Ep. 104: A First Lady’s Leadership Journey

with Suzanne Youngkin
Episode hosted by: Nancy Howell Agee

March 15, 2023


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Suzanne Youngkin
First Lady of Virginia

Suzanne S. Youngkin is the First Lady of Virginia and wife of Governor Glenn Youngkin. In addition to supporting her husband’s campaign, her initiative Strengthen the Spirit of Virginia’s Women+girls (W+g) focuses her time and travels on supporting public and private sector efforts to improve overall well-being, with special attention to the unprecedented increase in drug overdose, as well as accelerating workforce preparedness. Mrs. Youngkin continues to serve as President of the Phos Foundation and engage in an array of nonprofit activities while managing the affairs of a small equine farm in Northern Virginia. Married for almost 29 years, the couple has four children and are founding and active members of Holy Trinity Church (HTC) in McLean, Virginia.


I would just encourage women to find their funny, funky little touchstone and try to infuse that into their daily lives.



Nancy Howell Agee: Suzanne Youngkin is the first lady of Virginia, the wife of our governor. And so it’s a really wonderful and unique opportunity to talk to you today, Suzanne, and learn a little bit about your story and what all the things that you’re doing to empower women in particular. So let’s just get right to. I think I’d like to start by asking a bit about your background. How did you get from, I don’t know, being a little girl, maybe growing up in Virginia to to being the First Lady of Virginia. Can you share a little of that with us?

Suzanne Youngkin: Five, two, and let me begin by saying thank you, Nancy. Any for creating opportunities for women to connect, even if it’s through a screen. And be for being the phenomenal leader that you are. Just so many performing your life into service and healthcare and leadership, and you serve as one of my role models. So I thank you so much. A little bit about myself. I actually were left in Texas. My parents are both from Texas and even though I was born in Arkansas when my father was doing his re residency there, after medical school, we came back to Texas eventually, and that’s where I wanted to elementary school, middle school, high school, and in college. I graduated from Southern Methodist University in Dallas and took a job in Houston, Texas shortly thereafter. , and it just so happened that Glenn, my husband, had gone to Houston on a basketball scholarship. He went to Rice University. He thought at some point he wanted to be an astronaut a little. Did he know that NASA did not accept six, six astronauts because they would not fit in any of the capsule. Or the space is necessary. But he majored in mechanical for engineering, went to work for a financial firm in Houston, and when we were in our mid twenties, a friend introduced us and we recorded for a very short period in Texas, got engaged when Glen was in business school in Boston. I moved to Boston for his second year of business school, which was a fascinating experience for this small town Texas girl. We were there for a year, got married in 1994, and we’re trying to decide whether to be in Texas where my family was. Or in Virginia where Clint’s family was. And I had worked in Washington, DC as an intern in college and thought that it was a pretty dynamic place. And so we settled in Arlington, Virginia as newly Wes thinking we’d be in the greater D M V as they call it for a few years, getting good work, experie. and we have been in Virginia for 28 and a half years now as a married.

Nancy Howell Agee: Wow. Are we lucky that we got you in Virginia? Moved you back to the south, but not as far south as Texas. That is a great story, and I had not heard that about Glen being wanting to be an astronaut. , great story. Not many of us actually have the experience of our husbands or our wives coming to us and saying, you know what? I think I’m gonna run for governor. Tell us about what it was like to be on the ca campaign trail and and what maybe what the early days of being the first lady are.

Suzanne Youngkin: I’d love to share it with you, Nancy. One of the. Of council that I got varied early on was to keep a journal and I did not listen to that council. And so most of it is journaled right here. And since this is not quite as sharp as it used to be I did call on the memories over the last two years. Frequently though, in awe because if anyone had ever told me that I would be sitting in the executive mansion in Richmond, Virginia, which is where I am today. Our nation’s oldest purpose-built governor’s mansion built in 1913 and serving the over 8 million Virginians that live here in the Commonwealth is their first lady. I would’ve never have believed it. I’ve said to people quite frequently about this journey. We make our plans and God laughs at them, and that is really how I ended up. I’m married, a young man who I fell in love with because he was passionate and handsome and fun and intelligent and caring and all of those things that we look for in his spouse. But he was decidedly a business oriented person. We build our marriage around his endeavors. Mrs. School. and then him launching into the private sector in consulting and then in private equity. His work sent us around the globe. We lived in London for six years. Two of our four children were actually born in London. I stepped out of the workplace when we had two young children and we were transitioning to London. because I felt that being in a foreign country and with the demands on his job was critically important for me to be the CEO of Youngkin, Inc. And so I say all this as an backdrop because that was really systems that we put in place in our marital dynamic, in our family dynamic. And certainly in the infrastructure that was around us as a couple. And so when Glenn stepped into his role as CEO of car group in the context of Covid and found himself on the other side of screens on. Managing this global entity. He knew that the covid trajectory was gonna take Carly in a long and very different direction. He felt as if he had poured his wives work and his soul into Carmel. He had a wonderful. Co c e o partner and Carlisle was in a health position and he did, he dis I thank God, put on his heart a hunger to two lore in the space of philanthropy and service. And he re heard me tell the story, Nancy, that he came to me on a Friday and said, I’m going to retire early this weekend. And I believe that I’ve been called in public service. and I said, what? Wait a minute time out. I think you’re having a big life crisis. This cannot be happening. And despite my surprise, he did exactly what he said was gonna do. And we a lot of prayer and a lot of pot. And that time and when he announced in 2021, it was it was really an earthquake for. For our family and as a couple, and yet I am really seeing the fruits of what I thought was a sort of bear and tree come to bear at this time.

