Chelle Neff of Urban Betty: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent…

Chelle Neff of Urban Betty: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Ask for help from your trusted advisors. Never weather the storm alone. When the pandemic hit, I immediately called my therapist for business help and emotional support. If you don’t get yourself in check first, nothing else is going to work. On a Tuesday, we found out that we could only have 10 people in each location at a time, I put my problem-solving hat on, and we have made it work. When we first moved into our larger salon, we only had 5 people, so I focused on that last journey and how we overcame it. I chose solutions and hope at that moment, and without a call to my therapist, I wouldn’t have been able to do that.

As part of our series about the “Five Things, You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Chelle Neff.

Chelle Neff has been a leader in the U.S. salon industry since founding Urban Betty in 2005 and has more than 20 years of experience creating innovative practices in the salon and beauty worlds. Neff has successfully grown Urban Betty’s revenue year after year and today has two salon companies that house more than 70 employees. For four years consecutively, Inc. 5000 named Urban Betty as one of the fastest-growing privately held companies.

Due to its continued success, the salon is expanding and opening a third location in 2022 and launching an Urban Betty product line in the fall of 2021.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I began my journey as an entrepreneur by first being an employee in the salon industry. I knew from a young age that I wanted to do hair. At the age of sixteen, I was offered the chance to enroll in Cosmetology school at my high school. During my junior and senior years of high school (1993–1995), I attended half days of regular classes and half days of Cosmetology school.

When I received my license in 1995, I started working behind the chair at Supercuts. I slowly worked my way up the ladder to higher-end salons. I got a small suite at the Gallery of Salons and was an independent contractor five years later. That was my initial stepping stone to running my own business.

I was all by myself for the first week when I opened Urban Betty Salon and had only one hairstylist/contractor for the first 3 months. I didn’t hire my first employee until 6 months after opening. At that point, everything that I did behind the chair paid for the entire salon and my household. It was a very stressful situation. I figured out after having one employee that it was much more profitable to have employees rather than booth rental/contracted hairstylists. After about six years, I slowly phased out all of my hairstylists that were contractors and transitioned to a 100% commission-based salon.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

In 2002, I launched a website with a terrible logo. At the time, I thought my logo looked good. It was a lady with a city background, and she seemed very cartoonish. Think Sex and the City if it were a children’s book. Not good. We reworked it after a couple of years. I recently found an old scrapbook with my first brochure and the original logo. I showed it to my employees, and they couldn’t believe how bad it was. We all had a good laugh! I learned that you should constantly be re-evaluating your brand and evolving to stay current.

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?

I wouldn’t be where I’m at today without my life coach/therapist, Rebecca Hamm. I met with her once a week for the first five years after I opened my business. I am down to every other week now. When you are an entrepreneur, you frequently need someone in your corner who can call you on your B.S. in a gentle way. She does that for me. She has helped me overcome my ego and become a boss in every sense of the word.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

My purpose and vision were to elevate the salon industry. In a world that considers college as the only option for success, my salon company empowers women and gives each person that works here the ability to become a future shareholder and grow to have an income well over 100k without a college degree. At Urban Betty, we pay our employees well above the industry average WITH BENEFITS (¼ of the stylists make six figures in my salon, where the industry average is $22k).

I have brought on two current employees to be shareholders in our salon company — encouraging entrepreneurship and helping women achieve their dreams of owning a business. I’ve also created a plan for more employees to become future shareholders in 2022. We host personal growth retreats for our employees and have developed an innovative system of mentorship. We want to shatter the glass ceiling and elevate our industry.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

Our biggest obstacle was overcoming the pandemic. In 2020 the pandemic affected the salon industry significantly. Urban Betty had to close for two whole months while many salons had to close permanently. We chose to stay strong during the pandemic and keep our industry positive through Zoom calls (and even a Zoom Happy Hour P.J. party) and connection. I joined a weekly mastermind with other salon owners so that we could all uplift each other. I also updated our Social Media with inspiring updates about our salon reopening and safety protocol. I wanted to ensure that our staff/guests received the message that 1. “We care about you.” and 2. “We want you to feel safe.”

