From where does toughness emanate? Maybe when they pull you apart and then put you back together, you gain that little extra that some never experience.
Sanquetta Taylor-McKay knows what it’s like to be halved, then made whole, even if she doesn’t remember or know the reason why.
“I was born with something, some condition,” says Sanquetta. “When I was three months old, they nearly cut me in two to reconstruct my inner organs. No one has the records and my mother can’t remember exactly why, but I have a scar on my body that runs through my entire stomach. They told my mom I wasn’t going to live. My mom had to endure that possibility and I had to endure the surgery, even though I was too young to remember. But I think it’s having that happen at such a young age that has made me so tough, able to manage and juggle the weight of so many things, emotionally, physically, financially—all the heavy things, but for me not so heavy because I won’t crumble. A lot of times, toughness comes from the things you can’t see. My scar might be hidden underneath, but it’s been there in all that I’ve done—all the accomplishments and the hardships. I think I get that from being born and going through such a traumatic experience.”
Today, Sanquetta, known as “Mamma Tay” to her team at USHEALTH Advisors®, is a prime example of a woman with a tough mental and physical attitude, leading others with care, compassion, and consistency—all the grand traits of a leader.
“My team calls me Mamma Tay for a reason,” she says. “I relate to them on many levels. Not only as a navigator to success, but I know that everyone on my team has a mother or father, present or not, and I should lead them as any parent would want them led, which means do no harm.”
Next month, Sanquetta celebrates her third year with USHEALTH Advisors, where she currently serves as a Field Sales Leader for USHA. She and her team in Tampa, Florida are part of the nationwide field force of thousands of agents. Last year Sanquetta’s team finished in the top 10 in the country. This year, her team is climbing the ranks again as one of the best in the nation.
Sanquetta is no stranger to leadership, but she is quick to point out she likes to lead from the front, but still stay out of the limelight. She has a history of success, at one time serving as the U.S. Field Engagement Leader for 9,000 people in field operations for the media research company, Arbitron, (now owned by Neilsen). Although the job had her traveling a great deal, she realized how much she enjoyed engaging with her people face-to-face, the same characteristic that she employs with her agents at USHA—it’s all about the personal touch.
“Anyone under your umbrella needs to know that you care,” says Sanquetta. “And you have to know that you might have to change yourself to meet them where they are. That’s what people need, anyone looking to you for guidance, has to know you can meet them where they’re at and you have to change who you are to be OK with it. The challenging part of leadership is if you only desire to lead people exactly like you, then your growth will be soft, and your success will be limited. There are only so many people that fit your profile and having a dynamic group of people really makes you stronger. If you are willing to do the work on yourself, you will be stronger for it.”
Sanquetta says much of her strength and conviction comes from watching one of the great role models in her life, her mom, Sandra.
“I grew up in Lexington, Kentucky with twin sisters and my mother always instilled in all of us that you wake up and take the bull by the horns and make it a great day, the greatest day possible. My mom worked hard. My stamina and my work ethic comes from my mother. She worked two jobs all her life and made sure my sisters and I always had what we needed. We went to summer school every year because my mom said more schooling is better than less. My sisters, Sonia and Sonya, and I would walk the two miles to summer school every day but we loved it, and we loved getting more education because we wanted to. Plus, walking back and forth to school was our bonding time.
“We bonded in sports, too. My sisters and I are avid sportspeople. I was really good at basketball and cheerleading, and my sisters went to the nationals in track and field. I’ve challenged my USHA agents to shoot a basketball during our sales meetings and I think 9-out-of-10 times I sink the shot. I’ve challenged many, many people in the office and not been beat yet.”
Taking a shot has been a theme in Sanquetta’s life, especially when it comes to trying to enact change in the world. Inspired by her degree in political science and the desire to be closer to Washington D.C., she picked up and moved from Kentucky to Maryland in 2000.
“I moved there on a whim,” she says. “I packed up my BMW and a U-Haul and headed east. I wanted something different, and I knew God would lead me on my way to what I was thinking about.”
Yet, as is so often the truth in life, God sometimes works in mysterious ways. So often, you don’t get to be your best until you pass the test. It was no different for Sanquetta. A little more than a quarter-century after nearly being cut in two just to survive her early days of life on this planet, another challenge came along, this time nearly ending it all.
“In 2001, I was physically hit by a shuttle bus at BWI airport,” she vividly remembers.
Sanquetta opened her door to exit her car when the passenger van struck the door.
“I was pinned to my car, and I lost consciousness because the bus had me pinned where my neck was between the door and the frame of the car so I couldn’t breathe. My family dropped to their knees and started praying, while my mother held me in her arms and wouldn’t let go. Ten members of my family watched as the first responders brought me back to life. It was a time life took on another meaning for me.”
