Those Cookies are More Important than You Think
Big Lessons Learned as a Girl Scout Gave Sylvia the Power to Soar
When Sylvia Acevedo became CEO of the Girl Scouts of America, her life came full circle.
As a Girl Scout, she learned vital life lessons that empowered her to become an IBM engineer, a NASA rocket scientist, an executive for Apple, Dell, and Autodesk, and an award-winning entrepreneur.
Over and over again, she saw that it was her experiences and mentors as a Girl Scout that taught her what she needed to succeed. Now she’s paying it forward as CEO of the Girl Scouts of the United States, an organization over 100 years old with nearly 2 million members.
As a child, Sylvia loved being a Girl Scout but her family was too financially strapped for her to participate in some activities. Her troop leader told her there was another way and taught her about creating opportunities.
Young Sylvia learned she could raise the needed money by selling Girl Scout Cookies. She calculated how many boxes she needed to sell and broke that down over a period of weeks.
Her troop leader said you don’t walk away from a potential sale “until you've heard no at least three times,” Acevedo recalled in an interview with Global Mentor Network president Thuy Vu. That advice became a life-long mantra for her.
Selling to friends and family wasn’t hard, but she’d have to face her fear of selling to people she didn’t know to meet her goal. Young Sylvia decided a next-door neighbor, to whom she’d never spoken before, would be up first.
She approached the neighbor as the woman was going to her car. “I asked her if she wanted to buy some Girl Scout cookies, and she said no,” Acevedo said. “She looked at me like `well I said no, go away little girl.’
“I said `is there anybody else in your home that would want to buy Girl Scout cookies?’ And she said no. And again she looked at me like `go.’
“I said, ‘would there be anybody who's day you would make if you bought them some Girl Scout cookies?’ And she bought one box! That was important because it taught me persistence, resilience. That was an important lesson for my entire life.”
In fact, Acevedo says, “Had it not been for Girl Scouts I would've had a totally different life.”
Acevedo recounted numerous examples of the importance of the “don’t take no until you’ve heard it three times” rule, and the mindset of creating opportunity has played in her career.
Her interest in science was nurtured when she first joined the Girl Scouts. One evening she was looking up at the stars and her troop leader explained to her there were constellations and other planets. “The idea of star systems “just really captured my imagination,” she said.
Her troop leader encouraged her to earn a science badge, which she did. That stroked her confidence that she had science and math aptitude. She eventually became “rocket- scientist good at it,” she said.
Making her way in the world meant applying those cookie lessons over and over again. From being told in high school that, “Girls like you don’t go to college,” to dealing with male bosses who doubted that men would work with and respect a Latino woman, Acevedo made a habit of overcoming every sexist and racist barrier that threatened to block her progress.
“I had to do things that were creative and innovative, but it goes back to how do you solve the problem?” she said. “How do you get to that `yes.’ How do you turn that `no’ around?” She’s proved to be quite successful at it.
Acevedo has been named one of Fast Company’s “100 Most Creative People in Business,” and “Cybersecurity Person of the Year” by Cybersecurity Ventures, both in 2018.
Forbes named her one of America’s Top 50 Women in Tech. In 2019 InStyle magazine named Acevedo as one of “The Badass 50: Women Who Are Changing the World,” ranking her number seven.
Acevedo is also the author of “Path to the Stars: My Journey From Girl Scout to Rocket Scientist.”
Acevedo is mindful of the awesome responsibility she has. Some sixty percent of women in Congress were Girl Scouts. Over seventy percent of female U.S. senators were. All three U.S. female Secretaries of State were, and almost every female astronaut in space was a Girl Scout.
As CEO of the Girl Scouts, Acevedo has brought a commitment to getting girls engaged with STEM in a relevant and fun way. Today, tech skills are a must for women, she says. For example, even the $3 trillion dollar fashion industry is “being completely remade around technology,” she says.
“I'm so focused on making sure that we have really great engaging programs around science, technology, engineering, and math--and we do. In the last three years, we've developed a hundred new badges and programs. And I'll tell you the girls are loving them. The engagement levels are way up.”
In the first year offering cybersecurity badges, some 100,000 have been earned from girls all over the country, not just in high-tech hubs.
Acevedo sat down with Vu, an Emmy award-winning television reporter, to share her perspectives on perseverance, her passion for helping girls achieve their dreams, and the importance of the mentors who helped her along her way to the stars.
Explore these and other great lessons from Sylvia Acevedo at the Global Mentor Network.