Celebrating Black History Month: WSFS Bank’s Michael Conklin Leans on Strength and Wisdom of Previous Generations as He Charts His Own Path to Success
educating-myself | Read Time: 3 minutes
By Eric Springer | Published: February 2021
Growing up in Wisconsin in the 1970s and 1980s, Michael Conklin, WSFS Bank’s Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer, knew he would have to approach every day with an inner drive and resolve to succeed.
“When we moved to Wausau, Wisconsin, there were three people of color in town—me, my sister and my mom,” recalls Conklin. “I was the first person of color to graduate from that high school. When they expected me to play for the basketball team, I taught myself to skate and made the ice hockey team as a sophomore. I joined the debate team, was co-captain in three sports and the student body president.”
“My mom had said to me, ‘Michael, do not let people define you. Prove them wrong with excellence.’ Every step in my life and career, that has been my goal. Prove it with excellence.”
Upon graduating from high school, Conklin joined the Marine Corps.
“My experiences growing up gave me a leg up in the Marines,” said Conklin. “I was able to work with everyone, being a good listener and meeting people where they were, and understanding how to take initiative and execute successfully, even with incomplete information.”
His ability to adapt, persevere and succeed was not only forged by his early experiences and advice from his mother, but also his grandfather’s.
“After World War II, my grandfather worked as a sharecropper on 15 acres of land in Missouri,” said Conklin. “Unfortunately, it didn’t work out and he moved his family to Wisconsin to work on a farm owned by an officer he served under during the War—an officer whose life my grandfather had once saved.”
That officer gave Conklin’s grandfather 10 acres of land to farm on his own, and by the time he passed away, he had amassed more than 800 acres.
“I strongly believe in education, but it is about more than books,” says Conklin. “My grandfather taught me to work hard and smart, to build relationships, that it is okay to speak up and be passionate, to face fear head-on and so much more. You learn and grow stronger from life experiences.”
During his professional career, Conklin has continued to apply the principles he personally learned along the way—and those of his mother and grandfather—to guide himself and others toward a successful path.
“It all starts with yourself,” said Conklin. “You have to work on the fundamentals in your chosen craft, what got you where you are will not keep you where you are. Keep learning. You also need to put yourself in the right environment, and you must own your own development, taking an active role to plot your milestones and work to accomplish them.”
Conklin refers to this advice and his “Three C’s” when mentoring others.
Courage – You must have courage to persevere, even though it will not be easy. You never know when you will get your shot, so be ready.
Confidence – Take the time to understand the Johari window technique. How do you see and want to see yourself? How do other see you and how do you want them to see you? Have the confidence to acknowledge what you don’t know and seek out how to learn it.
Credibility – With credibility comes trust. Establish a framework to earn credibility, including looking for quality experiences versus fast advancements, being strategic in your own growth. There is time, and you have time.
About the Author – Eric Springer
Eric Springer is Assistant Vice President, Integrated Communications Manager at WSFS Bank. He brings more than 15 years’ experience in corporate communications and marketing for banking, professional services and nonprofit organizations.
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