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

Yes, I considered giving up multiple times. There were days when it was hard to get out of bed, and my business checking account was consistently in the red. The bank used to call me several times a week to make sure that I had money coming in to pay for all the expenses coming out. When I first opened Urban Betty, my leadership ability was weak, and my budget skills were even more inadequate. I was behind the chair 90 percent of the time, and I delegated everything that I could to my manager. I had one admin day a week for bookkeeping and one on ones. I wanted to be liked by my guests and staff, and it was hard to step into my power.

There were times I questioned why I was even doing this. I could be in a studio somewhere making more money with way less stress. The drive to keep going came from a desire to do better than where I came from. I grew up extremely poor, and I never wanted to struggle again. Not having a safety net or an option to fail propelled me to keep going; I never had those things when starting my salon company. I decided never to become a victim of hardships that I couldn’t control and instead became a leader to defy the odds.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

The most critical role of a leader is to remain alight for others around them. When you get overly emotional and become a fear-based leader, all those around you can sense it. I’m not saying be a robot, but I’m also not saying to freak out in front of everyone. Save your freakouts for therapy. That’s what works for me. Anyone who owns a company needs someone (preferably a professional) on their side to help them with anxiety and stress. I see a therapist twice a month. Employees will not feel safe if I’m not outwardly showing that I can handle pressure and challenging situations. You have to do the work yourself and be vulnerable around others. Your mind is like a gym. If you just work out (or go to therapy) when you don’t feel like you are in great shape, you’ll never get into great shape. You have to consistently do the work and be willing to share it with others.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

Much like what I said above, remain calm, connected, and engaged. If you checkout or freak out, that’s precisely what you will get back from your staff. When we closed for 2 months, I typed out weekly updates (and even recorded a couple of videos) with where we were as a company and what we were doing to keep our guests informed. I posted those updates and videos on our private Facebook Group page so that my staff could still feel connected to us and everything that we were doing behind the scenes. I also knew that some of the team were struggling financially. I created an online Employee Relief Tip Jar. We sent out several emails and posted on social media how guests could help supplement our staff’s income during the shutdown. We raised just over $6k for all of our team. Those small acts helped keep the culture strong and the morale intact.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

Digital media was a massive vessel for us to communicate difficult news. We posted Instagram Stories and posts stating how we were navigating the pandemic. We also highlighted a story on our page with all of our Covid-19 protocols and news about reopening. We also sent out bi-monthly emails to all of our guests about handling the pandemic as a company and what we were doing to survive. The most important part of this process was to remain honest, vulnerable, and optimistic all at the same time.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

I love the saying: “How do you make God laugh? Tell him your plans.” I think of that often. The piece of advice I would give any leader is to keep going no matter what. Make those plans. Don’t fret over when or where things will happen. If you want to manifest something, you have to set a goal and get very specific. You also have to give up control and know that when and how it will happen can look very different than what you envision. I spent 6 years with a positive cash flow and had 3 months of fixed expenses saved. I never knew what for until the pandemic hit. What took me 6 years to save up was pretty much gone in 2 months of having to be closed. If I hadn’t taken my business coach’s advice and found a way to become profitable and save that money, we may not be open today. So my advice is pretty much the standard, have a savings account, have systems and structures in place, know what 3 months of your fixed expenses look like, and put that in an account you can’t touch.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

Keep your cool. Stay calm and focused on solutions, not the problem. When the pandemic was just starting, and we learned we couldn’t have more than 10 people at a time inside our store, the first instinct was to panic. Instead, I immediately looked at how many staff we could have, how many guests we could have, and what we would need to cut. Instead of worrying and shutting down, I went into solution mode. Within one hour, we had a strategy, and a plan announced it to our staff and instantly felt better. If you can’t find a solution inside yourself, ask for help! It’s always there.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

The 3 most common mistakes I see are out there are:

  1. Blaming the guest. When you shame others online about being late, no-showing, or being sick, it tells future guests that they are not safe to be themselves inside your company. Things happen, and how you react to them in the moment says everything about you, not the other person. Keep your emotions in check and be professional.
  2. Acting like nothing is wrong. While I say, keep your cool, I’m not advocating for a person to ignore any issues that come up. If you stick your head in the sand and don’t say anything to your staff or guests, they will come up with their own story about what is going on, and it’s not always going to be great. And again, they won’t feel safe if they don’t think you know what is going on. It’s better to say XYZ is happening, and I’m working on a solution because I don’t have all the answers yet, instead of ghosting and pretending everything is fantastic.
  3. Borrowing money you don’t have at a high interest rate. When things are failing, and you have to use credit cards or high-interest lines of credit to stay afloat, it’s time to reassess your budget and systems. I know this because I was that person for a long time. It can only sustain your issues temporarily and cause you undue stress. I call that the slow business death. Get ahead of your financial problems by learning how to profit and have at least 3 months of fixed costs in savings.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

