Episode 165

From Billion Dollar Companies to Breast Cancer Advocacy

October 30, 2023
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Laura Schwinn holds The Rose’s mission close to her heart. That’s because she’s seen the devastation firsthand. In her own family.

During this episode, Dorothy and Laura talk about how this personal experience led her to The Rose, as well as the importance of being a “global citizen.” You’ll hear about the billion dollar companies she’s run, and why she’s so passionate about The Rose’s mission to serve the uninsured woman.

Help us grow the show by leaving a review on your podcast platform and sharing with your family and friends. And please consider supporting our mission at Your donation could help save the life of women across southeast Texas.


Dorothy: [00:00:00] The work of the rose is close to her heart because she’s seen the devastation of breast cancer in her own family. She’s watched how it impacted people’s lives, including her own. Today, Laura Schwinn talks about being a global citizen, holding a top position in a man’s world, running billion dollar companies.

And why she’s passionate about being part of the Rose community.

Let’s talk about your breast. A different kind of podcast presented to you by the Rose. The Breast Center of Excellence and a Texas treasure. You’re going to hear frank discussions about tough topics. And you’re going to learn why knowing about your breast could save your life. Join us as we hear another story, and we answer those tough questions that you may have.

Laura, you’ve been in oil and gas forever. And in fact, I remember that when I [00:01:00] met you, it was like you were one of the first women ever to be in the executive suite. So tell us just a little bit about your background in oil and gas.

Laura: Yeah. So oil and gas petrochemical industrials where I’ve spent most of my time, Dorothy, um, started out in Canada, as you know, I am a Canadian, um, started out in Canada, mostly in sales and then just worked my way up to running businesses for multinational companies.

It’s been fantastic. I have enjoyed the time that I’ve spent.

Dorothy: You call yourself a global citizen. What does that mean exactly, a global citizen?

Laura: Well, I have lived in six different countries around the world. I am now at 59 that I have visited. I’ve got to get to number 60. Um, and I think that for me, a global citizen is both how you think about things domestically.

I really, really appreciate diversity. I appreciate diversity of thought, diversity of background. And so I often seek [00:02:00] out people who are different. So not only have I traveled and lived in a number of places, I like to think about it from a standpoint of how I interact with people.

Dorothy: And now how does that impact with what you were doing?

And I mean, when I think of oil and gas or chemical or any of that, it’s like, well, that’s kind of pretty set. So how can Different ideas, diverse ideas, impact what you’re doing in that field.

Laura: Well, we, we, in those industries, we work in a number of different countries. So being open to thinking about things differently while you’re working in those countries, I’d say that would be number one.

Secondly, the world is changing, especially from the transformation of industries like energy and oil and gas and petrochemical. So that diversity and thinking about how Both those countries and areas that are just sort of moving up the learning curve, how do they get there more quickly to think about?

That [00:03:00] transition. Hmm. Um, so really being open to new ideas about how you can do things differently, whether it is, I don’t know, um, thinking about the circular economy in plastics where I worked in the last little while, or on how to reduce greenhouse gases more efficiently in oil and gas and reduce energy in oil and gas.

So that’s how I think it all comes together is look at things differently and be open to it.

Dorothy: Do you think in this, this diverse world that we have, do you think the U. S. is a little bit behind on accepting these different

Laura: ideas? I actually do think that the U. S. and even Canada to a certain degree, sort of North America, is behind Europe, is behind sort of Scandinavia.

I think we have a ways to go to, to move more quickly.

Dorothy: Well, I know even in just the nonprofit world, you know, this idea of being diverse, having [00:04:00] different people at the table, it’s kind of like it’s all new, but it’s not. I mean, the way that nonprofits get anything done is by having different people at the table.

And it’s kind of like, well, you know, this, this is pretty, you know, we, we kind of know this. But it just seems like it’s becoming the buzzword and I hate it when something really great and beneficial to everyone becomes a buzzword. Yes. Then it has no meat behind it. I don’t care how many offices of diversity you have.

