Attitude and Gratitude: An Autobiography by Patricia Sabena, Dorrance, 2021

Pat Sabena’s autobiography tells how she succeeded in qualitative research and in life, overcoming many challenges. Jay Zaltzman was inspired by her book and thinks it has important lessons for those getting started in the marketing field.

Reviewed by Jay Zaltzman, Bureau West Market Research, Palm Springs, California, jay@bureauwest.com

After reading Pat Sabena’s autobiography, my alternate title for this article was “How Pat Sabena Made a Grown Man Cry”—but more on that later!

While Pat has played an outsized role in QRCA, her life story is a fascinating read, even for those who don’t have a clue what QRCA or market research is. Pat shares an inspiring life story and provides insight into how the reader can meet personal and business challenges head on and come out both happy and successful.

Pat Sabena has been my idol since I joined the QRCA. When I joined, I was a very new moderator and had probably conducted fewer than ten focus groups. I was writing reports and taking notes for other moderators and dreaming of the day I could have my own clients and jet around the country (and the world!) to conduct research.

At my first QRCA annual conference, I attended a presentation where Pat taught attendees to use several projective techniques just like she did. I mean, here she was, telling her competitors how to do what she did. I couldn’t believe it! A few months later, she came to a meeting of our Southern California chapter and gave us even more detail! In addition to thinking what a very generous and giving person she was, I thought she must be wildly successful to be able to help her competitors without worry. She inspired me to try to be like her.

I later learned Pat wasn’t alone—this giving spirit defines the QRCA. But I believe Pat was one of the people who helped make that happen. As she says in her book, “a rising tide lifts all boats.”

When I first met Pat, she seemed so successful and self-assured—she made it look like success came easily. In reality, she experienced some wonderful good luck and also heart-wrenching bad luck. Her eldest son was hit by a car and killed when he was still a child. Some years later, her husband had an affair, they got divorced, and Pat became a single mom to four kids. Through it all, she persevered in her market research career, including typing research reports at the kitchen table with her newborn baby in his infant seat by her side.

Those in the marketing and research fields could learn quite a bit from Pat’s story. When Pat applied for one of her first jobs, she was told to invent a product, design its packaging, and develop an advertising campaign and media plan—which she did and got the job. Imagine how an aspiring marketer could stand out today by doing something like that. Unlike Pat, they wouldn’t have to go to the library… they wouldn’t even have to leave their computer!

Certainly, Pat had both skill and luck on her side. In the Sixties, focus groups were new, and Pat was in the right place at the right time. Working at Foote, Cone and Belding, the company initially hired psychologists and anthropologists to run the groups; they then told Pat, “We learned enough from them; from now on, you’re our moderator!”

Throughout her life, Pat has had great times (including lots of amazing travel) and also very difficult times; but, when challenges presented themselves, she always faced them head-on. This story of Pat talking to two of her granddaughters crystallized things for me:

“When the two older girls (my granddaughters) knew Kristin (my daughter) was expecting her third baby, we three had a long and deep conversation about the capacity to love. They worried that their parents and I would have less love to spare for them once the new baby came along and snatched her share. In reassuring them, I explained that the heart and its ability to love is unlimited, ever expanding to encompass infinite love.”

I know that “infinite love” can sound like a cliché, but after reading the whole book, I realized it was completely accurate. That’s how Pat made a grown man cry. Read her book, and be inspired both in your business and personal life.