Sylvia Shepard was born and raised in Neenah, Wisconsin where her family established a family-owned packaging company, Menasha Corporation. She attended public high school in Neenah and,
following in her grandmother’s footsteps, she attended Smith College. She then spent the next two decades working in college textbook publishing before returning to the family business, where she developed a strong interest in the governance of family-owned businesses.
Motivated by her family members’ positions as shareholders of Menasha Corporation, she co-created the Family Council, an organization that worked to improve the company’s shareholder relations. Years of family conversations had informed her understanding of the nuances of operating a family business. She was also fascinated by each generation’s injection of new entrepreneurial energy to the business. Sylvia drew upon her MBA degree, earned at Babson College, and her experience with the Family Council and as a board member, to implement more effective advocacy for family shareholders.
An SVP Partner since 2015, Sylvia completed a five-year tenure as a member of SVP's board of directors in October 2021. She plans to remain deeply engaged in SVP’s efforts to improve workforce development systems in Connecticut.
How did you get involved in SVP and workforce development efforts?
After leaving the Family Council, I was introduced to SVP by a friend and met with Board Chair Don Kendall. I joined SVP just as the organization was conducting its first strategic plan which prioritized closing opportunity gap in Connecticut. I was keenly aware of the many manufacturing jobs and firms in Wisconsin, and I saw that people in Connecticut were not taking advantage of the same types of job opportunities in Connecticut.
In 2016, Mark Argosh and I visited many sites around Connecticut to learn about the manufacturing sector in our state. It was a humbling experience as we quickly learned how complex and challenging it is to establish new workforce development programs and that there was no broad agreement or understanding among stakeholders regarding a comprehensive, statewide approach to workforce development. Yet, manufacturers were consistently reporting on the lack of skilled workers in ways that grabbed the attention of policymakers. SVP became engaged as we recognized the need to help our workforce development systems evolve.
How does your perspective as a business person inform your take on this?
Actually, to turn that question around, initially it was difficult for me to get access to manufacturers in Connecticut because I am a woman. They also did not know me nor were they familiar with SVP, so they were initially unwilling to discuss problems with us as outsiders. But eventually, my family background in manufacturing gave me credibility that opened doors and got the conversations started. So, it was really my family business experience in manufacturing that gave me an opportunity to transition into this work with SVP. This experience also allowed me to contribute significantly to SVP’s initial vision of workforce development while leading several of the Governor’s Workforce Council’s initiatives, and working with SVP nonprofit partners Career Resources and AdvanceCT.
Why are you so energized about the work?
I’m a connector. I love bringing together people who would not ordinarily work together. I love learning about systems and defining improvements. As a lifelong learner, I enjoy that SVP constantly gives me opportunities to problem solve. SVP gives me a unique opportunity to work on systems management for nonprofits working at the ground level to improve workforce development. It is a huge problem in this state and it is fascinating to see how everyone is coming together to solve the problem.
What else should we know about you?
I am an avid rower. I just won a gold medal – my first ever after rowing for about three decades - as the member of a Masters Women’s Eight team in the Head of The Charles Regatta in October. After not rowing for the past two years because of Covid-19, I was asked to participate in the three-mile race. I was unsure if I could really do that well with no practice or preparation time. During the race, we passed six boats – the race has a staggered start – out of the seventeen that were participating. We suspected that we were doing well, but we found out that we won by a full 30 seconds! I was really excited to turn 70 years old and get a gold medal… it doesn’t get any better! I am still on a high from it!