Inspiration, Leadership celebrated at Champions’ Club Luncheon May 03, 2018 AFSA Staff Col. Nicole Malachowski (USAF, Ret.), a combat veteran and the first female pilot for the Thunderbirds Air Demonstration Squadron, spread her inspirational message of endless perseverance and learning from setbacks at two venues last week at AFSA’s 35th Annual Independents Conference & Expo in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. First at the AFSA Women’s Leadership Council (WLC) in a Question & Answer format with WLC Chair Kristin Karwat, CEO of Gateway Financial Solutions, conducting the interview; then later as the Keynote speaker at the Champions Club Luncheon. Col. Malachowski told both groups her experience of seeing the Thunderbirds for the first time as a 5-year old at an airshow with her father and telling him she wanted to fly those jets someday. In the Women’s Leadership Council she shared advice focused on ideas such as: · Always remember the art of the possible · Put a voice to your dreams by saying your goals out loud · Don’t lead an unscripted life or one scripted for you by others On her response to failure, she compared failure to headwinds that pilots fly into to assist them on takeoffs. “Take responsibility for failure,” she said at the luncheon. “Reach out to mentors; they’ve failed before, too.” Finally, she said, keep your goals top of mind. “Don’t lose sight of the big picture,” she advised. Col. Malachowski flew combat missions in Kosovo and Iraq and also served as a fighter squadron commander in her 21-year career in the Air Force. She later served as a White House Fellow and subsequently as an adviser to presidents George W. Bush and to Barack Obama. She was inducted into the Women in Aviation International Pioneer Hall of Fame Museum in 2008. She retired from the USAF at the end of last year and has been speaking as an ambassador for the USAF for over 10 years. Topics she covers include leadership, creating a high-performance culture, managing disruptive change and overcoming obstacles to success. The AFSA Outstanding Employee Awards were also presented at the Champions Club Luncheon. The awards are given to individuals who been selected by their companies for their outstanding performance and customer service. This year’s winners are: Heather Blackmon, World Acceptance Corporation; Keith Blair, World Acceptance Corporation; Ashley Gibbons, World Acceptance Corporation; Katie Kammerich, Heights Finance Corporation; Tamara McQueen, 1st Franklin Financial Corporation; Cindy McRaney, Republic Finance, LLC; and, Mary Vitela, Brundage Management/Sun Loan Company.