I utilized the following strategies to keep forging ahead during a difficult economy. First, I reached out to my most trusted advisors, my therapist, my salon consultant, and my business coach (yes, I have 3 different people). I listened to podcasts, and I launched the Profit First method. Through all of that research, I broke down all my fixed and variable costs to run Urban Betty (both locations). A fixed cost cannot change and is always there, no matter if we close or stay open. A variable cost fluctuates depending on how busy we are and how much stuff we have on hand. Through that research, I learned we had several unnecessary subscriptions that we could cut to save money while we were shut down.

Another new concept we adopted from the restaurant industry implementing a service charge. We figured out a way for everyone to win and our stylists to make more money, jump levels faster, and have higher retail sales. Urban Betty added a small service charge ($5-$25) to each guest upon checkout. We pay our Service Providers up to 20% of that charge based on their current retail to service percentages. This new protocol helps cover our sanitation processes, PPE, group health insurance, and retirement plans.

In June of 2020, we had our highest grossing month ever. We thrived by spacing Service Providers at every other chair, creating split shifts, and opening up seven days a week, 13 hours a day. Our salon manager reworked our entire schedule to give most Service Providers 30+ hours per week. They agreed to work whatever schedule we gave them during the pandemic to utilize time and productivity for the entire salon company, and it WORKED!

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Ask for help from your trusted advisors. Never weather the storm alone. When the pandemic hit, I immediately called my therapist for business help and emotional support. If you don’t get yourself in check first, nothing else is going to work. On a Tuesday, we found out that we could only have 10 people in each location at a time, I put my problem-solving hat on, and we have made it work. When we first moved into our larger salon, we only had 5 people, so I focused on that last journey and how we overcame it. I chose solutions and hope at that moment, and without a call to my therapist, I wouldn’t have been able to do that.
  2. Know how to read a P&L. If you don’t learn what your expenses and your income look like, you won’t be able to properly adjust your budget for a temporary shutdown or setback. I use Quickbooks online, and it took me a while to figure out how to run reports. And even after running them, that doesn’t always mean you know how to read them. I know it sounds simple, but so many people out there don’t know how to do this. When I first started working with Quickbooks, I wanted to pull my hair out. But then I figured out you can literally learn how to do everything on there with YouTube tutorials.
  3. Be transparent with your staff. Let them see the numbers and know what your income, expenses, and budget are. If you’re embarrassed about making too much money or not enough, you’ve got some emotional work to do. People want honesty, and in turbulent times you have to give them that. After the first week of limiting our staff during the pandemic, I typed up a whole update with our fixed income and actual profit so that they would know where we were at financially and feel secure that the salon would be okay.
  4. Be available. We instilled the message that our door, or, in this case (phone/computer), is always open if you have any questions. I let them know that while I may not have answers, I will always listen. This method helped us stay strong and kept our staff engaged and our culture intact.
  5. When help is offered, take it! Don’t let your ego run the show. I am so thankful for PPP loans, friendly advice, masterminds, books, and podcasts. I have so many outlets that help keep me sane. 99% of the time, someone out there has gone through the same thing or something close, and they can give you advice. It’s up to you if you want to take it. I thought 6 years of business savings would float me for a while. After a 2 month shutdown, it was pretty much gone. That was a rude awakening. If I hadn’t applied for a PPP loan, it would have been terrifying. I’m thankful for that help every day!

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

My favorite quote is, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” I heard this quote right after opening my salon company, and I was utterly overwhelmed with everything that I needed to do. I believe that all movement is forward movement. Even the most minor thing like having coffee with another business owner — asking them one question may help you get to where you want to go.

How can our readers further follow your work?

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!


