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Synchrony EVP Alberto ‘Beto’ Casellas: 5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative and Equitable Society

Tackle Biases Head-on. In business, we are continually exploring the concept of “unconscious bias” and how it can create barriers to more inclusive recruiting practices, leadership styles and organizational culture. We often have blind spots in stereotypes and judgments that we aren’t even aware of. While this can be uncomfortable, societies need to reflect, confront biases and find ways to mitigate any discriminatory behaviors moving forward.

As part of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had the pleasure to interview Beto Casellas.

Alberto (Beto) Casellas is executive vice president of Synchrony, one of the nation’s premier consumer financial services companies, and chief executive officer of CareCredit, where he focuses on creating comprehensive financing solutions for patients, clients and healthcare providers. Beto was born in Puerto Rico and is a champion for diversity and inclusion in the workplace. He is currently the executive sponsor for Synchrony’s Hispanic Network, one of eight Synchrony diversity networks that promote diversity and inclusion throughout the company and serves on the board of directors of Domus Kids, a nonprofit organization that helps thousands of disadvantaged children achieve brighter futures.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you.’ Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico — I lived there until I was 18 and came to college in the United States. My interest in finance and banking began as I saw my parents save their money, but also used loans to help them plan and buy the things our family needed. I saw the sacrifices my parents made and the steps they took to put me through college and give me the opportunity to study in the US. I’ve always been grateful for those opportunities and recognized early on that access to the right financial tools can really change the course of a person’s life.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I love reading nonfiction, including biographies, and also novels that challenge me to think about well-known events of the past in new ways, through detailed and creative storytelling. Digging into historical context gives you a practical framework for understanding so much about how the country works today, including how we got here and how we can learn from our collective past. Recently, I’ve been reading Leadership in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin, a book examining how Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson overcame personal adversity to lead the country through crisis during their time in office

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

My favorite quote is advice I received early in my career that still feels relevant today: “Keep your promises — have a high do to say ratio.” I believe this applies to any job at any level, in any industry. It’s about putting in the work to become a trusted resource to others and letting people know they can depend on you. It’s also about operating with values and a strong sense of self, taking the time to develop your unique strengths rather than fitting into a mold created by someone else.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

First, nothing trumps competency and knowledge. I believe those are two essential qualities all leaders must have, and there are no shortcuts when it comes to achieving them. When people look to you as a subject matter expert, you must be prepared to deliver against those expectations. Next is vision — seeing how all the pieces work together and how they can become something greater than the sum of their parts. This involves keeping staying engaged with current trends while simultaneously staying one step ahead and thinking about the future. And finally, leaders must know how to build teams and mobilize people toward producing outcomes. You have to learn how to communicate effectively across functions and levels to rally people around tangible business objectives.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

It can be easy to feel overwhelmed, especially when there are seemingly endless priorities competing for our attention these days. I find that it helps to understand what things are important — and why — versus things that simply feel “urgent.” If I’m preparing for an important meeting, I ground myself in my objectives and focus on the “why?”, what am I trying to achieve, and why is it essential to our broader strategic vision? At CareCredit, this often means finding ways to add value for patients, clients and healthcare providers.

It goes back to your vision and understanding how all of the pieces fit together. When you know your purpose and are prepared, there’s much less to stress about.

OK, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?

This pandemic is undoubtedly shining a light on injustices that we must work to address. Yet few of these issues are new, especially from a healthcare perspective.

Things like high out-of-pocket costs were challenging for families to absorb even under normal circumstances. Now, in these difficult economic times, they’ve become even more significant barriers to care. Many patients will go without necessary treatments or decline a procedure if they don’t think they can afford it. Because patients don’t always know what the cost will be beforehand, they’re often willing to compromise or settle to avoid expenses they don’t think they can cover later on.

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has magnified longstanding socioeconomic inequities across the entire healthcare continuum, and communities of color have been hit disproportionately hard. Change on this front is long overdue — Americans should not have to delay the care they want or need due to cost or access issues.

Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?

We recognize that to foster a truly inclusive environment where employees can reach their fullest potential, we must be having open, honest and sometimes challenging conversations. We ensure every voice gets heard through our eight Diversity Networks, which are close-knit groups formed around common interests and goals. More than 10,000 employees, which represent more than 60 percent of our workforce, are engaged across these employee resource groups, which include an African American Network, Asian Professional Engagement Network, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Network, Native American Network, People With Disabilities Network, Veterans Network, Women’s Network and Hispanic Network.

I’m currently the executive sponsor of our Hispanic Network, which helps members grow their careers across Synchrony. Our goal is to be an employer of choice for Hispanic and Latino professionals within the financial services industry, which I feel very passionate about.

And while we have long stood for diversity and inclusion, Synchrony has recommitted to further learning, action, and change, elevating D&I to a strategic companywide initiative. I’m part of a senior-level committee led by our President, Chief Diversity Officer, and diverse leaders focused on implementing actions to advance equality across all areas of our business and our communities.

Outside of work, I’m a member of the board for Domus Kids, a nonprofit organization that reaches out to disengaged and disconnected youth in Connecticut. Our goal is to help these kids rise above adversity through academic support, social and emotional skill-building, and personal connections that guide them through critical junctures to become resilient, positive contributors to their communities.

This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

I believe true diversity is reflected in the culture, values and DNA of an organization. Welcoming diverse perspectives and challenging people to think beyond their personal experiences is how you build a culture of innovation equipped to take on the most pressing challenges our industry faces today.

Diversity must be more than a corporate talking point — it has to come through in everything you do, beginning with your board of directors and the executive team. A company with diverse leadership has the benefit of unique backgrounds, experiences and viewpoints to draw from while navigating a crisis. It puts you in a better position to find solutions to complex problems.

OK. Here is the main question of our discussion. You are an influential business leader. Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative and Equitable Society.” Kindly share a story or example for each.

While this is not an exhaustive list, the following represent actionable steps I believe societies can take to advance their commitment to inclusion.

  1. Tackle Biases Head-on. In business, we are continually exploring the concept of “unconscious bias” and how it can create barriers to more inclusive recruiting practices, leadership styles and organizational culture. We often have blind spots in stereotypes and judgments that we aren’t even aware of. While this can be uncomfortable, societies need to reflect, confront biases and find ways to mitigate any discriminatory behaviors moving forward.
  2. Prioritize Diversity and Inclusion as a Key Business Strategy. By integrating diversity and inclusion into the long-term business strategy, we can apply clear metrics and key performance indicators to any business imperative. Businesses must define short- and long-term actions and accountability for advancing inclusion and regularly assess their performance — what is working well, and where are they still falling short. And don’t stop there — keep iterating to raise the bar for diversity and inclusion.
  3. Invest in Diversity. In business, we attract and retain top talent by investing in employees’ development. This can include coaching and training opportunities, as well as programs to help take their skills to the next level. Societies must look for ways to make strategic investments and create an infrastructure where diversity can thrive both in the workplace and in the communities we serve. And you have to make it personal– take an interest in including this as part of your own DNA.
  4. Have Difficult Conversations. To achieve a more equitable society, we must look for ways to elevate marginalized voices and maintain an honest dialogue about where we can do better. Recently, I have been able to set up more conversations and dialogues to really listen to the lived experiences of others more closely.
  5. Keep Moving Forward. It’s important to remember that change takes time, even when many of the changes we’re working for already feel long overdue. It’s easy to feel frustrated or overwhelmed, but we have to keep working. Every day, we should be checking in and asking ourselves what we’ve done to get closer to the goal of achieving a society where all voices are valued.

We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?

I consider myself a cautiously optimistic person and believe there are tangible steps we can take now to resolve many of these issues. It will take the time and coordinated efforts of many, but it’s certainly attainable if we find the will and the way to catalyze the changes we want to see. I believe most — if not all of us — care about this in a way where we can get to a brighter and productive spot for everyone to live a good life.

Is there a person in the world, or in the U.S., with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

I love cooking and often joke that I’m a “chef in training.” I find so much joy in discovering dishes from new places and believe that food can be a powerful vehicle for storytelling, history and culture. I would love to sit down for lunch with José Andrés, a renowned chef and humanitarian who has done incredible work to bring food and life-saving resources to people suffering in the wake of natural disasters.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow me on Twitter @betocasellas and on LinkedIn.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

External image

Synchrony EVP Alberto ‘Beto’ Casellas: 5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.



source https://medium.com/authority-magazine/synchrony-evp-alberto-beto-casellas-5-steps-we-must-take-to-truly-create-an-inclusive-e4153335c85?source=rss—-f772c66cd492—4
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I truly believe we think about Christianity all wrong. I find there are hundreds of Christians starving for something more in life and in their faith. So I have decided to start this blog. I believe that all Christians should be master swords and I am willing to teach them the art of the craft. If you, or you and a friend are interested in learning an in-depth version of Christianity than roll up your sleeves and join in.

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Women Of The C-Suite: Cristina Miller of ‘1stDibs’ On The Five Things You Need To Succeed As A Senior Executive

That COVID would accelerate e-commerce adoption 10 years in the span of just a few months. Everything we had been telling our seller community and building our platform for suddenly just…happened. The circumstances were not those anyone would have wanted, but our complete readiness for this shift to e-commerce has been a bright point in a complicated year.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cristina Miller. Cristina is the Chief Commercial Officer at 1stDibs, a global marketplace connecting buyers who are passionate about design and fine art with dealers who sell these rare and desirable items. In this role, Cristina oversees supply-related initiatives, such as new category growth, and leads seller-facing functions, including sales, account management and support for the company’s 2,500 dealers in the Americas.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

My parents raised me with an intense appreciation for education, the arts, and entrepreneurship. I grew up in D.C. surrounded by people working in policy and politics, including my dad, who is an economist. My mom immigrated to the U.S. from Nicaragua and is an entrepreneur and an artist; she has started several small businesses, including a non-profit called the Latino Student Fund, which is now a national scholarship organization for Latinx students. I’ve combined influences from both of my parents throughout my career to align with companies that engage and support sellers and entrepreneurs, particularly those that help small businesses transition to the Internet.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

The transition of 1stDibs from an online listings platform to an eCommerce marketplace, which took place from about 2013 to 2016, was a forward-thinking business decision that involved an enormous communication effort with our seller and buyer communities. We saw that even the design industry would eventually shift to online — as has been the case with so many other industries — and the need to innovate and provide the best one-click purchasing experience for our customers was critical to growth and success for not only our business but also the thousands of businesses that our platform supports. But the transition required much education, especially on the seller side, as eCommerce was a very new way of doing business for many of our partners and not always their preferred channel (especially 5–6 years ago). We knew it was the right decision, even if we were a little ahead of the times; and now in 2020 — with quarantine forcing many businesses to close their shops and focus entirely on an eCommerce-based selling strategy — we feel fortunate to have a robust eCommerce platform that we’ve been refining for many years now. We are well-prepared for the large growth in demand we’re seeing today, and we’ve been able to support our seller community during these incredibly challenging times by equipping them with a trusted channel for conducting online business, and a large, global audience of buyers who are making online purchases at rates like never before.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The art and antiques industry has an intense learning curve. My background is in business and eCommerce. On my first day at 1stDibs, I was handed an art history textbook and was told that I would, “need to learn this.” How many companies give you an actual textbook — “required reading” — for your job? I had just had my first child, and I remember being at home, trying to stay awake at night with my baby in one arm and this textbook in the other to get up to speed. I felt like there was an expectation that I essentially earn an art history degree in three months. The truth is, I never made it through that whole book, but I did end up learning quite a bit of the material, thanks to my talented and knowledgeable co-workers and our amazing sellers, who still keep me up on my design knowledge today.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