If it’s, if it’s not truly part of the culture, it didn’t. It isn’t going to

Laura: work. No, I agree. And getting that cultural change takes time, and you have to be committed to it, and you have to think about it for the right reasons all the time, not to check a box. So I agree with you. No box checking. Right.

Actually make those changes sustainable. Right.

Dorothy: And so for our listeners, Laura was on our board for [00:05:00] several years, and talk about a change maker. She really brought some different ideas to us. And. And it’s probably the most important factor we had in, in engaging our leadership in a different way of being.

And I say that with all honesty, I’ve never seen our leadership respond to the systems and the way and the whole process that you taught us as they did then. And it was. It was such a gift. And I share that because a lot of nonprofits don’t realize bringing someone in from a different industry, a whole different industry, can really be beneficial.

And, and, you know, like, uh, what was it you always talked about? Key operating indicators or, you know, and

Laura: KPI.

Dorothy: Yes.

Laura: How are we measuring where we’re

Dorothy: going? Yes, it was like, oh my gosh, you know, and, and yes, we have our measurements and yes, we [00:06:00] have the different. goals. But it was nothing like that. It was we didn’t think that way.

And so thank you for bringing that that to us. I’m glad it made a difference. But now why did you find yourself involved with the Rose?

Laura: I, you know, it, uh, there were a couple of different things. One was meeting you, but I’ll come to that in a minute. Um, when I first was, I was at an event where they were looking for, there was a number of different not for profits and they were looking for people who wanted to get more involved.

And so a friend of mine and I went to this event and we were walking around and I had the pleasure of meeting Shannon and Bernice And I walked past the, the table and Bernice said to me, Oh, do you know about the rose? And I said, no, I don’t. And they said, well, we, we work in breast cancer and, and supporting women, um, through [00:07:00] their journey.

And it just, it was like a lightning bolt hit me when, with the word breast cancer. And so I thought I need to learn more and just the passion and the information that both of them had about what you were doing, why you were doing it. Resonated with me so much. I wanted to learn more and then I had the opportunity to meet with you when we were talking about a potential board, um, a potential board role.

And I remember thinking to myself, here is an organization led by a lovely individual who is thinking about women’s health and their access to care. when it comes to breast cancer. So for me, um, my stepmother passed away from breast cancer. Um, and for me, it really just hit home how important it is to have access to diagnosis, diagnostics, and care.

[00:08:00] and so meeting all of you, um, and when I went there, I wasn’t really thinking I was going to join any organization and it just became crystal clear.

Dorothy: Yeah. The story you told me where you were just, you know, accompanying your friend, hoping y’all could go ahead and have dinner or something afterwards. You had no intent on becoming a part of it.

A board.

Laura: Yeah.

Dorothy: So was this board very different? Was it a non profit board? You’d served on non profits before, had you?

Laura: No, I’d been involved with them, but I’d never served on a board. Ah. Um, so it was very different. I mean, I was, I was, I learned a lot. And so it makes me happy that I was able to contribute something as well as what I learned.

But, um, I learned a lot about how difficult it is as a not for profit to, to stay focused, how, how resilient you need to be as things change, whether, I mean, I’m sure over COVID it has been pretty difficult. It was pretty difficult. [00:09:00] as well.

Um, and then still a lot of the same things that are similar to for profit boards. I do serve on a for, uh, on a, um, publicly traded board now. And so there’s a lot of similarities, governance, strategy, um, all of those things. Financial, financial,

Dorothy: financial, financial,

Laura: financial, more money.

Dorothy: Yes, yes, it’s, it’s, it’s a, But I’ve had many of our board members say, Hmm, it’s the same, but it’s very different.

And it, it is kind of a learning curve to realize that we don’t control a lot of things, especially in healthcare. You know, reimbursements are set. Yes. You don’t have a lot of impact and trying to change that. And, uh, there’s just so many things that we have to be conscious of. As well as continue to do what we think we must do.

And [00:10:00] that’s, that’s always a challenge.

Laura: When I joined the Rose, one of the things that I loved sitting around in the boardroom or meeting with your leadership team was it was all women. And I had never I’ve in my entire career been around a group of women and I realized it’s not that different. And, and as we sat around the table and talked about solving problems or coming up with solutions, there was the same energy, creativity and drive sitting around with a group of women.