Chelle Neff of Urban Betty: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Future Is Now: Stephan Beringer Of Mirriad On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up…

The Future Is Now: Stephan Beringer Of Mirriad On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Tech Scene

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Don’t compromise on something just because you’ve been asked to. As you try to constantly watch, learn and optimize for your team and yourself, so do others who rely on you expressing your views, giving different perspectives or pushing back. I really believe that we all have a responsibility for each other, may they be peers, colleagues, superiors, partners, clients, or investors. Staying true to this responsibility isn’t always easy, but it is the only approach to true value. Even when you lose a customer by having been outspoken about the real issues, such as trying to convince a market dominating mobile phone brand about a new strategy to remain competitive against a smartphone just being released in California, people need to know, even when they don’t like what you have to say.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephan Beringer.

Stephan Beringer is the CEO of Mirriad, an in-content advertising platform powered by AI and built on Academy Award-winning entertainment technology, that enables builders and creators of brands to engage with audiences at new levels of relevance and impact.

Stephan belongs to a small group of executives who’ve successfully worked across multiple disciplines in marketing and communication from creative, account leadership, strategy and business development to technology, data, media and digital. He is regarded as a true digital pioneer and as one of the leading forward-thinkers in the marketing, communication and technology industry worldwide with a proven track record of re-engineering businesses multiple times.

Blending long-term disruptive thinking with the building of implementable strategies, operational excellence and a highly inclusive people/talent approach, Stephan has led organizations to new heights in the immediate-, mid- and long term.

Prior to taking on the reins at Mirriad, Stephan worked for Publicis Groupe as the Global President Data, Technology and Innovation (2016–1018), Global CEO Vivaki (2014–2016), and as the International CEO Razorfish and Digitas (2009–2013). Before this, Stephan was part of Omnicom Group (1994–2009) where he held various positions, among which stands out President EMEA and Chief Strategy Officer WW: Tribal DDB (2003–2009)).

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

While I was in school, studying law, I earned money on the side to pay for my apartment, my car, books, etc. by doing production jobs in the film and television industry. At some point I got involved in productions of TVCs, which really fascinated me in terms of the strategic and creative “art” involved in marketing and advertising. I was so intrigued and excited by that, that after receiving my master’s degree in law, I decided to go into advertising as a creative producer for a very renowned agency. The next turning point came in the early 90s, where I guess I must have been one of the first to see the rise of the Internet and the impact it would have on literally everything including marketing. So, I started building the digital arm within our agency, by doing interactive CD Roms and first banner ads in 1994/95. From that point on I’ve tried to always stay ahead of what is coming.

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

I find it really hard to come up with THE most interesting story, having done so many different things in my career that luckily, so far, have all been very exciting and rewarding. With that said, a highlight was certainly working for Sir Sean Connery for a few months, launching an industry-first award for TV and movie script writers and co-building one of the most exciting agency brands (Tribal DDB). Another experience that comes to mind was turning around the programmatic media buying proposition and architecting the new data platform at Publicis.

However, the most interesting story is happening right now, as I’m heading a company that is bringing a true paradigm shift to the world of media and advertising with an AI-powered technology that is so fascinating, that one is tempted to think that adoption will come overnight. The truth is it doesn’t. It takes patience and persistence, the ability to adjust fast, the trust and backing from partners and investors, and a lot of energy in a great team. From the outside, this might not sound overly interesting, but when you’re driving it, every day comes as a new challenge and ends with many steps forward and backwards. There’s something unique about what I’m doing today, and it feels like having this big invention like a light bulb, a combustion engine or a computer in your hand, and the mission is to make the world see it, embrace it, and adopt it.

Can you tell us about the cutting-edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

Our technology can weave brands into films, television shows, music videos and even influencer content after production and in a way that it actually augments the drama, storytelling and viewing experience rather than disrupting it. This is the exact opposite of what advertising in its current form does, which is all about grabbing your attention by interrupting you when you’re passionately watching something or about to start viewing a piece of content. At Mirriad, our algorithms work to create a perfect symbiosis between the storytelling, the scenery, the emotions and the brands we insert. Because of this, there’s a guarantee that the experience will be pleasant. It will help everybody as advertising transitions from current practices to what we offer.

How do you think this might change the world?

