Alison Vaughn

Alison Vaughn
Founder and CEO, Jackets for Jobs Inc.

What inspires you to go to work every day?
I love my job. I’m the founder and CEO of Jackets for Jobs, which is a nationally recognized award-winning nonprofit organization that provides career skills training, employment etiquette and professional clothes to clients seeking employment.

Jackets for Jobs is based on the following premise: If a person does not have a job, they cannot afford career clothing for an interview or for work. Yet, without appropriate attire for an interview, they are unable to land a job. It is a catch-22. JFJ opened in March 2000 to solve this problem for low income individuals in Detroit and the surrounding area.

What inspires me is when a person calls or comes in and tells us they got the job. JFJ has had a tremendous impact on the community since opening its doors. The company has helped thousands of individuals to achieve personal and professional success. JFJ has provided professional attire and image coaching to over 15,000 low-income jobseekers.

How did you determine your career path?
My career path and “true calling’’ came from a tragic situation. I graduated from Michigan State University and the day after graduation, I moved to Los Angeles. Six month later I was hired with United Airlines. Working for the airlines was a dream job. I was a flight attendant and then I moved into management and hired flight attendants. After the September 11 bombing, the nation was afraid to fly and United Airlines ask flight attendants and pilots to take a leave of absence. That’s when I branched out and started my own nonprofit, Jackets for Jobs. That world tragedy guided my career in a different direction. Right around the same time, my half-sister, which I didn’t really know died from cancer and in the midst of helping with the funeral arrangements I found out she was on welfare, so that’s how the mission of Jackets for Jobs evolved.

How do you set goals and evaluate your success?
Jackets for Jobs has had great success. It’s all due to our partnerships.

Collaboration is so important in business.

Our partnership in 2002 with Detroit Workforce Development Department, now called Detroit Employment Solutions Corporation allowed Jackets for Jobs to spread its’ wings. Being a Michigan Works! Affiliate has allowed JFJ to partner with over 50 employment agencies throughout the city of Detroit. These agencies refer their job seeking clients to JFJ to help them look good and feel good for a job interview.

In 2007, Jackets for Jobs partnered with TJ Maxx, A leading off-price retailer of apparel and home fashions; That partnership allowed JFJ to expand its services with women and to assist men in need. In 2008, JFJ developed a partnership with the Men’s Wearhouse to further its plans to help men reenter the workforce. In 2012, in partnership with TJ Maxx we started working with female veterans, which is a big initiative with the TJ Maxx Corporation. We provide clothing assistance to females returning home. Our goal is to provide a wider range of support services to veterans that will aid their efforts to achieve employment and self-sufficiency.

In 2013, the company launched its Success Series, incorporating classroom learning, career coaching and community mentors to help participants transition from a job to a career.

Community mentors come from companies such as Quicken Loans, DTE, and St John Providence Hospital just to name a few came to volunteer and support the program.

The same year, 2013, Jackets for Jobs became global. Jackets for Jobs opened an office in Botswana. Botswana is located in Southern Africa. The main export of Botswana is diamonds. Jwaneng, in Botswana, is the world’s largest and richest diamond mine.

National Success:
To sum up, Jackets for Jobs’ national success, the organization has been supported and applauded by ABC’s “The View,” NBC’s “Today Show,” Donald Trump, the cast members from the NBC show “The Apprentice” and Oprah’s O Magazine. I was also recognized by Martha Stewart as a “Dreamer into Doer,’ where Stewart recognizes women who turn their dreams into reality. I was also selected into the highly competitive Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Program, where Warren Buffett, serves as the co-chair of the advisory board. A highlight of the company was the distinct honor of ringing the closing bell on NASDAQ.

Names three books that changed how you saw life that you would recommend to others.
The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. The book helps reveal why we are on Earth and God’s plan for us. The second book is, It’s Your Time by Joel Osteen. I really like his messages and this book teaches you how to activate your faith, achieve your dreams and increase in God’s favor and lastly, my third favorite book is my book, Inspired Style. I co-wrote this book with other top image experts. We reveal strategies to always look and be your best. You can go to my website: www.sexyandageless for more information.

Describe why lifelong learning is important to you.
Lifelong learning is very important. A person should never become complacent. I’m always seeking learning opportunities. I’m pleased to be selected into the highly competitive Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program.

The program is a $500 million investment to help entrepreneurs create jobs and economic opportunity by providing them with greater access to education, financial capital and business support services. The program currently operates in 17 markets in the U.S.