So when all those women are together and that happens. Why doesn’t it happen in the same amount when it’s not just all women? And that was one thing that I always kept in the back of my mind. Wow, that’s a great observation. I remember from those early days on the board that you were talking about, that is very different, is the number of volunteers that you also need to motivate and [00:11:00] engage and, and find.

Those people who will, who will work as volunteers is very different than in corporate world where you’re paid to be there, right?

Dorothy: And it’s in most nonprofits who have realized this over the years as more and more people have had to go to work. The number of volunteers that are available, especially during a work week or that’s just dwindled in it.

It’s difficult to keep that connection with your community if you don’t have a good volunteer force. So most of most of our volunteers now are really working on some event or some During this month that we’re that we’re about to go into breast cancer month. It’s it’s always great to have those extra hands Every non profit runs lean.

You can’t run any other way. So It’s like having so many other Potential employees out there ready to help you. Yes. So when, when your stepmother died, now [00:12:00] you had two half sisters? Yes. Yeah. And how did her death And I’m, I’m not remembering how long her illness was. Did she have a long one?

Laura: No, it was not that long.

Um, it was just a couple of years. And my two lovely sisters were eight and ten at the time that she passed away. Um, and I’m much older than them, 20 years older than them. And, um, it really, not only as she went through her illness, the impact that that had on two young girls, but afterward, losing their mother.

It has, to this day, they’re both mothers now, it still has an impact on them, you know, 30 years later.

Dorothy: Speak to that a little bit.

Laura: You know, I think that when you become a mother, thinking about, you know, not having all of the memories you wished you’d had with your mom. You know, I think that that’s one.

Wishing you could share with your [00:13:00] mother, now that you’re… Uh, parent to yourself. So I think those things have, have really weighed heavily on them. And then there, I, I would assume their own fears about. Well, I have breast cancer and what if something happens to me and I leave my children behind? I think that weighs heavily on them and, you know, and, and so, um, just missing out on some of that engagement with them.

Their mother was a lovely woman. She was such a lovely woman. And she was a great mom.

Dorothy: Everything you’ve said is so true. It’s, uh, one of the areas that I think those of us in breast cancer haven’t really addressed is that family component and how long lasting these experiences are. It’s, it’s one of the areas that we have got to really address because it’s going to be those families that make more changes [00:14:00] just by talking and telling us what, what is needed.

And in your role, you really, no matter how much you tried, you’re never the mother.

Laura: Never. You never are. So, um, I’ve been, um, both James and I, my husband and I have tried to stay engaged as much as we can with them as they were growing up, as well as with their children now. And think of ourselves almost as surrogate grandparents.

Um, although they live in Canada and they’re far away, just being connected to them and really Watching how they’re growing up and the wonderful little humans that they’re becoming as well. Yeah,

Dorothy: that’s, that’s the other part of so much that we hear from our, our breast cancer families is that support, that understanding, that keeping connected.

Because what often happens when the mother dies is the family really falls apart. Yes. And there isn’t a Laura around to kind of remind them there’s still someone here that, that cares about [00:15:00] you. And I think that’s the other part that, in our understanding of that emotional impact. We, we’ve just got to talk about and got to address it at some point.

Laura: Yeah, I know. I think you’re

Dorothy: right. It can be so, um, no matter how, how we, what we call it, it’s still a traumatic event.

Laura: Yes.

Dorothy: And, and the, uh, that’s one of the things that just really concerns me in this work that we do with our uninsured populations. Because those mothers don’t have the same chance to stay alive.

They really don’t. And it, um, it hasn’t gotten a whole lot better. No matter what programs we try, it’s, it’s a matter of access to care. People say to me, well, what’s the main thing you’d like to see changed in the breast cancer world? And I said, an end to poverty. An end to people having to choose between their health and what they put on the table.

That’s, that’s the same story we saw. 37 something years [00:16:00] ago. We see it today. It just doesn’t make sense.

