Stephanie Crook was close to her breaking point. Pregnant with her fourth child and traveling frequently for work, she felt that things were slipping.
An overachiever from childhood, Crook set high expectations for herself: she had finished her undergraduate degree in three years, earned her master’s in organizational behavior, and immediately started climbing the corporate ladder at Intel.
Stephanie Crook was close to her breaking point. Pregnant with her fourth child and traveling internationally for work every other weekend, she felt that things were slipping. An achiever from birth, Crook set high expectations for herself: she had finished her undergraduate degree in three years, earned her master’s in organizational behavior, and immediately started climbing the corporate ladder at Intel.
At that pivotal point, Crook was an organizational development manager at Intel. “I always come to the table wanting to do my best work,” she says. “And I was frustrated because I was feeling like I wasn’t at the bar I had set for myself for all I wanted to be able to do.”
Consequently, she sat down for a heart-to-heart with her manager. “He told me that as long as a person has strong skills, they shouldn’t worry about their employability,” she recalls. “He told me I could always come back to work. ‘You can always return to your career,’ he said, ‘but you can never go back and re-raise your kids.’”
These life-changing words inspired Crook to take a seven-year time-out from her career to raise her kids and build a family business with her husband, Matt. Today the Crooks are thriving: Matt is the main touchpoint at home, their children are prioritizing education, and Crook is back at Intel, taking the company shuttle jet for meetings at Intel’s Santa Clara, California, headquarters and returning home near Folsom Lake by 5 p.m.
She has learned that opportunities to grow and serve—personally and professionally—are limitless when you’re striving to follow a path that is right for you.
“I’ve learned invaluable things with each step I’ve taken, whether it’s been at home or at work,” Crook says. “I have tried to do good and become known for that rather than a title. Follow the work, don’t follow the title—progress and promotions come when you’re involved in work that makes a difference.”
Crook grew up in Holladay, Utah, as a middle child of six siblings. Her parents—an attorney father and creative stay-at-home mom—practiced a “free-range” sort of parenting.
“They had high expectations of all of us but gave us a lot of freedom,” she remembers. “We were able to do a lot on our own and start small jobs on the side. I had a lawn-mowing business when I was young. It was a nice way to grow up.”
The family was dedicated to learning and education. The question was never if she and her siblings would attend college but where. Each one went to college, with five earning advanced degrees.
Crook attended Utah State University, where she studied psychology and Russian, paying her way with scholarships and part-time work in HR at Kennecott. “I had a great set of professors who invested in me,” Crook recalls. With this support, plus her passion for learning and her drive to achieve, a PhD in psychology felt like a natural next step. She began applying to doctorate programs and conducting group therapy sessions. “I recognized fairly quickly that although I love the field of psychology, I probably wasn’t as well suited to practice as a psychologist from a patient’s perspective,” she says. “I am a bit impatient at times.”
So Crook set out researching fields that fit naturally with her undergraduate degree: “I went back to my psychology professors, and they suggested going into the fields of either industrial-organizational psychology or organizational behavior.”
That’s what led to her 1997 degree from BYU Marriott’s Master of Organizational Behavior (MOB) program, which has since been included in the school’s MBA program, OBHR emphasis. The program was an ideal match for her background in psychology and work experience in HR. “So much of what we know about organizational systems and behavior has a lot of grounding in behavioral sciences—being able to understand motivations and habits and why people behave how they behave,” she observes. “It was a nice marriage of disciplines.”
Crook met Matt in a Russian class at Utah State, where he was studying finance. He put himself through school by running a small auto-glass business, eventually moving operations down to Provo when Crook began her MOB program.
“My husband is a free spirit,” Crook says. “He likes to be outdoors. He grew up on a dairy farm fixing equipment. He loves people, he’s very outgoing, and he realized that doing his own business, being able to interact with customers and use his hands, was more suited for him than a corporate position. Matt has had flexibility in his work while I historically had a corporate job,” she says. “And that worked well. We have had a nice balance.”
Crook began her corporate climb by accepting a job offer with Intel after finishing her MOB. The couple headed to Arizona, where Crook worked at Intel’s campus and Matt built up his business, Service Auto Glass. Two years after the move, and with their careers off to a great start, the two welcomed their first child.
“Intel is such a lovely company for a working mom,” Crook says. Leaving her son was difficult, but her managers helped to ease the transition. “They let me work part-time, they let me work some flexible hours, and they allowed me the ability to ramp back in to work. They were so great baby after baby.”
