Augustana Means Business: Bold Journey From Plains to Washington, D.C. Prepares Alumna for Return Home

By Joel Gackle | February 11, 2022
Paula Haiwick

Augustana alumna Paula Haiwick ‘94 is an independent consultant, transformation subject matter expert for clients in the federal and private sector, entrepreneur and small business owner. Throughout her more than 25-year career, she has led projects focused on transformation, change management, human capital strategy, business process analysis, training, organizational development, implementation planning and program management.

In the summer of 2013, Haiwick and her husband began Haiwick Heritage Ranch, LLC, with the hope of continuing the family cattle and sheep ranch in Highmore, South Dakota. While it is quite a switch from management consulting, she has discovered there are quite a few similarities — finding a market, developing a business plan, figuring out how to implement those plans and tracking the lessons learned as you go.

Q: Will you tell us about your life before Augustana?

A: I grew up the youngest of three on a ranch near Highmore. Like many who grew up in small towns, I was involved in everything. My parents were incredible role models, and set a strong example for our family. My dad was a business-savvy rancher, who earned a graduate degree. My mom was a teacher, and won a national teacher of the year award for her service. When it came time to consider colleges, they told me I wasn’t going to college for only a degree, but that I needed to gain the full experience. They wanted me to build great friendships, get to know professors and administrators and stretch myself.

From an early age, I was really interested in politics. I remember being fascinated with Washington, D.C. We took a family vacation to Florida, and traveled through D.C. on our way home. A female Senate staffer gave us a tour of the Capitol, and I remember being impressed with her intelligence, her suit and the majesty of the Capitol building. I also remember watching the ‘84 presidential debates as a child. I desperately wanted to attend college in Washington, D.C., but my parents asked that I at least begin my studies in-state, and I could later transfer. I decided on Augustana, and once I arrived and got involved on campus, I knew I wasn’t leaving.  

Q: What did you most appreciate about campus life?

A: It was the people. A big part of my Augie experience was working in Recreational Services for Mark ‘84 and Carmen ‘87 Hecht. They did so much on instilling work habits, but also on being physically active. The professors were incredible. I was considering going into medicine, but took a political science course and it grabbed me. A January Interim (J-Term) course on the Civil Rights Movement with Dr. (Duane) Matz stood out from others. I remember just devouring everything about the course. Dr. (Michael) Mullin was new to Augustana, but he also impacted me as an amazing professor — so much so, that I considered getting my Ph.D. in history.  

Q: How did the liberal arts impact your Augustana journey?

A: I remember taking a history methods course with Dr. Matz. As I sat in his office, struggling to find the right topic, he said he always saw me as a feminist, and asked why I didn’t choose that topic. I didn’t see myself as a feminist since the stereotypes didn’t align with me. He pointed me toward Betty Friedan, the author of The Feminine Mystique and founder of the National Organization for Women. The following summer I participated in the Luther Institute in Washington, D.C., and landed an internship with the National Organization for Women. 

Q: After Augustana, where did your journey take you?

A: I was hired as an intern with Sen. (Tom) Daschle’s state office and lived with my sister in Sioux Falls. Throughout the internship, I was looking at full-time paid positions, and landed an interview with a foundation in Washington, D.C. After my foundation interview, I stopped by Sen. Daschle’s office to meet people I had visited with during my internship. When I met the chief-of-staff, he mentioned I had made a positive impression on the people in the state office and he told me that if I moved to Washington, D.C., they would find work for me before my job with the foundation started in January. In December, Sen. Daschle was elected Democratic leader in the Senate and they offered me a job as a staff assistant in the Capitol building office, hardly an opportunity I could turn down. 

Q: How did your time with Sen. (Tom) Daschle influence your career?

A: Working for Sen. Daschle was an honor. In his office, my responsibilities grew and I became the assistant office manager. During that time, a new law was passed requiring Congress to abide by federal labor laws, so I assisted with designing and implementing office policies such as OSHA, sexual harassment and family and medical leave. That role was my introduction to human resources, and helped me decide to attend business school.