Laura: But I think Dorothy, what you, the team here, Dixie have done has given hope to a number of uninsured women. I mean, I think there is progress, probably not as far as we want, but due to the good work that is done here by everybody at the Rose has made a difference.

Dorothy: And of course it’s. It’s always been the community that backed us up. Someone was talking about, you know, oh, the government help. We’ve not had government help. Excuse me? It’s been the community that stepped up and said, hey, we’ll help you. We’ll help you with this fundraiser. Or we’ll, you know, individuals that have donated incredible amounts of money so that we had a mobile coach and all of those things that really have changed how we can serve.

You know, we, we truly have to remember it’s going to be any community that’s going to help you.

Laura: And that people, when they see the good work that you’re doing, want to get [00:17:00] involved. So that’s got to be one of the big challenges is getting the word out and people realizing the small steps that they can take to help.

Dorothy: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. All right. Now I’m going to go back to Laura for just a minute. All right. Because you don’t, you always kind of dance around this, but. Being a woman, a strong woman, an opinionated woman in this man’s world had to be challenging, tough. Yeah. Did you have a different mindset than most or what do you, what do you attribute that to?

Laura: I don’t know. I think, you know, coming from a family of five girls, you know, three of us in the first batch and then my two half sisters, a really, really strong mother. Um, I was raised by a single mother and she was amazing and never really told us to hold back or think that we couldn’t do something. So I think part of it [00:18:00] was my just belief that I could.

do things. And, you know, always sitting around the table and having all men around the table, or, you know, working with men all the time, which hasn’t changed much over the 30 years that I’ve been working. Um, you know, I think just being myself and focusing on delivering, because once you, once you have that as your focus, that you’ll, execute or that you’ll deliver against commitments.

I think gender changes. Plus, I think I had some advantages. I could move around the world and do things that. And I did that. Some people couldn’t. And so I took some of those risks early on in my career that had me differentiated beyond just my gender. And I think that was probably part of it. But it’s just tenacity and focus, I think, is is what made the [00:19:00] difference.

And then not losing sight of who I was. All right, I remember one, one time when we were traveling internationally and I was with my head of sales and I brought him with me to go shoe shopping because I wanted to go and get shoes. I wasn’t interested in, I don’t know, fishing rods or whatever else that he wanted to get.

We did do that as well, but just being true to myself. And not trying to be like the guys, um, I think made a, made a difference. And, and I had a few bumps in the road where I thought I’m going to have to behave and be like men. Didn’t. Being authentic and staying true to who I was, was really what I was, what I focused on.

Dorothy: You know, because we are such a, a woman focused organization, I loved it. We have 125 employees. One is male and you know, it’s, um, I think I continue to hear the challenges [00:20:00] of women not in our organization as much but in trying to carry so many roles. The mother is a caretaker for parents, and then they’re trying to work to and appease perhaps a mate that is not that helpful.

I mean, it is different. I, I am just amazed at how, uh, it’s not strong, but But women just have an ability to be so adaptable and

Laura: resilient,

Dorothy: resilient. Yes,

Laura: I agree.

Dorothy: And it’s doesn’t matter whether you’re at the top of the heap like you were, you know, I mean, you were in the C suite, you were one of five to run a company that’s, that’s incredible.

And not a small company.

Laura: Yeah. It, uh. Yeah, I’ve been, been really, really fortunate on, on the things that I’ve been able to, to do and, and the positions that I have, um, [00:21:00] worked hard to get to.

Dorothy: That’s, that’s what I want to hear. You had to work hard.

Laura: I did work hard. Yes.

Dorothy: You were not lucky.

Laura: No, it was not luck.

Dorothy: You had to work hard.

Laura: No, I was working hard.

Dorothy: And that, and now you are about to retire or. Have you really retired? You’re not retired.

Laura: Oh, you know, um, I have retired from the corporate life that I’ve been leading for the last 30 years. And I’m in a position now where I can take on whatever I want to do.

That really is, that I’m passionate about, right? Do good as opposed to just doing not good. Meaning we’re staying away from, you know, running an organization that you’re mitigating risks all the time. Which you have to do in anything. But I now have an opportunity. To work in things that I’m passionate about because of the hard work that I’ve done over the last 30 years.