Nancy Howell Agee: So there must have been trade offs. I know a tiny little bit of what you went through during the campaign because my husband was also in politics at one time. before there was internet or cell phones, so it was a different time, but I can remember having a child, him being away campaigning, being asked to do different things, and that balance, juggling all that wasn’t easy. And so how did you, in, how do you manage so many different priorities, which I think also translates to busy women in general. And at the end of the day, we’re the ones that are going to the grocery store and fixing dinner. How do you manage all those jug, all those many priorities?

Suzanne Youngkin: Sometimes I don’t manage it well, , and I think any woman out there can identify with that feeling of a little waywardness of not quite knowing. How you can meet the needs of all the various entities that meet you at given at a given moment. I think the most challenging thing for me right now, and then I’m gonna answer a question about the campaign is that Glenn’s career has always been fast and furious. He did this, the amount of energy that he’s pouring into his service. As the 74th governor really is very parallel to what he did at the Carlisle Group and in other areas of his life. He was gone quite a bit. He traveled quite a bit. There were phone calls late at night, early in the morning. So the pace at which he’s moving and the amount of time that we actually get together as a couple has not been radically transformed. But what has changed Nancy is that whereas for the last 18 some odd. We’ve been able to divide in conquering. Like I said, I’ve been the COO O of Yank and Inc. Dealing with, I giggle all the time. I’m like, yes, I was the logistics coordinator. I was the nutritionist. I was the accountant. You get the

Nancy Howell Agee: I get it right.

Suzanne Youngkin: Did not role. I did not have a specific job task associated with his work. So other than supporting him and occasionally traveling with him and or being present when he needed a sounding board or when there was a investor conference or something, there were really, no, I saw the in his work lab. and now I find myself with really a full-time job, a glorious position. That is a tremendous blessing, but one that there’s really no preparation for, no training for, no handbook, for a limited number, but role models or. And so it has been a challenge for me to try to decipher precisely what it is that I need to be doing to really be a gift. Both it’s to my husband and to all of the people that he’s serving. And so I’m finding my way very slowly. One bit of encouragement that I would give to women that find themselves in similar situations, whether that’s because they’ve had to step back into the workplace out of necessity, whether they’re. Preparing to go to work as a young woman, whether they’re finding themselves in a brand new leadership role in an organization that they’ve been went into for a long time, is to find your touchstone. So for me, my touchstone is communing with my animals. And I know that sounds silly and simple, but it really is. I’m a lover of nature. I’m a lover of animals. We have three dogs, multitude of forces. I have four canaries. We had a rescue rabbit up until last year. Our house is store out of a menagerie of animals and bars and birds tweeting all the time is for me. I’d find that to be settl. By calling that to be Atu spell. And so when I leave in the morning overnight, come home in the evening and the dobbies in my lap, or when I’m able to retreat and go on a trail ride lot horse, or I’m able to feed my birds, that actually fills me up. That renews me. And so I’m gonna just encourage women to find their funny, funky little touchstone and try to use that into their daily.

Nancy Howell Agee: And you just mentioned diversity, and I know both you and the governor have been very interested in inclusion, diversity, opportunity, and you’ve brought to the mansion for various functions people of all walks of life. . But I wanna sort of circle back to something that you have started that is I think an incredible gift and that is the Spirit of Sisterhood Award or the spirit of sisterhood. So can you talk a bit about what you’ve started there and what in terms of how that’s going to affect women and women leaders in in.

