Cynthia Bramlett Thompson Biography
National Chair of Girl Scouts USA, business owner, executive
On October 19, 2002, Cynthia Bramlett Thompson was elected chair of the National Board of Directors of Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA)—the highest volunteer position in the world's largest female organization, with more than 3.7 million members nationwide. Thompson's business career as a company owner and human resources specialist has been equally successful. In 1993 Thompson and her husband founded Midwest Stamping, Inc. in Maumee, Ohio, near Toledo. By 2003 Midwest Stamping was number 28 on Black Enterprise's list of the 100 largest black-owned industrial/service businesses in the United States.
Born on May 18, 1949, in Highland Park, Michigan, Cynthia Bramlett was the daughter of Carrie Frances Bramlett and Cosby Bramlett, Jr. Her mother was a homemaker and her father was a pharmacist who later worked as a chemist for the federal government. Bramlett grew up in Inkster, Michigan, near Detroit. Her parents had high standards and expectations for their children. Bramlett's public-school experiences were excellent, with inspiring teachers and principals. Her home, school, and the Episcopal Church provided her with a strong community network.
Bramlett entered the five-year pharmacy program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She attended school year-around, studying literature, science, and the arts (LSA) during the summer when pharmacy courses were not offered. When Bramlett met her future husband, Ronald L. Thompson, her parents insisted that she graduate before marrying. Therefore she took a bachelor of general studies (BGS) degree in LSA in 1970.
Although she planned to return to pharmacy school and eventually go to medical school, Cynthia Thompson followed her husband to Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing so that he could pursue his master's and doctoral degrees in agricultural economics. The Thompsons' daughter Sela was born in 1971 and their son Mance in 1973. Meanwhile Cynthia Thompson earned her master's degree in nutrition from MSU.
In 1981 the Thompsons moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where they bought the GR Group—formerly General Railroad—a company that refurbished freight cars. While working in human resources at GR, Thompson decided that she needed a more thorough background in business. She earned her master's in business administration (MBA) from Washington University in St. Louis.
Despite the demands of her family and her full-time career, Thompson was very active in the St. Louis community. She told Contemporary Black Biography (CBB) that she was particularly proud of her service as a board member of the St. Louis Science Center and the Missouri State Board of Education. Following her tenure on the Board of Education, then-governor John Ashcroft appointed her to the Board of Curators of the University of Missouri System. Thompson also was active in the Links, Inc. and the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.
In 1993 the Thompsons moved to Ohio to establish Midwest Stamping, a manufacturer of automobile parts. Cynthia Thompson became vice president of human resources and her husband became chief executive officer (CEO). She told CBB that she had the "best job in the company" because she was involved in all aspects of the business and interacted with everyone, from the plant floor to engineering, accounting, and finance. The Thompsons built up their company until, by 2003, Midwest Stamping had 580 employees and $130 million in annual sales.
Thompson's involvement with Girl Scouts began while she was in elementary school. Her mother was chair of cookie sales and camped with her daughters' troops. As a college undergraduate Thompson spent a summer as a counselor at a Girl Scout camp. She loved the experience. While living in Seattle, Washington, in the 1970s, Thompson and her own daughter became active in the Girl Scouts.
After moving to St. Louis Thompson joined the Girl Scout Council of Greater St. Louis. She served as cookie chair, and as a board member, vice president of corporate planning, and chair of the program committee for the Council. Thompson joined the national board of directors of GSUSA in 1996. In 1999 she became second vice president of the board. In June of 2002 Thompson served as a GSUSA delegate to the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouting in Manila, the Philippines. By the time Thompson was elected chair—for a three-year term beginning in the fall 2002—she had been involved with Girl Scouts for more than 35 years. Between 2002 and 2005 Thompson also was a member of the executive, finance, human resources, and fund development committees and served as chair of the Special Committee on Compensation and Benefits.
The stated goal of GSUSA has been to help girls to become the best that they possibly can. In the Spring 2003 issue of Leader, a GSUSA publication, Thompson told Ed Levy: "Girl Scouting really does prepare you to interact effectively with others, makes you ready for leadership, and gives you an opportunity to spread your wings…Girl Scouting gives any girl an opportunity to develop leadership skills and character, and to become involved in community service activities that will last throughout her lifetime. The things Girl Scouts do in areas like information technology and the environment are very relevant. The organization has changed because the needs of girls and women have changed. Girl Scouts has kept up with that."
Thompson now headed an organization of almost 980,000 adult members who, along with community leaders and organizations, alumni and other donors, corporations, foundations, and government agencies, worked for the benefit of 2.8 million girls. The influence of New York City-based GSUSA reached across the country and throughout the world, advocating for girls and providing high-quality community and volunteer-based programs. As the chair of GSUSA Thompson tried to visit as many local councils as possible and to improve the dialogue between local volunteers and the national board.
Developing programs for pre-teen and teenage girls, as well as reaching out to Latinas, had become major undertakings for the GSUSA. Although participation in Girl Scout programs was high among elementary-school girls, as they entered their preteens their involvement dropped off dramatically. In her leadership position, Thompson focused on bringing GSUSA into the lives of adolescent girls across the country.
In the Fall 2004 issue of the Leader, Thompson announced that she, Kathy Cloninger—CEO of GSUSA—and the National Board were embarking on a business strategy process to redefine the long-range vision of the Girl Scout Movement. They would take into consideration "current and projected social and economic trends, the needs and interests of girls, and the needs of volunteers," while developing a core business strategy.
Although her family was always Thompson's top priority, she remained very career-oriented. She worked full-time while also devoting much time and energy to academic and service organizations. As GSUSA chair, Girl Scouts became her major focus. Thompson decided at the outset of her term that she would serve for three years only.
"Redefining Strategic Leadership for Now and the Future," Leader, Fall 2004, p. 4.
Ebony, March 2003, pp. 46-54.
"Chair, National Board of Directors, Cynthia Bramlett Thompson," Executive Bios, Girl Scouts of the USA, www.girlscouts.org/who_we_are_/executive_bios (January 18, 2005).
"Meet Cynthia Bramlett Thompson Chair, National Board of Directors 2002-2005," Leader, Girl Scouts of the USA, www.girlscouts.org/for_adults/leader_magazine/2003_spring/cynthia_thompson.asp (January 18, 2005).
Additional information for this profile was obtained through an interview with Cynthia Bramlett Thompson on January 12, 2005.
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