live in the moment while always being prepared. She is fully devoted to her three children (18, 14 and 9) and her husband of nearly 20 years, as she also is to her work. Her philosophy of life pretty well sums up all that I could ever say about her: "A holistic approach to life is key to success in your career and your life. A careful balance of family, career and community leads to fulfillment and serves as an example for those who follow you at work and at home."
While Stephanie will always be "my baby," I can safely say that she has ascended far beyond the great imaginings I could ever have had for her. Stephanie's unique menu of qualities and strengths makes her an asset for her company, our government and our world.
I am proud to call her my sister and my friend.
Harriette Cole is the president of Harriette Cole Media and a contributing editor to The Root. Follow her on Twitter.