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Thursday, Jul 18, 2024

Achieve Like a Girl

There was a budding business mind behind the cherubic face selling cookies door-to-door.

It was 1968, and the face belonged to Cyd Brandvein, a 10-year-old Girl Scout.

She approached the assignment with determination, knocking on every single door in her New York City apartment building, armed with a pitch and a smile.

She sold 3,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies—enough to earn her a guest spot on the “Ed Sullivan Show,” where along with other record-breaking cookie sellers, she sang “God Bless America” accompanied by an orchestra led by the song’s composer, Irving Berlin.

“It was really one of the best experiences of my whole life,” Brandvein says, reflecting back on the friendliness with which Sullivan and his staff treated her and the other Girl Scouts. “The best part was we got to meet the Supremes!”

Diana Ross was especially kind, encouraging the Girl Scouts and helping ease their nerves backstage.

Brandvein now lives in Irvine and serves as a global corporate vice president at AECOM, a publicly traded architecture and engineering firm with more than 30,000 employees companywide, headquarters in downtown Los Angeles, and an office in Orange, where Brandvein spends much of her time (see related lists in Special Report: Architecture & Engineering, starting on page 15).

The road she’s taken since her days peddling cookies led to a degree from the University of California-Los Angeles, world travel, and a steady rise to a top executive role at AECOM.

A constant has been work with numerous volunteer organizations, including the Girl Scouts of Orange County, which she serves as a director.

Brandvein’s success in business and her star turn on network TV have company when it comes to her personal highlight reel. Right up there is the Girl Scout First Class Award she received as a teenager. The honor—now known as the Girl Scout Gold Award—is earned by a fraction of the organization’s membership. It’s a distinction that’s about on par with the Boy Scouts Eagle Scout award, which is about as rare but generally much better known.


The requirements were slightly different when Brandvein earned the top honor—she was required to master four unique challenges that represented the guiding principles of Girl Scouts: social dependability, emergency preparedness, active citizenship, and the all-important Girl Scout Promise, which at its core is a promise to be an honest and helpful individual, she says. The Gold Award now requires recipients to give a comprehensive demonstration of such skills through a single project.

One of Brandvein’s challenges was learning to sail and earning her mariner’s badge, an experience that instilled a lifelong love of sailing.

“I truly believe that the Girl Scouts program helped shape my innate abilities into strong skills that have helped make me the person I am today,” she says.

An example she points out came in response to Hurricane Sandy. One of Brandvein’s primary roles at AECOM is to ensure that the company is always prepared. She took action when news of the impending storm reached her.

AECOM had 7,500 employees and 75 job sites in the direct path of destruction, and she devised an emergency plan beforehand that helped keep AECOM’s employees safe, with alternative places to work, so that business could continue with as little interruption as possible.

Thousands of businesses and lives were destroyed when Hurricane Sandy descended on the Eastern Seaboard, but the impact on AECOM’s operations was minimal.

Confidence is Key

Molly Jolly, senior vice president of finance and administration for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, is also a Gold Award recipient who remains connected with the Girl Scouts as a director of the OC chapter. She says her experience with the Girl Scouts has been a boon to her professional life.

“For me, it’s all about courage, confidence and character,” she says, referring to the Girl Scout motto. “I always had the courage to try new things, thanks to what I learned in the Girl Scouts.”

The Girl Scout experiences also helped her hone mental focus, Jolly said, giving her the ability to see to the end goal. A two-week camping trip when she was 11—a trip paid for with money she’d earned selling Girl Scout cookies—involved a 36-mile hike along the Appalachian Trail, finishing with a climb to the crest of Stone Mountain in Georgia.

“I learned to pull my own weight,” Jolly says. “Even more, I learned that I could do whatever I set my mind to, even if it seemed tough at first.”

She approached her pursuit of the Gold Award in the same way when the time came for her to tackle her project, which she did in 1984.

