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80s alumna made a lasting impact in AIESEC that continues today!

Thursday, March 30, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Kris Stafie
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 Interview with Mary Ann Joe Fitch
Fitch Financial Solutions

AIESEC Houston Alumna 1981-86


I had the opportunity to meet Mary Ann at an alumni event in Austin during an AIESEC Life retreat in February. She offered some fascinating history of AIESEC that I wanted to learn more about, and she was kind enough to share her experience and history recently via the phone.

Mary Ann joined AIESEC Houston in 1981, and was fortunate to hold every position at her LC through her 5 years in school. Her first experience of AIESEC was the STP energy summit whereby members around the globe traveled to Energy Centers around the world to discuss Energy options and the future of Oil and Gas Industry. She also was involved with the Japanese study tour, where 15 Japanese students arrived in the US to learn about expanding Japanese trade with cities in the US. This took place just prior to the energy crisis, and for Mary Ann was the moment she realized borders extended way beyond our own.

As LCP in 1985-6, a disappointed German exchange student at UT in Austin was determined to have AIESEC at his university and challenged her to extend to the campus in Austin. It somehow seems appropriate that Austin started on a lost bet of “Quarters” at a national conference in NYC. In her last year of college Mary Ann spent a lot time creating the extension of AIESEC-Houston to UT- Austin helping form their LC, mainly due to her lack of skills at quarters!

After finishing school, Mary Ann continued her AIESEC journey and went on a traineeship at Burroughs Corporation Belgium (Liege). Earning $150 USD/month, she served as a financial analyst helping the department with their US offices communications. She learned firsthand the challenges and biases people can have when teams do not speak the same language. The company had 3000 employees and about 4 who spoke English fluently, she made a major impact and was hired after only 4 months. The company had hired other interns from AIESEC before, but she was the first from Texas and an Asian Native Texan to boot! She eventually transferred back to the US with the company (now called Unisys), and had trainees put in place in the Dallas area through AIESEC-Austin, then transferred to Boca Raton, Florida where she also deployed AIESEC trainees from Latin America.

Motorola snatched her next. In her new position, she asked if she could hire 1 AIESEC trainee, that one request evolved into a major sponsor of trainees and leadership development for Motorola. In the initial year, the company hired 12 interns for their offices in Phoenix and Austin. She managed the program with the help of AIESEC–Austin students and Scott Tworek (AIESEC-US) while also doing her Sr. Financial Analyst job. The program continued to grow and Motorola eventually hired Scott Tworek away from AIESEC US to manage the program. Mary Ann “borrowed” an idea from alumni Russ Gerson to interview the trainees in their home country first and then bring them in with the intention of being a long-term hire in their home country. Russ Gerson deployed this method first with the opening of EPCOT Center in Florida for Disney. Disney wanted to interview and see all trainees for the EPCOT Center in the mid-80s to ensure they were the “ideal” representative of Disney. For Motorola, this created an avenue to get young talent into leadership positions in their home country.

Leaving Motorola in 2002, Mary Ann started her own business at the suggestion of a mentor and former BOA Barbara Lazar (Director of International Business for Chamber of Commerce-Houston). It’s been 16 years and she has not looked back. Today she runs a mobile accounting firm helps small businesses and entrepreneurs setup their accounting systems and manage their accounting and finances for their growing business. She credits AIESEC for helping her do this by learning from her mistakes and successes as a student. At a young age, she learned marketing, sales, finance/budgeting and dealing with very limited resources and time. She has found a niche in helping small business owners understand what the number in their Financial system mean and creating models for business decisions for running their companies. All-important skills as an entrepreneur!

One important lesson she learned from alumnus John Tuschman, whom she met while at AIESEC Houston after inviting him to speak at a local conference, “When you step in the offices of AIESEC you are no longer a citizen of the US, you become a citizen of the world if you embrace what AIESEC has to offer”. This message was re-enforced by AIESEC-Houston BOA (Barbara Lezar, Joe Ringer, Jerry Broussard) and many others. Another knowledge gem passed down was the importance of networking. She continues to meet with AIESEC Houston alumni and AIESEC contacts from her years in Belgium and corporate America. Friendships in AIESEC tend to last a life time. It is not surprising to know that today, Mary Ann’s best friend, Carol Sandlin Deboer, is the very same person she met when she walked into AIESEC – Houston’s office back in 1981. This is the message she hopes to pass to the next generation of AIESEC, “Embrace all that AIESEC has to offer -- Network and start your journey to becoming a citizen of the world. Keep the friendship you create in AIESEC for they could be with you for a lifetime.”

She continues to share the experience of AIESEC with young people today. Coincidence does not escape her. Her neighbors, who are an AIESEC couple, knew her before they met her. Why? Their son, an AIESEC member at UT Austin, brought home old training videos. One of which was of Mary Ann doing leadership training from the set-up years. IBM previously hosted the summer leadership conferences (NLS, then Summer National Conference) and would video tape the trainings for the LCs to take home. Mary Ann required all members to take the training prior to going on sales calls and the neighbor’s son had gone through the training himself. It’s amazing how legacies live on! Now her high school freshman daughter is looking at schools that have AIESEC to continue in her mother’s footsteps.

Another interesting fact shared during our conversation was about DHL (80s corporate sponsor of AIESEC US and Houston). DHL was headquartered in Houston and they would deploy AIESEC students to courier packages. A student could travel globally with carry-on luggage and escort a package for DHL on short notice. Many students at AIESEC Houston used this service to get to conferences or traineeships or explore a new country for a few days!

Mary Ann continues to support AIESEC locally and finds that it is still a unique organization that can and has changed the world one step at a time. AIESEC encourages you to live, travel, work and understand other countries and perspectives to be a true citizen of the world. Not much has changed from the guiding principles of the founding students in Europe and for that she is grateful.

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