Mara Thrailkill is a director of Credit and Collections at AT&T. Mara manages a mobility credit and collections call center. She establishes operational objectives and oversees the management of employees. Mara develops, modifies and executes company policies, which affect immediate operations— and sometimes the whole company. A native of Monrovia, Liberia, Mara attended Moody Bible Institute and Columbia College in Chicago. She’s been with AT&T for nearly 20 years.

Q:  Why did you choose to work at AT&T?

A:  I came to the U.S. from Monrovia during college. I was studying communications at Columbia with plans to pursue a career in broadcast journalism. I worked for a telecom company my last year of school. At that time, I began to lose interest in journalism.

When I graduated from college, the company I worked for announced they would close their Chicago base. Chicago had become my home away from home, so I started to research other telecomm companies located there. Specifically, I was looking for companies that promoted diversity, had women in leadership and offered growth opportunities. AT&T fit the bill. Upon hiring, I initially planned to stay for 5 years. Before I knew it, I was approaching 20 years and as happy as ever.

Q:  What are some of the defining cultural moments you’ve experienced during your lifetime?

A:  There have been many defining moments throughout my life, and, whenever possible, I like to use them as teaching opportunities. Growing up in Liberia, we were still very familiar with the U.S. When I first came over, I realized that although Chicago was very large and culturally diverse, many of my classmates did not have much knowledge about the rest of the world. I laughed when my classmates asked me to “speak African.” I would tell them that Africa is a continent more than 3 times larger than the U.S. So many languages existed there. “African” wasn’t one of them.

Q:  Which qualities are necessary to be an inspiring leader? 

A:  My team is a collections group.  While we are not selling products, we are selling the customer on the idea that they should pay their bill if they want to have service. In my experience, to be a successful leader you have to be energetic, innovative and good at selling ideas. Truly inspiring leader have these qualities themselves. But they also have the ability to ignite that enthusiasm and energy within others.

Q:  What is your hope for future generations?

A:  I have 2 sons who are growing up in a very different culture from me. I hope r my sons, and all future generations, will   see the world as a diverse place – and know it’s  more beautiful because of it.

Q:  What is your personal manifesto?

A:  My manifesto is to always ask, “What does yes look like?”

I have worked my way through many different departments within AT&T. I had the opportunity to work with Cathy Coughlin as AT&T rolled out the Rethink Possible tagline. I was able to hear Cathy explain the idea and it really stuck with me. When we redefine what is possible, it becomes do-able. The same logic applies to my manifesto. When we hear “no,” the next question we have to ask is, “what do I have to do to get to yes?” What does “yes” look like? These are words I live by. 

Mara Thrailkill, director of Credit and Collections