Molly Preston ‘05, ‘10: A Servant Leader on a Mission to Spread Aggie Values
Her passion for servant leadership, desire to empower others to reach their full potential, and affinity for the Aggie core values make Molly Preston ‘05, ‘10 a powerful influencer of positive change.
By Rachel Knight ‘18
Imagine meeting someone who understands that their triumphs are the result of life’s greatest challenges. Someone who leads with both their heart and mind. Someone who sees opportunity in life’s greatest challenges, and whose deepest desire is to help others achieve their full potential. You’ve just imagined meeting Molly Preston ‘05, ‘10.
Preston is an Aggie on a mission to use her servant leadership talents to better the world for everyone within her sphere of influence. This mission took root at Texas A&M University while she was pursuing her undergraduate degree in economics, and began to flourish in her first job post graduation.
Her desire to empower the people she manages in her career led Preston back to Texas A&M to pursue a master’s in educational human resources and development before accepting a job with a startup company. She worked her way up from senior consultant and business process improvement officer to eventually serve as vice president of innovation and design at Source One Purchasing.
Preston’s next job in her journey is also her current job. She is the director of procurement at Benchmark Global Hospitality. One of her proudest accomplishments in this role includes contributing to the overwhelming sense of Aggie pride the Texas A&M University Hotel & Conference Center displays, but you’ll have to read our interview, which has been condensed and edited for clarity, to learn more about that.
Tell me a little about your childhood.
My dad was in the military, which meant my family moved a lot when I was young. His military career started at San Diego State University where he was in ROTC. When he graduated he went into officer candidate school and then to ranger school shortly there after. From then on, our family was on the move.
I was born the same week he was commissioned as an officer in the Army, so I was quite young when we started moving around. We lived in Panama for a few years, Georgia, but we mostly lived in Texas. My dad was assigned to the First Cavalry Division in Fort Hood during Desert Storm. Then he was assigned as an ROTC professor for University of Texas – Pan American, located in the Rio Grande Valley. So, we moved down to South Texas just before I started fourth grade. We lived there for the remainder of my childhood.
My family was quite involved in a number of service activities. It was really a core framework of my childhood development. Service was something my parents were quite passionate about, and my four sisters and I picked up that passion, too.
I was in quite a rush to grow up. I had it in my mind that I wanted to get to college as fast as I could, and so I took extra classes over the summers and in the evenings to get all my high school credits out of the way. I ended up graduating a year early when I had just turned 17. Then I came to Texas A&M.
How did you first learn about Texas A&M University?
I learned about Texas A&M in middle school band class. We had a break during class one day, and some of my friends were writing on the chalkboard. One of them drew the Texas A&M symbol, and I thought, “Why are you writing ATM?” I didn’t grow up watching college sports, so the only college I really knew about up to that point was San Diego State University because that’s where my parents went to college.
All of my friends knew so much about the university, the sports and the culture. They all planned to attend Texas A&M. I got an education from them about Texas A&M throughout middle school band. Through their excitement and love for the university I developed a curiosity and I started to have a desire to learn more about this “A&M.” As I learned more about the school, I had a more significant desire to come. It became concrete in my mind that there was no other school I wanted to attend, so it was the only school that I applied to.
What was your first job?
My first job was at Texas A&M. I worked at Hullabaloo, in the pizzeria section, and Rumors, a sandwich shop. Both were in the MSC and neither exist today. At Hullabaloo, we received fresh pizza dough daily from the Texas A&M commissary. My favorite memory was learning how to toss pizza dough to stretch it. My proudest moment was being able to toss it and stretching it without dropping it on the floor. A seemingly impossible feat. My manager was really happy too, because there wasn’t yet another pizza dough in the trash from my tossing errors.
