Where Are They Now? Margaret Hornady David '78SM

March 29, 2016

Margaret Hornady David '78SM shares her experience as the first woman mayor of Grand Island, NE, and the first to chair the city's chamber of commerce.

I began working at the age of 14 packing boxes of bullets in a factory in Grand Island, Nebraska. The factory was owned by my father, Joyce Hornady, who founded the Hornady Manufacturing Company, which became the largest independent producer of bullets in the world. I grew up in that factory, and the lessons I learned there and at home influenced my approach to life, work, and problem solving. Throughout my career I’ve experienced the value of being direct with people, keeping a sense of humor, and standing my ground—even when quaking in my shoes.

After earning my MBA at Simmons, I worked at Polaroid as a production supervisor. I once butted heads with an engineer over how to solve a chronic production problem. I outlined my solution; he strongly resisted it; and I stood my ground. The manager finally told the engineer to “Do it her way.” When I left Polaroid, the same manager confessed he’d originally opposed making me production supervisor. But he said my job performance caused him to completely change his mind, reexamine his prejudices against women in manufacturing, and even alter the way he related to his wife. 

My father’s death in a plane crash in 1981 led me to return to Nebraska to help run the family business as vice president (my brother was president). The fact that I never encountered resistance based on my gender might have been due in part to my last name. But I believe my knowledge of the business, hands-on experience, forthrightness, and fairness earned employees’ respect.

I took the same approach to civic life, where I had plenty of opportunities to be direct, stand my ground, and inject humor into what might be called “teachable moments.” Once at a chamber of commerce committee meeting—where I was the first woman chair—a colleague who wanted to enlist my support kept referring to me as “honey” and “sweetie.” I finally said, “Well sure, just as soon as you stop calling me ‘honey’ —lamb chop!” It had the desired effect. He apologized after the meeting and acknowledged it was a problem he needed to address. We moved on. 

In 2007, I was elected the city’s first woman mayor. During my first week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers raided our city’s largest employer. This caused quite the media frenzy and some inaccurate reporting resulted from the ruckus. My directness in responding to the distortions caused further media frenzy and I learned: be very careful what you say to the press—’cuz if they can make it sound more radical they will. 

Despite this and many other challenges, I believe my most significant accomplishment as mayor was in bringing the State Fair to Grand Island. Where many questioned how a city of 48,000 could commit $8.5 million to move the Fair from its long tenure in Lincoln, I saw opportunity and the future. With a clear vision coupled with some tenacious negotiating skills and fiscal maneuvering, the Fair opened in 2010 receiving rave reviews and overwhelming volunteer support from the community. Grand Island has proudly hosted the Fair ever since.
Today, while retired from business and government, I continue to devote my time and skills to the kinds of civic and arts organizations that I believe enrich a community. I’m happy to have made my home in Grand Island and can’t imagine the day when I won’t want to work to keep it thriving.

Read the article in Fall 2015 issue of the SOM Management Magazine.