This article originally appeared in the Scottsdale Progress.
According to the Center for Creative Leadership, “Adaptability is a requirement. Because change is constant and inevitable, leaders must be flexible to succeed.”
Similarly, a Forbes magazine article about business leadership preached “Change is inevitable, and the ability to adapt is crucial.”
Change and adaptability: Carrie Masters knows all about it.
At 14, The Scottsdale woman awoke to read a note from her mother:
“I can’t take care of you anymore. Call 911.”
Even before being abandoned by her mother, Carrie’s life had been one horror after another. Her parents – both addicts – dragged her from one flophouse to the next, running from evictions and chasing drugs.
Their highs were their oldest daughter’s lows, as she was abused, emotionally, physically, sexually by her parents and their low-life crowd.
After her father was arrested and sent to prison, Carrie quit school – and she loved school, which was an escape from the brutalities of home life – to take care of her two younger siblings, as their mother would disappear for days, weeks.
And then, the finality of her mother’s note.
Making a life-setting decision, Masters disobeyed her mother’s final order.
“Even at that age, I knew if I called 911 they would split me up from my siblings,” she said. “So I walked to a phone – this is when we still had pay phones – and called my grandparents.”
Her strict grandparents put a roof over her head, clothes on her back and food on the table. She returned to school and flourished.
“I think that I just had a fire in me from my earliest memories,” she recalled, when asked what kept her going through her tumultuous early years.
“I endured sexual abuse and physical abuse and emotional abuse and you know, a myriad of things that typically come with a child that lives in that type of life. But I never allowed it to hold me back. I kind of used it as my superpower or my fuel.”
Jump cut to 30 years after her mother’s brutal note: Carrie Masters, a press release reads, “is the newly-appointed, first-ever female CEO of St. Joseph the Worker, a Phoenix nonprofit with a mission to assist homeless, low-income and other disadvantaged individuals in their efforts to become self-sufficient through quality employment.”
The organization, which has an office in Mesa and serves people around the Valley, now has a leader who has “lived the life.” Nothing the most challenged of St. Joseph the Worker’s clients can tell Masters would shock her.
Turning the tables, for those who feel they can’t catch a break and need inspiration, Masters can share her story.
How about going from being a receptionist … to chief operating officer?
Even as she describes a tortured past that once shamed her, Masters has a zen-like calmness to her.
The first floor of her home is almost blindingly bright, with 25-foot ceilings, modern art (such as an oversized, sculpted hand on the coffee table) and a color scheme ranging from eggshell white to the lightest brown imaginable.
Save for petting her dogs, her movement is minimal as she sits for an interview, not quite disassociating herself from her past, but analyzing it like a film or novel.
Ballerina thin, she said she focuses on her physical and mental health every day, using a six-month break from her corporate world to explore her past, present and future.
She spent nearly 20 years at LGE Design Build, a Phoenix architecture and construction firm with an impressive portfolio of industrial, office, retail and mixed-use developments. As a single mom desperate for a job, she started at LGE 20 years ago as a receptionist.
Impressing owner David R. Sellers, she climbed the corporate ladder all the way up to chief operating officer.
Dressed casual-chic in jeans, a flannel shirt and Converse sneakers, wearing her long, highlighted brown hair down, Masters seems younger than 42. Her bright blue eyes sparkle, even as she talks about her dark days.
It all seems like a blur, now, as she hugs her adoring, rescue dogs – Cocoa and Pops – in a luxurious, gated-community home.
That city – that word – represented an unimaginable height.
As a child, she didn’t even know Scottsdale existed. As a young adult, it became her Holy Grail.
“It was a part of the Valley that I thought was for rich people,” she said with a chuckle. “And I thought, ‘Man, if I could get there one day…’ And I kid you not when I tell you at each point in my life when it was time for me to move, I always searched Scottsdale and it was like the rent was too high …”
She finally landed in Scottsdale, buying a home here in 2020.
“The thing that I really love about Scottsdale is the calmness, you know, it brings me a lot of peace,” Masters said, as a bird chirping outside seemed to second that.
“It’s not chaotic.”
Perhaps it was the peace and stability of Scottsdale that inspired Masters to take a big leap – challenge herself outside her comfort zone, as her life coach would say.
LGE, she said, “was an extremely fulfilling journey. But I hit a point in my life where I needed the space to evaluate what what my real purpose is, and why I was put here.”
While at LGE, Carrie dipped her toes into the softer side of the business world as executive director of the David R. Sellers Foundation, a nonprofit organization helping LGE Design Build give back to the community.
After leaving LGE last year, “I truly had no plan,” she said.
A St. Joseph the Worker’s board member Masters met at a fundraiser recruited her to the nonprofit world.
Noting the agency is celebrating its 35th year, Ritta Fagain, St. Joseph the Worker’s board chair, said she was delighted to bring Masters on board in March.
“Carrie’s personal and professional journey is the embodiment of the mission of SJW,” Fagain said.
It was time to step up to the plate and help others, Masters feels.
“I just knew that I was put on this planet,” she said, “and endured those childhood traumas and gained the empathy that I have for a greater purpose.”
There’s a word she uses for herself, considering the situation of caring leadership she landed: blessed.
“I truly feel like I’m walking around with a bright light – an aura surrounding me – because I feel so happy. I feel refreshed,” Masters said. “I feel like I’m truly where I was meant to be like, in every facet: heart, soul, mind.”
Her new agency takes its name from the father of Jesus; Joseph, a carpenter, is the patron saint of workers.
And if there’s one thing Carrie Masters believes in, it is work.
“I’m just a firm believer that like, if I can do it, anybody can do it,” she said, reflecting on how she got where she is. “You can do whatever you put your mind to. It was hard. It was a hard journey. It was not easy.
“But really anything worthwhile usually isn’t very easy.”
For more on St. Joseph the Worker, visit sjwjobs.org.