Celebrating the Women of Compass: Benita Thompson-Byas
Benita Thompson-Byas prefers to talk about the accomplishments of others rather than herself. The sister of Thompson Hospitality CEO Warren Thompson, Benita joined the company a month after its inception. She is an unassuming powerhouse within this barrier-breaking company. Thompson Hospitality has been the exclusive Minority Business Enterprise partner of Compass Group USA for nearly 25 years.
We first shared this story during Women’s History Month because Thompson-Byas’ influence on the growth and advancement of women in business is undeniable. Because of her passion for creating accessible career pathways for students, we followed up to ask how she envisions the Thompson and Compass partnership supporting learners in the next 25 years? This story has been updated to reflect Thompson-Byas’ hopes for the future of the partnership, and the students who will benefit from it.
How did your childhood shape you professionally?
I grew up in a rural part of Virginia, near the Hampton Roads area. My parents were educators, and we were taught the importance of education from a very young age. My parents also instilled in us the significance of family, faith, and hard work. That has helped me appreciate the value everyone brings to the table. Just because someone may not have a college degree, or speak a certain way, or have a certain level of income or status, it does not mean they are not valuable to society. If that were the case, people would have certainly looked down on my grandfather, who was a sharecropper, and my grandmother, who was a midwife. I don’t think we can discount anybody–regardless of their title.
How have you led through the difficulty of the last two years?
I don’t take things for granted. Sometimes we take our eye off how fragile life is, but certainly, understanding that there’s a higher creator has really helped me get through the last couple of years. It’s been a difficult time for our company, for all of us personally, and the world around us, but being able to call upon the idea that we don’t really control our next breath is a humbling experience. It’s shown us we are limited, and that each day is significant.
Our father died when he was only 64, a year after Warren started Thompson Hospitality. He had been living with diabetes since he was 39. I was just a year old at the time of his diagnosis. My father always appreciated laughter – he loved to laugh and had a keen sense of humor, even in his later years when he had endured kidney failure, two strokes, and had to have his leg amputated. I came to understand the power of laughter and how it can help us through the worst times. Going through that experience with my father actually birthed in me the secret desire of doing stand-up comedy – for now I will settle for bringing laughter to my friends and family.
People loved to be around Dad right up to the very end. Caring for him after he went from being completely independent to being entirely dependent made me realize how important it is to build genuine relationships. You can have all the money in the world and still be very poor. Likewise, you can have a moderate lifestyle and be extremely wealthy. The relationships you build determine that.
What community impacts are you most proud of as you approach the 25th anniversary of the Compass/Thompson Hospitality partnership?
It’s tough to focus upon individual impacts, but I’d have to say the diverse supplier (M/WBE) community—vendors like Peixoto, Ms. Jana’s Candies, and many more–too numerous to name here—have taken the access and the platform that we’ve provided them and taken their businesses to the next level. Those businesses have transformed their own communities, providing jobs and other necessary resources where they’re needed most—and I’m grateful for the opportunity to have played a role in supporting that effort. These companies’ successes are tangible evidence of their being better off because Thompson Hospitality exists.
How do you envision the Thompson and Compass partnership supporting learners in the next 25 years?
The Pandemic has taught us of the importance of technology in reaching broader, more far-flung audiences, that will still be true—even more so—over the next 25 years. The 60 high school students who are graduates of the Navigate program have benefited from the laptops that we provided to enhance their curriculum. Technology, as accessible and as advanced as it will become over the next 25 years, will always require resources, and it’s my responsibility to ensure that our partnership will continue to provide them.
As the daughter of two HBCU graduates and the mother of a current HBCU student, I am well aware of the talent that these institutions are able to cultivate, and I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to support these schools, and the students who attend them, through connecting them with our Compass partners and corporate clients and advancing career opportunities. Thompson Hospitality and Compass will continue to provide these talented students with the resources to continue their education and to embark upon careers upon graduation.
As Thompson Hospitality grows, as Compass grows, and as our partnership grows, so will our abilities to provide opportunities for these students.
This year’s Women’s History Month theme is “Providing Healing, Promoting Hope.” How do you provide healing or promote hope?
I think we can never underestimate the power of our tongues and the power of our words. So, I really try to think before I speak up. If I don’t have anything positive to say or anything that is going to be impactful, I’m quiet. Sometimes that works well and sometimes it can be misinterpreted, but when I speak it means I have something of substance to say. I try to encourage people through positive conversations and affirmations. It can be a simple compliment or a “thank you”. I try to make sure that the people who work with me, the people who work for me, and the people who work around me never feel invisible. I want them to feel seen. Darkness and Light cannot coexist. That’s not just a scientific fact. For me, it’s a spiritual belief. I try to always be a source of light. Sometimes it’s just a flicker. Sometimes it might be a flashlight. Sometimes it’s a full spotlight. But if you walk into a room and provide some source of light, at least in that area, darkness has to move out of the way. If more people subscribed to that philosophy, just think about the kind of world we could create.
What are you most proud of?
Personally, my most prized role is that of mother. I have a college sophomore and a high school junior, and I’m proud of how well-adjusted they are as people. I am grateful that they understand the significance of, and are committed to, helping others. Professionally, I think my greatest accomplishment is that I continue to try to create a healthy work environment for my team. I believe it’s essential to know and understand who people are as individuals – beyond what their position is at Thompson Hospitality.
How do you maintain the work-life balance?
I’ve always tried to be there for the most significant things in my children’s lives. I want them to see me as a woman first and then as their mother. I want my daughter, in particular, to see you can “do it all”, but that doesn’t mean being at every single event your child has or every single event at work. They are most certainly my priority, but I have people depending on me at work too. I try to be transparent with my children. The generation before me was not very transparent. I follow through. I am honest if I am not going to be there for something. I don’t tell them I will be there and then not show up. If I make a mistake, I apologize. It helps them admit their mistakes and helps them respect me as a person.
What words do you live by?
Whatever you sow you shall also reap, in other words, what goes around comes around. As we look at our journey going forward – the next 25 years of partnership, or the next 30 years of Thompson Hospitality’s existence – if we continue to invest in our associates, in our communities and in our clients, we are sure to continue to reap success.
What is your hope for the future for the Thompson and Compass partnership?
That we will continue to build upon the foundation that we started 25 years ago—the work never ends! Some current challenges will still be here; some new challenges will arise. I look forward to seeing what the next generation will bring to our mission—how it will be built upon the foundation that we built…and are building daily. As long as we stay true to the joint commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, which animated the creation of our partnership in the first place, success will follow.