David Rosenblatt, CEO of 1stDibs, is my current boss but also a longtime mentor. I was introduced to him by an ex-CEO of Etsy. We met for a coffee and discovered we had grown up blocks away from each other in Washington, D.C. and had a number of other things in common. Soon after, I joined a startup that David had co-founded, and while I was there, David accepted the CEO job at 1stDibs, which was a fairly obscure company at the time since it catered mostly to interior designers. I knew all about 1stDibs, though, and I loved it as a source for one-of-a-kind design items. I never imagined I would work there. David was really helpful to me in thinking through some other career situations over the years, and one day when we were catching up, we started discussing the possibility of me working at 1stDibs. He had assembled a really impressive team, and I was excited to join them. I was also eight months pregnant when I was formally offered the job, which I think says a lot about David and about 1stDibs.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

Breathing techniques and mindfulness really help me stay focused and relieve stress. As a business leader, there are times when I have to explain tough decisions to partners, employees or other stakeholders. During the transition to an eCommerce business model, I spent hours meeting with our seller community in small groups across the U.S. and Europe and was constantly challenged by people who felt threatened by the change or disagreed with it. There was a lack of trust and a lot of anger at times. I firmly believed the changes were imperative for long term success, both for our business and for those of our partners, but that didn’t make those meetings easier. These breathing techniques really grounded me during that time and kept me going — the physiological changes that you can create just with breath are real, empowering and can help a person take back control of a difficult situation.

As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

There are so many reasons why diversity is critical for businesses, but to distill them into two key buckets: First, creating an equitable environment is the right thing to do from a human and moral perspective. Second, it’s been repeatedly proven that teams with more diverse representation achieve better business results. Point one is enough for me, but it also makes perfect sense that companies thrive when their employees have a safe, equitable and representative work environment. At 1stDibs, our executive team has gender and racial diversity, and we are interested in further diversifying our teams, especially to increase representation of BIPOC employees.

As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.

Education is a critical first step. I’m Latinx, and in the midst of the Black Lives Matter protests this summer I became aware of gaps and assumptions in my own understanding of the experience of Black Americans and how that was showing up for me. I took some steps to get educated and I am still on that path — trainings, reading books and articles, listening to podcasts. I am trying to put into action what I have learned in order to foster anti-racist and inclusive spaces.

I think it’s important to challenge the status quo, no matter your age or experience level. It’s important to be proactive when you identify something that can be shifted or adjusted for the better. I found it really impactful when 1stDibs employees spoke up about diversity this past summer and suggested ways to create a more inclusive workspace. Employees formed anti-racism groups, support groups, informal communities, and they pushed the executive team and the business to do more and do better. And it was not always comfortable for many of the people and groups involved, including the executive team. But it moved us forward. We created and publicly committed to a five-part plan to increase diversity, equity and inclusion that ranges from anti-racism training for employees to financial donations to broadening our seller base to include more BIPOC businesses, to more intentionally elevating the works of historically under-represented artists and makers in our marketing.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

I think what everyone knows is that you have to be in charge of the operations of the business, but the other side of the coin is that you also have to constantly think about the bigger picture — the larger financial picture, threats and opportunities for the business, confidential matters and people topics Our executive team spends a great deal of time thinking about our biggest asset — our people. From there, we have to determine what should be conveyed to the larger team, and what should be insulated from them so they can focus on their day-to-day. This can be more challenging during difficult times, like the start of COVID-19. You have to be protective, and build the conditions in which your team can thrive.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

The biggest myth is that we always know what to do! I think people would be surprised at some of the discussions that happen at the executive level. If something goes wrong or doesn’t go as planned, we immediately hear the question: why has the exec team not dealt with this? But we have to go through a process to get the right answers. It’s that process — including the team you’re on, and how you get to that answer, balancing all of the different stakeholder viewpoints — that gets at the heart of how the executive role operates.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

Unconscious bias is the toughest one. It comes in many forms. It might be in a group setting, where men are trying to impress other men, and it’s harder for women to be heard. It’s when someone repeats your idea and makes it sound like it was theirs — it’s hard to tell if it was intentional, so it’s hard to call out. Or, maybe you were interrupted or passed over for your feedback — did the man (or woman) who did that realize it…? COVID has exacerbated a lot of the assumptions or biases that people have. Having control over how much to talk about or reveal about your family is something women have relied on to be seen as equals to men. Now, suddenly, a female executive’s kids are interrupting her on Zoom, and there are a lot of responses to that across the spectrum. I read recently that women have tended to work at the kitchen table during COVID, where they can pitch in with school or childcare, whereas men have more often worked in a separate office or room in the house.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

When I started at 1stDibs, I was incredibly excited about the opportunity, the industry, and the executive team. I knew the job would change and evolve over time, especially since the industry was transforming — a change we were leading as we facilitated the online transition of the antiques furniture business. What I anticipated going into the role, and how it actually played out, might be slightly different, but I always anticipated change and progress. This constant evolution is something I still love most about my job today. It’s what keeps things exciting.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?

In my opinion, the traits that make a good executive include an ability to inspire and lead people, a big appetite to keep learning, a willingness to communicate (including hard conversations), and a healthy dose of humility. That’s the only way you’re able to learn from your mistakes, pivot your energy, and re-focus on the path. I also think resilience is really important. Some days and stretches of time are really, really hard, especially when you have to be so present at work when there are other things going in your life or the world. There have been times, like when my kids were little and not really sleeping, that I wasn’t sure I could make it out the door in the morning, but, of course, I just had to. The sense of responsibility to the business, my team, our partners — that has actually helped get me through hard times. The excitement and satisfaction of accomplishing a goal that a team of people has set out to tackle is electrifying to me. I am not sure that’s a necessity for everyone to be an executive, but it has certainly been helpful for me.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

My biggest piece of advice is to remember there are multiple ways to achieve anything. There isn’t just one right way. There are so many people to learn from, at various levels. Keep in mind that some days are going to be great, and some days are going to be hard. But take it day by day, and learn from your hard days. Again, communication and humility are key to learning and growing from your mistakes. Continue putting one foot in front of the other, and just keep moving forward.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

It’s so important to me to pass it forward — to empower other people and support the communities that inspire us. I love that my role allows me to connect people with resources to grow their businesses, and provide exposure to audiences that are passionate about the same things they are. I try to live out my values with everyone in my life — my kids, at work — whether it’s through volunteering, mentoring, or supporting small businesses like the ones my mom started.

There are so many decisions we make in a day, both big and small. Each one is an opportunity to do better or to make a change. Maybe it’s buying food that is ethically sourced. Maybe it’s responding with empathy and thoughtfulness to a work challenge. Lately, for me, it’s how I’m answering my kids’ questions about hard topics like the election. No matter how high you climb the corporate ladder, it’s always important to respond to the little things with grace and kindness.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. That many of our seller partners would become so much a part of my life. They are a bit like an extended family, with all the great and less great things that come with that! Many have become friends, and I am grateful for these relationships. I wouldn’t have guessed that.
  2. Related to point one, that I would share my cell phone number with so many of our sellers! I thought it was important to be accessible, especially during the business model change, and I still do. I try to make sure I talk with sellers every week, personally. But, had I known I would do that, I might have gotten a “work” cell phone!
  3. That “Gio” in “Gio Ponti” is pronounced like “Joe”. It took me years to figure that out and I still cringe thinking about all the times I said, “Geeeeoh.”
  4. That the amazing 1stDibs team would get us through all these big business transitions successfully and we’d emerge as a better and stronger business and team afterwards. There were some stressful periods there! Though, I guess it was the challenge and the belief in the end goal that motivated us so much.
  5. That COVID would accelerate e-commerce adoption 10 years in the span of just a few months. Everything we had been telling our seller community and building our platform for suddenly just… happened. The circumstances were not those anyone would have wanted, but our complete readiness for this shift to e-commerce has been a bright point in a complicated year.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I think every one of us has influence and agency in life. Leadership roles may shine a spotlight on individual influence, but I am a big believer in grassroots-style movements. My movement would focus on improving education in this country, because empowering children and young adults with the right tools to succeed has a multiplier effect on society.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Assume best intentions.” It is my rule for myself and my team! I find that it can shift all communications and interactions between people and teams in order to immediately facilitate being action-oriented and actually getting stuff done.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

I would love to meet Stacey Abrams. She’s inspiring on so many levels, and she has an incredible ability to execute. She represents the kind of leader I strive to be — positive, action-oriented, focused on creating a better process. She has empowered millions of people through voting and brought hope and awareness to historically underrepresented communities in a way that I think will serve as a model for other movements.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

External image

Women Of The C-Suite: Cristina Miller of ‘1stDibs’ On The Five Things You Need To Succeed As A… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.



source https://medium.com/authority-magazine/women-of-the-c-suite-cristina-miller-of-1stdibs-on-the-five-things-you-need-to-succeed-as-a-31dd3504795b?source=rss—-f772c66cd492—4
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Self care.
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Women Of The C-Suite: Lee Anne Nance of Stewart On The Five Things You Need To Succeed As A Senior Executive

Hard work does get noticed. One factor that I credit for my path so far is not focusing on getting credit for my accomplishments. At work, ego is the enemy. Credit takes care of itself. People notice hard work and meaningful outcomes. Instead, focus on leaving things better than you found them.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lee Anne Nance.

Building on her years of experience as an executive in marketing, business consulting and economic development roles, Lee Anne Nance was the first woman to serve on the executive team at Stewart, an interdisciplinary design, engineering and planning firm with more than 200 employees.

As Chief Operations Officer (COO), Lee Anne plays an essential role in the company’s concerted commitment to diversity and inclusion. The effort is a vital part of the company’s core values and opens doors for opportunity, innovation and creative collaboration.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Prior to Stewart I was an economic developer for sixteen years — where I was able to combine my skills in economics with my experience in marketing and communications to create jobs and tax base for a state I love, work with amazing companies and travel the world to exciting places in China, Israel and throughout Europe. This included as COO of a regional economic development organization, Research Triangle Regional Partnership (RTRP), and before that economic developer in the county where we lived — Harnett County, North Carolina

It was at my first job after graduate school that I realized my love for applying the principles of economics to communications and marketing and it has led my career ever since. After that first job, I took a chance accepting a position as Director of Marketing and Communications at a Fortune 500 radiation chemistry company, a job for which I was not qualified — and they took a chance on me. After more than five years, I decided to make a huge career change and start my own consulting practice from home, which was quite revolutionary in 1995. This decision helped me to keep my career viable and our bills paid while enabling my husband and I to parent in a way that truly worked for us until I was ready to return to a team-based, mission-driven organization.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

When I first joined Stewart our executive leadership team was preparing to launch a company culture initiative, outlining the values of the firm as it continued to grow. Like most companies, we struggled to articulate our company culture in a way that employees remember our values and weave them throughout the culture of our organization.