Jolly wanted to expand the Girl Scout’s annual “World Thinking Day,” a day when members raised funds to help girls in need all over the world. The program had been around since 1926 yet had no corresponding local event in Naples, Fla., where Jolly lived. She envisioned launching a celebration that would bring people together to learn about different cultures while raising money, plus reinforce the bond Girl Scouts share, no matter what country they live in.

Jolly wrote countless letters to other Girl Scout troops all over the world, asking for their support. She visited other Girl Scout Troops throughout Florida to build interest in the event. As a 17-year-old, she coordinated with city officials for use of a public park to hold the event.

“Orchestrating such a large event seemed like a fun challenge,” she says. “I worked on it for months. In the end, 28 countries were represented in different ways. A Girl Scout from India even came and spoke to the crowd. It was really great.”

And so it has been throughout her life, she says, with big challenges setting benchmarks throughout. Her career started in a fairly conventional way, she says, with a degree in accounting and economics, which led to a position at Arthur Anderson.

She decided after a few years to move to Alaska, where she worked with Arco—and discovered a new passion: women’s hockey. She was a competitive player on the ice and a strong leader on the board of the National Women’s Hockey League.

“Sports brings people together,” she says.

The camaraderie of the sports world led her to make another big change in pursuit of a new career track. She moved to Los Angeles to earn her MBA from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management and landed a job with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2001.

“It was a complete change of direction in my career,” she says. “But I was confident that it would work out.”

Jolly also serves on the board of the Girl Scouts of Orange County.

“I am such a believer in the Girl Scout mission,” she says. “Girl Scouts encourages girls to have a broad perspective and to be strong and courageous and believe in themselves.”

Believe, Achieve

Jane Buchan, co-founder and chief executive of Irvine-based fund of hedge funds PAAMCO, echoes Jolly’s sentiments about the importance of believing in oneself. Buchan recalls looking around her classes as a doctorate student at Harvard University and realizing she was the only woman.

She tapped into her inner Girl Scout.

“The scouting program made me comfortable with my skills and comfortable with myself,” she says. “I learned how to work well with people who weren’t necessarily like me.”

Her affinity for finding common ground with others was a huge benefit when she decided to pursue a career in finance—at the time a male-dominated profession, she says.

Buchan, like Brandvein and Jolly, earned the highest award possible in Girl Scouts, the First Class Award, putting her skills to the test as a volunteer on a 5K run for a fundraiser organized on behalf of a nonprofit in Portland, Ore.

Buchan says she was motivated to earn the award because it gave her an opportunity to test herself. She joined Girl Scouts in second grade as a Brownie and was immediately inspired to push herself beyond what anyone thought she could do, she says.

That became a habit.

“When someone tells me something is difficult,” she says, “I become even more interested.”

She also found challenges on her own—she asked to be the troop Cookie Mom—as a fifth grader.

“It’s a role usually reserved for … well … moms,” Buchan recalls.

She knew the job was a lot of hard work—placing orders, distributing cookies to the other troop members, and managing all of the money. The adult troop leaders, seeing her determination, decided to let her do it.

“I remember going to the first official cookie meeting,” she says. “All around me were moms from other troops, waiting for instructions. They saw me and assumed I was just there with one of the moms. They didn’t realize I was our troop’s cookie chair.”

Her successes with Girl Scouts—managing cookie sales, being a Girl Guide in London as a 12-year-old, earning her First Class Award, and, as a young adult, leading a Girl Scout Troop for inner-city girls—reinforced her belief that she could conquer almost any obstacle, Buchan says.

That belief has stayed with her through her professional career, starting at J.P. Morgan Investment Management, where she was often the only woman in the room. She and three partners founded PAAMCO in 2000. In June, Buchan was honored at the Business Journal’s 21st Annual Women in Business Awards in recognition of her continuing efforts to change the way women are perceived in the investment management industry.

More Than Cookies

Brandvein, Jolly and Buchan all look back on having had the opportunity to earn the Girl Scouts’ highest honor as one of the main reasons they’ve become confident, successful, professional women.

Brandvein sums up all their thoughts when she says, “Girl Scouts is an experience I’ll always treasure.”

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