Elaine Hipps' positivity took her to the Pentagon, then to Kroger
"Everyone has a story. They just want you to listen."
That from Elaine Hipps, Assistant Store Manager at the Norwood Kroger and veteran of the Alabama National Guard. If she's right, then hers is one worth paying attention to.
Hipps is exactly the sort of person you'd assume served in the military. She's driven, highly practical, and relentlessly positive.
Those attributes took her from the little girl she was in Alabama to the Pentagon, where she liaised with military personal a world away. More recently, they brought her to Cincinnati, where this 53-year-old mother of seven is busy learning new things about being an effective manager.
THE NATIONAL GUARD
Elaine's story begins where most stories begin - with student loans. After graduating from Auburn University, she pursued a program of the National Guard where they repaid her loans in exchange for her service. Then she earned her masters in human resources. The Pentagon beckoned when Desert Storm began.
Going to D.C. in 1990 meant she was at last able to leave her small hometown. "I remember that feeling of driving on I-95 and thinking, 'Wow, I'm really going.' "
But she wasn't afraid because being in the military meant an endless network of support. "If there were mistakes, there was always someone there to help me," she says.
LESSONS OF EMPATHY
Elaine worked in D.C for three years after the conflict in Iraq ended. Her National Guard service then took her around the country, where she encountered the stunning variety of life. "There are so many different people in the world, so many different cultures and foods and ways of thinking. That broadened my horizons."
It also taught her empathy, which she used as a social worker for an Alabama nonprofit. She left the job 20 years later as vice president of human resources, having applied the lessons of the military to her work life.
"People want managers they can buy into," she says. "They want to work for someone that cares about what they are doing."
Elaine learned you can't ask someone to do something you wouldn't do yourself. If she made her employees be punctual, she had to be punctual too. The flip side was that she gained her team's respect when they saw there was no task too difficult for Elaine Hipps.
WORKING AT KROGER
Elaine moved to Cincinnati in 2012 when her husband got a position at a chemical firm in Blue Ash. She didn't plan on getting a job, but couldn't stand not working. "I struck up a conversation with someone from Kroger at a veteran's hiring fair," she says. "Since I've been at Kroger I've learned so much about how they work to serve and engage with the customer by always putting them first."
That's Elaine, always recalling the episodes her life with codas of lessons learned and applied. Perhaps she recalls them that way because, in general, things have worked out for her: Elaine's seven children have 13 grandchildren, and she and her husband live an idyllic life in Lebanon.
But Elaine isn't the sort that thinks of herself as merely the recipient of her own destiny. No, she's its architect. You wouldn't expect anything less from a military veteran - or, for that matter, from a Kroger employee.
HONORING OUR HEROES
Since 2010, Kroger has raised more than $14 million for the USO to help support its mission of strengthening America's military service members by keeping them connected to family, home, and country throughout their service. That $14 million is the largest amount ever donated to the USO.
Many of those donations occurred via Kroger's Honoring Our Heroes program, a multi-faceted campaign to raise funds for the USO and raise awareness for the military and veterans. The website provides an avenue for showcasing the stories of Kroger associates who are active duty, reservists, or veterans.
Customers can support the USO through a direct donation on the website or they can visit any Kroger store to donate.
Elaine Hipps is one of three associates Kroger is highlighting this month on Local12.com for their exemplary service and dedication to keeping this nation safe.