Priest to Panties: How a curious kid finds a calling

This post is designed to explain how I went from wanting to be an anthropology loving priest to a retailer working for the world’s biggest bra business.

“MOM! DAD! I’m gonna be an anthropologist!”

My parents, Clay and Nancy, made sure their five children spent vacations learning about the world. On our big trip out west, the Grand Canyon, four corners, Rocky Mountains, rafting down the Snake river, the hot springs of Ouray, train and gold rush at Silverton, and a stop at Mesa Verda were all on the agenda.

I spent at least an hour with a park ranger at Mesa Verde learning about the Pueblo people who had carved out an existence into these Colorado cliffs. The ranger told me I could study Anthropology if I wanted to know more.

As I ran through the national park and cliff palaces I screamed that I had found my calling.


As I got older, I began to see a future as a Catholic priest. I was enamored with the role for a number of reasons: you get to sing in front of a crowd, guaranteed a job, help people solve problems, and all the altar wine you can drink (among other noble reasons)! As I tied this interest to my Anthropology passion, I began to see a future as a missionary. Bringing Catholicism to the people of the world from the vantage point of social science scholar seemed like an asset.

In my sophomore year in college, I learned more about the world’s people than any of my family vacations could have prepared me for. The religions and cultures were so rich and diverse. So many of them shared the same themes of community and “golden rule” reciprocity. Whenever missionaries were brought into focus, the example was not of loving people of God who bring health and happiness. Instead, missionaries of different religions or denominations often fought for commitments from people who were not equipped to understand the scope of motives involved. In fact, many missionaries compete in the same communities often destroying culturally significant practices and monuments in the process.

It became clear that the missionary and the anthropologist were meant to be mutually exclusive pursuits. I evaluated my intentions and determined that a life in the priesthood wasn’t a calling, but probably an exercise in self-reflection.


After finishing my Anthropology degree at the University of Cincinnati, my father told me that Anthro majors were needed in business. (Read more about that here). I kept this advice in mind as my first year after school included working in a high end restaurant, substitute teaching, retreats management, and retail. My anthro studies informed so many of my experiences across these jobs. When it came to finding a culture that fit my own, The Container Store stood out. (This year, they hit Fortune’s list of the 100 Best Companies to Work for at number 14. Seventeen years at the top of the list.)


I fell in love with retail. It is like being on stage every day. Each customer is a new audience for the products and service you are offering. The privilege of providing a terrific place to work cannot be overstated. This dynamic workplace is always in motion. Retail employs the third largest workforce in America (only Education/Heath Services, and Professional/Business Services employe more). I wanted to be a part of making retail known as  a Good Job. (Read more about ways we can do that in Zeynep Ton’s book.)


This passion led to various positions and a scholarship opportunity from the National Retail Federation and the University of Phoenix. After winning the Dream BIG scholarship* and earning my MBA, I wanted to have an even greater impact on the future of retail. When approached by L Brands to lead Victoria’s Secret PINK at their flagship store in Columbus, I weighed a number of considerations. The most convincing argument for leaving TCS after 13 years was a quote from a dear friend, “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about something I learned from Les Wexner.” I am extremely lucky to be a part of this worldwide brand.

My job takes advantage of my experience and education, but also gives me a lot to learn. For starters, there is an art to how to fold a panty.

While I did not see this career path as a 12 year old running through Mesa Verde, I am excited to be living it and proud to be a retailer.



*If you want to be considered for this years DREAM BIG Scholarship, you have until the end of March to apply!

One Reply to “Priest to Panties: How a curious kid finds a calling”

  1. Yampa & Green rivers. The Snake is in Utah. But that trip was really special. Each of you kids contributed to the total thrill Nancy and I felt about having made that trek. You failed to mention caves. Maybe you choose to forget that part.

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