There is meaning in all that happens in life, and Sanquetta has persevered through all of it, with a mix of grit and dogged determination. Her move to Maryland eventually paid off with a good job at Tessco Technologies, as well as a position with Bank of America and opening and operating her own antique store. As Sanquetta will tell you, she works hard and sleeps very little—it is a secondary consideration.
“Today, my team still asks me how I can survive on only 2-1/2 hours of sleep,” she says. “It’s just how I’m wired. I’ve never needed more. It’s been this way for years.”
By 2010, Sanquetta was working for Arbitron and doing work for the government in criminal intelligence, investigating the wrongdoings of lawmakers and others. So, her next challenge? She decided to run for the U.S. Senate as a Maryland resident.
It was an uphill battle from the beginning since she ran as a Democrat against a very popular incumbent, long-time U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski. Although Sanquetta couldn’t take down the political legend, she says it was a great experience.
“I ran on the democratic ticket,” she says, “but I wished there were no tickets or titles. I wish you could just run on common sense and do what’s right for people. I do just as well with Republicans and conservatives. I believe everyone has value and if we didn’t have titles, we could all get along and create solutions. I wish this world didn’t have titles and party affiliations and could just work toward doing what is right. I turned away every campaign donation as well. I’ve done well for myself over the years and financed the campaign 100 percent on my own. We took any campaign donations and instead gave them to domestic violence victims transitioning back into the mainstream and war veterans attempting to do the same.”
Eventually in 2015, after a decade with Arbitron and then Nielsen and a move to Florida, Sanquetta found herself back in the open marketplace, not really looking for work, actually expecting to travel, but then she got an unexpected phone call.
“About two or three months after leaving Nielsen, I get a call out of the blue,” says Sanquetta. “It was Kelly Greif, the wife of Jason Greif (now a Regional Leader with USHA) and she told me she was making a really quick call because she came across my resume online. I didn’t remember putting it out there but figured I’d go check out the opportunity anyway. I came to a presentation and sat in a room full of people. I’m an open-minded person, so I listened to the pitch and thought, ‘Wow. All of this opportunity and I don’t need another degree, all I need is a health and life license. I will have the autonomy, I can build generational wealth on top of what I already have,’ and it seemed like a pretty good atmosphere. I got a call back on Friday to come in for an expectation interview and told them I’m pretty sure I can do this. I started studying for my license Saturday morning, took my licensing test on Monday, passed it, and came in that same afternoon to start working. I can’t say enough about my leader Jason Greif as well, he’s been a major influence in my progression at USHA.”
“I got started and within two or three weeks, I had licenses in all of the states where we do business. Eighty-five percent of my business is by referral and nothing from social media, though I’m starting to hone in on more of that. My presentation is all about relationship building. Through my walk of life and my journey, I can relate to people because of my experiences in so many different vocations. I focus big on customer service as well. I tell my team all the time if you are not helping clients after the sale or when they have a problem, then your business growth will stall.”
Sanquetta’s Field Sales Leader team now has more than 40 agents and is growing with the help of leaders like Chris Chamness, Roland Fernando and Brian Colon, all who are committed to supporting each other to make the team better and better every day.
She also knows she has the full support of her family, her husband Branett and her daughters, Brittney (14) and Brittany (11). Sanquetta met Branett while on a trip to Jamaica in 2013.
“Branett says when he first met me, he said to himself, ‘That is going to be my wife.’ I didn’t see that,” she laughs. “I wasn’t looking for anyone at the time.”
But after several different get-togethers and then meeting Branett’s daughters, she says she fell in love with all of them. Sanquetta says she always wanted to be a “mamma” and as it turns out, the girls “look just like me and people say that all the time.” Plus, she is close with the birth mom and Sanquetta tells her girls all the time they are doubly-blessed.
“You have your mom who birthed you, the one that gave you life, and one that takes care of you and makes sure you have a great life moving forward. We both love you so much.”
Life’s about love. Living is giving and giving all you have is what Sanquetta is all about. She says that is a key to great success.
“I think with grit you can get through anything. I think grit is the ability to withstand anything at all times—not sometimes, but all the time. Grit coupled with mental strength and stability. If you are not mentally strong, you won’t be able to get through what you need to get through. Pressure sometimes breaks people, or things, but like a diamond, if you can withstand the pressure, you can shine. Grit and mental toughness as a leader means you shoulder everything, be accountable, be strong, and lead with integrity. At no point can you cross that line, because that’s where trust is built. Live with integrity because no matter who you are or what you have, people will always respect that. The only time people are scared of anything is when they can’t trust you. No matter the situation, as long as you stand on the foundation of integrity, you’re going to be OK.”
And if all this wasn’t enough—take note—because after what she knows will be a successful 15-year run at USHEALTH Advisors, Sanquetta has her sights set on the ultimate in leadership. It will come as no surprise to those who know her best, she plans to go for it all—President of the United States.
Look for that ballot in 2032: Sanquetta Taylor-McKay, Mamma Tay, True Grit for President!
Until next time, thanks for taking the time.