The foundational values were built out of our guiding principles, strong and well thought out. Enthusiasm and a desire to roll them out quickly was well founded. Still, I felt that in order to make a real cultural shift and embed those values in the way we do business day in and day out, we needed to deliver the message in an authentic way that would hold weight with employees.

The first step in creating change from the top down would be for the executive team to walk the walk. I received a lot of push back initially. My plan involved pushing pause on rolling out the initiative and first looking internally at ourselves as members of the executive team to ensure we were living and demonstrating these values in our daily interactions and decision-making processes.

Now, with a full year under our belt after rolling out the initiative to all employees, the executives that pushed back tell the story of how this pause was paramount in the success of making a fundamental cultural shift. And it could not have come at a better time.

For me, this reinforced the importance of having courageous conversations and standing up for ideas you believe in.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Throughout my career, there has been a recurring situation where a woman is asked or assumed to take on a responsibility outside of her role based on gender stereotypes or implicit bias.

One of the first times it happened I was the only woman participating in a meeting and was asked to get everyone coffee. As a servant leader, it is my instinct to help in any way and do whatever it takes to help my team. I said yes.

Moments later the meeting planner stepped in and said she would get the coffee. Later, she told me how disappointed she was that my natural reaction was to be courteous. As one of the few women leaders at the company, I was paving the way and setting expectations for how the company would treat her and other women.

Later, I was again the only woman on my team and our manager consistently asked me to take minutes during our meetings. This time I asked my male mentor for advice on how to handle the situation and I took it. I pulled my manager aside and explained that I really can’t focus and participate in the meetings the way I would like to because I am attentively taking notes and asked if we could instead take turns. He agreed.

I continued to learn from these situations, each time finding an appropriate way to speak up with the voice I had at the time. Everyone has a voice. Some voices are louder and stronger than others, and that changes throughout your career. Now I have a larger voice with a different seat at the table and I feel compelled to speak up for others and make change. As an executive, I can call people up.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I was fortunate to find a mentor at my first job after earning my master’s degree — a woman named Melody. This was at Citicorp, now known as Citigroup. There were not many women in the Fortune 100 financial world in the mid-80s, and Melody was a great role model and guide. She cared enough about me to provide both constructive and positive feedback.

She did not have time to invest in me with courageous conversations, but she did anyway. It’s easy for a mentor to tell you what you’re doing right, but a strong mentor relationship is really about helping you grow and learn from their experiences so you do not have to go through them or, if you do, you can navigate them more smoothly.

I cried at work one time in my career and she showed me tough love. She told me she worked her entire life to break the stereotype that I was displaying at that moment and to go outside or do what I needed to do to gain back control. She said it does not matter what happened to make you lose control, people will only remember the reaction and that can follow you through your career. Later, she told me a story from her own personal experience to help me more fully understand her advice.

Melody believed in me enough to invest in me and be vulnerable. She was not afraid of having uncomfortable conversations with me, including ones where it took me years to understand the value of those conversations. To this day when I face tough situations, I still think about how she would handle it.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

Preparation is key. I try to go into the meeting as prepared as possible, whether that’s conversations ahead of time or reading up on the topic. As an economic developer, I would often enter meetings where I would know the industry a company was in but for confidentially reasons, not the company itself. For these meetings, I would read up on the industry to the point where I could customize my talking points and conversations.

I also prepare by centering myself. For me, that means a devotional every morning. Before a recent woman in business event I spoke at, I prayed that at least one person listening would be impacted by something I said. I center myself around my spiritual connection. Find what works for you.

When it comes down to it, it can help to realize the more you do it, the less stressful it will be. I used to not be able to breathe when I spoke in front of people, now I speak to more than 900 people. I would not be able to do that if I had not put myself out there. Get yourself out there and raise your hand. Advocate for yourself and have that hard conversation, knowing that it is going to be stressful. In that discomfort, that is where you grow.

It can also help to be authentic and share your nervousness. I have started conversations before with, “I’m sorry if I come across nervous, but this is very important to me and I just really want to get this right.” You leave an authentic impression that you are passionate about the topic and it is worth hearing. Your audience has been there, they will boost you up and you will get the support of the room.

As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

Having a diverse executive team is more than just about doing the right thing, it’s smart business. If it was not good for the bottom line, it would not last. Our CEO at Stewart, Willy Stewart, surrounds himself with a diverse set of leaders with very different experiences, values and strengths. The friction that is present in decision making and strategic conversations is a healthy asset to the company. If you have people that all look and think alike in the room, then you are going to get one path towards decision making. When you have a diverse group, you create very healthy friction in the conversation. The important piece is everyone in that group must really have a voice.

You know immediately if you are at the table because they need a woman, someone of a different race or another diversifier. But if you authentically put people at the table because you value their opinion, you value their voice and let them advocate for their perspective, you are going to get a better business outcome, period. I have lived it over and over.

I have been at the table where I did not have a voice, and at the table where I did, and I have seen the outcomes dramatically improve. You know immediately which table you are at.

I think about Amazon who has as one of its leadership principles, “Disagree and Commit.” Really great leaders understand friction, how to make it productive and that in the end a decision must be made. Those great leaders, after having the ability to use their own voice, will support the decision.

Additionally, having a diverse leadership team is a huge talent recruitment, retention and development tool. If an employee can look at the leadership team and see someone who is like them in some way, they can see themselves in the future of the company. Women can watch others ahead of them on their journey and learn from their experiences.

People need to see themselves in the leadership of a company to see they have a place there and feel like they belong. Not belonging is one of the worst feelings in the workplace.

As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.

Culture exists in a company regardless of whether a company realizes it. It is an intangible framework that runs parallel to the visible infrastructure of an organization and is as powerful as infrastructure in its ability to support goals or thwart them.

Creating an inclusive, representative and equitable workplace starts with culture.

In 2019 all 200+ employees at Stewart graduated from THREAD Institute, a multi-day curriculum highlighting the values that govern our employees and how we work with each other, clients, partners and our community.

The concept of THREAD began several years ago out of our guiding principles, combining values of a culture of inclusion and belonging (Trust, Humility, Respect) with those of business intelligence (Excellence, Accountability, Discipline).

Our executive leadership team first ensured we were living and demonstrating these values in our daily interactions and decision-making processes. We then collaborated to develop the curriculum and took shifts teaching employees.

THREAD Institute will continue to be taught to all future employees. Its values play a significant role in making Stewart a great place to work and partner to do business with.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

A key differentiator of an executive is that you must play forward the experiences of being both strategic and tactical. You must be willing to be a ground trooper and be able to fly 10,000 feet above to make decisions. It is a constant balance between thinking strategically and understanding the tactics that need to be in place to implement. You need to be able to think three to five years out, while managing what is happening today. This is why it takes a while to develop your executive skills. They are refined on your journey.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

That executives are all confidence and we never question ourselves. That we never wonder if we are doing the right thing. To me, the weight of the position is that your decisions and actions have far reaching impacts. I say all the time, there are 200 families at Stewart that are counting on us to make the right decision.

To me, that is where you need that trusted diverse leadership team. The way we can combat the heaviness of the position is by surrounding ourselves with a trusted leadership team. This allows us to challenge each other in a safe environment and walk out of that room knowing we processed the decision to the best of our ability and that we are not alone in the decision we made.

At Stewart, we call that a THREAD group of leaders.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

It is not specific to women, but anyone who is different from the majority has the challenge of being your authentic self. Over the course of my career, I have had the challenge of not only being a woman in a male-dominated field, but also being a southern woman.

Raleigh and North Carolina did not always have the amazing external brand that it does now so being a southern woman, there were a lot of stereotypes that came with both of those in that industry. I looked at it as an opportunity to educate people about women in business and about North Carolina one person at a time.

Our CEO Willy Stewart went through a period where, in the 90’s, he avoided mentioning his Columbian heritage because many people would associate him with the drug lord Pablo Escobar. It was not until he heard a recording of his voice two years later where he realized he has an accent and was only deceiving himself. He credits that moment of realization and embracing his identify with giving him renewed confidence as an individual.

There is a calibration that everyone makes about how much of your authentic self to share at any point in time. All workplaces have a standard of behavior and it is about calibrating your authentic self in a way that is appropriate to those standards in order to be heard, respected and make an impact.

Now within that, there is a double standard that is very real and hard for women to calibrate. If you are a kind, empathetic leader some people may find that as weakness in a woman, where in a man they find it as sensitive. Likewise, if a woman is to the point and doesn’t share a lot of herself at work, she can be seen as cold, distant and uncaring, whereas a man is considered productive and understanding of how to get straight to work.

I have tried to refine that over the years. I went through a period of my career where I did not talk about my personal life at all with anyone because it always came back to haunt me. Sharing a story about my son being up all night would translate to not being put on a project because I had young kids at home. I left my personal experiences at the door. Whereas a man telling similar stories would be seen as an involved father.

With any differentiator you have, you have to realize you are being held to a different standard and respond with a balance of authenticity and being impactful in the environment you have chosen to be in.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

I knew I had a lot to learn when I transitioned into this role last January, but had no idea I would be doing it during a pandemic. No one has had this job before me. I needed to figure out first what the job was and how to do it, while also learning eight individual businesses within our firm. On the job training would typically be walking the journey with people, such as sitting in on meetings and asking questions in the hall. Instead, they were done while finding our footing in a remote environment, under the stress of the added, unplanned for challenges of a pandemic.

It was difficult to find my sea legs a bit in the middle of that, but I leveled through and think we all handled it well. The pandemic was an additional adjustment that I did not plan for in the transition and had to figure out how to navigate.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?

There is a balance of empathy and courage that I believe an excellent executive must walk.

An excellent executive puts themselves in the position of the people they are responsible for, because they have been there, or they can imagine having been there. But at the same time, that empathy cannot drive their decision making. You must be able to separate your personal and professional feelings to do what is best for the company — your employees are trusting you to do that.

An excellent executive can do research and make a great decision for the company, be transparent and empathic in implementing the decision and overall be genuinely kind.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

Treat anyone and everyone with respect — and insist it is reciprocated, not just for you but for all. I believe mutual respect and a willingness to achieve the best possible outcome, combined with open and honest communication, can overcome nearly any obstacle, challenge or misconception and can make a team thrive.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

What I am most proud of over the course of my career is that I have truly lived my life philosophy of, “Leave it better than I found it.” In all of my leadership roles, beginning with working the McDonalds drive-up window at 17, my time in economic development, roles at the Research Triangle Park Regional Partnership, or in private industry, I have found ways to improve the environment around me.