I remember going home to my dorm at night caked in flour and smelling like pizza. It was such a fun and enlightening experience. My manager at the time was Pat Hurst, who oversaw Hullabaloo and Rumors. She became my mentor throughout my college career. Pat, her husband, and their sons were all former Aggies. She taught me unforgettable lessons about servant leadership and what it truly means to be a leader versus a manager to people. I’m ever so grateful for having that as my first job and her as my first manager, because it really set me off on the right path for my career.
How did your first job set you on the right path for your career?
In the workforce, there are so many different personalities that you confront. I was able to learn from Pat that having a kind heart is an extremely good way to manage people. The iron fist can certainly get results, and sadly I’ve worked for iron-fisted managers before. It makes the experience a painful one and not a joyful one.
I learned from Pat that being able to be empathetic with your team members and compassionate for their unique situations and needs will go a long way in not just helping them as individuals to grow and progress in their roles but will also help the organization grow and meet its goals. The honey versus vinegar approach applies in servant leadership. I’ve been really firm with that throughout my career. Quite honestly, I don’t see why there is ever a need for negative behaviors or raised voices and those types of mannerisms in the workplace.
Pat taught me that honesty, empathy, compassion for your team, and leading with kindness result in positive outcomes. Putting the needs of employees first, helping them to develop and perform as highly as possible is key to being a successful manager and leader. It is a recipe for success, not just in business but in life. You certainly need to be firm and hold employees accountable for their decisions and actions, but you can do so in a very loving and kind way.
What were some of your favorite classes while you were a student?
My freshman year, I took English Composition and Rhetoric. In the course you learn to critically analyze readings and write essays about your analysis and research findings. It was my first class my first semester and it started Mondays at 8:50am. My professor was amazing. He was working on his dissertation for his Ph.D. at the time. We read the most amazing books. The Yellow Wallpaper is one of them that has stuck with me throughout my adult life. I remember having such real discussions about deep thoughts.
I feel like the difference between my high school experience and my college experience is that in high school, we were really being taught to rather than encouraged to explore our own thoughts. In college it became a collaboration. My professors were so interested in my thoughts and encouraged me to explore them further. I remember having so many epiphanies from these debriefs from my first English class. It was so incredible to me.
Another favorite class was Econ 312 Poverty & Inequality taught by Professor Browning. Week after week we examined economic affects and reasonings for various government programs and their effect on income distribution and performance of the economy. I felt so connected to the subject matter and fell in love with Economics that semester. I was sure right then and there that I was going to get my Ph.D. in economics. It really pulled on my heartstrings.
I also remember taking Philosophy 240 Intro to Logic. I love math and it was amazing to me that you can use mathematical methods to evaluate arguments. My mind just grew and grew and grew. I had so many amazing experiences and growth opportunities that happened through my classes. That first impact though was my freshman English Composition and Rhetoric class. It really changed my life.
What are some of your favorite traditions?
Watching the band march in for football games is one of my favorite traditions that has an extra special place in my heart. My freshman year I lived in the dorms, and the dorm that I lived in was on The Quad. The band would practice every morning at like 5am. They’d wake me up. It was so cool to see the uniformity, kinship, bond, and hard work that went into their performances. It was such a joy to see all of that hard work payoff during halftime at the games. I felt some ownership in the moments the band performed. It’s so silly, but I felt and still to this day feel part of it. It has always had a very special place in my heart.
My favorite tradition post graduation is taking my son, AJ who is now 6 years old, to a Texas A&M football game for his birthday. Wearing maroon, watching the band march in, seeing the fantastic Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band halftime show, and allowing him to be part of the Spirit of Aggieland is an unreal experience. The Aggie Spirit is unlike any other I have ever been around, and I am thrilled to be able to share that with my son.
Walk me through a typical day in the office for you.
I work for a hotel management company, Benchmark Global Hospitality, overseeing procurement for the home office (corporate). In this role I manage our supplier partnerships and contracts for almost everything you see in a hotel or restaurant from guest room linen to staff uniforms to the restaurant plates to the cookware used to prepare the meals. I am also part of Benchmark’s new construction project team, specifying the operating supplies and equipment for the new hotel.
