Michele Hooper: Opening up Opportunities

Michele Hooper
Courtesy: National Association of Corporate Directors

When Baxter Healthcare’s Michele Hooper was a child, she had a close friend who lived on her street. One day, she went to her friend’s house but was met at the door by her father. “He told me my friend was no longer allowed to play with Black children. That had a huge effect on me. It was horrible.” The shock of that blatant discrimination stuck with Michele and provided the impetus for her leadership. After that painful experience, she was driven to excel academically. “I planned to use my intellectual capacity as a stepping-stone to get ahead,” she says. Although she had no role models in the corporate world, she decided to become a corporate leader because she excelled at economics and business courses.

At Baxter Healthcare, Michele earned her first general management opportunity: to lead the turnaround of its Canadian operations. The work was so stressful that she broke out in hives and acne. Yet, she says, “I could not quit because I was the first Black female to run an organization like that and first in my family to move into these lofty executive ranks. I could not fail.” As she advanced in Baxter’s leadership, she found her purpose: to be a role model for people coming up and provide them opportunities. Michele believes many talented people never get opportunities they deserve because no one recognizes their potential.“It goes back to my days when I was rejected by my friend’s father,” she says.

You have to accept people for who they are. There are so many good people out there. All they need is an opportunity and a platform. People gave me that in my career and allowed me to take stretch assignments to grow in ways that I would have never dared.

Michele’s story reflects both the struggle that leaders go through in discerning their purpose and the fulfillment they feel when they find it and can share it with others.