This blog is edited from a speech I gave to the Aurora (Colorado) Chamber of Commerce Women in Business Committee’s annual “Unsung Heroes” luncheon on February 9, 2018. To save storage space, photos from the accompanying slide presentation are not included here.
Prefer it on audio? Listen to it below!
Hello Aurora! So good to be back among friends in this very special community.
How about that Aurora Chamber of Commerce? What a great organization! If you don’t know about the amazing work the Aurora Chamber does to advocate for its members, I encourage you to check them out.
Thank you to everybody’s friend and the Chamber’s CEO, Kevin Hougen, thank you to staff lead Rachel Gruber, and thank you to the rest of the Chamber staff for your help in putting on today’s event. Finally, my thanks to Chair of the Women in Business Committee, Terry Spencer, and those on the Women in Business committee for inviting me to be your lunchtime entertainment today.
As Terry mentioned, I am Diane Simard, Sr. Vice President and member of the Board of Directors at Bye Aerospace, an angel investor, entrepreneur, aspiring author, blessed wife, mentor and an advocate to bring more attention to the psychological impact of traumatic illnesses.
It’s great to be back in Aurora again because from about 2003 through 2009 I served on the Aurora Chamber’s Board of Directors and met some incredible business leaders who have become life-long friends. During my time on the chamber board, I was encouraged to start being considered for leadership roles. It was Kevin Hougen and everyone’s other good friend, George Peck, who asked me to consider becoming chair of the Chamber’s Defense Council, one of the Chamber’s largest committees that serves as a liaison between our armed military forces and the business community. I still remember the day when Kevin first hinted that I would make a great Defense Council Chair. I asked him whether a woman had ever served as Chair, and he said, “No, never, and it’s quite possible that you won’t be welcomed at first.” The next words out of my mouth were, “I’m in.”
Since then, I’m pleased to report that two other women, Lisa Buckley and Suzanne Pitrusu, have served as Defense Council Chair. Lisa and Suzanne, if you are here would you please give us a wave?
I wish you could see the amazing view from here….a roomful of passionate, gorgeous business women and some incredibly brave men who understand and appreciate the unique talents and traits we women have. Women, perhaps you are here because you want to support your fellow sisters in business, especially those who don’t often receive the much-deserved recognition we all deserve.
By the way, to give you an insight into my twisted mind and my honest view of the world, here is my definition of a Business Woman:
Women in Business: An adult female person who gets (expletive) done in a place of work.
Now men, I think you are here today because you get us, and appreciate who we women are and how we are programmed to plan, execute and multi-task in the most cost-effective, efficient ways possible. We are grateful to the men here who recognize our unique attributes and encourage us to put our many talents to work. Let’s have a round of applause for the guys.
I’d like to say hi to the most important person in my life, who just happens to be a guy. My stud of a husband, Rene Simard, is the Executive Vice President for the Aurora Chamber who oversees the Defense Council and the Leadership Aurora Program. Leadership Aurora, which was established in 1984, is another of the Chamber’s flagship programs. Participants get to spend one day a month learning about city government, media, education and non-profits all based in Aurora. Plus, they get to spend an entire day each with the military at Buckley Air Force Base, the Aurora Fire Department and the Aurora Police Department, among other first-hand experiences. Would those of you men and women who are Leadership Aurora students and graduates please stand? What a cool program.
Now back to Rene, who retired from the Air Force nearly 12 years ago. During his 28 years of service he achieved the rank of Chief Master Sergeant, the Air Force’s highest enlisted rank, a rank only 1% of the enlisted Air Force at the time achieved. But wait, it gets better. Rene was then selected to be a Command Chief, a position only 10% of the Chiefs can attain. Rene was the Command Chief for the 460th Space Wing at Buckley right here in Aurora when he retired. He was responsible for the health, welfare and morale of all the enlisted troops on the base. Now, who’s ready for a treat and a chance to totally embarrass my husband? Who would like to have Rene greet us in his Command Chief’s voice? Come on, let’s give him some encouragement!
Now Rene, please stand at attention, and say these words in your Command Chief voice:
“Good afternoon, world’s greatest women in business.”
“I’m standing here at attention because I would do anything for my smokin’-hot wife.”
“Over my military and civilian career, I have worked with and for some amazing women leaders.”
“For your service to your businesses, to your families, and your country, I salute you.”
Thank you, Rene. How about a hand for this amazing troop!
I’d also like to say hello and thanks to my rowdy but loveable colleagues from Bye Aerospace. I have worked with my business partner, George Bye – George, would you please give us a wave – for nearly 10 years. Just what am I, someone who doesn’t have a background in aviation or aerospace, doing in the world of airplanes? Faking my way through, on most days. But I invested in our company long ago because Bye Aerospace is different. I believed 10 years ago that aviation would one day embrace the possibilities of electric flight and it is FINALLY happening – emphasis on FINALLY. Bye Aerospace was ready for electric flight but had to wait for the market to be ready for us. I love helping to fan the flames of ideas that are revolutionary.