Suzanne Youngkin: Thank you, Nancy for mentioning that when Glit announced this candidacy I was what is the right word? I’m entered into all of this with a lot of trepidation. I had very narcissistic fear about our family, about our privacy about what people would think of us because of political views and or advocacy in certain areas. And I have to admit, I didn’t fully appreciate a ton involved goodness of people. And so I give that. League backdrop to really focus on today what I know to be the truth, which is the vast majority of humans, both in the Commonwealth and in our world affiliated with goodness. They are filled with a real distinct hunger to. God hardwired people, physiologically and emotionally to be in community with one another. And so as I traveled around, the Commonwealth listened to what women in particular or wanting, it came very clear. Women will want a place, a happy place to come together and to problem solve and to join forces to really make change or good. And we were all finding ourselves, women in particular were finding themselves in their homes, homeschooling children, worried about elder. Taking care of the health and wellness of their communities, of their neighborhoods, and 3.5 million American women dropped out of the workforce during the Covid pandemic. because they felt a responsibility at Halloween in their communities. And so really as we talk about sisterhood, it almost is a dual track on one level, it’s this coming back together as we learn how to be healthy together and be in the same rooms at same places with one. So it’s this sense of belonging and this sense of fellowship that we’re all now able to engage in out of the pandemic, and recognizing how quickly important that is to so many for emotional wellbeing. And then secondarily, there’s a cyro with component in our hok. So what has happened, I believe, in public square, is that we have figured out ways. To really make certain issues. Very divisive. Divisive to the point where we’ve lost recognition that at the core we all had basic sets and values. We were all made in the image of God. Women can disagree. Day in, day out about the way that certain things should be addressed in North Politic, but never can be disagreed that as sisters in the crying, sisters in motherhood, sisters in daughter hood, sisters and sisterhood, that we have an obligation to support one another despite our differences. And so I really feel like this is a involvement in time, Nancy. Where we can have those really healthy conversations about communion and about conversation. And so I’m just trying to foster those wherever I go. And I found a lot of receptivity and a lot of encouragement what we’re trying to do.

Nancy Howell Agee: I so appreciate that you’re using your voice and your platform. To lift up women. It’s just been a wonderful thing to watch. Incredibly important. What I find sometimes is that women, especially younger women Can’t find their voice or perhaps reluctant to speak up or to put themselves forward, and I don’t know if you’ve had that experience. I think I certainly have at one time or the other. Do you have suggestions for young women about how they can find their voice, what they should be doing to speak up, to be engaged?

Suzanne Youngkin: Yeah, I’m, I am a distinct. If I’m honest, that we have set expectations for ourselves just a little too high and that may be counterintuitive. I know that young women today were told. That the sky’s of limit, they can break the glass ceiling. That they should be powered to do more and to be extremely vocal. And I agree with all those things. I think power of the female collective is very fierce and very vibrant, just like it is always been. But I do think that we need to. Varied realistic expectations for ourselves and that we need to Lord ourselves more for the baby steps that we take to make differences in this world. There’s a book that I love, it’s called Church of the Small Things. Nancys written by a woman in Texas. From San Antonio. My name’s Melanie Chenal. I am not in a season of life where I can read lots of books. I don’t readily admit that, but this is a very easy read. I read this a couple years ago and it just is us that our lives work and our life’s impact is largely made. Of the generative force of the little things. And so I think too often we are focused on these lofty goals, whether that is a promotion in the workplace, whether that is a accomplishment of our child. Whether that is a title that our spouse or someone we know intimately in our family gets, whether that is the adoration of someone because of our external beauty et cetera. And we fail to recognize that the little things that we do each day that bring another human being joy or that help an. Ornette moved the needle in our workplace in terms of making one of our colleagues feel better about his or herself, or the food that we taped someone at the holiday time or cleaning up someone in our household’s, dirty dishes who just can’t ASCE to do that. Serving them in that way starts to build a narrative. In our life of giving a narrative in our line of excellence, a narrative in our life of trying to move toward being the best woman we can be, and therefore we’ve gotta celebrate those little things.

Nancy Howell Agee: I love that we’ve had a conversation that’s gone all over the board that you’ve shared. I think great stories. Many that are practical for women and women who are versioning leaders as well as us old timers. And I, Hugh said it, I think, funky fun, a lot of enthusiasm, excitement, but you’re real. And I think that you’re sharing with us that whatever life throws your way, find your voice. And your last comment, my last comment to you might be, what’s your, What’s the, if you’re gonna write your story, you’re looking back, what would the title of your story be?

Suzanne Youngkin: I think the title of my scoring might be stuck in lie. Special surprises for Suzanne. Maybe we’ll keep with the Ss. Special surprises for Suzanne. My life really has been a wonderful, magical journey of special surprises and that encompasses everything from the opportunity as a little girl to get to go to a summer camp, thanks to my grandparents paying for it. Where I was exposed to courses for the first time and really found one of my passion projects to meeting Ed Mary Glenn, who was so different from many of the people that I knew growing up in small town Texas to living overseas. It’s something I never dreamed I would get to do. And being exposed to different cultures in different ways of life to resigning in our nation’s, probably one of our nation’s most important commonwealths to now finding myself in a position of leadership that I fell into. And of course last but not. Being a mother and a wife and a member of a vibrant, active, ever-evolving, amazing family.

Nancy Howell Agee: Thank you so much First. Suzanne Youngkin. What an incredible story. I’ve loved this afternoon with you and special surprises, and you are indeed a special surprise for all of Virginia. Thank you so much for your time today. Can’t wait to see you in soon,

Suzanne Youngkin: Yes, please come back and visit us in Richmond. We’d love to see you.

Nancy Howell Agee: Thank.

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