In 1993 Ukraine, inflation was rampant, the average wage was $10 a month and cowboy capitalists were everywhere. I asked an elderly woman in a Lviv park how she liked independence from the Soviet Union and the new private enterprise system.
She said, ‘We have survived the Czars, the Nazis, and the Communists. We will survive private enterprise.’
Susan Grandpierre didn’t envision that encounter when she was a youngster in New York City. “Back then, I didn’t realize what a geek I was. I loved theatre and languages, but NYC aptitude tests dropped me into the Bronx High School of Science. That test set me on a career path in economics, finance, planning, systems and consulting, and a lifelong adventure to learn how the world worked and how to make it better.”
At Hunter College she majored in international economics and started her career at The Conference Board doing economic research. “I had the good fortune to join the IBM Economics department and learned how economics was used to help senior management plan and manage that worldwide corporation. This early ‘big picture’ overview broadened my understanding of the world and the systems, policies and institutions critical to its functioning.”
She continued this work at Union Carbide, helping planners navigate the ups and downs of the business cycle. “Carbide gave me a chance to become a leader and a decision maker. They trained me in management and consulting skills for positions in finance and management information, eventually leading a division’s business systems operations across 18 US cities. That trust and responsibility gave me the confidence to take on larger problems in corporations and eventually nonprofits and volunteer collaborations.
“In a company full of chemical engineers, I was often the only woman in the room, and certainly the only economist. I enjoyed seeing American industry close up and working with folks at factories and plants.”
Her job at high tech giant Digital Equipment Corporation, marketing to the petrochemical industry, was exciting and fun, but left little personal time. She opted out.
“In 1991 I married Donald Croteau. We early retired and joined my brother Glenn on a sailing adventure from San Francisco to Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. Upon our return we answered a magazine ad for volunteers to “help the new democracies” in the former Soviet Union.
“That’s how we ended up in Ukraine for nine months in 1993-94. It was an exciting and hopeful time. We joined experts from around the world to help Ukrainians restructure and navigate enormous and upsetting changes, training candidates for parliament and local governments, monitoring national elections.
“Donald helped local governments identify common problems and organize a Conference of Mayors to solve them. I volunteered with the Kyiv Union of Private Enterprises to create a national Association for the Development of Entrepreneurship. It grew to serve 29 cities in its mission to educate small business owners in the budding private sector. USAID helped bring expertise in microcredit and small business development.
“Moving back to Connecticut, I became a strategic planner for a small consulting firm. We revived a community theatre, the Chester Meeting House Players, that continues today, producing 2-3 shows a year.
“In 2003, our fathers passed, and we moved to Vero Beach to help our mothers. We joined the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship where I led a strategic plan that established The Emerson Center and organized the Celebrated Speakers Series and Bridges Early Learning Center to serve the community.”
Susan loves and has played at the Theatre Guild. She supports IRC’s Cultural Council work, and was chair in 2009-10. There she organized the Old Vero archaeology nonprofit project to determine when those early humans and extinct animals lived in Vero - the famous remains discovered in 1915 to worldwide acclaim and dispute. She works with a team to develop a Cultural Arts Village in Edgewood where artists can live, work and sell from their homes. Currently, she and AAUW’s Linda Barker are designing programs to highlight the gender pay gap in IRC.
“Helen Keller said; ‘Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.’ Ms. Keller challenges us to live life to its fullest and help others do the same. Go AAUW.”
Authored by Elaine Spooner