Since the pandemic, my role has focused on how I can help Benchmark properties operate more efficiently and reduce expenses. Due to the decline in business and general lack of staff (on leave from COVID19 illness or exposure), most team members are wearing more “hats” than they have ever before. There are fewer team members, and with heightened regulations and extra precautions, there is more to do. Swift problem solving led my department to implement some huge initiatives leading to significant efficiencies and savings for our properties.
The first quarter of this year we have implemented a new purchasing system, a new master food distribution partner, and a new contracting partner (group purchasing organization). Each one of these initiatives alone would be a huge undertaking for a corporate team, so doing them all at one time has been quite the venture.
My day-to-day involves helping remove barriers for my team and our operators. In any given day, I am now more than ever negotiating contracts with supplier partners to reduce cost while not sacrificing value or service and creating tools and resources to help our operators use our systems with more efficiency.
How have you used your College of Liberal Arts degree throughout the COVID-19 pandemic?
During the pandemic, I was furloughed for a few months. It really helped me to re-center myself. I actually feel really blessed to have had that time to focus on my family. I feel as though the education I received has supported me in thinking outside of myself throughout the pandemic. It’s enabled me to think with a global perspective or a macro perspective around how I’m able to work creatively to help solve problems.
The College of Liberal Arts helps create really good humans who can go out in the world and impact society. You learn so much on the job that I think college is the time to expand your way of thinking, learn how to think critically and analyze the noise around you to come up with creative solutions. So throughout the pandemic, I was able to use all of that to restructure my personal life and how I serve my community, how I serve my family, how I serve those within my sphere of influence, and prioritize and organize my time. It really knocked me to my core and made me think about what is really important. It’s not the stuff. It’s about the people and the experiences. How can I make the experience better for my son, my sisters, my neighbor, my colleagues, and the guests who stay in our hotels? My degree helps me think about how what I do impacts all of them.
I learned so much while I was at Texas A&M for my undergraduate that set me up for success. I’m really excited for undergraduates today who want to experience more liberal arts education learning opportunities because it will grow their minds in immeasurable ways that will impact them and the community.
How do you foresee your job and your company moving out of the pandemic?
For our company to move out of the pandemic’s impacts, we must continue to respond with creative thought and innovation. I have a very positive outlook. Benchmark is in the travel and leisure space and our properties are excited for having had a busy spring break and are looking forward to a busy summer. Families, couples, and single people alike are itching to get out. Benchmark has a campaign out right now called Travel Is Therapy! where we focus on wellness getaways and tips about the healing power of travel. As travelers are itching to relieve stress or to just change up the normal pace, Benchmark is ready with activities to help guests relax, revitalize and reconnect.
With group business (companies who have conferences, meetings, and events within our properties), Benchmark has released Meeting the Moment: Mapping out the route to safe meetings with tips on how businesses can safely plan and execute in-person meetings. There is only so much that can be accomplished from a remote perspective. Zoom or Teams do not replace the power of in-person interaction. We have a very positive outlook with companies starting to allow personnel travel and in-person meetings. I am excited to travel and the industry partners I work with are excited to get back to in-person conferences and travel to see clients, like Benchmark properties. We encourage them to do so. Travel affects our lives and the whole economy.
Our teams and our hotels are so ready for the excitement and activity to pick back up. We are hoping things get back to normal sooner rather than later, with 2022 being a more encouraging year for us than 2021. We’re projecting that 2023, if not before then, will reflect normalcy in 2019 terms.
Tell me a little bit about the experience of working on the Texas A&M Hotel and Conference Center.
The spirit of Aggieland was with me from the start of the project. Still to this day I am filled with so much pride having been part of the Texas A&M Hotel and Conference Center. There are so many different components, so many moving pieces behind the scenes that nobody knows about when you’re opening up a new hotel, from weekly construction meetings to the buying of products and their delivery and placement. That’s where my role fits in. I buy the products.
