“At the time, I had no idea what Junior Achievement was setting me up for,” Shelley McNair recalls. Today she’s the Director of Sales Support and Account Management at Principal Financial Group — but Shelley still remembers the vital lessons she learned in her JA program years ago as a student. “Because of my involvement in Junior Achievement, I learned there was nothing I couldn’t do,” Shelley remembers. “That’s what Junior Achievement lends to Kansas City today.”
When a classmate asked her to join the JA program that was then twice a week in the evenings, Shelley was excited to participate. Just one problem: she wasn’t quite old enough yet. “But my father worked for John Deere, and he was actively involved as a JA mentor. So he was able to get me involved so I could go and observe my first year!” she smiles.
Once she was eligible to become an active member in high school, Shelley jumped right in. “We had a team of students, plus a sponsor from the manufacturing side of John Deere,” Shelley explains. “Each semester we would choose what our business was going to be and pick a product to sell.”
Each team member had an opportunity to play the CEO role and was tasked with making critical decisions — including getting a loan for startup costs, creating a business plan, navigating the manufacturing process and acquiring supplies. With a product in hand, the team was in charge of implementing their marketing plan to sell all the products.
“We had to figure out how much money we needed to make because we needed to pay our loans back and try to be the most profitable team. The winning team would win a pizza party at the end of the semester, of course,” Shelley smiles.
Shelley’s experience at Junior Achievement was a lesson in the importance of smart decision making. “Everyone was responsible for making decisions,” Shelley says. “You only had so much money to start with and you had to make decisions along the way to pick a price range and sell everything you could.”
While Shelley was having a great time with her friends in JA, she was also building confidence that would serve her for the rest of her life. “It’s not easy to make decisions and take risks,” Shelley says. “Junior Achievement taught me to use logic, understand risk and think through the consequences. That’s a lesson that translates into my business and personal life.”
One of the greatest lessons Shelley took from her JA program was the importance of different perspectives. “I learned that there are so many different departments involved in a product,” Shelley says. “It helped me see that no matter where I worked, I would interact with different players and different perspectives I would need to consider.”
After high school, Shelley earned her degree in Marketing Management from the University of Northern Iowa. She progressed through her career in sales, training and human resources. Today, at Principal Financial Group, Shelley helps develop individuals and sales teams across St. Louis, Kansas City and Denver.
When she came to Principal Financial Group, Shelley was excited to find colleagues who were a part of JA. “Right away, I said, ‘Oh my gosh, I was in Junior Achievement! What is Junior Achievement doing these days?’” From her own experience with Junior Achievement, Shelley remembered how beneficial it was to gain knowledge in business and finance and dove right back into the organization as a volunteer.
As a member of Principal Financial Group, Shelley knows how important it is to the company and her team to build the future workforce. “We are very focused on being future ready,” Shelley says. “We know that the generation in high school today is our company’s future. That’s why it is important for us to understand how they think and what their future looks like.”
Shelley sees Junior Achievement bringing hope, confidence and important life skills to Kansas City students. In JA programs, Shelley sees students gain the knowledge and confidence that they can do anything with the support of a volunteer mentor who believes in them.
“Get involved for your personal joy,” Shelley encourages. “It sounds selfish, but everyone needs passion and joy in their life. At Junior Achievement, you can really truly make an impact.” Through Junior Achievement, Shelley strives to share lessons that improve a young person’s life and give them those lessons for whatever they decide to do. “It’s really positive to leave a footprint volunteering and being able to give back of yourself,” Shelley adds. “I’m looking forward to learning as much from the kids of Junior Achievement and am hoping I can offer them something as well.”
When you give back to JA, you empower the next generation with confidence and essential life skills.