Looking back over the years, Bennie Fowler said, it all comes down to hard work.
He grew up in Augusta's Sunset Homes housing project, playing basketball in T.W. Josey Comprehensive High School's gym after school.
Today, he's a leader in one of the world's largest corporations as Ford Motor Co.'s group vice president for global quality and new model launch.
On Wednesday, Fowler urged more than 300 Josey students to reach just as high.
"You really only have one life, and you should make it a great one," Fowler said.
To kick off Black History Month at Josey, Fowler returned to his alma mater to show students the rewards of following a dream.
In the gymnasium full of almost 400 educators and students, the school celebrated with singers, dancers and band performances.
Junior Anthony Wise said the day was another motivation to dream big and not let negativity around him become a distraction.
Wise plays on every athletic team at Josey and hopes to study engineering in college.
"When people tell me I'm not going to make it, it don't do nothing but motivate me," he said.
During his speech to the school, Fowler, 54, said he's not sure that as a teenager he was able to understand how valuable his time at Josey was.
He received support from coaches and teachers and never let bad choices around him affect his life, he said.
There were struggles, of course, in a neighborhood where parents wanted kids home before the street lights went on. Even on the basketball court, Fowler admitted, he wasn't the best player but still strove for the top.
"What I did was I worked harder and practiced more than most people," he said.
After graduating from Josey, Fowler went on to earn a business management degree from Central State University in Ohio and an MBA in operations management from Indiana University.
After graduate school, Fowler briefly worked for Chrysler before joining Ford in 1990.
Fowler now oversees the team that brings cars from the drawing board to reality.
In the next 90 days, Fowler said, he will travel to South Africa and Thailand to launch products.
His journey through life is an inspiration to all Josey students who have the ability to achieve just as much, said Josey Principal Ronald Wiggins.
"T.W. Josey has the most talented," Wiggins said. "They have the students that Richmond County schools want. We have the students who can do it."