So I made the decision at the [00:22:00] beginning of this year that by the end of 2023, I would retire from the corporate life that I was in, focus on my board work. And then if there was a position that really resonated with me and that I was passionate about, that was going to do good, I would think about that.

Dorothy: Interesting. Interesting.

Laura: I don’t know. I have to, you know, I have to really thank in part you, Dorothy and the Rose here for starting me down that path. Right. Just watching what, what you all have built here outta passion and hard work. And the board work that I did here leading to public company board work, made me think about this is the time I have the opportunity and go and do.

Something that’s going to make a different difference.

Dorothy: That is [00:23:00] amazing, Laura. I, unfortunately, I didn’t even realize you were headed that way. I mean, I’m thinking, Oh, she’s retired. You know, lucky her. She’s so young. They have so much more time. They can go and have fun and do things. But you’re really in a.

And a whole different mindset, your, your frame of thinking now is, is, it’s interesting to me. It’s really kind of global, just like your citizenship that you talk about. You’re thinking in a broader, bigger way.

Laura: Yeah. It’s, it’s, uh, I feel, I feel very fortunate to be able to make this choice and I am charged up about it.

So when you say why retire now, I hear that word and it always, I think back and think, oh, old people retire. people who don’t have energy anymore retire. So that’s not me. I have a ton of energy still, and I’m looking forward to applying it where I want to apply it.

Dorothy: So now I know you were passionate about the rose, but what else are you passionate about?[00:24:00]

Laura: Um, you know, anything that, that is going to help people. Animals that can’t either speak for themselves or that they need, um, additional support. So on the not for profit side, that would be where it is. On the for profit side, I think about the future. I think about sustainability. I think about The transitions that we’re going through.

Um, and though that really is, you know, things that are future focused are those that I feel really passionate about. So both on not for profit and for profit side, it’s looking forward, making change that. is going to make a difference for Britta and Fiona’s kids, for my sister Paula’s children, for my sister Sonia’s children.

That is where I think let’s apply my skills and my passions to things that’ll make a difference in the future.

Dorothy: And so when you’re future [00:25:00] focused, what do you think is the most important thing to tackle?

Laura: I think sustainability is one. You know, we are running through the resources in the world more quickly than we should.

Um, so how do we reuse? How do we recycle? How do we get more involved in sustainability, long term, um, long term sustainability that’s going to keep the world rotating and not? Heading in the direction where it seems it’s going to.

Dorothy: So as an energy executive, that, that seems a little, um, like almost a misnomer, a dichotomy that, that you’re thinking this way.

Because that sustainability could mean we have to live a very different way.

Laura: Well, I think that sustainability means we do have to lead a different life. But when, you know, in the energy capital of the, of the world almost here in, in Houston, [00:26:00] um, there’s a lot of energy innovation from many of the big, um, oil and gas companies or oil field service companies that are focused on how do we do this energy transition better.

How do we, how do we ensure that the technology that we’re putting in the ground or what we’re doing is actually going to lead to more sustainable world? If I think about my last role in petrochemicals, we spent a lot of energy thinking about how do we reuse plastics? into new plastic environments. And so those things, um, they’re not those companies are spending an inordinate, inordinate amount of money and effort and and intellect on how do we become more sustainable and how do we think about this transition?

That will take years, but how do we how do we make sure that we’re focused on on it? So I think it’s not as far fetched as it could be.[00:27:00]

Dorothy: Well, and actually if you think about it It’s kind of naive to think that that wouldn’t be the leaders in it who else can make these changes. That’s that’s so Valuable to hear Laura and and it’s encouraging.

Laura: I think we should be encouraged by the amount that’s going into sustainability. There’s still a ways to go. Don’t get me wrong. There’s still a ways to go.

Dorothy: Yeah, but I think people are more, uh, concerned. They’re more, uh, they understand that they live in a community of people and there’s many different people and we, we need to be able to function in a different way.

And, you know, I think the, um, one of the biggies that lies ahead of us is, is recognizing that it. the importance of, of not depending on some government in the sky or, you know, that decentralization is going to be big. We as communities really need to take care of each [00:28:00] other and do those things that will take care of our children.

