WILLOUGHBY: Jan Collins making a difference

Jan Collins

Some leaders have the infectious quality that gets you “fired up” just being around them. These type leaders are often described as having “charisma.” They inspire and motivate those around them with their compelling personality. While not everyone has a gregarious or extroverted personality, we all have the ability to find our areas of passion and excel. Jan Collins, executive director of the Madison County Business League (MCBL), is one of those positive and upbeat leaders you just like being around. Not content with resting on her earlier successes in life, she took the post in 2009 as a second career and in the midst of a very challenging economy. Under her leadership, the MCBL, a 501(c)(6) economic development support organization, has been a great success.

Collins grew up in Pascagoula and graduated with a degree in merchandising and marketing from the University of Southern Mississippi. After college, McRae’s Department Stores hired her and trained her in its executive management training program. During her 18 years with McRae’s, she progressed in a career path from assistant buyer, store area sales manager, senior assistant buyer and finally to buyer for better ladies updates sportswear. She noted that Frankie Carter, one of the first female divisional merchandise managers in the country, mentored her and “taught me self-confidence and the art of negotiation!”

For Collins, leadership is about showing respect for people and learning from others. She shared the quote that, “Everyone has something to offer.” Collins said, “I believe that each person deserves my utmost respect no matter what their position. I have worked with people who were only nice to those people that they thought could advance their own agenda.” We can probably all relate to working with those kinds of “ladder climber” people. They are typically “takers” versus “givers,” and you never want that type person leading your organization. Collins went on to note, “I also believe that we are only as successful as those we work with. It’s important to take time to train, compliment, and admit if co-workers have better ideas. Don’t be intimidated into thinking they will take your place if you share wise tips and techniques.”

Her role as executive director is perfect for Collins because she gets to spend considerable time interacting with people. She is a true “people person.” Collins emphasized, “I love working with people and the opportunity it affords me in helping them to connect with other people and resources. That’s where I get my greatest sense of pride- connecting people.” For future leaders, Collins has similar advice. She encourages people to find their passion and find God’s will for their lives. Collins also advises to “develop relationships with people in all professions. Be active in civic organizations, and sincerely care about your community. In other words, don’t be a slug!”

Collins also noted that she believes it is important to have a sense of humor and that you are never too old to change your career and make a difference in someone’s life. She certainly did this by leaving the field of retail to tackle a new career in leading a non-profit and carrying the banner of economic development. She has learned that businesses expect a “bang for their buck” from memberships so she has been very active hosting over 25 events over the last three years to fulfill the MCBL’s mission “to unite leading businesses with elected officials on all levels to discuss topics that affect economic development.”

The MCBL and Collins are trying to make a difference in their community and the state. She is particularly passionate about a program called Excel by 5 which focuses on raising community awareness for preparing young children for kindergarten. The MCBL has engaged the business community on the program by forming a coalition team, steering committee and a certification manager in co-lead agency partnership with the Madison County Economic Development Authority and the United Way of the Capital Area. Collins noted that she was first inspired to tackle this project after listening to the keynote speaker at a MCBL event Salute to Excellence in Education who shared that Mississippi children play catch up since we do not have mandatory early childhood programs. Passionate Mississippians like Jan Collins make me excited about our state and its possibilities as we leverage our greatest asset — our people!

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