At Stewart, I get to use the strategic framework I learned as an economist combined with what I have learned about communication and promoting ideas, to contribute to change, continuous improvement and planning for the future.

In five years, I hope I will have continued to make improvements not only at Stewart, but also in the industry and for the Carolinas.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Don’t give yourself such a hard time. Don’t be so critical of the mistakes or of things you felt you should do better. Instead, see each of these as opportunities to learn and grow.
  2. Be yourself. I think that is hard. But if you have the right calibration of being your authentic self in a way that is appropriate to the standards of the workplace so that you are heard and respected, that’s really where your happiness and success will grow. Embrace who you are confidently, and trust what you are bringing to the table is of value; others will follow suit.
  3. Hard work does get noticed. One factor that I credit for my path so far is not focusing on getting credit for my accomplishments. At work, ego is the enemy. Credit takes care of itself. People notice hard work and meaningful outcomes. Instead, focus on leaving things better than you found them.
  4. Step out of your comfort zone. Get yourself out there and raise your hand. Advocate for yourself and have that hard conversation, knowing that it is going to be stressful. In that discomfort, that is where you grow.
  5. Be courageous. As an executive you will need to make hard decisions. You must be able to separate your personal and professional feelings to do what is best for the company — your employees are trusting you to do that.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would inspire a movement to make your character your legacy. People will probably forget what you did on certain projects, but they will remember your character. The Maya Angelou quote, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” really supports that.

Character is something you need to check in on every day because it really breaks through on the bad days. At Stewart, we have our THREAD culture to ladder up to. Did you treat people with trust, respect and empathy today? Maybe you did and maybe you did not. We are human, we are going to make mistakes.

What you do about it is where character comes in. Give yourself and others grace. Learn from it, make it right if possible, then apply that lesson and move on.

If your character is your legacy, others will give you grace in return because they know inside you are a person of character.

This is the foundation of all relationships, inside and outside of work.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Seek patience and passion in equal amounts. Patience alone will not build the temple. Passion alone will destroy its walls.” — Maya Angelou

When I see something that could be made better, I want to make it happen immediately. Often in life, things do not change overnight. I continuously work on having the patience to celebrate the small wins along the way and work toward the long-term victory.

My desire to improve what is around me has often led me to take on too much. I am constantly working on balancing my personal and professional passions and silencing my inner critic when I cannot do it all.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

I would love to have a private lunch with Brené Brown. As she says, “I want to be in the arena. I want to be brave with my life. And when we make the choice to dare greatly, we sign up to get our asses kicked. We can choose courage, or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both. Not at the same time.”

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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Women Of The C-Suite: Lee Anne Nance of Stewart On The Five Things You Need To Succeed As A Senior… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.



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It doesn’t happen overnight, it takes continued hard work and effort (it takes a while to get your music heard)

As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Melanie Durrant.

Melanie Durrant is an awarding-winning Canadian soul-singer who embodies real artistry through her very unique, edgy and soulful music style.

Durrant’s last album “Anticipation” peaked at #5 on the Canadian iTunes R&B chart, and has been streamed over 3.3 million times world-wide. This songstress has shared the stage alongside heavyweights such as Jill Scott, Fantasia, Alessia Cara, Cissy Houston, Jay Z, 50 and many other top acts. As 2020 wraps up, Durrant recently released her latest single “Ride With Me”, co-written by Grammy award winner Sebasitan Kole.

Full of melodic surprises, heavenly harmonies and bold direction, Melanie Durrant embodies the voice, attitude and sound that has helped shape Canada’s diverse soundscape.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I was born and raised in Toronto. I grew up in a home filled with love, laughter, music and good food. My mother is 1 of 8 children so we have a big family with many cousins so family gatherings were always fun. My uncle plays guitar and used to dance like James Brown, and sometimes we would all sing together. I loved it! Who could ask for anything more?

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I started singing when I was just a baby in diapers in the living room with my mom. We danced on the furniture and burst out from behind the living room curtains for fun. We even rolled around the floor a few times when we felt the impulse. I think that taught me early in life that music is magic and to just have fun. My mother has always been a singer, and as I grew I watched her perform anytime I got the opportunity. She always looked beautiful, dressed to the nines in amazing stage clothes/costumes she accumulated from touring many places around the world with her band. I’ve always been in awe of her and aspired to be just like her when I grew up.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I’m about to get into shooting a music video for a new upcoming project dropping in 2021. I’m super excited to share new music with my fans, friends & family. I love watching my ideas come to life and unfold in front of me. It’s a beautiful thing for any artist to experience.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

5 things I wish someone told me when I first started

1. Everyday counts (use your time wisely)

2. Money does not come right away (you don’t get rich overnight)

3. You have to invest in yourself (save your money you’re going to need it)

4. It doesn’t happen overnight, it takes continued hard work and effort (it takes a while to get your music heard)

5. Beware of Klingon’s, they aren’t just on Star Trek (people will be there when things are going well, but it’s the ones who stick with you through it all who truly care)

Can you please give us your favourite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

When I was about 7 years old my mom bought me a decorative plaque that said “Those who reach touch the stars”. It sat propped on my dresser and I would look at it everyday when I woke and every night before falling asleep. The plaque was pink and blue, with a little girl sitting on a stump next to a tree with her back turned looking up at the sky. Sometimes I would imagine that I was her. At some point I realized that the message was — All you have to do is try. I kept that plaque up until I was about 23 until it broke during a move. I was devastated but the message still remains with me to this day.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can find me at melaniedurrant.com or on social media pages like twitter.com/melaniedurrant & Instagram.com/melaniedurrant.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

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Rising Music Star Melanie Durrant On The Five Things You Need To Shine In The Music Industry was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.



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If something doesn’t feel right in the beginning, there’s no crazy, surprising endings coming from pushing it. This helps me save my time as much as I can. I try to make things feel right in the very beginning and if it doesn’t happen I don’t like pushing it and not listening to my instincts. As an example, if during a production process something’s not aesthetically appealing to me, waiting for it to evolve to a better place never worked for me. It’s not hard for me to accept if something doesn’t have the quality I’m looking for even if I really wished it did and I’m trying to remember this in every aspect of my life.

As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Buel.

BUEL is an indie-pop artist based in Los Angeles. She started singing when she was 4 and went on to write/arrange her own songs soon after. She started to play in public when she was 12, first playing piano, and then singing as a member of the school band. Around the same time, she also began writing short stories, poems and essays that were eventually published in her school’s magazines as well as local newspapers. These compositions would go on to become the source for some of her cryptic lyrics. She taught herself how to play guitar when 15 and started to focus on her solo career where she started to build her artistry drawing inspiration from Nirvana, Meredith Monk, Yoko Ono, Morphine, Mazzy Star, Kate Bush.

Currently, BUEL is working on her EP, slated for release in 2020.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in a city full of big tall buildings and most kids wouldn’t find much to do but go to theaters or just chase their parents wherever they went. Yet the apartment complex I grew up in had a huge park where I was lucky enough to play, do sports and make a lot of friends. This helped me (and my friends) gain a lot of confidence and sense of independence compared to the other kids living without free spaces to discover life and themselves at that age. We would mostly ride our bikes and look for adventure and excitement like discovering places, talking to many people outside of our age group and area, sneaking into basements, mixing up people’s post, ringing doorbells and running away, just trying to think of anything that could give us some excitement like we’re not living in a boring world. Nobody knew I liked singing, so I would go home and try to create some tunes in my room when no one was around.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

Even though I always loved singing, I never thought that it could be something I could pursue as a career. My parents were very strict and serious business people who were willing to do anything to stop me from being in entertainment. I started to sing in bands and people started to get to know me as ‘the singer girl’ more than just another face they saw around. One day my English teacher saw one of my acoustic videos in which I was singing a song I wrote, just in my room. It became quite popular at the time, and she had a very serious conversation with me, sounding almost aggressively encouraging, she said ‘look, you have to do this, you’re born to do this, you have to do this, I will take you to my producer friend’s studio.’ She took me there, and after that day, my self image changed. I gained some confidence because someone grabbed my arm and wanted me to pursue this when I didn’t believe in myself. Having fans when you’re not trying to be anything feels good.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I think the most interesting one was that I got booed terribly by the whole school in my first show ever. I was 12 years old. It was not interesting at the time, but now it is. Because something that looked so wrong after that moment started to feel so right for the rest of my life. Which made me feel kind of sympathetic towards negative situations. I started to see downfalls as the beginning of the best things in life.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The funniest mistake was I think, -I’m still laughing when I think about it-, in my first and last piano show, I started to read the note sheets and play my piece peacefully, then I wanted to look at the audience and have some eye contact so as not to look too amateur. When I turned my face back to the piano, I think that little wind caused the note sheets to fall on my hands. I told myself that I could not stop and put them back because it would look so stupid after my attempt to look at the audience to prove them I’m in control and after that second, everything just became weirder and weirder as my fingers started to try to find a way to press on the keys through the sheets and I started to make weird sounds on the piano. After fighting with it for about 30 more seconds or so, I finally gave up and stopped the performance. There was a very awkward silence as nobody understood what was going on and I didn’t even smile. I just seriously put the sheets back and started to play it all over again. I think that day, I learned that being cool or perfect on the stage was not for me. I had to find a way to make myself feel comfortable with my mistakes or simply follow wherever my humor takes me to, instead of trying to control people’s opinions about me.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I think the most exciting project I’m working on at the moment is a cover song. You may say, ‘what can be so exciting about a cover song?’, so I’ll just give you this hint; I picked my favorite artist’s most popular song and flipped it in such an unrecognizable way that the pressure that comes from knowing how people may react to it excites me!

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

Well, I don’t know what to say to this since I don’t understand how people may think otherwise, how can anything in life can work out without having diversity? We all depend on each other. So I would probably ask this question to the people who think diversity is not important, or living with it is possible, since I find their brains more interesting.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Hmm, I wish someone told me that I am completely free to create 1)whatever I want, 2)however I want, 3)with whoever I want, 4)wherever I want, and 5) as whoever I want to be! These are the most important things someone can hear in the beginning of their path. Because people generally try to group things into what they have known and we artists call this as ‘being stuck in a box’ and it is the most painful process someone who’s creative can go through. Shutting down your instincts and letting people pull and push you away for what will make your life more meaningful is just the worst thing an artist can experience.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Remembering that we have to have fun, and if there’s no fun, we need to leave and go somewhere else to find it.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

You never know what your idea can trigger. :-) I take these type of questions seriously so at the moment, I won’t try to act like I have an answer to this :)

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Everybody I have encountered has helped me in some way. I think the person who I feel the most grateful for right now is Adrian Gurvitz. The story is simple but doesn’t happen a lot. He sees through people and makes sense out of every move. He is not blind, his senses are wide open, is an amazing observer with a great sense of artistry.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

If something doesn’t feel right in the beginning, there’s no crazy, surprising endings coming from pushing it. This helps me save my time as much as I can. I try to make things feel right in the very beginning and if it doesn’t happen I don’t like pushing it and not listening to my instincts. As an example, if during a production process something’s not aesthetically appealing to me, waiting for it to evolve to a better place never worked for me. It’s not hard for me to accept if something doesn’t have the quality I’m looking for even if I really wished it did and I’m trying to remember this in every aspect of my life.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

Many people for sure, but I’m really into Dorian Electra nowadays. I find their message and ideas very valuable for everyone, makes me feel like they are a very conscious artist who is trying to serve society as much as they can.

