Author: JA Alum Intern, Esther Lawal
Published: Tuesday, 05 Oct 2021
Guest Blog Writer: JA Alum Intern, Esther Lawal
Esther Lawal is a graduate of Rutgers University (Class of ‘21), with a degree in Environmental Business Economics, and has an interest in pursuing a career in the finance sector. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, sightseeing, and teaching.
Esther, a self-starter, developed leadership skills, which she credits JA for providing her the opportunity to discover and strengthen through her involvement with the High School Heroes program. Leadership, a quality embodied by all the 2021 New Jersey Business Hall of Fame Laureates, is the driving force behind the High School Heroes program and a skillset that has helped shape Esther into the person that she is today. The program led to a sense of self-discovery, enabling her to rise to the occasion to be a leader in every facet of her life. As a guest blog writer, she provides insight into our upcoming virtual New Jersey Business Hall of Fame event on Thursday, December 9th.
The New Jersey Business Hall of Fame is the largest annual fundraiser for Junior Achievement of New Jersey (JANJ), bringing together a dynamic group of leaders to connect with our future business leaders – students. The event is hosted by and highlights JANJ Student Ambassadors, High School Heroes, and Alums to beautifully celebrate the accomplishments of this year’s Class of Laureates. The virtual event is designed to acknowledge the state’s ultimate leaders and the tremendous work they have accomplished over their celebrated careers. These visionaries utilize their intellect and innovation for the greater good of the state and inspiring tomorrow's bright futures.
JA is the nation’s largest organization dedicated to giving young people the knowledge and skills they need to make smart academic choices, own their economic success, and plan for their futures. As one of 105 JA operations around the country, JANJ’s core programs are steeped in work readiness, entrepreneurship, and financial literacy. Proceeds from the New Jersey Business Hall of Fame underwrite unsponsored JA High School Heroes Initiatives, where high school students receive training from JA that prepares them to teach JA’s financial empowerment and work readiness curricula to elementary school children within their local communities. JA High School Heroes is a leadership development initiative, empowering teenagers to be role models, communicate and collaborate – all critical skills to being a leader and a common thread between all our Laureates.
A Laureate induction into the New Jersey Business Hall of Fame is a lifetime achievement award for individuals who have made a significant, positive impact on New Jersey. Inductees have dedicated their professional lives to business excellence, innovative leadership, high ethical standards, and community involvement. Through these accomplishments, Laureates serve as impactful role models to the next generation of leaders, many of whom are currently JA students. Nominated and chosen by their peers, this year's Laureates are in the prime of their careers, making impacts not only on the state level, but the federal and global scales as well.
John E. Harmon Sr., IOM was born and raised in North Trenton, New Jersey, where pivotal experiences helped to shape his life’s purpose, which is to strengthen black businesses, along with the communities and families where they dwell.
Harmon emphasizes the importance of solidifying these Black communities so that parents can be empowered to care for their children and be the role models their children need to see. Harmon's latest embodiment of this purpose can be seen through his initiative and partnership with The Children’s Home Society of New Jersey, JANJ, and Fedcap to support The Village Program. The eight-week pilot provided families with tools needed to begin a positive and healthy relationship with money habits. The innovative program taught the importance of money management skills through practical teachings. Following the program's conclusion, both children and parents received a certificate of financial literacy completion. The Village Program helped address the financial disparities that black and brown families living in low-income communities face by preparing participants with proper training about job readiness and financial literacy.
As the head of the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, Harmon is responsible for promoting the economic diversity for African American business leaders to grow and sustain their goals and objectives (Meet the staff, www.AACCNJ.com). With a background in business management, Harmon is the primary advocate for nearly 1.2 million African American residents and over 80,000 black-owned businesses statewide to ensure that policy at the municipal, county, and federal level provides fairness, equity, and access to a level playing field in the marketplace (Meet the staff, www.AACCNJ.com). In 2020 and again in 2021, Harmon was acknowledged as the “Number 1 Person of Color” in New Jersey by Return on Information-New Jersey (ROI). Harmon has undoubtedly prevailed as a transformational leader in his community and when asked what advice he would give to his younger self, Harmon replied, “Whatever you do in life you got to be yourself. You may not have it all together but whatever you have, whatever part of you that’s represented, you got to represent your best self” (Career Conversations: CEO & President of African American Chamber of Commerce (AACCNJ) JANJ).
Like me, Montecalvo is a JA Alum! Montecalvo grew up in Carteret, NJ where she had the opportunity to attend JA meetings at FMC Corporation. This was an important opportunity for her because a few of her family members were employed by manufacturing facilities much like FMC Corporation. Through her participation in JA, Montecalvo had her very own glimpse into the world of manufacturing. Looking back at her childhood, Montecalvo credits her experience with JA for shaping her future career path, which turned out to be a very successful one.
As one could imagine, the success of Bayshore Recycling did not happen overnight. Before Bayshore Recycling became the premier destination for comprehensive recycling, quality control & sustainable solutions for businesses, municipalities, and counties, Montecalvo had to do a ton of convincing to get other parties on board with her vision. At the time, there was very little evidence to support the idea of recycled products used on roads, but Montecalvo took what she called a ‘giant leap of faith’ to meet the needs of her team and ensure her vision be fulfilled.
Today her business has stood the wind of natural disasters, fires, and the global spread of COVID-19. Montecalvo is a resounding leader and role model for young women entering the world of a male-dominated industry. When asked in a Fireside Chat interview ‘What advice would you give your younger self?’ Montecalvo replied, “Don’t have anxiety about the future; sometimes there are things that you can’t control, life hits you with all types of curveballs and you just have to learn to adapt” (Fireside Chat with Valerie Montecalvo, JANJ).
As the head of Quest Diagnostics, Rusckowski carries the company's vision of “Empowering better health with diagnostic insights” and the world’s largest clinical laboratory under his direction, Rusckowski knew he had an important role to play in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the height of the pandemic, Rusckowski was called on to work with the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Rusckowski recalled one of the calls he had with former Vice President Mike Pence “to come together as a laboratory industry, understand what we need to do to get as many resources put together as quickly as possible, and bring up the testing that this country needs. It was a great example of how important of a role that we play at the national level and I would argue at the global level” (A Day in the Life at Quest Diagnostics, JA).
Under Rusckowski’s leadership, Quest has performed more than 50 million COVID-19 molecular and serology tests, created and secured Emergency Use Authorization from the US Food & Drug Administration for a PCR test to detect COVID, and announced a commitment of more than $100 million in resources to address health disparities in underserved communities through partnerships. At the test of faith, Rusckowski embodied the ultimate characteristics of a leader by demonstrating visibility, courageousness, and accountability to a global issue in which millions of people were banking on the best possible outcome.
Apart from honoring his commitment to Quest, Rusckowski undoubtedly leads as a role model for the youth locally, and globally. The JANJ and Quest Diagnostics connection began years ago when Steve was in a meeting with CEOs and other C-Suite individuals from the Madison, New Jersey area discussing the importance of teaching young people about business and education. In this meeting, he inquired to the group about JA, and coincidently, a JANJ Board Member was present. That’s how the partnership between JANJ and Quest Diagnostics all started. The right place at the right time. The relationship between the two entities blossomed because Steve remembered a 100-year-old organization inspiring students to achieve their wildest dreams - JA.