New CEO to lead change microloan non-profit

"I wanted to throw up," Escarra said.

Instead she kept calm and replied that she had no interest in holding a jock strap.

"And all those guys started laughing," she said. "And I do think it endeared them to me and me to them. ... So that was instant respect."

Several years later, Escarra was named chief marketing officer. She started the job a week before 9/11.

"It was mayhem," Escarra said. "We've got these airplanes on the ground, all over the world."

In the days after the attacks, a core team of executives, including Escarra, began rethinking and rebuilding security amid plummeting revenue.

M. Michele Burns, chief financial officer at the time, recalled how the airline had to shed 13,000 of 70,000 employees through buyouts and layoffs in a matter of weeks.

"What I can remember is Vicki's ability to communicate to a broad audience with compassion for the situation, with love of the company and with respect for the business," said Burns, now executive director of the Marsh & McLennan Retirement Policy Center. "She was able to make her difficult messages heard and accepted by the workforce."

But in the midst of a yearlong series of 17-hour workdays, Escarra had an epiphany.

"I started thinking, 'I do not want to do this. You know, I want to get the company out of this, and I want to do my part, but I really don't want to do this for the rest of my life. There's got to be something more meaningful,'" she said.

She left Delta in 2004, intent on taking a year off, when Shirley Franklin, then mayor of Atlanta, asked for her help with the Brand Atlanta campaign.

One day, Escarra was sitting in a car with Franklin after she had visited kids in Atlanta public schools. Franklin talked with students regularly, often giving out her phone number, Escarra said.

She said she asked the mayor, "'Why are you doing this?' And she said, 'You know, Vicki, I'm doing this because I really believe in the power of what one person can do. ... I want to see these kids graduate.' And she said, 'You know, you have all these talents. When are you going to do something really great with your life?'"

After that conversation, Escarra began to look for positions in the nonprofit sector.

Taking chances

When America's Second Harvest called, interested in her, Escarra was perplexed.

"I couldn't figure out what they did," she said. "It sounded like a farming organization. So I said, I'm not really interested in that."

Her executive search consultant urged her to go to the interview anyway.

"We met, I didn't like them, and they didn't like me. It was horrible. It was the worst interview of my life," she said.

But Escarra visited her local food bank in Atlanta, a member of America's Second Harvest, and she changed her mind after seeing the operations. Subsequent interviews went much better, and, taking a roughly 50 percent cut from her Delta income of about $850,000 a year, Escarra began her nonprofit career.