The curriculum is designed by Babson College, the nation’s top-ranked entrepreneurship school and focuses on practical business skills that can immediately be applied by business owners, including negotiation, marketing and employee management. This program will enable me to really grow Jackets for Jobs into an international company.

What are the three most important factors of being a successful woman?
Success is not achieved alone. There is always someone that helped you get where you are, and for that reason I say “networking” is important. In order to be successful, one must network. Your network determines your net worth. Secondly, be a role model. Successful women help others to succeed and give advice, coaching and mentorship. It’s important for one to share their life experience, lessons through writing or speaking.

Finally, successful women give back. They find a cause that is dear to them and support the mission. I love how my company, Jackets for Jobs has such a great partnership with major Detroit companies and the employees give back and volunteer. We are always looking for volunteers to help carry out our mission

Technology plays what role in your daily life?
When I think of technology, I think of my cellphone. I always keep my cellphone handy. You never know when an opportunity will call. I’ll never forget driving down the street and my phone rang and it was the “Oprah Winfrey Show.” It was the best call of my life. It was an awesome experience to be a guest on her show. I think about so many people that don’t answer their phone because they don’t recognize a number, not me, you just never know who’s on the other end.

What social media tool has made the biggest difference in your life and why?
I believe in using social media. I use facebook and a little twitter. I’m a Gemini and Gemini’s are known as communicators. I’ve been a social able person all my life. In high school I was voted Homecoming Queen and I was President of my student council.
Facebook keeps me connected to friends and family. My company Jackets for Jobs has a Facebook page as well as a twitter page.

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
I would change prejudice and injustice.

When thinking about the social injustices that exist in this world, a lot of different things come to mind. There are the simple injustices brought by men and placed upon men which would include prejudice and racism, then there are the major injustices such as worldwide poverty and neglect, terrorism, war and a host of others.

The question is, “How do we as individuals fight any or all of these social injustices?” There are several very simple things we can do in our everyday life that can help our overall situation.

First, and probably the most important is to simply keep your eyes and ears open to what is occurring in the world around you. Do not get caught up in the problems of everyday life to the point of shutting out local news and events. Many people have become desensitized and that’s why enough is not done.

We must all do our part to make a difference. We all have a role to play. My role, based on the Scripture, “When I was naked, you clothed me.” Matthew 25:36

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I would learn to be more patient. We live in an “instant, I want it now” world. I have to learn that some things just take time.

Who or what motivates you and why?
My daughter motives me. I want to leave a legacy for her. She is my pride and joy. I want her to learn the importance of giving back and making a positive contribution to society.

What are the dos and don’ts for young women in business?
I’ll put on my image consultant hat and answer this question. When it comes to attire: Dress for the position you want. Do you want to be an office junior forever, or is it your goal to get that nice corner office? Dress like the executive in that office if that is where you want to be.

Also, as a graduate of the Charleston School of Protocol, Southern charm goes a long way.

Always be a lady with good manners. Your manners and etiquette are not just actions….they are an attitude….an attitude that is closely related to your self-confidence, your position in business and personal life, as well as your ability to build successful relationships, teams … organizations.

How do you successfully grow from business failure?
A successful career is like a roller coaster with many ups and downs, whether you’re an employee or an entrepreneur. In business, you have to accept detours.

One thing you will notice about successful people, especially people with an entrepreneurial streak, is that they welcome detours and failures as a natural part of the journey they are on.

The cliché, “When one door closes, another door opens” is more than a cliché. You just need to be confident enough to see that other open door. And that requires that you not stare at the closed door too long.

The greatest lesson I learned was that mistakes will not end your business. If you are nimble and willing to listen to constructive criticism you can excel by learning and evolving. Mistakes will surface new opportunities.

Name your three most successful female role models and why you hold them in high esteem.
My first role model is my mother, Betty Henderson. She is a woman of God and she taught me to always put God first. What I love about my mother is her work ethic. She is a hard worker.

She retired from General Motors, then became a teacher and now works with Jackets for Jobs. She instilled in me, get up, go to work and make a difference.

Another role model, or should I say, a person responsible for putting people in the forefront to be role models is Debra Lee. She is the CEO of BET. Black Entertainment Television is the most prominent television network targeting African American audiences, and currently reaches more than 90 million households.

And it goes without saying, the all-time favorite female role model, especially for African American women is … drum roll … first lady Michelle Obama. I could go on and on as to why she is a role model but I think her hard work says it all.

Munson Steed

Founder and publisher of rolling out's parent company Steed Media Group.