by Al Jones | Kalamazoo Gazette
Sunday February 22, 2009, 9:00 AM
KALAMAZOO — The man in the tailored suit and silk tie looks like a corporate executive.
He also moves as if he were once a pretty good athlete, maybe a football player or basketball player.
He was both.
His manner gives the impression that he is connected to people, and his smile gives the sense that he knows a lot of things you don’t. Be assured that he is and he does.
Through ups and downs and several major career changes during the 43 years since he first moved to Kalamazoo, Roosevelt Clark Jr. has been a lot of things to a lot of people. And he has always managed to find success — for 19 years in human resources for Pfizer Inc. and its predecessor companies and for the past four as the company’s regional head of human resources.
“It’s all about how you manage relationships with other people, and expectations — your expectations of them and theirs of you,” said Clark, who moved to Kalamazoo from East Chicago, Ind., in 1966 to study sociology, history and education at Western Michigan University.
Success also, he said, is all about being prepared for opportunities that come your way and embracing change.
On April 1, at age 61, Clark will officially retire as director of human resources for Pfizer’s Global Manufacturing U.S.-Canada Region. And he will probably enjoy the transition.
“I love change,” he said. “It excites me. It’s not always positive, but it’s always exciting.”
Embracing change has allowed this son of Mississippi sharecroppers who became Chicago steel workers to work skillfully in a variety of jobs — from helping people try to kick heroin addictions to supervising human-resources managers at 11 pharmaceutical plants and helping scores of co-workers adjust to the many changes as The Upjohn Co. became Pharmacia & Upjohn, then Pharmacia Corp. and ultimately Pfizer.
He has had to adjust to change in his own job, too. The 11 plants he once oversaw have been reduced to three, including the company’s mammoth manufacturing operation in Portage. And Clark once moved to central New Jersey with the company for two years before shifting with the corporate winds and returning to Kalamazoo.
As a member of the regional site-management and manufacturing-leadership teams at the giant pharmaceutical company, Clark has often been the only black person in the boardroom.
While he has not experienced racism overtly, it does exist in the corporate world, he said, and it can be very subtle.
He has always worked to be prepared for it and for other challenges by setting very high standards for his performance, establishing relationships with others and seeking mentors.
“I think the way you think about yourself and have either a positive or negative outlook — if you think positive of yourself and are confident of your skills — you can minimize the impact of racism,” he said.
Conversely, lack of self-confidence and a failure to be prepared can sharpen racism’s impact, he said.
“People categorize a lot of things as racism,” he said. “But if you are unprepared for an opportunity, you may never know why you didn’t get the job or were passed over.”
Clark — who is married and has two adult sons, one adult stepdaughter and five grandsons — said people can sense someone who is positive and confident and in the end want to be associated with that kind of person.
Power of persuasion
Clark credits growing up in ethnically diverse East Chicago and his experience in sports — he played football and baseball at East Chicago’s Washington High School and football and basketball at WMU — with helping him understand people from widely different backgrounds and realize he would not be able to use power or position to get people to do what they don’t want to do.
There is greater success, he said, in persuading people to understand your position and coming to a consensus with them.
Throughout the years, he has collected many quotes about self-confidence, teamwork, persevering and setting your personal goals higher than you were expected to.
He uses a lot of those messages in counseling young people, particularly young African-American men who are trying to find paths in life.
His best bit of quick advice? “If you’re going to doubt anything,” Clark said, “doubt your limitations.”