From Corporate Executive to Author: Jax State's Susie Pinkard's Journey of Transformation and Empowerment

By Brett Buckner

Susie PinkardLike most of her friends, Susie Pinkard assumed she'd attend what was then Troy State University. Her parents had other plans, suggesting that Jax State help push her out a bit farther—six and a half hours farther, to be exact—so that she wasn't tempted to come home every weekend. "My mother and stepfather started thinking I needed a change of scenery," said Pinkard, a 1986 graduate of Jax State. "They knew I needed to be in a different place.

"My stepfather, Ray Dempsey, was a wonderful man, and he recognized that I needed to have more confidence in myself," said Pinkard. Before she left, her stepfather gave her a copy of Rudyard Kipling's timeless poem, "If," to guide her. "He wanted me to memorize it and live my life by those standards," she said.

Now, more than 40 years later, after graduating from Jax State and retiring from a 32-year career as an executive with State Farm Insurance and Financial Services, Kipling's poem and her stepfather's advice laid a foundation for Pinkard's next step—becoming an author. "Basically, I was restless," Pinkard said of her retirement in 2021. "And that's when my daughter said, 'Mom, you should write a book.' Funny you should mention that … Pinkard was already playing around with the idea.

"I realized that I've got enough experience," she said. "I'd reached that convergence point between the business and personal standpoints, and I felt I had something to share to make the world a better place. The result was the recently published Stainless Steel Butterfly: Building a Strong Foundation So You Can Fly.

I realized I could use the book as my platform to go out and share my stories.

Described as part memoir and part leadership philosophy, each chapter of Stainless Steel Butterfly represents a stanza in Kipling's famous poem and the life principles Pinkard built around it. "I just felt like I wasn't done, that I still had something that could affect and encourage people," she said. “I realized I could use the book as my platform to go out and share my stories." Stainless Steel Butterfly was published through Niche Pressworks, a Christian-based company, "even though I wasn't writing a book in the Christian genre, anybody who reads it will know where my faith lies," said Pinkard.

Stainless Steel ButterflyOne of the areas Pinkard writes about is her husband, Chuck, whom she met at Jax State. Chuck died eight years ago after battling brain cancer. "I tell a lot about his life," Pinkard said. "I also talk about my roles of mother, executive, caretaker … being the foundation for the family. Because once he was diagnosed, he really lost the capacity for any of that. So, there's a lot of stories about faith and hope.”

Though leadership is a focal point, Stainless Steel Butterfly is a book anyone can draw guidance from. “It's funny and sad at times, but I always try to be honest,” added Pinkard. 

"It's just like the poem," she said. "It's timeless. That poem was over a century old and is still relevant."

When her stepfather first asked her to memorize the poem, Pinkard realized it was written from a man's perspective, but that wasn't necessarily the point. "He said you'll be a stainless-steel butterfly," she recalled, "and that's the name of the book."

After graduating from Jax State, Pinkard remained active with the university, which named her 2023 Alumna of the Year. She serves on the JSU Foundation Board as a member of the Investment Advisory Committee and as a Board of Advisory member of the College of Business & Industry.

"Susie Pinkard is an incredible asset to Jax State and the College of Business and Industry," said Brent Cunningham, Dean of the College. "Her dedication and generosity in sharing her time, talents, and treasures demonstrate a deep commitment to giving back and supporting her alma mater."

Pinkard is a frequent guest lecturer in the Glenn Huie Eminent Scholar Lecture Series, to which she brings "invaluable insights and expertise to our CBI students. Her active involvement in these capacities benefits current students and enriches the academic and professional community within the CBI and Jax State," Dean Cunningham added.

Dean Cunningham calls Stainless Steel Butterfly "compelling …By documenting how the Kipling poem 'If' influenced her life and helped shape her moral foundation, Mrs. Pinkard offers a unique perspective on the intersection of literature, personal development, and career success," he said. "It's inspiring to see how individuals like her use their experiences to empower others and make meaningful contributions to education and beyond."

Stainless Steel Butterfly is available everywhere books are sold. Pinkard even performed a reading for Audible. "It was a challenge," she said, laughing, "because my brain works faster than my Southern tongue.