How can our readers follow you online?

All my social media links are on my website buelmusic.com, I think I use my Instagram most frequently.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

Thank you so much for interviewing me!

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Rising Music Star Buel On The Five Things You Need To Shine In The Music Industry was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.



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Women Of The C-Suite: Samantha Cutler of ‘Petite ‘n Pretty’ On The Five Things You Need To Succeed As A Senior Executive

Customer service is critical. — I have found that serving your customer is critical for positive brand experiences. You want people to recommend your brand to their friends and family, and also come back and re-purchase from you. It’s more than just selling products; it’s making positive memories.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Samantha Cutler, founder of Petite ‘n Pretty.

Petite ‘n Pretty founder Samantha Cutler has used her 15-years of experience developing esteemed beauty products to create the Beverly Hills-based brand for young creatives. She is no stranger to innovating and launching new concepts, having formulated some of the industry’s favorite cult products for brands including MAC, Smashbox and Stila. Becoming a mother gave her new perspective and guided her on the journey to creating a new, essential category in the beauty industry. Having been makeup-obsessed from a young age, Samantha always viewed cosmetics as an outlet for individuality and self-expression, which has inspired her to set off on a glitter revolution, developing a brand specifically for the next generation. Samantha is an alumnus of George Washington University and currently resides in Los Angeles with her husband, Joshua, their son, Shia, and daughter, Gia — the namesake of Petite ‘n Pretty’s 10K Shine in Gia Pink.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I have always loved makeup my whole life. I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in beauty, but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. During college, I interned at MAC Cosmetics in several different departments — Artist Relations, Store Events, Pro Artistry and Public Relations. I realized by working these different internships, that I wanted to be on the creative side where I was involved in product creation. Upon college graduation, I worked at MAC Cosmetics in Product Development. I worked in product development for 17 years before I started my company. Working in product development for larger, prestige color cosmetic brands such as MAC, Smashbox and Stila, I was able to learn the fundamentals that are essential for creating and building a brand.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I would say that Covid has really shifted our “traditional” working environment as well as our brand strategy to drive awareness and growth. Living through Covid is something that will have impacted everyone around the world. Leading a company through Zoom, FaceTime and E-mail only for months on end, was something that was a challenge. Especially being a brand that relies on team creative brainstorm sessions, on-site product testing and addressing customers… working from home was a challenge for the team. In addition to internal challenges, one of our supplies who creates one of our core product SKUs went out of business, putting us in a six month out of stock situation.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

There have been a lot of mistakes along the way, but one of the funniest mistakes is allowing my 5-year-old daughter to use my phone. I let her use my phone one day, and she accidently started a Petite ‘n Pretty live video. She started to do her make-up on live and ended up doing an entire 45-minute show for our followers. Now, I really monitor her phone use when she has my phone in her hands. It was a great and quite funny learning experience.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are many role models and mentors I have in my life that have helped guide my career. Aside from my parents, who have always believed in me and helped support my dreams and goals, I am thankful for my mentor in my career, Jennifer Balbier. Jennifer is a product development guru, who has built her career working in brand and product development. She is responsible for helping grow MAC Cosmetics, as she started with Estée Lauder in 1998. Over her career at Estée, she then moved on to oversee all Artistry Brands including Smashbox, Bobbi Brown, Too Faced, Becca, etc. I truly am thankful for her teaching me product branding and development.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

As a busy CEO and Mom, it’s hard to find time for self-care. To best prepare for meetings, I will review the content the evening before and the morning of. It helps me feel comfortable and up to speed. Prior to Covid, I always felt like having a good blow out would give me confidence for any in person big meeting. I think with Dry Bars success, most women would agree.

As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

Personally, I feel that having a diverse team is critical for the success of a brand. Especially, working in beauty — it’s imperative to have women and men who are diverse because it’s always important to “bounce” ideas off before you implement them. It also offers varying perspectives and experiences, which are crucial to developing and growing a brand in a thoughtful, respectful manner. It’s nice to have a team that is aligned.

As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.

As a brand that has a strong social media presence, we pride ourselves on being inclusive and represent young creatives from different backgrounds. We align our brand with advocates for social equality, talent that represents diversity across many factors [race, religion, talents and disabilities], and we treat all of our talent fairly and equally.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

I do so many different things as a CEO & founder. I am very much involved in all aspects of building my company. I am very involved in the creative, product and package development, marketing and influencer strategy, forecasting, warehousing, copywriting, PR, testing, digital marketing, retail and sales strategy and web design. Everyday there are so many things to tackle; it’s literally never ending. I also spend a lot of time on customer service, which gives me great insight into what customers are looking for and what is important to them from a brand.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

I feel that when I was younger in my career, I was often very intimidated by “senior” level executives. As I have aged in my life and grown in my career, I realized we are all people. There is nothing to be scared by. I am a mom, I am a friend, I am a wife, a daughter and a brand founder.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

I would say one of the biggest challenges in balancing work and home life. Many times, “home life” falls onto the woman in the family dynamic. I think that being organized and having a strong support system is critical to balance everything.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

I would say that my job is much more detail-oriented and time consuming than I would have ever imagined. I am involved in every single aspect of building my brand. I also have had to learn a lot of about different departments, such as digital and back end operations.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?

I feel that if a person is very “type A” or a perfectionist, then it would be difficult to be a successful executive. I believe being organized and detail oriented is important, but there are many times when you have to be flexible, and react on a whim — to be a strong leader, you just have to “figure it out.”

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

As a female founder, I feel that building a strong and empowered team is critical for success. Currently, I have four female employees who all multi-task and wear many hats. I do not like to micro-manage them. A positive work environment is also very important. You want your team to be excited about coming to work.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

My job is very empowering because we embrace children, tweens and teens around the world to have fun and be creative through our products and social platform.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

There are many things that I wish I knew before I started a company. Some of my experiences are:

  1. You cannot predict the future — Covid is a perfect example. Covid is something that no one could have ever predicted or prepared for. I believe that being nimble and flexible has helped us react and be successful during this time.
  2. You WILL wear a million hats. — Starting a company is a time where everything you know, plus everything you never knew, will be imperative to your success and ability to thrive. I feel that my expertise was really in product development and brand marketing, and since starting my brand, I have learned about all departments.
  3. Building employee morale is not easy, and doesn’t happen overnight — Building your team is easy, but building a united team is hard. It takes time for your team to get into a “groove” and all work together for a common goal. Being a start-up, there are days that are more challenging than others. At Petite ‘n Pretty, we will do fun team dinners, order in lunch on Friday, and do fun “out of the office” activities [before Covid].
  4. Brand success takes time. — I feel that with certain celebrity brands that have success “overnight” it is not realistic. Petite ‘n Pretty is a little over 2 years old, and it has taken time to build. We still have a TON of growth to do, but patience is key.
  5. Customer service is critical. — I have found that serving your customer is critical for positive brand experiences. You want people to recommend your brand to their friends and family, and also come back and re-purchase from you. It’s more than just selling products; it’s making positive memories.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

If I could inspire a movement, it would be to listen to the young creatives in our society. I have learned so much having a brand for children, tweens and teens. They truly are our future and it’s important to listen to their words and ideas. I love engaging with them on a daily basis and I always feel inspired by them.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I saw Jamie Kern Lima, the founder of IT Cosmetics, post the following,

“During all the years of rejection, I’d always say to my team, “what? That retailer said NO to carrying our product again? I feel bad for them, they’re robbing their customers of a great experience and I would truly believe it.”

When I saw this quote, it really hit home to me. I truly believe in my brand and being in a white space definitely has taken time to build category awareness. Over the last year, we have grown tremendously which has really proven that there is a need for the category in the beauty landscape.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

There are so many inspiring women leaders who I would love to have a private breakfast with. I would love to meet Jamie Kern Lima. I am her fangirl. I follow her on her social channels, and she is truly an amazing woman who has accomplished so much. She is a wife, a mother, a leader in both beauty and investing. She is a visionary and a forward thinker.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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Women Of The C-Suite: Samantha Cutler of ‘Petite ‘n Pretty’ On The Five Things You Need To Succeed… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.



source https://medium.com/authority-magazine/women-of-the-c-suite-samantha-cutler-of-petite-n-pretty-on-the-five-things-you-need-to-succeed-e86e3ff2e5c5?source=rss—-f772c66cd492—4
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Women Of The C-Suite: Nicole Bucala of ‘Illusive Networks’ On The Five Things You Need To Succeed As A Senior Executive

Being an executive at a startup is very different from being a senior leader at a larger company. A senior leader at a larger company largely sits in “vision setting and team-coaching mode.” In contrast, an executive at a startup will find themselves doing many things, including things not really in their job description but that the company isn’t staffed to do.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nicole Bucala.

Nicole Bucala is the vice president of business development at Illusive Networks. She has a proven track record of bringing innovations to the market within the security industry. Nicole came to Illusive from RSA Security where she was Head of Strategic Business Development and Technology Alliances. During her tenure at RSA, she built out the strategic partnership team and achieved annual triple digit partnership revenue growth through closing a variety of inventive partnership deals. Earlier in her career she served the U.S. Government, where she managed complex operations covering military science & technology and counterterrorism issues. Nicole received her MBA from Harvard Business School, her S.M. from Georgetown University, and her S.B. from MIT.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I started my job serving my country, where I worked on counterterrorism operations using principles of technology and security. After three years, I decided that the government lifestyle wasn’t for me, and went back to school for an MBA. I still knew security was my passion, so I joined the private sector at a major cybersecurity company where I felt as energized about their goals as I did about protecting my country in my first job. I always seek to join companies that are mission oriented, like my current employer, which makes a product that benefits the greater good. There is nothing more satisfying than getting a call from a customer grateful that they had our technology deployed as we caught an attacker that other tools missed.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

