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A Message from Tiffany Bass Bukow, Founder of

Throughout my life, I have enjoyed significant financial success and endured surprising financial failure. Dealing with the success was easy. Dealing with the failure was not, especially when it was unexpected. I have had to challenge my values and work hard to continue to succeed while learning from failure. And I discovered that friends who had been in similar circumstances were my greatest source of motivation.

I hope that's Success Stories provide you with the same inspiration I received from my friends. Each week, we will profile a remarkable woman who has confronted financial obstacles and overcome challenges to lead a happy, financially secure, and meaningful life.

If you'd like to share your success story, please e-mail us at

How I Got to Where I Am

…And Won $10,000 Along the Way!

By Mary Jo Barnett

This is a really big year for me…I’m turning 50, which I plan on celebrating big time! And winning $10,000 in the sweepstakes has just added to all of the excitement. I feel so fortunate that I have a career that I love as the Director of Marketing Services for Sunsweet Growers, Inc. I interact with talented people, am constantly facing creative challenges, and work at a pretty fast pace that doesn’t allow for much down time but does keep me interested and energized.

When I look back at my life and consider what’s led me to where I am today, I think there’s one rule in particular that has kept me moving forward and on track to reach my personal goals.

I believe that it’s critical that women not be afraid to ask for what they want and need when it comes to making their career and family lives succeed. I started using this approach early on in my life, and it has always worked for me.

I grew up in Milwaukee, 1 of 9 children, and both my parents had to work to support the family. The only money discussions I remember growing up were things like “What did you do to earn this nickel?” when I’d ask my parents for my Girl Scout dues! I also wasn’t raised with a strong career ethic--I understood that I should go to college in case I ever had to work instead of being given career advice and professional direction.

I graduated from college late, just shy of my 31st birthday. My degree was in Journalism, but I was disillusioned with the lack of job prospects so I started looking around. I really wanted and needed to get on with my life! I took a job as executive assistant to the vice president of a large promotion agency just to get my foot in the door. I also made it very clear to the person who hired me that I considered this job as a stepping stone and would only accept the position if the firm would guarantee advancement, which it did. I hated the position but took advantage of every free moment to hover around the designers and learn as much as possible.

Nine months later, my boss called me into his office and announced that I was being promoted to account executive. In the same breath, he said that due to a salary freeze, I would not be receiving a pay increase. I was thrilled about the promotion, but once the reality of the salary sank in, I felt devastated and angry. After agonizing over the decision, I turned the promotion down unless it included an appropriate pay increase. It was one of the most difficult things I’d ever had to do in my career. I really wanted the job but knew they were taking advantage of me.

After many rounds of negotiating with my boss, we reached an agreement. I took the job and received a substantial raise--but not the salary of the person I replaced. It was enough to satisfy me, however, and I saw the opportunity as one I couldn’t pass up.

With two years of experience at this large agency, three of my co-workers and I left and started a new agency. Because we were small, we did everything ourselves which was valuable experience and contributed towards the success of my career. Besides hard won experience, I have always approached my work with a “can do” attitude. For instance, I frequently find myself doing tasks that aren’t my responsibility, but they have to get done, and I’m willing to step in and make it happen.

Perhaps my greatest achievement is my daughter, Kate, who is almost 16 (this is a big year for both of us)! She’s an artist and actress. I used to say that she “wants to be an actress,” but she’s been in drama since she was five, and now I think of her as an actress. I’ve made a point of exposing her to my career--taking her to work with me for her first year, including occasional client meetings. I’ve invited her on business trips when I can and even used her as a model a few times. When I finally put her in day care, there were times when I’d be in a meeting that was dragging on late in the day. When I felt it was an appropriate time, I would simply excuse myself and announce that we’d have to continue our meeting the following day.

By staying true to what’s important to you and asking for what you want and need, I think you’ll find that anything’s possible. As one example, when I was interviewing for my current job 10 years ago, I mentioned in every interview that I would not be able to conform to the company’s hours due to my parental obligations and the long commute I would be facing. Everyone agreed that it wouldn’t be a problem, and it hasn’t been.

I’m very excited about winning the $10,000 from! At first, I imagined all sorts of ways to spend it--a new car, an exotic vacation--but I’ve decided to start my first investment portfolio. That way, I can learn how to make smart investment decisions, watch my money grow, and earn enough to buy a car, take a vacation, and much more!



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