DETROIT — Olympic ice dance champion Meryl Davis was the keynote speaker at the 2018 Women Thrive Conference on Monday at the MGM Grand Detroit. She shared an inspirational story of overcoming challenges to become successful and win.
“Play to Win” was the theme of the 22nd annual Women Thrive Conference. The event is presented by the Michigan Business and Professional Association (MBPA).
Davis, 31, was born in Royal Oak, Mich. and now resides in West Bloomfield, Mich. She first started skating on a local lake at age five. Then, she switched to ice dancing three years later.
The Olympic gold medalist said she had a lack of self confidence growing up.
“I never felt comfortable socially. I found this opportunity on ice where I had talent. I was very much empowered. I would have to say my parents absolutely. So supportive and kind and hard working. My mom grew up poor didn’t have any money. She was forced to quit extra curricular activities. I knew I had this incredible opportunity to skate and support me emotionally and financially.”
After several ups and downs, Davis teamed up with Charlie White in 1997. During their time together, the ice dancing duo won several gold medals at the Grand Prix Final, Four Continents Championships and at the World Championships. Davis and White went on to win the silver medal at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
“I know that Charlie and I were confident we were only able to win in Sochi,” she explained. “In our 17-year-long competitive career, we fell and we made mistakes. Every time we took those failures, we grew were stronger. We learned so many times what not to do. I can say without certainty we would have never been close to be champions. Having the courage to pick yourself back up–that means the most.”
The 33-year-old athlete admitted that she and Charlie are officially retired from competitive figure skating.
“It’s absolutely terrifying. Now it’s time to start over and try something new. We travel the world as I take the time to finish my next step and finish school. 13 yr plan at the university of Michigan. Less than a year left. I’m sure my parents will be thrilled. I like to call myself the female van wilder. I’m grateful for opportunities like this.”
During the 2017 Detroit Tree Lighting ceremony, it was announced that Meryl Davis would embark on a Figure Skating in Detroit program. She was asked about the status of the program following her keynote address.
“We are a branch of Figure Skating in Harlem. It’s a youth development program to give girls the skills they need to be successful in life. Right now, we have skating two days a week. We have 55 girls in our full time program. Tuesday and Thursday we have academic tutoring. Girls need a B average to be a part of the program. It’s STEM programming. Participating in sport can be so empowering. I think it’s a wonderful program I’m really proud to be a part of.”
An audience member asked about Davis’ favorite mistake or failure over the course of her ice dancing career.
“We competed in Russia. Falling is not terribly uncommon. In ice dancing if you fall, it’s catastrophic. It’s over. We got off the ice and we were both in shock. Falling three times in ice dancing–no. We were trying so hard to be something we were not. We realized we needed to focus on our planning and our preparation and not be more than we were. It’s not a contact sport. You can respect your competitor and be your best.”
During the conference, four women were inducted into the Michigan Business Women Hall of Fame:
- Terry Barclay, President & CEO of Inforum
- Florine Mark, President and CEO of The Weight Watchers Group, Inc.
- Sandy Pierce, Senior Executive Vice President of The Huntington National Bank
- Carole Valade, Editor of Gemini Publications
“Thank you for this incredible honor,” Barclay said to the crowd. “The hardest challenge that I faced is when I first came to Inforum. It dawned on me how much more work I had to do. Inforum could do more. We were not doing enough. That led to what do we do next? You have to stick with your vision, you have to stick with what you know. I would like my legacy to be…Michigan is the place where the sky is the limit for our daughters as well as our sons.”
The criteria for this honor are women leaders who have not only had significant business success, many at a global level, but have also made Michigan a better place to live and work through their efforts. Their contributions are significant and will impact future women leaders for generations to come. Many have received other honors, including this program in years past, but their continued success and drive to improve the lives of others entitles them to this induction.
“I never wanted to be defined by my gender,” Pierce explained. “I wanted to be able to help my parents and really break the cycle of poverty. In order to do that I knew that I needed an education. I aspired really to the medical field and then I realized how long it would take and how much it would cost. I was a teller at National Bank in Detroit while I was going to Wayne State University. I went through the interview process and she told me, ‘You’re not going to get the job. You’re too nice.’ The lesson for me there was… don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not smart enough, you’re not good enough. Women support each other today. We really do have to speak up for each other and lift each other up.”
The event wrapped up with a “Leadership in the Workplace Honorees” panel discussion. This group of distinguished and proven leaders share their stories of success as we honor them today. They will provide a better understanding of what it means to be a successful community and corporate leader through their experience, advice and the challenges they overcame.
“I think Millennials and young professionals want control over how they work,” said Evette Griffie, Chief of Staff, Customer Service & Economic Development at DTE Energy. “Technology has done a lot for us in that way. The second is disruption. Uber, the largest taxi company, owns no cars. Airbnb, the largest hotel chain, owns no real estate. I think there is a new business paradigm that’s happening. Companies can tap into Millennials. Third is meaningful work and purpose into what you do–something that I think every generation wants. Millennials are more intentional about making sure its there.”
Another panelist, Margaret Kennedy, Private Company Services Assurance at PwC, added: “One of the things that I came of age and as my peers came of age is…the world that we are in now is much more uncertain. I don’t even know what skills I should be developing because I don’t know what skills are going to be valued 10 years down the line. We see such disruption in different industries. You hear about Millennials wanting that career path. I think a lot of that is in response to the unpredictability of what is going to be valued.”
The ongoing mission of the annual Women Thrive Conference is to promote high professional standards, encourage leadership, provide education and assure equal advantages for women who have demonstrated excellence in their professions, place of employment, and volunteerism.
For more information about the Women Thrive Conference, visit https://michbusiness.com/event/2018-women-thrive-conference/