When I joined Illusive, the women employees I met were excited to have a woman on the executive team (the only one at that point in time!) As I got to know them, I found something fascinating. Contrary to American tech companies which have predominantly men designing and developing the product, at Illusive, at least half of the people who made the product are women. This is because the company is Israeli, and everyone in Israel has to join the army and serve the country as a young adult. A lot of Israel Defense Force jobs are in cyber defense & offense, so Israel’s Army graduates have excellent skills in software engineering. Anyhow, this difference in gender makeup in engineering just goes to show you: there’s no difference between men and women in the skills their brain can develop. It’s all about what the culture inculcates as far as aspirations in young people.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I took one day off (Saturday) between jobs: rather than resign earlier, I really wanted to finish up some projects at my old employer before moving on. This was not much of a break and so my head didn’t get time to re-set. I was so passionate about my prior employer (RSA), that when I introduced myself at my new company, I’m sure I must have accidentally said “I’m the VP of Biz Dev at RSA” a couple of times instead of at “Illusive”. I also was so used to typing my former boss’s name in emails that I almost sent him an email intended for my new boss — and caught it last minute. Next time, I’ll negotiate harder for more time off before a new job.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are probably two people. The first is my significant other. He stuck with me across several ups and downs, while I was earning three higher level degrees, across multiple years of long-distance and across five different jobs at all sorts of levels. When I complain to him about a problem, he pays attention and listens. He is incredibly gifted at both taking my side and giving helpful feedback, which is truly an art that most people can’t do. He’s like a problem-solver in my pocket! The second is my first manager in the industry. I was really lucky to work for someone who had enduring faith in my ability to learn and have an impact on those around me. He chose to hire me directly out of school, when I didn’t have much relevant technical experience, and in my first week on the job he told me I was “too intense, and a bit rough around the edges” and that when he received my resume, he thought it “landed in the wrong resume pile”. I made a lot of mistakes when I worked for him, but he was always exceedingly optimistic and patient, and over the years taught me much of what I know. Not everyone is lucky enough to have someone with those characteristics as their manager.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

I am someone who really mimics the environment around me, and I feed off of other people’s energy, positivity, or lack thereof. Fortunately, I have surrounded myself with an amazingly brilliant, confident, positive and energetic team of direct reports. We all try to be hugely supportive of each other and I’m really fortunate that they are great listeners. If I have an upcoming presentation or board meeting or call I’m worried about, shooting the breeze with one of my team members is a sure way to get me in a happy, confident mood. I also am really big into outdoors activities: love to kayak, horseback ride, trail run and that helps me relax.

As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

We all have our unconscious biases — each and every one of us. They are formed by our unique experiences over the course of our lives. It’s key to have leaders who can empathize with all the different types of challenges people may face. Unfortunately, it’s lack of empathy that kills relationships, teamwork and opportunity. The only way to gain that true empathy at the top is to make sure the leadership team is comprised of members who’ve faced a different set of challenges and found ways to overcome them.

As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.

Each leader must have an obligation to not stand by when they see unfair behavior. If you are a leader, it’s your duty to notice these things, to speak up, and seek to change the behavior of others to create a more fair and inclusive environment. I take it on myself to fight for proper pay for women and men who work for me. If someone comes to me with a pay or leveling concern, I support my employees in making the case they need to make to get paid what they deserve. Right after I started here, I initiated the Illusive Women in Cyber Forum that focuses on advancing and empowering women in the cybersecurity industry through leadership development, education and building a personal brand. I hope through this forum we can expand networks, advance leadership skills, cultivate positive and creative thinking and ultimately generate the leadership team of the future in the cybersecurity industry.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

An executive, like any other senior leader, has to set a vision, and then mobilize direct and indirect reports to execute. What’s different is the executive has to look out for the welfare of the people in the company as a whole, including those who do not report to you. I am a big believer that people are your most important ingredient for success. Resolving conflict, helping talent grow, becoming aware of your blind spots and helping others see theirs, is absolutely essential for teamwork, for talent attraction and retention, and for achievement. As an executive, you have to be really good at working with lots of different types of people and sticking with them through the ups and the downs. Most importantly, you can’t expect to have your people treat your customers well if they themselves are not treated well by the executive team.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

Some people say jobs get easier as you get higher in rank, because you gain more expertise — you stop doing and start coaching. I find it actually gets a lot harder, perhaps because I’m a people pleaser. You have people underneath you that you need to take care of. You have people above you who want your results to be perfect. And you may have peers put pressure on you or be competitive with you. You get squeezed from all sides and it’s almost impossible to make everyone happy.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

There are a number of challenges, but one I’ll home in on that isn’t frequently discussed, is the difficulty women have (compared to men) in developing an extensive “buddy” network! I took a big risk in joining my current employer at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. I hadn’t met anyone there in person, other than the CEO for thirty minutes at a recent industry conference. I was going into a sales role that would typically have had me on a plane every week, but I’d have to reach out and form relationships over Zoom from my house. Could it be done? Some of my older male mentors pointed out to me that if they were in my shoes and under pressure to “just get a deal done”, they’d call up one of their buddies who owed them a favor — which they recognized that, at my early age and with my gender, I couldn’t really do because I didn’t have the “buddy club” they did. That’s why I started the Women in Cyber Forum by Team8 and Illusive — to better connect women in the industry and help them form a crucial network of friends.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

My job requires much more technical expertise than I initially anticipated. This is forcing me to grow and bend in this direction really fast, and it will serve me well for the rest of my career.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?

Bravery to rock the boat, and the ability to deliver solid results fairly quickly. If you deliver results but don’t have the bravery to make waves, you’ll stay a solid individual contributor. If you challenge conventional ideas but don’t have a way to follow through, you won’t be promoted to leadership. If you get put in a leadership position and put forth new proposals but can’t deliver results, you won’t be kept on the leadership team.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

Have fun with your team. Most people want to enjoy talking with their boss, solving problems with them, and to feel appreciated by them for their efforts. Laugh, be silly, be humble, help them when they need it and ask them for their help. They’ll appreciate you for it.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I feel passionately about making sure unconscious bias does not affect pay and promotion progression for employees. I make a point to stand up for both men and women I see in the workplace who aren’t being recognized fairly for their full potential, and to support those who feel they are under leveled or underpaid and wish to pursue a resolution.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Have a plan for how to leverage all the digital communications options. With Slack, Email, iPhones and Zoom, working across 5 time zones and two cultures, I had trouble keeping up with all the different communication styles.
  2. Get a crash course on cultural differences in communications within your organization. If I had focused on the differences between American and Israeli communication styles, that would have helped me avoid some misunderstandings in the beginning.
  3. Being an executive at a startup is very different from being a senior leader at a larger company. A senior leader at a larger company largely sits in “vision setting and team-coaching mode.” In contrast, an executive at a startup will find themselves doing many things, including things not really in their job description but that the company isn’t staffed to do.
  4. My team would have confidence in my ability to lead right off the bat and that I could take the reins and run with things more quickly. I was coming from a company where there was a long path to proving oneself, gaining alignment and buy-in before beginning to execute. My current company, being smaller and in high-growth mode, doesn’t have time for that.
  5. That small wins for a big company can be big wins for a smaller company, due to the earlier stage of its growth cycle.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I’d inspire a movement that really focuses people to be outward facing, to spend the predominant amount of their thought patterns on others and how they can positively help other people. I have observed that many people become unhappy because they focus too much inwardly on their own feelings and needs. They are constantly seeking to climb the next step: to seek the next material purchase, the next status symbol, the next promotion. This can lead people to be greatly unhappy. I think the most important thing in life is to focus on the impact you have on others. How many people do you help in some way — help find an education, help seek fair treatment, help learn a new skill, help rise through their career? When I look back on chapters of my life, I don’t remember the achievements much, but I remember the people who helped me and the people I helped and that’s what makes me most happy.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Most of us think we have limited money and unlimited time. In reality, the opposite is true: we have very limited time on this earth, while our fortunes can grow or shrink.” — I don’t know where I first heard this, but it really stuck with me. I make sure that I don’t take jobs for the salary (although I always make sure I’m paid close to what I’m worth in the competitive market for a particular role). I take jobs where I think I’m going to be able to work on something really challenging and have a solid impact on many people in the limited time I have.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

Any of our board members, including but not limited to Nadav Zafrir, Yuval Sacher, Dave DeWalt, Aaron Jacobsen, David Cowan, Jeff Williams, Daniel Karp, Mony Hassid, and others. They each have extensive experience picking the best investments in their field. I’d spend the entire breakfast trying to find out their secrets for knowing where to put their money.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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Women Of The C-Suite: Nicole Bucala of ‘Illusive Networks’ On The Five Things You Need To Succeed… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.



source https://medium.com/authority-magazine/women-of-the-c-suite-nicole-bucala-of-illusive-networks-on-the-five-things-you-need-to-succeed-6ffad5e80633?source=rss—-f772c66cd492—4
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Women Of The C-Suite: Donna Tuths of Sutherland On The Five Things You Need To Succeed As A Senior Executive

Failure is your friend. Fear of failure has two big downsides. We play it too safe and we don’t stretch ourselves and our organization. Second, it drives people to hide failures rather than share them and their learnings. Today, I tell my teams that we need to look with curiosity at failures because they are our clues into how we can improve what we are doing. For example, a recent webinar we ran did not get the attendance we had hoped. Unpacking the root causes of that helped us to over-deliver on audiences for the next episode.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Donna Tuths.

Donna Tuths oversees strategy and delivery of design, Labs, analytics, consulting, research and marketing in her role leading transformation and innovation at Sutherland. She has over 25 years of strategy consulting experience with a focus on marketing and digital transformation. Previously, Donna launched Cognizant Interactive as SVP and Global Head, where she expanded its offerings around Insight to Experience and its global footprint through acquisitions of multiple companies. She is also a former founder of Accenture Interactive and Head of its Global Content practice, where she drove innovation and expansion of digital, cultivated expert talent in experience transformation, and served some of the world’s largest brands. She is the former CEO of WPP Ogilvy Healthworld and President of Organic Inc., a lecturer in the Marketing — Executive Management Program at Yale, an Advisory Board member of the Yale Center for Customer Insights and a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

As a high school student, I joined Junior Achievement and ran a small company. Our company did well and I was invited to some large regional leadership meetings in New York City, which were held at Wells, Rich and Greene. There, as a 17-year-old girl, I got to see Mary Wells Lawrence, a pioneer in advertising, whose name was on the front door of the office building, take the stage to speak to us. In that moment, by her example, I knew that a woman could achieve anything she set out to do. Though I started in consulting, I turned quickly to marketing and advertising. Years later I would feel the same thrill when I attended industry events with my mentor Shelly Lazarus, CEO of Ogilvy. There she was in a sea of men, all fellow CEOs, head held high, hand thrust out to shake hands with a huge, contagious smile. It was really something to behold.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I was in a meeting with a male member of my team and after a while I noticed that the individual we were meeting with kept directing all technical and technological aspects of the discussion to him. I thought it was odd as I was actually the alliance and technical lead, and my male teammate was a creative lead! It reminded me that we still live in a world where people make assumptions about what men and women do.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

One of my first jobs was as a summer associate in the Corporate Finance department at a very formal, conservative investment bank. I had come from a medical family and did not innately understand unspoken business protocols. One day, shortly after I began my summer assignment, I was invited to a meeting and I arrived at the room early and sat in a chair at the conference table. When the room was about a quarter full, an Associate stepped in behind me and informed me that I was supposed to sit in a chair along the wall — not at the table! I was so embarrassed as I slid out of my chair, but it was an early lesson that when in unfamiliar situations, you should hang back and watch the “local or native” protocols before making a move.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My experience has combined long tenure in both agency and consulting companies. I am very fortunate that one of the partners I met when I first got out of business school is still a key mentor of mine, Andy Zimmerman, who is now President of the design firm, Frog. Andy made a point earlier on to talk to me about my career and I’m very lucky that 30 years later he continues to meet with me for a meal and to share advice. Having someone you have known that long provides a very special perspective when you come to key decision points around your career, and the fact that we share interests in technology and design has made this mentorship all the more valuable.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

The two most important things are sleep and humor. I go to bed early and get up early. This discipline helps me to always be ready for the day — no matter what it will throw at me. I think the second thing is using a sense of humor to keep things in perspective. I tell my teams all the time — that I love to find things where I am wrong or have made a mistake — because it means I still have more to learn. You cannot be afraid to fail. This will hold you back and ensure mediocrity. On the other hand — you need to keep perspective — because if you swing for the fences you are going to miss some of the time — and you can’t let that throw you off. Just tuck it into your “learnings file” and keep swinging, perhaps with a few adjustments!