Q: How did you transition out of politics?

A: I decided I wanted to pursue graduate school, specifically business school. I got into a top 25 MBA program, and dove fully into my studies while also working with Sen. Daschle’s office. My last two years there included consulting projects. After earning my MBA, I was hired with Booz Allen Hamilton, a global consulting firm. My first project assignment was with the IRS as they underwent a nationwide reorganization and transformation effort. I went on to other projects with agencies throughout the federal government. As my career advanced, I was supervising greater numbers of people and leading projects. I was loving my career with a large organization, but I got to the point where I wanted to do something a little bit more entrepreneurial with a small business. I went to a small business and started my own practice doing transformation and human capital work. Initially, I had zero employees, and in three years, grew my practice to 60 people. My career was growing, but I had started a family and was ready for a change. In a small business, I wore the hat of recruiter, trainer, visionary and manager. My former boss at Booz Allen Hamilton reached out and said he was starting a health practice within his strategy and organization group, and asked if I would come back. It was just the opening I was looking for.

Q: You left Booz Allen Hamilton, moved away from Washington, D.C. and became an independent consultant. Can you share more about that?

A: My husband and I were ready to make a transition, and we knew that meant moving away from Washington. In 2013, we decided to move back to South Dakota and take over the ranch. I’ve always loved my ranch, and I didn’t want it to be just another abandoned homestead. We also reached the point where we wanted our children to have experiences beyond what they were having, specifically some of the same experiences I had growing up in South Dakota. 

Q: How does your ranch look different from your childhood?

A: When we initially moved back to South Dakota, my husband continued to travel at a frantic pace. He grew tired of the time away and decided to transition to being a full-time rancher. My husband’s background is in advanced analytics. When he dove fully into ranching, he identified numerous improvements and enhancements for our ranch. In 2017, we went through a severe drought, so we added a hydroponic growing facility to hedge against drought conditions for feed. He also re-designed our sorting yards and has created numerous models to better understand the cost per penny of our livestock operations. Another different aspect is that we began a direct-buy beef business and now sell to customers in over 30 states. We sell direct, dry-aged, hormone-, steroid- and antibiotic-free Angus beef direct from our prairie to consumers. As consumers desire more information about their food, we provide that for them.

Q: What does your consulting and coaching business look like?

A: I do some coaching, but the bulk of my consulting works with large organizations. My MBA is in management and organization, and my 20-plus years in leading transformation efforts has led to continued opportunities to work with teams and organizations undergoing change. 

Q: What advice do you have for people to build a successful career?

A: Whether it’s in Washington, D.C., or small-town South Dakota, pursue your passions with confidence. I think sometimes the humility from the Midwest holds us back from boldly realizing we are just as talented and smart as those from elite universities. We have somewhat of a cultural norm of not being aggressive, but if you want to succeed, you need to be proactive and advocate for yourself. You have to get to know others and build relationships. You also need to develop strong core skills that will carry you through your career. 

There are three skills I always highlight as essential: curiosity, resourcefulness and a sense of humor. They will serve you well in both your professional and personal life. 

Take time to evaluate what you find most rewarding in your work and look for ways to build on those elements. If you are considering change, seek out those who are working in an industry which sparks your interest to learn how it may align with your skills and passions.

Work hard, develop your skills and follow your passions. Life can have a funny way of working out. I remember being in fifth and sixth grade, dreaming about working in Washington, D.C. I would watch 60 Minutes with my parents, and think about all those incredible people being interviewed. Later in life, I was able to have numerous conversations with Mike Wallace, because he was doing a story on Sen. (Tom) Daschle. It was a funny, full-circle moment for a young girl from the plains of South Dakota who built a successful career in Washington, D.C. Be bold; you never know what the journey will bring.

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