Profile with Bonnie St John

Bonnie St John (California & Trinity 1986) is a leadership consultant, keynote speaker, Olympic medallist, and author. How Great Women Lead, which she co-wrote with her daughter, Darcy Deane, was released in 2012. Ms. St John holds an MLit in Economics from the University of Oxford, and a BA in International Political Economy from Harvard University.

Rhodes Project: Where do you call home?

Bonnie St. John: Windham, New York.

Rhodes Project: What was the last book you couldn’t put down?

Bonnie St. John: If Sons, then Heirs by Lorene Cary. I am in a book club and I hadn’t read it before I was going to go to the meeting. I was going to skim it, but ended up staying up all night to finish it.

Rhodes Project: What was the first job you ever held?

Bonnie St. John: I was always creating jobs for myself from the time I was very young. At twelve, I learned how to make dream-catchers in Arizona. When we went back to San Diego, I joined an artist’s co-operative and was selling them. They’re very popular in Arizona; they are on the walls of banks and everything like that. I learned the really fancy technique where you paint the wood and you put feathers on them. I learned that when I was twelve.  I was always creating jobs and businesses for myself since I was too young to get a job. I was always working; I worked in a donut shop, in a department store, when I was ski racing I was waitressing and worked in gift shops in ski areas. My family never had enough money, so I always worked.

Rhodes Project: Can you tell me what the process was for the book How Women Lead that you co-wrote with your daughter?

Bonnie St. John: I came to her and suggested that we write a book on women’s leadership. She first looked at me and said, “Leadership? That sounds really boring.” She had initially thought that leadership is like a to-do list, like running a club at school or meetings. It just sounded really dull to her. I told her we’d travel, meet women CEOs and business leaders like Hillary Clinton—it will be so exciting! She thought that the travel sounded good. She reluctantly agreed to sign on while thinking that there needed to be a more diverse set of women in the book. I knew she was right, so we ended up with a wonderfully eclectic group.

The book is about our journey of going to meet these women. There are twenty women in the book and we cover five continents. There’s an orchestra conductor, a fighter pilot, heads of non-profits, a teenager in high school, and a stay-at-home mom as well as Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, the President of Liberia, Sheryl Sandberg, the Chairman of Deloitte. We looked at women leading everywhere and in all levels. In the process, Darcy realized that there are a lot of stereotypes of what leadership is like: it was male, command and control, and boring. She realized that women lead in very different ways and brought themselves into leadership. That was their strength.

Rhodes Project: What is something that you enjoy about the work you are doing right now?

Bonnie St. John: What gets me out of bed in the morning is the excitement about doing new research and working with amazing people who are changing the world. After the marathon bombing in Boston, I went to visit the amputees and others that were affected in the hospital. One of them in particular needed extra support. We created a website for her. We gave her a lot of support to get her confidence back, and to connect her with what had happened.

Rhodes Project: Who are some of your role models?

Bonnie St. John: You just have to look at some of the books I’ve written. Those twenty-seven women in How Strong Women Pray are definitely my role models on how to be more spiritually connected on a day-to-day basis in the midst of a lot of challenge. In How Great Women Lead, those women are my role models for how to be a better leader in fighting the world’s fight.

Rhodes Project: What would readers on our site be surprised to learn about you?

Bonnie St. John: I recently became an associate at an Episcopal monastery in the Catskills. Spending time with the monks in prayer and community and conversation regenerates me.

Rhodes Project: What do you do to relax?

Bonnie St. John: The best thing is sitting on my deck in the Catskills overlooking an endless valley of trees, watching the clouds move, the lights change, the sunset fall.

Rhodes Project: What inspires you and why?

Bonnie St. John: Reading Rumi’s poetry with my daughter in Istanbul and watching whirling dervishes because it helps me to remember that the next generation is still asking the important questions.

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