Sylvia Acevedo’s first Girl Scouts troop meeting excited her. A young girl living in southern New Mexico, she was thrilled with the idea of going on a camping trip with her peers. But she came from a family of modest means and worried she couldn’t afford to participate. That’s when cookies saved the day.
Acevedo’s first troop meeting was 52 years ago. Now she’s the interim CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA. She has spent her career as an engineer, rocket scientist, author and entrepreneur—titles she said she wouldn’t have been able to hold had it not been for the business skills she learned from the Girl Scouts cookie sale.
This season, the Girl Scouts celebrates its 100th anniversary selling cookies. The century-old fundraiser has a storied past—from its first recorded cookie sale in Oklahoma in 1917, to baseball legend Babe Ruth selling cookies in 1924 to help promote the yearly sale, to the Girl Scouts sending cookies into space in 1992.
Today, over 1 million Girl Scouts sell cookies, generating around $800 million annually. The money from cookie sales has given girls opportunities to embrace the outdoors through camping trips or help their communities by donating the money to local food banks, parks, literacy programs and animal shelters.
During Acevedo’s first year selling cookies, her troop leader gave her a critical piece of advice: “Never walk away from a sale until you’ve been told no three times.” Acevedo says that lesson of persistence and resilience has stuck with her throughout her career.
“It’s a real symbol of becoming a female entrepreneur,” Acevedo says. “When I smell Girl Scout Thin Mints, it reminds me of my success, like aromatherapy. It just feels good. It taught me to take control of my destiny.”
This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of SUCCESS magazine.