As her family expanded, so did her career-growth opportunities. Crook was working with international teams and traveling regularly to Asia, Europe, and the Middle East when she found out she was pregnant with her fourth child. Feeling the competing demands of family and work closing in, Crook sat down with her manager for that pivotal discussion in which she realized that, while her skill set would always be in demand, her kids wouldn’t be young forever. After that chat, Crook was set: her next gig would be stay-at-home mom.
Focusing on Family
Crook’s dive into the world of full-time diaper, homework, and carpool duty was not easy. Staying home was a challenge. Until that point in her life, Crook had been intently focused on achievement; there were outcomes to deliver, goals to execute, and jobs to do.
“I was always doing,” Crook explains. “I followed an extremely regimented schedule. When I quit, I realized that I had put a lot of my identity into my career. You get a lot of accolades while you’re at work, especially if you’re a strong performer. Your job becomes part of who you are.”
She came to enjoy the slow pace while keeping her mind sharp by reading, attending alumni functions, and keeping her professional network alive. She also helped with her husband’s auto-glass business, overseeing HR as they built up the business in both Arizona and California. “I had to realize that I wasn’t just what I did from a career perspective,” Crook says. “I realized that being a mother was the most important identity for me. I needed to learn how to just be okay with being present, being with my kids, playing with them, and spending time with them.”
Looking back, Crook feels confident that the choice to stay home was the right choice for her.
For one thing, the mom gig paid off in the form of four great teenagers. “We’ve been lucky to have wonderful kids who are nice, respectful teenagers, and I feel like a lot of that is because of the investment that I had put in when they were little,” she explains.
And Crook’s manager at Intel was right: when the time came, her career was still there waiting.
Back to the Office
After the last of her babies started first grade, Crook says that she felt excited about the idea of going back into the workforce and using her skills again.
Jumping right back into full-time work, she landed a senior organization consultant job at Blue Shield of California as Matt stepped away from daily involvement in his business to become the kids’ primary resource at home. The arrangement was not without its growing pains. Crook says her mind initially wasn’t as fast as it had been before, but she caught up quickly.
The family also needed to adjust on the home front. She and Matt sat down with their children and established clear expectations. “I realized early on that my family is a system, and when you change one piece of that system, the rest naturally changes too,” Crook explains. “I had been the go-to person for my kids for so long, and when I wasn’t as available, things didn’t work as smoothly at first.”
Ultimately, Crook returned to Intel, where she always felt she belonged. “I jumped on that opportunity because Intel’s culture simply spoke to me,” Crook says. “Intel is a fast-paced, high-results company with high integrity and lots of discipline. And it was a company where I always kind of understood how to navigate.”
As Intel’s senior director of HR strategy, planning, and standards, Crook notes that people are the best part of her work. While today’s culture often focuses on actors and celebrities, Crook says, she rubs shoulders every day with the people who are actually changing the world.
“These people have PhDs from Stanford and MBAs from MIT, and the way their brains work is just unreal,” Crook says. “Sometimes as they’re talking about the algorithms that they are building and the things that they’re working on, I feel like I’m among rock stars. They are building technology that changes our lives and transforms industries.”
After celebrating its fiftieth anniversary last summer, Intel welcomed a new CEO and is focusing on the future. “We are in a place where we have an opportunity to transform Intel and grow into different markets,” Crook says. “We come from a long legacy of amazing leaders who pivot when it is needed. And so that too, I think, is one of the draws—to be in a company that is led by folks who are willing to constantly adjust.”
Investing in Relationships
The perennial peeve of any career-oriented family woman may be that she simply can’t have it all—the competing priorities of family or career ultimately suffer at the hand of the other. Crook believes she may have sidestepped this issue thanks to one key element: Matt.
“He and I have always been equal partners,” she says. “I married someone who wanted me to be my best self. He loves it when I’m selected for a special assignment or promotion—he’s proud. It means that he carries more of the water at times, but he feels like it has been a real blessing for him to see more of the kids.”
Relationships, says Crook, have been at the heart of her success.
“I’ve been blessed by good coaches,” Crook says. “I’ve been blessed by great colleagues, and I had amazing professors whom I’ve stayed in contact with and whom I still leverage to do work within Intel. I would say investing in those relationships made a big difference for me because I wouldn’t ever qualify myself as the smartest person by a long shot, but I’m fairly resourceful, and that’s because of the relationships I invest in. There’s just no way, at the pace things are changing, that a person can know enough, so you have to be able to count on resourcing all of the thought and knowledge from others around you.”
Written by Sara Smith Atwood
Photography by Bradley Slade
About the Author
Sara Smith Atwood worked in magazines before becoming a freelance writer. A BYU grad, she lives in Orem with her husband and their two children.