Foster, Jylla Moore 1954–
Jylla Moore Foster 1954–
Executive coach, author, and leadership development consultant
Throughout her life, Jylla Moore Foster has tended to view the obstacles before her as merely challenging steps on the climb to her goals. Armed with a quiet confidence gained in part from her upbringing in a stable and supportive Southern black community, Foster has stepped over hurdle after hurdle, rising to positions of respect and authority in the business world. Finally, after achieving many goals that others had assured her were impossible, Foster left the corporate world to combine business success with personal fulfillment by helping others overcome their own obstacles to achievement.
Foster was born Jylla Moore in 1954 in the small North Carolina piedmont, or “foot of the mountains,” town of Salisbury. Her father, Julius, worked as an engineer for the U.S. Post Office, while her mother, Vera, taught science and math at the local junior high school. Racial discrimination was written into the law in the South of the late 1950s and early 1960s, and the whites and blacks of Salisbury lived alongside each other, separated by barriers of distrust and segregation. While this unfair practice led to bitter feelings and much mistreatment of African Americans, it also resulted in close-knit black communities.
Surrounded by extended family and involved with church and friends as a youth, Foster felt both sheltered and supported by the community around her as she attended her African-American elementary school. That support gave her confidence and courage when schools became integrated and she went to classes with white students for the first time in junior high and high school. Throughout her school years, she received inspiration and encouragement from her teachers, who continually challenged her to raise her sights and achieve her goals.
Perhaps because her parents were both educated people, Foster always assumed she would go to college, and her grades won her a full scholarship to Livingstone College, an historically black college founded in Salisbury in 1879. She graduated magna cum laude, meaning “with high honors,” in 1976, with a degree in mathematics.
Like her mother, Foster was drawn to science and math, and thinking of a career in these fields led her toward the world of business. A Livingstone graduate told her about the Consortium for Graduate Study in Business which offers grants top minority students to allow them to continue their studies in business-related fields. Though, like many women of the time, Foster knew little about the corporate world, she recognized an opportunity. She applied and received a fellowship from the Consortium and left her home in Salisbury for the first time to study marketing at Indiana University in Bloomington. While there, she not only earned her master’s degree in business administration, but she also married Stan Foster, another business student, in 1977.
When she received her MBA in 1978, Foster began to look for work. She traveled around the country to many job interviews. Her excellent academic record, along with her poise and confidence, earned her nineteen job offers. The position she accepted, systems engineer at the Cincinnati, Ohio, office of International Business
Born Jylla Moore in 1954, in Salisbury, NC; married Stan Foster, 1977 (divorced 2002); children: Anjylla. Education: Livingstone College, BA, mathematics, 1976; Indiana University, MBA, 1978; Corporate Coach University,
Career: IBM, systems engineer, 1978-83, systems engineering manager, 1983-96, Vice President of Operations for the Northeast, 1996-97; Vice President of Sales for Small and Medium Businesses for the Midwest, 1997; Vice President of Global Channels, 1998; Vice President and Client Executive, 1998-2000; Crystal Stairs, Hinsdale, IL, founder and CEO, 2000-.
Selected awards: Livingstone College, honorary doctorate, 1999; National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, Distinguished Alumna Award, 2000; Keys to twenty five cities; Bennett College, Bell ringer.
Addresses: Office —P.O. Box 157, Hinsdale, IL 60521.
Machines (IBM), was not the highest-paid job she was offered, but she believed that it promised the best chance of advancement with a company at the top of the technology field. Her judgment proved correct. During the 22 years she worked at IBM, Foster was promoted to a higher and more challenging position almost every two years.
Systems engineering involved sales and support for IBM’s technical equipment and systems. Foster proved to have a talent for the work, and in 1981 she began to work as a regional systems engineer, commuting to work at IBM offices throughout the Midwest. Though a colleague warned her that a black woman would never be successful working in sales in the Midwest, Foster continued to turn obstacles into opportunities and achieve what most people thought impossible. By 1983 she was a systems engineering manager.
Over the next 17 years, Jylla Foster held a series of high-ranking and responsible positions with IBM. In 1996 she moved to New York to become Vice President of Operations for the Northeast area. After several years, she moved west again, this time to Chicago, where she worked as Vice President of Sales for Small and Medium Businesses for the Midwest. She also served as Vice President of Global Channels and Vice President and Client Executive for one of IBM’s major customers.
Also during this time, Foster started a family with her husband and remained active in the alumnae association of her college sorority, Zeta Phi Beta. Social and service “brotherhoods” and “sisterhoods,” fraternities and sororities have a unique role in the African American community. There are nine major black fraternities and sororities, most of them founded between 1900 and 1930. These are national organizations, which have chapters at different colleges. Often blacks attending college and entering business face hostility and opposition from white-dominated society. The black fraternities and sororities offer support and comradeship to African American students. Alumni or graduate chapters are often even more active than undergraduate chapters and provide a network of business and social connections.
Foster joined Zeta Phi Beta during her years at Livingstone and remained involved after graduation. From 1992 to 1996 she served as International President, traveling around the world to make connections with members of international chapters and organize service projects, such as sponsoring young students to attend space camp and setting up scholarship funds. Her role as president also led her to speak about “The Role of African-American Women Leaders” at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China in 1995.
As the twentieth century drew to a close, Foster left IBM to seek new career challenges. For a short time she worked as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of a small technology company, but she soon found that this position did not meet her needs for a career. Foster wanted to use her phenomenal business success to become the kind of person who had inspired her so much during her school years. She wanted to become a supportive teacher who could help others navigate the complex world of business. A friend told her about the field of executive coaching. In athletics, a coach is the person in charge of training and encouraging the team. A career coach is a kind of counselor who helps train and encourage clients, training them to develop leadership and business skills in order to have a successful career and a fulfilling life. Foster thought this might be the career she had been looking for. She investigated the fascinating new field and soon enrolled in Corporate Coach University to be trained as an executive coach, completing a two-year program in nine months.
After completing her training, Foster started her own coaching business, using her own experience in the business world to help and inspire others to set and achieve goals. She named her business Crystal Stairs from a line in a poem called “Mother to Son” by African-American poet Langston Hughes. In the poem, a mother encourages her son to keep trying for success by describing her own struggles: “Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.” By May, 2004, Foster’s successful executive coaching business expanded, creating an information and training center called Center for Insight.
Due North: Strengthen Your Leadership Assets, Crystal Stairs Press, 2002.
Ross, Lawrence C., Jr., The Divine Nine: The History of African American Fraternities and Sororities, 2002.
Black Enterprise, February 2004, p. 13-17. Jet, September 28, 1992, p. 23.
“ITSMF: Creating Valued Partnerships,” Information Technology Senior Management Forum, www.itsmfonline.org (April 23, 2004).
“Jylla Moore Foster,” Crystal Stairs, www.crystalstairs.com (April 23, 2004).
Information for this profile was obtained through an interview with Jylla Foster on May 4, 2004.
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