As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

There is a ton of data that tells us that diverse organizations actually perform better. I think that one of the most critical things that diversity does for a company — especially at the top — is that it tells employees and prospective employees that “anyone can succeed here.” Seeing yourself in the firm’s leadership drives employees to higher levels of performance and, ultimately, contribution. Without this visible representation among leadership, diversity programs just seem like — programs– checking the box.

As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.

We each have to stand up as individuals for inclusivity and equality. This is a collective movement. Twenty years ago, I brought a newly hired, outwardly gay Branding Strategist to be introduced to my client, a Head of Brand at a Fortune 100 company, for whom we were undertaking a major brand initiative. His presentation to my client went brilliantly, but when we were leaving the room my client asked if I could stay behind. After the door closed he asked, “How am I going to take him out on the road to bring this program out to all the senior executives and stakeholders? He will be a distraction!” It was clear he was asking me “how do I take this outwardly gay man out to represent our new branding initiative”? I did not flinch. I looked him straight in the eye and said, “He is a brilliant planner and his work is awesome. You need to give your executives more credit. We are standing behind him as the right choice and will provide all the support needed to make this a success.” He stood there another 30 seconds, and then said OK. This particular colleague went on to be brilliant there, and everywhere else he has been the last 20 years.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

I believe that the CEO holds the vision and the overall conscience of the organization. My own view is that the era of the “operational CEO” is over. With all of the uncertainties of our time and especially with remote work, organizations must see a clear vision coming from their CEO and they need more than ever to understand the company’s “purpose”.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

I think the biggest myth is that CEOs “command and control”. Not at all. CEOs depend upon the input of their senior team, and they truly want to hear your view.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

The highest level of corporate politics can be difficult for women executives. No matter what their path is to the top, they are potentially more vulnerable to political challenges as their support network, (mentors, etc.) is generally not as deep when compared to their male counterparts.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

The most striking is probably that there is little difference between my actual job and what I thought it would be. What I could never have anticipated was how COVID would change things. I think in many ways it has created more access to people as COVID has in some ways broken down barriers and created a more authentic environment in which to operate.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?

One of the most important traits, I believe, is being a good listener and they need to be open — open to new ideas and suggestions, and challenges to their ideas.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

Be authentic, be yourself, and encourage people to be the same. We all need to bring our whole selves to work in order to do the best work we can together.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I work hard to identify women with potential and ensure that they get the opportunities they deserve. I have tried to create greater impact by asking those women to do the same for other women. It is always about “paying it forward.” We all need to understand our responsibility and the part we play.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. There will be challenges. I grew up in a household where boys and girls were treated the same, and my mother was head of the household from the time I was 9. I went to a girls’ high school and a women’s college. I entered the working world a bit naïve about what I would encounter. In one of my first jobs I had to walk across the shop floor down a helicopter production line to get to my office every day. It was sort of like walking in front of a construction site. I will leave this challenge to your imagination!
  2. Trust yourself. Second-guessing reflects more on the second-guesser than it does on you! Confidence is the most critical capability you can cultivate within yourself. Be aware of situations and people that erode your confidence and take action to root out or counter.
  3. Failure is your friend. Fear of failure has two big downsides. We play it too safe and we don’t stretch ourselves and our organization. Second, it drives people to hide failures rather than share them and their learnings. Today, I tell my teams that we need to look with curiosity at failures because they are our clues into how we can improve what we are doing. For example, a recent webinar we ran did not get the attendance we had hoped. Unpacking the root causes of that helped us to over-deliver on audiences for the next episode.
  4. Pace yourself and be sure to recharge. Burning the candle on both ends is never good. Exhaustion does not lead to good decision-making and it makes it difficult to bring your best self to work. This has become more important during COVID. Like many people, I fell into working 12 hours a day as COVID-induced quarantine dragged on. I had to find new ways to recharge and create a better 360-degree perspective on myself, work, friends and family. We all need to pace ourselves for ourselves — but also to set the right example for our teams. The message needs to get set from the top.
  5. Be bold. For a long time, there was a strong message that women should try to “blend in”. This was the wrong message. Be confident, be bold. Be your authentic self. Ultimately, this will drive you towards higher levels of contribution and performance.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would love to inspire a Truth Movement. Speaking the truth, truth in advertising, truth in delivery, truth in action. It has become so hard to tell what is real and what is fake — especially through the distortion of social media.

Truth is healing. It helps to clear out the old and whatever is holding you back. I wish we had more Truth in the world. If we did, we could acknowledge the issues and create solutions together for a better future.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Be grateful every day, because that’s the source of true power. I wake up every day thinking about how lucky I am and have been in my life. You can never let go of that. It just puts everything else in perspective. I am often asked how I am able to be so calm in challenging situations — and it really does relate to my fundamental gratitude. I feel so fortunate that mountains look like small rolling hills to me.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I would love to have a sit down with Aileen Lee, Founder of Cowboy Ventures. It is one of the first female-led venture firms — and she has been such an advocate for women in tech. Her work on All Raise shows her dedication to making a difference. She has really inspired me.

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Women Of The C-Suite: Donna Tuths of Sutherland On The Five Things You Need To Succeed As A Senior… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.



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Rising Music Stars Shannon Callahan, Frank Lima, Jaime Morales and Damien Lima of ‘Blood Sells’ On The Five Things You Need To Shine In The Music Industry

Stop second-guessing yourself. So much time gets wasted with timidity and feeling like what you’re doing isn’t right or good enough. It’s hard enough with society the way it is with its perspective on musicians. As professionals, we have had to go against the grain a bit just to find out, ‘hey people like what we do!’

As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Blood Sells, formed by Shannon Callahan, Frank Lima, Jaime Morales and Damien Lima, is a progressive metal band that has a mystifying story told through their music. Currently working on their album, with their EP, Inis Nex, released as of 10/30/20, they have provided a taste of what they have to offer and invite you into their world where they delve deeper into concepts of isolation, magical realism, multi-dimensions and alternate timelines through their music.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

Shannon — I was born and raised in Los Angeles. I grew up taking piano lessons, singing and dancing competitively. I started songwriting in my late teens/early twenties and picked up guitar, and have been writing, singing and playing ever since.

Frank — Born and raised in Los Angeles, I starting learning music at around 11 years old. My mom got me guitar lessons at around 12 or 13, and with the exception of a few lessons, I’ve been mainly self-taught.

Jaime — I was born in El Salvador but grew up in Los Angeles. I started music at 11, learning trumpet and drums and have been mainly self-taught.

Damien — Following in my dad’s footsteps, I began playing music around 12 or 13, first on drums and then I switched to bass.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

Jaime — When working with Fernando (Chris Leon) in the band MDJs, I brought in Frank Lima and Steve Kornblum to play with us and not wanting to hire more musicians, I made loops to accompany the band. That also became the starting point of what is now Planet Mischief.

Shannon — I had taken a few years off and I was just getting back into writing and playing music in 2016 when I reconnected with Jaime, right around the time he and Frank started to play together again and were looking for a vocalist. I joined up with them playing covers at first and it wasn’t before long that we conceptualized Blood Sells together and wrote our first EP, Inis Nex. During that time in 2016–2017, Jaime and I co-founded Planet Mischief and we’ve been continuing to take its purpose to a new level.

Frank — I didn’t write creatively for a long time — maybe 15 years — and when Jaime asked me to play music with him, I picked it back up. Then when Shannon jumped on board and we all started Cut Elements, the creative juices flowed again and after a couple years it inevitably led us to writing Blood Sells together.

Damien — Needing a hobby, I evolved into playing bass with Blood Sells, continuing the creativity that I also have with directing and filmmaking.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Frank — The most interesting story is that Jaime and I started a band called Ascension, when we were in high school. We wrote a few songs in the same progressive metal genre and, fast forward to 20 years later, we revisit a couple songs in the Blood Sells EP such as Death of Three and A Brave Lament. When Shannon added vocals to those songs, it was almost like it perfectly fit our vision of what we had over 20 years ago. Then, Damien’s style of playing also fit perfectly with it, and it was clearly all meant to happen.

Jaime — Just how it’s come back full circle with Frank and with Shannon and now with Damien. From having Blood Sells to our production company Planet Mischief, it’s just all complete.

Shannon — Definitely what I find interesting is also the timing of it all. First meeting Jaime many years ago and then a chance reconnection in 2016 that got everything going, right at a time they needed to also fill a missing link. Coupled by the fact that my creative ideas and writing go so well with theirs, and there is just such a unique and creative world we have all formed together, it’s something really special. And it really came at a time in my life that was perfect for such an evolution to take place.

Damien — Being introduced to the groove! Seeing my dad and everyone else work on music feels like a renaissance or revival of my dad’s youth, and I get to be part of that now.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Damien — I am just still trying to learn to get out of the pentatonic scale and branch out!

Shannon — My funny mistake was a pretty severe one. Once I tried to break up a cat fight and I got attacked and ended up in the ER getting a cocktail of shots in my butt, freaking out that I was going to lose my arm. We had a show 2 days later and right before the show, my arm blew up and was full of puss. Jaime drove me to the hospital, and we put the band and our friends on notice of what was going on. The doctors were concerned but cool, they cleaned and bandaged me up, told me to perform in my show and they would admit me the next day! We actually made it on time to the show with enough time set up our gear, tune my guitar, do a couple vocal warmups and we went on stage! So I guess the moral is, leave the damn cats alone to work their stuff out LOL!

Frank — I’ve never been good with equipment and I didn’t know how to deal with pedals, amps, strings, cables or anything like that for a long time, even though I’m a guitar player LOL. I’ve tripped on cables and I’ve even been choked out by my in-ears! I’ve learned how important one’s sound is and that I have to know my gear since it’s my craft, and now I am constantly working on my sound.

