Executive Q&A Melissa Phillips: Door-opening temp job opens doors for young AT&T exec
Ironically, Melissa Phillips, AT&T director of sales in Oklahoma, started with the company in a temp job as a store greeter during college.
But within a few short months, Phillips was hired as a commissions-eligible sales rep, a part-time gig that turned into a full-time opportunity when she graduated.
Since her door-opening start in August 2006, Phillips has relocated four times with AT&T, three times within her home state of Missouri and, in July 2017, across state lines to Oklahoma.
In her current role, she’s responsible for 80 stores and 500 people statewide — from Ardmore and Durant to Tulsa, Miami and Grove. Most Thursdays and Fridays, she's on the road making field visits.
From the AT&T store at 5325 N May, Phillips sat down with The Oklahoman on Monday to talk about her life and career. This is an edited transcript:
Tell us about the small town in southeastern Missouri — Leopold — where you grew up.
A road sign on the outskirts of town reads: “Population: 300.” There are no stoplights and more paved roads than gravel ones. But I loved growing up there … especially in retrospect. Leopold is a storybook country town and such a close-knit community; anybody would do anything for anyone. My parents and older sister still live in the area. My mom works in accounts receivable for a chainsaw manufacturer, and my dad supervises a distribution warehouse for a company that sells blades for snow plows. My sister is a nurse practitioner and married mother of three. The closest town is 45 miles away, Cape Girardeau, where we’d go to shop and have fun and where I eventually attended college.
What was your thing growing up?
Sports and anything to do with writing and speaking. There was no girls’ basketball, but I cheered, played softball and helped win a state championship in volleyball. I edited my high school yearbook and was active in Beta Club, a leadership organization for honors students. I liked to talk and, from fifth grade on, competed in speech contests sponsored by the Optimist club, Beta Club and others, eventually winning scholarships to and from Southeastern Missouri State University.
You said that you initially aspired to be a Hollywood actress?
That’s right. For most of college, I was a theater major. I was going to be an actress and be famous. A friend of mine landed a commercial gig with Anheuser-Busch in California, and I went out to visit her and scope out my prospects. She and four other girls shared an unairconditioned apartment about the size of a bathroom on Hermosa Beach. A marketing company offered me a job, but I realized I had far greater opportunities with AT&T and that my passion really wasn’t about acting so much as it was about communications and motivational speaking. Once I changed my major to mass communications/media studies, I qualified for 80% tuition reimbursement with AT&T. And that’s also about the time I got into management.
How’d you meet your husband?
John Tyler also graduated from SEMO, and we met several years ago at an alumni event on Christmas Day in Cape Girardeau. He was sitting a few feet from me, talking to people I knew, when I told my girlfriend, “I think I’m going to marry that guy.” She told me I’d had too many beers. But he and I talked that day and he later texted me about going to a hockey game. We got engaged in March 2017 and married in April 2018 in the church in which I grew up: Leopold’s St. John Catholic Church. He’s since adopted my daughter.
You were a single mom for much of the time you were climbing the corporate ladder and relocating for management opportunities. How hard was it to move away from your family support system and balance your career and home life?
Hard. When the opportunity came to manage my first store, I’d just bought a house in Cape Girardeau, where we celebrated my daughter’s first birthday. Luckily, I was able to flip it, and my new job was only 45 minutes away in Poplar Bluff, so I was still in close proximity to my parents. However, my next promotion, to area manager over seven stores, was four hours away in Columbia. Thankfully, a friend back home knew a college girl there who, with her sorority sisters, lined out my babysitters. My second area manager stint was back home in Cape Girardeau, where I oversaw nine stores throughout southeast Missouri and southern Illinois. Not only did my daughter and I love that, but my parents loved it. I’d also just recently met my husband, so it was nice to move home and see where that new relationship might take us.
What are the biggest sellers at AT&T stores these days?
There’s a renewed emphasis on wireless and a new emphasis on entertainment. We have new unlimited wireless plans for small businesses, as well as a variety of discounts and waived fees. As for entertainment, AT&T can deliver content live or on-demand over satellite, broadband or mobile. So whether you’re at home or on the go, you can catch your favorite shows. We’re also passionate about and proud to offer FirstNet, a nationwide wireless, broadband safety network for first responders being built and customized through a partnership with the federal government.
Position: AT&T director of sales, Oklahoma
Grew up in: Leopold, Missouri, where her high school class numbered 21.
Education: Southeastern Missouri State University, bachelor’s in mass communications/media studies
Family: husband John Tyler Phillips, a native of Dyersburg, Tennessee, and director of operations for a Midwest City paving company, and daughter Bryleigh Phillips, 8, a second-grader in Deer Creek Public Schools
Neighborhood: Deer Creek Village in Edmond
Worship: Crossings Community Church
Favorite causes: Special Olympics, Junior Achievement and Believe OKC. On behalf of AT&T, she’s marshaled scores of volunteers for JA and Special Olympics, and for the latter, is a weekly reading buddy to a third-grade boy at Monroe Elementary School in Oklahoma City.
Greatest inspiration: “Coaching and development; helping someone grow as a leader.”