Our 2-seat prototype electric airplane is called Sun Flyer 2, and it is being developed close to Aurora at Centennial Airport and will eventually achieve certification. We are getting ready to fly this airplane for the first time, and already have over 100 deposits for the Sun Flyer 2 and its sister aircraft, the 4-seat Sun Flyer 4 that’s also in development.
Bye Aerospace is also developing high and medium altitude unmanned aircraft, also known as drones. This family of aircraft is called StratoAirNet, and an early prototype is also being prepared for its first piloted flight. We are super excited about the potential for StratoAirNet, because we believe these airplanes will one day provide some of the same capabilities as billion-dollar satellites but at a fraction of the cost.
Part of what makes StratoAirNet so compelling is the software or computer code that will receive and process data from on-board sensors. But someone has to write that software code. And guess who’s doing software development for our StratoAirNet project at Bye Aerospace? A woman! And she’s here today – would you like to meet her? Please say hi to Michele Miller, our version of the amazing aerospace trailblazers featured in the movie, Hidden Figures. Michele, would you please stand and remain standing?
Also sitting at the Bye table is Gretchen Jahn (Gretchen, would you please stand), another amazing trailblazer in the general aviation industry. Gretchen was the CEO and a board member at Mooney Aircraft Company after selling her own successful software company.
Our final trailblazer is a woman we recently hired who has literally almost single-handedly helped put Bye Aerospace back on a course for success. In fact, I might not have stayed involved with the company had we not hired her. Please say hello to our Director of Business Operations, Christina Herren (Christina, please stand). One of the many reasons I admire Christina and her husband, Chris, is because they are parents to two teenagers, Jordan and Wyatt, who they adopted through foster care after struggling with infertility challenges.
Thank you, ladies.
I love that word, trailblazer. When I think about trailblazers, I always think of gutsy women who didn’t back down, like Rosa Parks, Malālah Yūsafzay, Harriet Tubman, Marie Curie, Maya Angelou and countless others. Did these women set out to be trailblazers? Personally, I don’t think they did. I think they found themselves in historical movements or moments that they realized could change the world. Although their selfless actions brought them significant attention, Rosa Parks didn’t refuse to give up her bus seat, and Marie Curie didn’t develop the theory of radioactivity, just to get attention. Each was a genuine, passionate advocate who put the well being of others far above their own.
That “behind the scenes” passion for advocacy and concern for others is exactly why we are here today, to honor the amazing Unsung She-roes of our community.
Now, I don’t view myself as a Trailblazer or even an Unsung Hero, but I have always tried my best to earn the respect of others. I put myself through college to earn a bachelor’s degree in journalism, but soon realized I had a stronger passion for business than I did news media. So, I put my writing skills to work and took a job writing proposals for a student loan collection agency.
Here’s me when I was Director of Marketing, helping our team put 15 copies of a 400-page proposal together in the mid-1990s.
That job helped me discover that to keep moving forward in business, I needed to not only differentiate myself, but also to sell myself.
Here are a few things I did over my career to get noticed, remembered, and most important – respected.
- Took on the jobs no one else was willing to do
- Exceeded expectations by consistently finishing projects early and under budget
- Tried to be more grateful and courteous than my peers
- Only criticized a situation when I could offer a workable solution
- Quickly learned that I would be expected to be the one to implement the solution
Most important lesson I learned in business:
- A title didn’t automatically earn me respect
- I still had to earn respect by being a leader that others wanted to follow
Despite all that business acumen, for the first 50 years of my life I obsessed over my outward appearance to great excess.
Here’s a photo of me from January 2015 at the Living Legends of Aviation gala at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, California. I’m standing next to the great Charlie Johnson, the former President and COO of Cessna, who is a Living Legend of Aviation and our President at Bye Aerospace.
I decided to spend $400 on hair and makeup for the event, just because I had never done it before. Although I struggled to sit still for 2 ½ hours to get made up and I had to wash my hair twice to get all the gunk out of my hair, I felt like a runway model that night.
And then, 26 days later, I was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer.
42 days after that I had the first of 16 chemotherapy treatments.
Here’s me the morning of my first chemo infusion. Twelve hours after this photo was taken, I was heaving into a toilet. For the next two months, I felt like I had swallowed a ferris wheel that never stopped turning.
Here’s me 5 days after my first chemo, wearing a wig. Rene helped me shave my head the day before because I wanted to make sure I, not cancer was in control of when I lost my hair. This was my first full day back at work.