Like you said, you know, I asked you before about being a woman, but what has been the biggest challenges being A really successful, hard hitting, and you are, businesswoman and being a wife.

Laura: I don’t spend nearly enough time with my very lovely husband. I would say that’s probably it, is, is, you know, as a, as any executive, whether you’re male or female, um, you know, the amount of time you spend away from your family, um, is difficult.

You have to depend on them to do… A lot of things, especially if you travel a lot. Um, so I think, you know, breaking some of the norms of, have been difficult, you know, that, that usually it’s the wife is the guest, not the husband is the guest. So there were a number of events that we would go [00:29:00] to. Where everything was set up where all of the men would go and do something because they were all the executives and then all the wives would go and do something else and poor James was always the literally odd man out.

And so it started, you know, those things were difficult on a short term, but I think just being away from home a lot and having to, to really depend on him to. Take care of a lot of things that should have been a shared burden.

Dorothy: That’s one concession for sure.

Laura: Yeah.

Dorothy: Yeah.

Laura: Um, other than that, you know, I’ve, I’ve compromised, um, but I don’t know if I’ve really made concessions.

I think, you know, James and I were fortunate enough in, in, we lived in three different countries together. Um, and we met in Singapore, um, when we were both working there. Um, so I think. You know, we have a great relationship of open communication and, [00:30:00] um, we don’t make a decision. I’ve never made a, a decision about my professional life that he wasn’t absolutely part of.

So, and vice versa. So I think that’s where. We don’t have any children. It makes a big difference. I think for a two professionals to be working to not have Children because you don’t have to worry about schools, you’re going to take them to or the impact it will have. So I think the concessions that I’ve had to make would have been probably fewer than what Some in two income families would have to do.

Dorothy: And like you said, you had to have that special communications. Absolutely. That is so important when you’re not living in the same country. And there’s any kind of distance between you. It becomes a real challenge to maintain that.

Laura: You know, we used to talk, James and I would talk about it as we’d have re entry.

After we’d been away from each other for a while, coming back together and, you know, you could be a little more [00:31:00] snippy or not, you know, not listening as well as you should. And we talked about that as, as re entry and we’re, we would just call it out and then go, okay.

Dorothy: Oh, I love that because yes, it happens.

Laura: It does.

Dorothy: It happens in every marriage and every relationship when you’ve been apart. Oh, what a great, what a great term. All right. Leave us with something because I wanted what we talked about to be. Uh, something for women just in general and especially working women. What other opportunities do you think we have as women we could fall into, we could change, we could, we could make happen?

Laura: Think that, you know, what I’ve seen with the, the women who have either worked for me or I’ve worked around. They often underestimate themselves and, and I think that don’t underestimate your approach. Don’t underestimate what you can do because it really, [00:32:00] you, it’s in all of us. It’s in all of us to do something spectacular.

And so I just don’t think that, that women, men, anybody, but women in particular, I saw so many of them underestimate their own abilities. And, and. And whether it’s in negotiations or in taking a job that they don’t feel they’re 100%, you know, qualified for, um, don’t underestimate what you can do.

Dorothy: Wow. Great words of wisdom from someone who’s been there and someone who is going to, I know, change the world.

That’s what she has to do next.

Laura: Thank you, Dorothy.

Dorothy: Thank you so much for being with us today and for brightening our world once again.

Laura: Thank you so much. My pleasure.

Dorothy: So that wraps it up for today and don’t forget we’re doing a episode every single day. You’re going to get your daily dose of Let’s Talk About Your Breasts during the month of October.

Post Credits: October is the month of [00:33:00] pink. And for The Rose, a Breast Center of Excellence, that means we’ll be airing podcasts every day in October to celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness Month. You’ll be hearing from longtime firefighter, senior captain, and breast cancer survivor from the Houston Fire Department.

You’ll hear how making clay heads was part of her treatment. Be sure to share with family and friends, because there’s a little something for everyone. To find out ways to help The Rose, visit our website at And remember. Self care is not selfish. It’s essential.

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