Ever wonder if one’s course in life is pre-determined or serendipitous? Judith Stowe’s career path seems to have been a bit of both. Growing up in the solidly Midwestern city of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, Stowe distinctly remembers when her high school English teacher squelched her dreams of becoming a veterinarian. “I can still see her standing in the front of that room saying, ‘I wanted to go to vet school, but they wouldn’t let in women.’ Well, I just said, ‘Oh can’t do that then,’ stupidly not challenging the system. Now I just play at being a vet. I give all of my dogs, cats, and horses their shots,” chuckles Stowe.
Well that’s a lot of shots, because Stowe nurtures two dogs, 20 cats (all spayed and neutered rescues), and four horses on her 45-acre ranch in Tioga, Texas. Stowe, who once owned and trained up to 17 racehorses at one time, now describes her remaining resident steeds as “retired members of her geriatric animal community.”
So how does a Midwestern girl find herself building a log cabin out West and caring for a menagerie? The journey began in her first year at Illinois Wesleyan University. “I was fresh out of high school and unbeknownst to anyone at the time, Illinois Wesleyan was a secret harbor of behavior analysts,” says Stowe. “More behavior analytic publications came out of IWU in the mid-sixties than anywhere else. I coincidentally happened to room next door to a girl who was majoring in behavior analysis. She dragged me over to the labs and I was running rats before the end of the first semester. It was an outstanding undergraduate program, and I really loved animals, so running rats was great!”
Stowe finished her undergraduate degree at Western Michigan University and after investigating several academic programs chose to complete her clinical master’s and doctorate in behavior analysis at the University of North Texas. “I say that I moved to Texas before it was fashionable,” she jokes. “Even though I grew up in Wisconsin, I’ve now lived here longer, so almost everybody in Texas accepts me as a native.”
Yet, prior to making the Lone Star State her permanent home, Stowe served some time in prison—doing a one-year internship as a behavior analyst for Wisconsin’s state prison system that is. There she worked in both minimum and maximum security prisons, juvenile detention, and with probation and parole. “It was a great experience,” she says. One of her successes involved a prisoner suffering from alopecia areata—a condition which causes round patches of hair loss. Stowe helped the man by teaching him systematic stress desensitization exercises. The symptoms stopped. He was paroled, went on to live a productive life, and reported only one brief recurrence of the malady. Stowe published an article about this intervention and after completing her doctorate joined the staff at the University of North Texas, Center for Behavioral Studies. Work at the Center focused on research and behavioral treatments for autism and developmental disabilities.
Several years later, however, the university’s budget was chopped, leaving one position for five faculty members. “Because we worked so well together, we chose among ourselves who would stay, and essentially I said, ‘Okay, I’ll wing it on my own,’” Stowe relates. She and several of her former faculty colleagues formed Performance Consultants, a behaviorally oriented clinical practice. Stowe quickly realized this wasn’t her life’s calling but ironically, her stint working in the prison system soon opened a door to her future career in organizational behavior management (OBM).
“I received a call out of the blue from a marketing director at Westinghouse. He had a daughter with alopecia, was an avid reader, and had found my article. I sent him some information and at the bottom of the letter, added, ‘By the way, I do business consulting,’” says Stowe, who at the time had no business consulting experience. To her total surprise he called and wanted her to help him address some morale problems in his department. Immediately feeling guilty, she confessed to her little white lie. “I told him, ‘I’ll spend a day or two there and if you like my work you can pay me; if you don’t, it’s free,’” Stowe recalls. “After the first day, he said, ‘Bill me!’ and that began my OBM career.” Stowe designed a behavior-based reinforcement system for that Round Rock, Texas-based sales group. The team used the system to encourage their field sales reps to earn “A Piece of the Rock” and within three months the division rose from a ranking of tenth out of ten divisions to number one.
This reference led to other jobs and eventually Stowe joined forces with Terry McSween (today, president of Quality Safety Edge (QSE). In the mid-eighties she was doing OBM with a Corpus Christi client and hired Behavior Consultant Services, a firm owned by Wanda Myers, to do some leadership skills-training for their managers. “Terry was the lead consultant on the project and after work, Terry and I enjoyed a few margaritas on the beach discussing our working situations. The two of us decided to hatch a new consulting company and that’s where we started. I had a decent client base to help support us and Terry was building business too, so in a way it was parallel play in the same sandbox. Wanda then joined us, so by the early nineties the three of us had become Quality Safety Edge (QSE) and I just dropped Performance Consultants,” she explains.
Today, as a senior project manager for QSE, Stowe enjoys the variety that a consulting career provides. She has done a great deal of her work in petrochemical and related fields, but has also worked in steel, paper, and a variety of other manufacturing settings. When pressed to name her favorite field of enterprise she says, “I guess oil and gas. I like and enjoy them. They’re hardy, good-hearted people.”
Well, birds of a feather . . .