Sewanee is full of extraordinary people with fascinating stories. Here they share those stories–in their own words.

Cathy Carlisi, C’89

President of the Americas at BCG BrightHouse, art major, painter, poet

At BrightHouse, we uncover the purpose of some of the world’s largest companies using a rigorous methodology that we’ve developed over two decades. It’s based on identifying two things: the unique strengths of the organization and where those strengths intersect with the needs of the world. There are ways in which my story reflects BrightHouse’s.

When I got to Sewanee, I thought I was going to major in biology. I loved bio, but not the micro-level stuff. I remember telling my dad, “I love the beauty of it.” So he asked me, if not bio, what was I interested in. I told him, “I really like art,” and he said, “Then major in art. Do what you love and the money will come.” I remember thinking, “He’s crazy. I will starve.” What he was talking about, although neither of us knew it, was purpose. My talents are centered on images and language, around creativity, ideas, and eloquent execution. And the world needs creativity more than ever. Creative people who will come in and say, “What if? Who says you can't do that? Whoa, what if you try this?"

When I graduated, I went into advertising. I got to create things. I got to work with directors and photographers, and I remember one day telling a friend of mine, “I get paid to make people laugh.” But my work wasn’t having the kind of impact I longed for. I wasn’t happy, so I kept changing jobs. Around that time, I was coming to see that the world’s problems weren’t going to be solved if companies kept doing the same things in the same ways.

This was shortly after our company’s founder, Joey Reiman, started BrightHouse and asked me to join him as chief creative officer. At that time, the purpose work was nascent and only a tiny piece of our income. We mainly did ideation—coming up with ideas to solve complex problems. He hired a president from traditional consulting. She put up a pie chart of our revenue and said, “We’ll never succeed doing purpose. We need to become a traditional consultancy.” I walked into Joey’s office and I said, “If she’s right, I’m out. I’m here because the world needs our unconventional thinking. It needs our luminaries—biologists and anthropologists and astronauts and stage directors and poets and painters. We need to gather diverse big thinkers to solve the biggest problems in the world.”

Lucky for me, and the purpose movement, Joey agreed. That president left, and I stayed. We now serve global clients from offices around the world, excavating their timeless “why” in service of aligning and elevating their “what,” “how,” “when,” and “who” to create lasting positive impact in the world.

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