Here are the photos side by side. I still can’t believe how much I changed over the course of 5 days. I simply couldn’t smile because I was so sick that first day back at work. Here’s how I felt. Imagine drinking the nastiest thing you can think of, let’s say vinegar. Now, imagine not being able to drink anything but vinegar or eating only your least favorite food for two months straight. That’s what the first two months of chemo felt like for me. Some claim to be able to breeze through chemo, but I was not one of those.
Thankfully, 5 long months after chemo started, it was over.
Here’s me two months after chemo ended, sporting classic Flashdance attire. I had stopped wearing wigs and bandanas about a month before.
You see, cancer didn’t change me, but the process of overcoming cancer did. I did a lot of forgiving and emotional purging on my own, and captured all the details in a journal. I had become so frustrated with the lack of individualized psychological counseling resources available to uptight perfectionists like me that by the time this Flashdance photo was taken I had already decided to seed-fund and start a program at the University of Denver called the Center for Oncology Psychology Excellence or COPE.
COPE is the first effort in the country to train clinical psychologists at the graduate level how to work with cancer patients, survivors and caregivers. We launched COPE in February 2016 and since then 35 students have completed COPE classes. The first cohort of students completed the entire 12-credit specialty in August, and the second cohort of students started their COPE classes at DU in early January.
Now, let’s go back and compare those two photos – me with the $400 hair and makeup job who is freaked out about turning 50, and me 9 months later, three months from finishing cancer treatment and grateful to have been given a second chance at living.
Now, I ask you to define beauty.
I don’t share these photos to scare you or to ask for your pity. I share them to illustrate that I had to experience breast cancer to finally discover the true meaning of beauty.
Beauty is loving yourself, beauty is supporting and accepting others for who they are, even if their views differ from yours. Beauty is having passion for your beliefs, but not putting others down for not sharing your passion or your beliefs. Beauty is about having a voice, not just to express your anger, but to use that voice to intelligently and to strategically explain why change is imperative. Beauty is being crystal-clear about your message, not being angry for the sake of being angry. Beauty is opening up your heart and life to help another human being get through a difficult time, or volunteering to help improve the lives of those less fortunate.
Cancer finally helped me understand that beauty comes from the heart, not from the mind and especially not from the hair and make-up aisle.
I challenge and encourage you to think long and hard about your own definition of beauty.
But cancer is still all around us, and we still must keep funding research to find cures for all the different types of cancers. Thankfully, because some treatments are becoming more effective, statistically, we are living longer. Unfortunately, though, cancer is still taking the lives of far too many individuals, so we must continue to fund research activities and advocate for earlier detection through more accurate, less invasive testing.
One organization that is making a significant difference for Coloradoans diagnosed with cancer is the Ray of Hope Cancer Foundation, which I believe is here today. Would those of you at the Ray of Hope table please wave?
The Ray of Hope Cancer Foundation provides grants to Coloradoans diagnosed with cancer who have the unbelievable challenge of deciding whether to pay for treatment or pay for basic living necessities like food and shelter. I am grateful that Ray of Hope is available to those who desperately need not just help, but hope.
The bottom line is that you, too, can be different and make your mark. I’m certainly a different person now because I finally understand what a blessing it is to be alive, full of gratitude and joy, no longer obsessing about what I don’t yet have. I don’t take myself all that seriously like I did just a few years ago.
Today I am advocating to expand programs like COPE that bring more attention to the psychological effects of traumatic illnesses like cancer. I’ll be meeting with my alma-mater, the University of Nebraska-Kearney, in early April to begin a dialogue about offering a similar program within their university system.
I also continue to work and serve on the Board of Directors at Bye Aerospace, advocating for the benefits of electric propulsion for all types of aircraft. This is me last week, speaking to the Women’s Investor Network, trying to speak intelligently about the future of drones.
And I am finalizing a book about my year with breast cancer, based on the journal I kept during treatment. The book describes what it felt like to face my mortality and be born again at age 50. The working title is “Champagne with You: The Unlikely Gift of Breast Cancer.”
If you’d like to be notified when the book is published and sign up for my monthly blog, please go to DianeMSimard.com. My friendly colleagues from Bye Aerospace will have business cards with my contact info for you at the doors as you exit. Please LinkedIn with me or e-mail me about what’s on your mind.
In closing, I challenge you to look at your life through a new lens. Who are you and what do you see? I invite you to think about beauty, philanthropy, social justice and the potential you have to improve all those areas of your life in a more grateful, impactful way.
One of the ways I get inspiration to write and share and advocate is a quote from the late great Maya Angelou, which is framed and hangs above my writing desk in my home office.
It reads, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Would you please repeat those words with me?
I’d like to thank you again for sharing your time with me. You see, on Sunday, February 11, at 10:45 a.m. I will become a 3-year cancer survivor, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than to be here with you.
Thank you and God bless.