We cannot change the world, but we can certainly change the game in the content, media and advertising industry. One of the key benefits of our technology will be for content creators. We are bringing a new monetization opportunity to the content creation space that does not compromise their creative product.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

Our technology and stack are developed and geared towards marketing in content. We would put ourselves out of business if we did anything people could get concerned about. The superior experience of the viewer is always our North Star.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

Interestingly, we have a constant flow of tipping points, versus one that stands for the sudden difference. Think of it this way: every outstanding result our solution delivers for an advertiser, motivates the advertiser to come back, and the next advertiser to test. Every new partner we onboard, motivates another partner to eventually accelerate negotiations with us. Every new tech development we bring to the market underlines our strength as leaders in this new category.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

Adoption at scale will be the result of a progression across partnerships with content owners, engagement with advertisers and their agencies, and of course the integration with the ad-tech ecosystem.

What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?

At Mirriad, we’re using a lot of social media tactics and are heavily leaning into public relations and comms. A constant “drumbeat,” fueled by a constant flow of news is key to our success. So, I would say that the innovation is less in the strategies and tactics themselves, but in the development and delivery of news and innovations that we can take to the market.

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’ve been very fortunate to have worked with some of the brightest people in the industry who were my bosses, peers, team members, partners and clients. I could name a long list of people, but the reality is that I’m grateful towards everybody who intentionally or not has helped me understand, learn, correct, and move forward. My philosophy is all about curiosity, open-mindedness, respect, and agility. I firmly believe that my progress has been a result of that. I’ve kept learning every day, from everyone repeatedly.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

The world is big, so I’d rather say the world I’ve been able to impact. Here I would say that I’ve been able to lead with ethical values that I try to live as much as I can myself. This, I hope, has had an impact on thousands of colleagues, partners, and clients. As to my strategic and creative capabilities, I’ve certainly been able to contribute to many success stories in marketing that helped companies on their journey. But, there’s also an important goodness factor in what we do as a business today, and where we’re headed even more in the future. By helping content creators with monetizing whatever they produce, our platform is contributing to funding popular culture, may this be in film, music or any other form of content. Advertisers who are investing into this new form of marketing and advertising are the main contributors, but I definitely see ourselves as being key enablers.

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 let anyone stop you from following your convictions, visions and beliefs as you build a business and your career. Successful products, services and companies are always created by those who see an opportunity to do something that is new, different and better, and who are prepared to go through tough times to achieve what they’ve set out to do. Beware: many people will say it’s not going to work or that it will be too difficult to pull off, others won’t even understand the idea, ambition and rationale behind it. This is where resilience, persistence and grit make the difference between achievement and non-achievement. This is exactly what I went through when embarking on our digital journey and building a new agency business. I don’t know what people thought when they were hearing our modems all day long or when they saw our enormous excitement about 5000 clicks on our first banners, it probably wasn’t anything overly positive. But we did it, without support, and somewhat against the odds. In hindsight, we could have gone much further than “just” building an agency business. We presented eBay to an online platform two years before eBay actually came to market, and weren’t bold enough to pursue the idea independently after the client had rejected it. We built one of the first web directories (before Yahoo) and did not pursue that, because management told us to focus on services rather than a product, the list is quite long.
  2. There are three ways to look at challenges: Things you directly control, things you can influence, and things that are outside of your control. Once you look at your world this way, you control almost everything including your own and others’ expectations. I find this understanding very helpful whenever I strategize and plan a year, a project, a business. It is helpful when you’re on a roll and when you need to ask yourself some anti-complacency questions, and of course when times are tough, and you need to get yourself out of the place you’re in.
  3. Validating views, convictions, strategies, and plans at all times is key. There are always more views to consider, so don’t go with the first you get — even if first instincts often give the best direction. Forcing yourself to ask for different perspectives is critical and it’s a process that requires humbleness, curiosity, and a lot of discipline. I had a true “aha” moment many years ago, when I was part of a Due Diligence acquisition team and we netted out with a don’t-buy recommendation. While we were right on the operational perspective and the EV, our Chairman and CEO decided to go ahead anyway, seeing integration opportunities across our wider group we just hadn’t been looking at.
  4. Mistakes are good, and if things are getting too easy, you’re probably not making the progress you should. Backslashes and failures are the most natural way to learn, correct, optimize, and move forward faster. This is also why striving for perfection is the biggest enemy of progress, and eventually the one and only mistake one should truly avoid. Changing the programmatic media buying model a few years ago was one of these moments. It felt like having the world against us. People said it couldn’t be done and that it was too difficult, progress was hard to track and measure during the transformation phase, and whilst we had a great plan, we couldn’t know how we’d exactly land the planes.On top of everything we got criticized by the press, as we went through some major pain. Twelve months later, we found ourselves with a streamlined new structure and process, growing satisfaction of our clients, +50% growth, and a new blueprint for the democratization of data and technology.
  5. Don’t compromise on something just because you’ve been asked to. As you try to constantly watch, learn and optimize for your team and yourself, so do others who rely on you expressing your views, giving different perspectives or pushing back. I really believe that we all have a responsibility for each other, may they be peers, colleagues, superiors, partners, clients, or investors. Staying true to this responsibility isn’t always easy, but it is the only approach to true value. Even when you lose a customer by having been outspoken about the real issues, such as trying to convince a market dominating mobile phone brand about a new strategy to remain competitive against a smartphone just being released in California, people need to know, even when they don’t like what you have to say.

