man against painted background

A mindful approach to business, service, and life

By Pamela Edward

A mindful approach to business, service, and life

By Pamela Edward
Trae Williamson, Ph.D. ’20, keynote speaker at the 2022 Lavender Celebration, wears two professional hats—president of his family’s car dealership and part-time faculty member at Miami Herbert Business School—giving him ample scope to illuminate mindfulness and practice compassion in all facets of life.

For George Williamson, III, known universally as Trae, mindfulness isn’t a trendy buzzword – it’s the foundation on which he has built a life of rare compassion and engagement with the world around him.

His family’s car dealership, Williamson Cadillac-Buick-GMC, has been a Miami-Dade County landmark since its founding in 1967. Williamson, who is president of the dealership, is the fourth generation of his family to work in the automotive business.

Williamson also has an abiding interest in psychology and spirituality, which culminated in 2020 in his earning an interdisciplinary doctorate at the University of Miami, exploring mindful meditation in the workplace and mindful leadership.

His dissertation advisor was Teresa Scandura, professor of management at Miami Herbert, and he also worked with Amishi Jha, professor of psychology and director of contemplative neuroscience, and Scott Rogers, lecturer in law and director of the Mindfulness in Law program. Jha and Rogers co-founded the University’s Mindfulness Research and Practice Initiative (UMindfulness), and are among the country’s foremost experts on mindfulness training.

Williamson, who is also a member of the University's President's Council, cites former University President Donna Shalala as someone who strongly influenced his career path. “She embraced me as a mentee many years ago [and] said that whatever else I did with my career, I had to find a way to teach – it would keep me young. And she was absolutely right,” he said.

Williamson’s doctoral studies, which combined religion, psychology, and management, “started as a joyful form of personal development and exploration, but also established a foundation for me to teach part-time at the University … I have always been passionate about psychology and personal development, as well as the role of spirituality to promote well-being, and now I find myself helping to run a business.”

His part-time position as an instructor at the Miami Herbert Business School, offers what Williamson calls “great synergy” with his day job at the dealership. “I bring real-world examples from the dealership into the classroom,” he said. “And I bring aspirational academic theories into the dealership, especially regarding matters of leadership, corporate culture, and employee well-being.

“The aspiration is not just ‘work-life balance,’ but, even better, ‘work-life integration,’” he said. “Mindfulness … in the workplace involves bringing the whole person into their work environment, where people are regarded as human beings, not just ‘human doings’ getting things done.

“At the risk of sounding like a management professor, the research is clear that happiness and success come from the intrinsic rewards – the joy that comes from the work we do, and not from pay or praise we receive. This means that we really have to care about what we’re doing to be good at it and flourish.”

Williamson jokingly refers to himself as the Williamson Cadillac-Buick-GMC’s CEO – chief emotional officer – using his background in psychology, personal development, and workplace well-being to nurture a familial corporate culture. “Caring for, and catering to, our team members isn’t part of some action plan for corporate growth,” he said. “It is simply part of my family’s personality to care about the people we work with.”

That same approach informs Williamson’s community service and advocacy. “We are all inter-dependent with each other, whether we realize it or not,” he said. “I think our personal growth, and our happiness, come from leaning into supportive relationships with each other. Remembering that love in all its forms is more important than fear. It follows that I would honor that interconnectedness by engaging with my community.”

Williamson is a thoughtful and compassionate voice for young LGBTQ+ people, both at the University and beyond. He was recently the keynote speaker at the University’s annual Lavender Celebration, which honors students and leaders of the LGBTQ+ campus community and recognizes the accomplishments of those who are graduating this spring.

“People always called me ‘gay,’ even before I understood anything about sexuality,” he recalled. “The silver lining was that it gave me humility and empathy; I can relate to people who are suffering in one way or another. It is our compassion that unites us and binds us together [as humans].”

He said that events like the Lavender Celebration are important in helping affinity groups shape the campus community into smaller, more approachable families. “It’s helpful to have an event where everyone can feel free to be themselves … [And] the more that LGBTQ students can present themselves in a comfortable and confident way, whatever their gender identity or sexual orientation may be, the more that other people will respond to them reflexively with calm, comfort, curiosity, and support.”

In talking about his approach to community advocacy and philanthropy, Williamson cites the example of his parents, Ed and Carol Williamson. “I remember my father [who is a member of the University’s board of trustees] helping me understand that, when it comes to philanthropy, you’re not just giving to causes, you’re also giving to people.

“By supporting many causes in the community, we’re also showing a wide variety of people that we care about issues that touch them. And yes, there is a conversation out there about ‘corporate social responsibility,’ meaning that businesses should contribute to their communities for business’ sake. But for me and my family, involvement in the community is more a matter of personal ethics than it is about good business practice.

“We try to honor as many people in our sphere as possible by supporting what they care about. This keeps the connections close to our friends, co-workers, and customers.”