For new constructions, and many times in a renovation as well, we set up a model room. For the Texas A&M Hotel the model room was built in Kyle Field by the administrative offices across from Koldus Garage. Model rooms are built just like a normal hotel room so that we can make sure all the outlets are in the right places, the doors open correctly, all the wallpaper looks appropriate, the room is not too dark or too dim, and then we do an owner walk through. So in this case the university team that was impacting the design walked through and they made their comments and let us know what they liked and what they wanted to change. The model room is probably the most fun element for me.
The fondest memory I have is the Texas A&M Hotel team working so hard together to get all the products in the right places so that when the guests walked in on the first game day weekend of the season, they’d feel the sense of Aggie pride that we felt putting the hotel together. The team pulled together to get everything perfect so that our Aggie guests would have the best experience in the hotel. We had the ballroom filled with products that needed to go into the guestrooms and that needed to go into the restaurant like the plates and knives and the sheeting and pillows and all of that. The staff just worked so tirelessly. They were energized to get everything put in place and so perfect.
Opening day I was walking the floors with the executive housekeeper. It was my first time going into a completely finished room with all the things that I’d bought. So I entered that space and remember being overwhelmed with a sense of Aggie pride. If you haven’t been to the hotel or into a guest room, it is a positive, overwhelming experience. All of the history and the stories that were brought into it and the people who made it happen were such a highlight. It was a great moment for me.
Why is it important for successful people like you to recognize the value of a liberal arts education?
A liberal arts education teaches you what’s most important. How to think critically and for yourself. How to make decisions. How to develop and organize. How to communicate effectively. How to choose the right words at the right moment. How to see yourself and how to see others. Those are the things that matter most as you continue to develop in life. If you have that core foundation from college, it will make your career a smooth process, whatever track you choose after you leave.
I truly believe technical information can be learned on the job, but it’s the transferable skills that are the most important to learn in college. Those skills are what the College of Liberal Arts at Texas A&M teaches. You become adaptable and you learn how to be adaptable, and it’s ok that things change. It’s how we grow and innovate. What we want is to develop self-thinkers, people who aren’t ok with the status quo. People who will reject thoughts and dialogue that is contrary to their beliefs. We want to promote critical thinkers and people who are willing to stand up at Texas A&M University and beyond for what is right.
What hopes do you have for the future?
Overall I have such a burning desire to learn and to continue to grow. Being a student in the College of Liberal Arts and continuing to be involved post-graduation has fostered my ability to think critically. That is something I hope that my son learns. It’s something I hope every student learns.
Critical thinking has made the most significant impact in my life. It has always been part of who I am, was there when I was young, but the desire for curiosity, skepticism, analysis and logic was really set on fire when I took that first early morning English class my freshman year. My entire college career just continued to fuel that fire creating a burning desire to grow, change, innovate, and challenge the norm. I wish that burning desire to think critically for everyone, I really do.
What books are on your nightstand right now?
I read to my son every night. Right now we’re reading The Magic School Bus series. The one we’re reading now is Rocky Road Trip about rocks and minerals.
I also have my daily scriptures on my nightstand as well as two other books that I’m reading. One is called Think Like a Monk by Jay Shetty. The other is called Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, a relationship book by John Gottman. They are two really great perspectives and challenge my way of thinking.
What do you want your legacy to be in life and at Texas A&M University?
More than anything, I want my son and future kids to know how important it is to serve others and to be a pillar of love and kindness. My hope is that it is seen through my everyday actions and the impact. He already has such a soft heart and I hope that continues to develop as he gets older.
From a legacy standpoint with Texas A&M, I want to make an impact where it’s most meaningful. Right now I’m participating on the Liberal Arts Advisory Council. I’m so excited to participate and to be part of that. I love to serve. I hope that in the end I’ve contributed in a meaningful way to the development of the college for students and prospective students as a mentor or something like that.