Jaime — Similar to Frank, I didn’t know how to tune my drums but I always liked the sound I got so I just didn’t bother. But something I got out of that is even though I didn’t know how to tune correctly, I was always able to get a sound that I liked. I was never told my drums sounded bad, but that they sounded different. I’ve learned through mistakes, trial and error, both in live performance as well as in the recording process.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Jaime & Shannon — We are currently working on several Planet Mischief projects, some are due to come out next year: Pipelines, an electronic/dance album on 2.12.21, and an indie/electronica album called Melodisea on 5.21.21. Others are in the works as well in genres like rock as well as holiday music.

Frank — Blood Sells and everything revolving around it. Damien and I have an acoustic duo as a side project, Damien writing most of it. If things open up again we’ll play a few restaurants!

Damien — In addition to music, I am directing the documentary Voyages of the Storm with Steve Harris of Hungry and Fearless, which is using Blood Sells to tell the story of the pandemic and how it’s affected musicians.

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

We all agree on this one that diversity is important to influence different types of people. You have unlimited sources of talent and potential and you get different perspectives that add depth to what is being portrayed. Different cultures and genders are paramount to creativity and it’s breaking out of one mold that makes things more interesting.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. Don’t get cheap equipment. You will most likely be buying new stuff again and again until you ultimately get good gear and design your sound properly.

2. Warm up and stretch before playing. We must take care of our bodies if we want the endurance, especially as we get older.

3. Power metal was gonna make a comeback!

4. Stop second-guessing yourself. So much time gets wasted with timidity and feeling like what you’re doing isn’t right or good enough. It’s hard enough with society the way it is with its perspective on musicians. As professionals, we have had to go against the grain a bit just to find out, ‘hey people like what we do!’

5. Do it 110%. Put the energy you put into getting a “real job” as they say, into your music and making it your livelihood.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Shannon — It’s important for everything in your life to have its place, even rest periods. If you keep a pretty consistent schedule i.e. sleep, practice, writing, healthy eating, fitness, then you are allowing everything to have a time and a place and you are not creating a situation where you’re overwhelmed or working against yourself. When I have not done this in the past — rest being my main problem — I fall sick and then I can’t do anything at all. So, make time to take care of yourself, and always be working on your technique as well.

Frank — Embrace social media, embrace collaboration with different musicians and different people!

Jaime — Same. And don’t half ass anything. Give whatever you are doing 100%.

Damien — Utilize every resource.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

Frank — Influence young Latino musicians to be more known throughout American media.

Jaime — You have to treat this as if it’s a full time job; if you’re a performer you have to consider all that comes into play: practice, health, fitness, the right mindset, etc., not only so you can do this well while you’re young, but while you’re older as well. If you have a passion for it, then you’ll want to do it for as long as possible.

Shannon — Put your blood, sweat and tears into making your passion a reality. There is no such thing as a sellout when you’re pursuing your dream and trying to make a living doing it. Cut out all the stuff that isn’t serving you and your goals, whether that be bad habits, or negative people.

Damien — I would like to inspire a new spiritual enlightenment in today’s society that would speak to the heart of the young generation and I would want it to inspire more creativity.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Shannon — I learned discipline at a young age when I was growing up dancing competitively. Not only did I have dance instructors who drilled us into young professionals, but at home my mom also made me continue to practice, even constructing a dance room in my house so I could constantly work on excelling! That mindset has certainly manifested into this career path.

Frank — My wife Lorraine’s support. She knows I need music in my life and her support has allowed me to really invest myself completely into all the projects that we’re doing.

Damien — My parents. I was always told to try and keep my mind occupied.

Jaime — My parents. They never told me not to go for it. They never said go get a real job; they always encouraged me to keep focusing on music.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Jaime — Keep your circle small — wisdom from Al Davis. That inner circle of people you trust keep you from concern because they’re the people you know you could go to war with and do their job. Others who are looking in don’t provide that piece of mind. Also, “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.” — James Mattis.

Frank — Good fortune happens when preparation meets opportunity, to paraphrase John Wooden. It’s relevant because I don’t think there’s such a thing as good luck. You create your luck and must always work toward an opportunity; you must always be prepared. And that applies to music — staying sharp. Opportunities will present themselves and staying prepared helps.

Damien — “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting” — Sun Tzu.

Shannon — My father always said, “Do Not Wait To Strike Till the Iron Is Hot; But Make It Hot By Striking.” — it’s a quote by Irish poet William Butler Yeats, but it was also one of my dad’s philosophies that I think about every single day. Any time I am faced with indecision, I remember those words and I make a move!

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

Jaime — Lars Ulrich. I am a drummer because of him, and I’ve also wanted to know more about production due to his influence over Metallica’s music. I want to be more influential as well so picking his brain would be awesome.

Shannon — Buckethead. Buckethead was really the first guitarist I became obsessed with as a musician and as a talented icon. I know he maintains his mystique when he has held his “Dinner with Buckethead” parties, but I would really like to talk about creating music with horror, sci fi and martial arts as inspiration because they are my interests as well. I’ve also been Buckethead every year for Halloween for the past few years!

Frank — Dave Mustaine. He is just incredibly interesting and one of my musical heroes.

Damien — Golf player John Daly. I always wanted to know what it was like to go into an industry, embracing that industry on your own terms.

How can our readers follow you online?

We are on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter as @bloodsellsmusic

You can also find our music videos on YouTube: https://youtube.com/channel/UC_ew4NXQy3Ogt-pnb5Y68pA

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

Thank you as well! This has been an honor.

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Rising Music Stars Shannon Callahan, Frank Lima, Jaime Morales and Damien Lima of ‘Blood Sells’ On… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.



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Female Disruptors: Cynthia Plotch and Jamie Norwood of Stix On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

“Listen to what your customers do and don’t say.” A fellow co-founder gave us that advice before we had even launched Stix. For us, that means maintaining an open dialogue with our customers on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Our entire team interviews three customers every month, regardless of what team they’re on.

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cynthia Plotch and Jamie Norwood, co-founders of Stix.

Jamie Norwood co-founded Stix in 2019, a company on a mission to transform your health experience, starting with direct-to-consumer pregnancy and ovulation tests. Before starting Stix, Jamie was on the founding team of Hungry Harvest where she built and scaled the customer experience and product departments. Jamie received her BA in English Lit from Tulane University and is a Venture for America alumna.

Cynthia Plotch co-founded Stix in 2019, a company on a mission to transform your health experience, starting with direct-to-consumer pregnancy and ovulation tests. Before starting Stix, Cynthia was on the founding team of Hungry Harvest where she led their national expansion. Cynthia received her BA from the University of Pennsylvania and is a Venture for America alumna.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Jamie and I met as fellows during Venture for America after graduating from college in 2015. We went on to both work at Hungry Harvest, a food start-up based in Baltimore. One night, I was on the phone with Jamie and told her how I had run into my boyfriend’s mom buying a pregnancy test at the drugstore. Jamie told me she had also had terrible experiences buying pregnancy tests and we knew that we couldn’t be alone.

So, we started doing research and surveyed thousands of women. We found that 70% of women had a bad experience buying a pregnancy test at the drugstore. Similarly, these women also felt a lot of loneliness and confusion over their entire health journey and that there was no singular resource for them to feel confident in their health decisions. We decided that we had to change that.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

At Stix, we want to make you feel confident in your health decisions through reliable products, a supportive community, and expert educational resources. We offer FDA and OBGYN-approved pregnancy and ovulation tests that are over 99% accurate with early detection technology and jargon-free instructions, shipped directly to your door.

Education and privacy are at the core of our service. Our products are shipped to you in a plain envelope with no mention of Stix or pregnancy and the charge on your credit card statement will be obscure. We offer The Stix Library, the ultimate resource to your most googled questions, as well as regular access to our growing panel of medical experts via email, social, and text.

Additionally, as a brand we are pregnancy-agnostic. We don’t care why you have to take a pregnancy test, but we are here to support you. Our customer base is evenly split between those actively trying to get pregnant and those actively trying NOT to get pregnant. We offer products, community, and content that bring peace of mind, whatever outcome you’re looking for.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

We really thought we could do everything ourselves in the early days of Stix. We were designing our packaging, sending all the marketing emails, running customer service, and shipping and packaging the products ourselves. We (very quickly) learned that we needed a team around us that could bring industry expertise to our strategic vision. It also helped clarify what our role as founders really needs to be to reach the level that we know Stix can reach.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

Justin Smithline was one of our advisors during our accelerator and has taught us so much as founders. Justin is the opposite of us in so many ways. We like to describe ourselves as type A+, but Justin is truly calm. He taught us to take a breath when things are difficult to be able to see them more clearly.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

When we think about disruption, we think customer-first. This means, what will provide the most positive change to our customers and actually solve their problems simply. We have found that when disruption is not based on the end-user or customer, whoever that may be, it is either solving for a problem they don’t have or complicating a problem they do have. Every decision we make as a business on every level is rooted in the customer experience.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

  1. “Always be learning.” We got this piece of advice from the accelerator we participated in during the very early days of Stix. This has impacted not only us as founders but also our team. We’ve built a culture where all outcomes are important lessons, no matter how good or bad they were. This makes us more comfortable thinking outside the box and testing new things.
  2. “Don’t work with assholes.” One of our advisors told us that and we still think about it daily.
  3. “Listen to what your customers do and don’t say.” A fellow co-founder gave us that advice before we had even launched Stix. For us, that means maintaining an open dialogue with our customers on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Our entire team interviews three customers every month, regardless of what team they’re on.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

There are so many moments in a woman’s health journey that hasn’t been updated or thought about deeply in decades. In 2021, we will continue to roll out physical and digital products that make women feel confident in their health and expand outside of pregnancy and fertility. Our mission is to inspire confidence and there are so many anxiety-provoking moments in women’s health. There is a lot more to bring peace of mind to for women’s health.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

The vast majority of venture investors are men and most have never experienced the issues faced by our consumers. So, there is a lot of education around our products and consumer experiences that we have to do. However, we have been so lucky to find both male and female investors who really believe in our vision and how we want to change this industry.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

The podcast “How I Built This” has inspired both of us as founders. As we are building Stix, it is energizing to hear stories of how massive companies and brands have started out. We especially like Sara Blakely’s episode about founding Spanx.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

We would love to inspire our community and country to think more deeply about health education. For many of us, you get sex ed once (or not at all!) during middle school and it barely answers any questions you. Your education about your health and body should continue throughout your life and there should be trustworthy and accessible resources available to you.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“The smartest person in the room isn’t speaking.” A family member told us that once and we think about it both as team leaders and co-founders. It is our job to listen to our team and to our customers to provide them what they know they need for success, not what we think they need.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow along with us at @getstix on Instagram!

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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Female Disruptors: Cynthia Plotch and Jamie Norwood of Stix On The Three Things You Need To Shake… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.



source https://medium.com/authority-magazine/female-disruptors-cynthia-plotch-and-jamie-norwood-of-stix-on-the-three-things-you-need-to-shake-f0f5458d5d5e?source=rss—-f772c66cd492—4
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