The Women's Foundation Honors Memphians Who are Making a Difference
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Taking the road less traveled by women in business, Carolyn Chism Hardy has been an executive in Memphis for more than 30 years. A trailblazer, innovator, and job creator, she started her career at the J.M. Smucker Company where she successfully managed Finance, Quality, and Human Resources before becoming the first African-American female plant manager. Carolyn left Smucker to serve as vice president of services, responsible for national software implementations for Honeywell-POMS Corporation. In addition, Carolyn was former vice president/general manager for Coors Brewing Company — the first African-American female vice president/GM of a major brewery. In this role, she was responsible for manufacturing and distributions, serving the southeastern U.S. and 100 percent of international distribution and military bases around the world. In 2006, Carolyn had another first when she started Hardy Bottling Company, making her the first African-American female to own a major brewery, with the ability to manufacture over 100 million cases.
What or who motivates you?
“My mother. I was the 7th of 16 children. She had a way of going about her day and doing what she needed to do and always had time to listen. She would always tell us that time is more important than money, and we took that into our professions. She never took government assistance because she never wanted us to think you could get something for free. The values you learn at home shape your professional life.”
What’s your greatest challenge?
“I want to blaze a trail, and if you’re going to blaze a trail, sometimes you’re going to get blazed. It’s new for you as much as it’s new for others, and sometimes people don’t know how to handle it. I worked really hard making people feel comfortable, but I wasn’t always invited in with open arms. Normally you get passed over before they realize you’re the one. Stay persistent. A lot of times women and minorities are trying to convince you we’re as good as the guys. You have to go in and accept no less than what you’re qualifications merit.”
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned?
“Never take no for an answer. I’m coming back; it’s just a matter of when. Because I know I have what you need. Have confidence and determination.”
What’s your proudest moment/greatest reward?
“My greatest reward is my three children. Two girls and one boy, and they all have bachelor's degrees — two girls have master’s and my son’s in dental school. My mother, who only had an 11th-grade education, instilled the importance of education, and between her kids and grandkids she has 50 or 60 degrees now. I’m proud of that legacy.”
What’s the best advice you ever received?
“Go into business. Become an entrepreneur. I felt I could do it, but sometimes someone looking at you from the outside can see the characteristics that you take for granted. Someone has to say, ‘Follow your dreams.’”