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Lessons Learned

ENTREPRENEUR BEA WRAY PENS BOOK ABOUT HER EXPERIENCES FROM THE BOARDROOM TO THE PLAYROOMTHE PLAYROOM

Bea Wray had a great education, earning degrees from Emory University in Atlanta and the Harvard Business School.

Great, but incomplete.

It wasn’t until she spent six years on Daufuskie Island — raising her three children — that she added essential life lessons to round out her people skills, ranging from effective listening to successful team management.

BEAWRAY4As it turned out, what she needed was island culture, casting a shrimp net, fishing, riding a bike and lots of precious, quality family time.

Wray, the daughter of parents with longstanding ties to Hilton Head Island, tells her story in a new book, appropriately titled “What an MBA Taught Me … But My Kids Made Me Learn.”

In just under 200 fast-moving pages that blend humor with wisdom, Wray shares life passages and takeaways that shaped her as a nationally recognized motivational speaker.

Bottom line, she says: Her kids were “the ultimate teachers.”

Her book draws from her heady business career and her experiences as a mom. Packed into the pages are personal stories, one-liners and knowledge gained from her days as a tech company chief executive and her globe-trotting life as a consultant, lecturer and entrepreneur.

“With all due respect to Harvard, motherhood was what really taught me how to negotiate, communicate in the business world, think on my feet and adapt to ever-changing circumstance,” Wray writes.

What she learned, she says, were lessons that connect the “playroom to the boardroom.”

Among those endorsing the book is Lynn Vojvodich, a member of the Ford Motor Co. board of directors.

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“As a working mother and HBS alum, I loved Bea’s insightful take on the value of parenting skills in the business world,” she said. “Lots of laugh-out-loud stories mixed in with proven, practical advice.”

The daughter of a nurse and an auto industry executive, Wray had a nomadic childhood as her father’s success took the family to factories across America, from California to New Jersey.

But the family’s “center” always was Hilton Head, Wray says, noting that her parents, Savannah natives Barb and Bill Strickland, enjoyed boat trips to the island when they first dated decades ago before a bridge to the island was built.

Growing up, Wray said, “Hilton Head was where we headed for holidays and vacations.”

Her parents, now retired, live in Savannah after owning a series of Hilton Head homes.

“I kid my parents that they buy homes more often than I buy milk,” Wray jokes.

Her well-traveled youth — she counts 13 different homes — led Wray to develop techniques for communicating, resourcefulness and making friends “because I was always the new kid.”

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It also helped prepare her for a business school degree focused on entrepreneurship and high tech, and a string of work world successes, including a stint as founder and chief executive of SourceHarbour Inc., a software escrow company serving Fortune 500 clients.

The company was sold in 2006 and Wray and her family headed for Daufuskie.

The remote, bridgeless island was a dramatic change from Wray’s earlier, impactful business life with Siemens in Munich and with tech companies and start-ups.

And “Daufuskie was truly heavenly,” Wray recalls. “It’s the best place to live when your kids are young.”

When the family arrived at lightly populated Daufuskie (some 400 residents), the children were among three of 17 in the island school.

The family attended the First Union African Baptist Church, learned to milk goats and savored sunny days at the beach.

Wray said they also learned to listen, communicate, negotiate and collaborate — all skills that serve parenting and business leadership.

Among other things, Wray said she benefited from her children’s authenticity and ability to keep things “real.”

Reality hit home when her marriage ended in divorce and the family faced severe financial challenges.

Now remarried and living in Mount Pleasant, Wray said life on Daufuskie provided a foundation to build a new life.

These days, her daughter is a student at prestigious Vassar College in New York, son Robert is a 6-foot-4-inch high school basketball player and her youngest son is a high school freshman.

Along the way, Wray spent three years as director of the Savannah-based The Creative Coast, a nonprofit that consults and advocates for digital, tech and knowledge-based businesses. Lowcountry living — including stops in Hilton Head Plantation, Shipyard, South Forest Beach and Daufuskie — affirmed Wray’s affection for the Lowcountry, she said.

“I have a love for it as a hub of intelligence and intellect, not just a vacation spot,” she said. “Hilton Head is absolutely one of the most interesting places to live and associate with some of the most intriguing people from all over the world.”

Moreover, she says, it’s a place where children and parents can learn. From each other.

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ABOUT THE BOOK FROM SIMON & SCHUSTER: 

Unleash your hidden leadership skills with this powerful, heartfelt guide.

Great business schools know that connection, more than curriculum, shapes great leaders. Every aspect of the experience intentionally maximizes relationship building. 

What an MBA Taught Me...But My Kids Made Me Learn is a sometimes hilarious, other times harrowing journey through Harvard Business School, twenty years of business experience, and the most important academy of all: parenting. 

Parenting? 

That’s right. When Bea Wray returned to entrepreneurial work after six years as a fulltime mom, she worried. What relevant skills could she bring to the corporate table? Yet her career took off as her interpersonal expertise soared. Perhaps family time can be a breakthrough, rather than a break from professional advancement. 

Psssst. “Soft” skills are actually pretty hard...but they can be mastered. As kids demonstrate, we learn best when having fun. In this book, dozens of essential executive leadership lessons are carefully wrapped in humorous and heartfelt stories to inspire and encourage you.