James Monger stepped into the real world better prepared than most. He spent his formative years at the Center for Leadership Development (CLD), then a startup program, and he owns the honor of being part of the organization’s first class.
Monger was exposed to business leaders, philanthropic titans, people whose name carried some weight in Indianapolis. There was Henry Bundles, of course, the late founding president of CLD. Add in people like former Indianapolis Urban League President Joseph Slash and the list gets impressive.
Monger saw what it takes to be successful. He learned about networking, interacting with people professionally, building relationships, establishing a brand.
Those were tools Monger had, and he trusts that the thousands of students who have gone through CLD after him have found the same thing. But when he had the opportunity recently to talk with students during Alumni Week, Monger knew there was something extra he could add.
“You just have to be prepared to do the work,” he told them.
That applies to high school, college, all the way through a career.
“No one is going to look at the letters behind your name if you have a professional degree and give you anything,” he said. “You have to do the work.”
Monger knows about the work because he’s done it.
He is the diversity, equity and inclusion champion at Cargill, a global food corporation based in Minnesota with locations in Lafayette and Indianapolis. Monger started in 1984 in merchandising, and he’s worked all over the country.
Monger graduated from Shortridge High School and Purdue University.
Beyond the more technical skills he got from CLD, Monger saw the benefit of getting to mingle with students from schools in other parts of the city, such as Crispus Attucks High School and Arsenal Tech High School.
He built friendships with students he may have never gotten to know otherwise. It was easy enough to spend time with the Shortridge students he already knew, but Monger also recognized the importance of understanding other people his age who might have had different experiences and cultures.
“It was really that first exposure to diversity for me,” he said.
Monger guessed it was probably two or three years into his career when he realized how lucky he was to have had a program like CLD. He knows it takes time to learn that lesson, but even at that, he can’t help but think the same thing everyone else thinks later in life: If only these kids understood the gift they’re receiving.
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.