The path to becoming a division vice president in a global company was not straight for Saint Leo University alumnus Isaac Henderson ’17, who spoke at the Mission-Driven Leaders: Conversations on Purpose event held March 1 as the keynote address to kick off the university’s annual Business Day. The speaker series is sponsored by the San Antonio Citizens Federal Credit Union.
The annual Business Day, themed Business Day 2023: Creating Success and Avoiding Pitfalls, was an all-day campus event geared toward students and made possible through a partnership between the Tapia College of Business and the Division of Student Affairs.
Hosted by Dr. Mark Gesner, vice president of Community Engagement and Communications, the Mission-Driven Leaders series features speakers who are aligning their actions with their values to positively influence and transform their organizations and communities.
“One of my values is appreciation and gratitude,” said Henderson, a division vice president in the Jacobs Critical Mission Solutions – Advanced Engineering, Research & Operations business unit. “First and foremost is gratitude to God for the opportunities I have had. Appreciation and gratitude informs how I treat people.”
How someone treats others connects to how that person does business. “It’s when you appreciate employees, when you appreciate clients, when you appreciate colleagues,” Henderson said. “At Jacobs, we had a motto: People are our greatest asset.”
He said a business pitfall is when a leader doesn’t appreciate people and a negative culture develops. “We should all strive to have a sense of appreciation.”
Henderson’s values and that sense of appreciation and gratitude were nurtured by his parents when he was growing up in Louisiana. His father worked in a paper mill for 40 years and his mother worked at Sears. “You don’t realize the heroics your parents make to establish a family,” he said.
His family’s hard work and perseverance inspired him. “So much of what I can do is because of what my parents did,” he said of their sacrifices and resilience.
Switching Career Paths
Like many of the Saint Leo students participating in Business Day, as a senior at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, Henderson found himself scared and questioning his future. “I was on the speech and debate team and succeeding, so I thought maybe I could do law,” he said. “But I also was in journalism,” completing internships with CBS and other news organizations.
“I walked across the stage [at commencement] but I really didn’t know my purpose,” Henderson continued. “What is my value to the world going to be?”
His sister was living in Tampa, FL, and invited him to move there. “I wanted a career change,” he said. “And I fell in love and met this beautiful girl, my wife, Miranda [’14, ’18]. She asked me if I wanted to [work] in technology.
“It took some courage,” he said. “I followed my heart to do something different.”
He threw himself into learning about technology and was hired by a company looking for someone with a tech background, who could do public speaking, and who could write. “I was blessed to get into that,” he said. “It was nonstop learning at work and after work.”
Henderson told the Saint Leo students and the audience, “One of the things I love about college is if it’s not the discipline [degree of study] you’re going to do, college teaches you to learn.”
He became immersed in the military environment, which later led to him joining Jacobs. In his current role, he supports successful program management in operating the nation’s fourth largest U.S. Department of Defense network and provides global enterprise IT Operations & Maintenance (O&M) services for more than 77,000 U.S. Special Operations Forces end users operating in more than 70 countries.
While he was successful in becoming an operational leader in technology, Henderson thought he should “get my business acumen up,” so he enrolled at his wife’s alma mater, Saint Leo University to earn a Master of Business Administration with a concentration in project management.
“I was inspired by the values Saint Leo had here,” he said. “And I put what I was learning in the classroom — in real time — into my job. After graduating, I just took the test and passed it [becoming certified as a Project Management Professional, PMP].
Gesner asked Henderson to offer some advice for students beginning their job searches. “I’ve been at Jacobs for 11 years,” he said. “I understand the values of the company and how they align with my values. I understand the company. I understand why we do the things we do. The company is bigger than the role you’re applying for.” Jobseekers should do their research and know about various aspects of a company and not just the job they hope to gain.
An online Mission-Driven Leaders participant asked about how as a leader during a time of the “Great Resignation,” what Henderson views as the most important things a leader can do.
“Understanding the pulse,” he said. “Understanding what they [employees] care about. Understanding what their needs are.”
For example, he said his program offered a substantial education benefit for professional development; however, they found that some employees were not taking advantage of it. When asked, they said they had to use personal time off (PTO) in order to complete the training. The company listened to its employees, and now offers tailored options for them to earn certifications or take advantage of the professional development benefit.
“But you also need to revisit it (as in the culture),” he advised. “That’s how we are able to retain them.”
For seniors and others who may be questioning whether they’re on the correct career path, Henderson advised to investing. “It comes down to investing in yourself and in others,” he said. “Invest in relationships, the people who taught you, the people who mentored you. Success is what your vision is, what you think success looks like. Just be open.”