Life Lessons from The C-Suite: Chicago Botanic Garden's Sophia Shaw

With a focus on the next generation, we are always looking to gain insight and learn from those that have achieved levels of success we aspire towards even if they can’t be our one-one mentors. As the world recently celebrated International Women’s Day (March 8), a day to honor women’s achievements and accomplishments, we are excited to share some nuggets from the leader of one of Chicago’s world class cultural institutions, who should be lauded for all her achievements.
Sophia Shaw, President and CEO of Chicago Botanic Garden, came on  2006 as VP of visitor programs and operations and in 2007 was named President/CEO. Her educational background includes an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management, a Masters degree from University of Chicago and BA from Wellesley College so you know she’s focused and ambitious. Growing the organizations fundraising,  undertaking a 10 year strategic plan for the Botanic Garden, community and corporate partnerships are some of the tasks she’s accomplished during her time and there’s more to come.

We had the chance to chat with Ms. Shaw and she shared these life lessons that you can use as go about reaching your goals.



SLC: What are the best daily habits to develop and commit to?
Sophia Shaw: I like to write down someone I want to thank that day. Whether it’s someone who took me out to lunch that day or did something nice, I try to thank them. Writing thank you notes, in any form, is very important. It could be in snail mail form or an email, it depends on how it feels.

SLC:How do you approach the unknown?
SS: I always approach the unknown by having a destination, a vision of where I want to go and then setting up a path to that destination and being willing to change that path if need be, but trusting that things will work out as much as possible.

SLC: What are five books I should read and why?
SS:1) Janson’s “History of Art”. I think everyone should know the history of art because if you know the history of art, you know the history of humanity.
2) “Good to Great” by Jim Collins. Great business book
3) “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg 
4) “Second Nature” by Michael Pollan
5) “A Wrinkle in Time,” lthough it’s a children’s book, it inspires me. I re-read it recently and it was even better than it was when I was a kid.

books by sophia shaw


SLC: What does empowerment mean to you?
SS: Saying no, when you are in a situation you know is not right.

SLC: What factors do you consider most often when planning for the future?
SS: Taking care of yourself, not selfishly, but making sure that you are healthy and as content as a person can be. Not taking on more than you can do well.

SLC: What parts of your job do you find to be most challenging?
SS: Not having enough time in the day.


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Kraft Foods-Chicago Botanic Garden Groundbreaking photo: chicago botanic garden

SLC: Who inspires you?
SS: Amelia Earhart. I wrote about her in my college thesis. Her ability to take risks always inspires and challenges me.

SLC: Do you have a mentor? did you seek one when you started out?
SS: I was fortunate to have had many mentors and one in particular was Barbara Carr, she was my predecessor at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

SLC: To date, what has been your most rewarding accomplishment?
SS: As a working mother, I will have to say, having my children grow up to be wonderful boys. Also having a million people come to the Botanic Garden every year and be inspired.


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*images via: Chicago Botanic Garden
Is there someone you would like to see offer you life lessons? comment below on this interview and let us know.


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