From corporate success to helping kids for Mt. Airyite

by Len Lear
Posted 5/14/21

Marcella Blakney Collins had a high-profile, high-prestige corporate job at Johnson & Johnson for 10 years that took her to countries around the world, but when she was 57 and just about to fly to Amsterdam for a business trip, she put on the brakes.

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From corporate success to helping kids for Mt. Airyite

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Marcella Blakney Collins, a Mt. Airy resident for the past 16 years, had a high-profile, high-prestige corporate job at Johnson & Johnson for 10 years that took her to countries around the world, but when she was 57 and just about to fly to Amsterdam for a business trip, she put on the brakes.

“I just could not get on another plane,” said Collins, who promptly retired, although she was eight years shy of what most people consider retirement age. “I started working at age 14 and wound up working for several Fortune 500 companies like Blue Cross, Unisys, Cygna, Rhone-Polenc and Johnson & Johnson. When you work for any of those companies, there are wonderful things about the job, but you also work days, nights, weekends and lots of travel. And there is a great deal of responsibility. It takes a toll.

“With Johnson & Johnson, I had a one-hour-and-15-minute commute each way to and from work in New Jersey, sometimes longer. You get tired, of course. I had a staff of 24 and was responsible to 60,000 people. My husband had retired, and I wanted to spend time with my mom, who was 82 and not in good health. I relieved my sister of caring for her. It turned out to be the right decision. I thought I would have 10 years with my mom. She died after two years, but we did spend lots of time together, which was wonderful.”

Collins, a West Philadelphia native, has a B.S. Degree in education from the University of Pittsburgh, an MBA in human resources management from Temple University (both with honors) and is a graduate of the Wharton Executive Education Program at the University of Pennsylvania in addition to other executive programs. She is also a certified Global Career Development Facilitator.

Now 64, Collins began a career in education as an assistant teacher at Germantown Friends School for two years and then as a third grade teacher at the now-defunct St. Barnabas School in Germantown. Then, for more than 30 years Collins served as an executive for Fortune 500 companies in more than 10 countries in the fields of talent management, strategic planning, community relations, employee engagement and diversity and inclusion. About two years after her retirement, though, when her mother died, Collins started her own consulting firm, Career Edge Essentials, in 2013.

“I realized I had always been a community activist,” she said, “and had always been concerned about underserved young people, especially those of color, not having the opportunities in life that other young people have. And the disparity in education and resources has gotten even greater during the pandemic. I wanted to do whatever I could to help level the playing field with respect to careers. I have had a passion for youth development since I was in high school myself.”

For Career Edge Essentials (CEE), Collins does direct coaching of young professionals, conducts workshops and organizes conferences focused on career development of young people, including college tours, in an attempt to “close the gap for disadvantaged African American youth … and improve career readiness, employee engagement and job retention.”

CEE offers services such as career exploration, career management, professional development, life skills, etc. Collins has worked extensively with Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church in East Mt. Airy with an educational support committee of 25 to 30 people to improve the educational opportunities of young people who do not have access to the services that suburban kids and private school students have. They have also brought in politicians, radio hosts, etc., to teach the kids about political activism and the importance of voting.

“If you know what you want to do as a career, you are more likely to stay in school,” said Collins, “so we emphasize things like how to find a job, how to pick a career, when to apply for a job, how to navigate a career, what to do if you are not appreciated by your boss, if you are not getting promoted, how to put together a resume, knowing the reasons why you are working in addition to getting a paycheck, the importance of selecting something you are passionate about, etc. Working with young people helps you to remain vital.”

For more information, visit careeredge-esnt.com. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com

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