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. 🙂

I’m passionate about education, about exchange, respect and openness. In a world that is increasingly polarized and radical, where nobody seems to be listening anymore, I’d wish for news and information hubs that would offer a full spectrum of points of views, for anyone to see and hopefully reflect on.

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

Every day is the start into something new”

I really believe that everyone can go for the next chapter every day, both personally and professionally. I also believe that you need the freedom to be able to think and act that way, which is where your health comes in, which can stop you from everything. This is why taking care of yourself on both physical and mental levels is absolutely critical.

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

The three-digit billion dollar advertising marketing is ready for a big disruption. Why? Because people are annoyed by ads, they skip them, block them or avoid them altogether by going ad-free in streaming services. Something new needs to happen, so that advertisers can reach consumers and engage with them again in a powerful new way. That’s where we come in with our AI-powered platform. We blend advertising, products and brands into the content itself, making it become a seamless part of the movie, series, music video or influencer content itself. Viewers love it, the advertising impact is off the charts, and content owners have a net new revenue stream that is not based on the concept of viewing interruption but on the natural integration with the content. More and more advertisers and content partners are adopting the solution and we’re experiencing real momentum, especially in the US. Now is the best time to invest into what will become the new paradigm in advertising.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://twitter.com/stephanberinger?lang=en

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.


The Future Is Now: Stephan Beringer Of Mirriad On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Loren Shifrin of Revolution Capital: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During…

Loren Shifrin of Revolution Capital: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

The first thing people do during uncertain times is look to the leadership for support, guidance, direction, encouragement — whatever they need to get them through it. Calm energy is infectious. Whenever my team is worried about something, I mindfully practice being as stoic and confident as possible.

As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Loren Shifrin.

Loren Shifrin is a highly ambitious young entrepreneur with seasoned experience building brands and scaling companies in multiple industries. As CEO of Revolution Capital, Loren has been instrumental in the reshaping of the factoring landscape in Canada. He has started and acquired multiple companies in the factoring, alternative lending, and hospitality markets and has a proven track record of building successful businesses.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I started like most, at the bottom. Fifteen years ago, I started working as a collection agent at Baron Finance, which was, at the time, a small factoring company. As the company grew, I seized every opportunity I had to grow with it. Over four years, I rotated through almost every position the company had: Account Manager; Head of Accounts; “Legal Department”; Operations Manager; COO; and, eventually, minority owner.

At the end of 2015, it became clear that I wanted to lead my own factoring company — I had ambitions of doing things differently — so I quit (just a few months before my wedding). I left my secure salary, sold my shares, and bet everything I had on myself. I immediately recruited my first investor, and together we went out looking for institutional funds. After being laughed out of half of Bay Street, we finally struck gold with Morrison Financial. For some reason, one that is still unfathomable to me (yet appreciated beyond measure), David and Alex decided to take a risk on two young founders, and Revolution Capital was born.

On June 1, 2017, we opened our doors and began to grow at a pace never before seen by our industry. By 2018, we ended up acquiring and merging with Baron Finance. In 2020, we made four more acquisitions and solidified our place as the largest factoring company in Canada. We are now expanding very heavily in the United States, intending to become the North American industry leader.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

I made many mistakes at the beginning of my career and did not feel any were particularly funny, at least not at the time. One of the most infamous of my mistakes is the one that started me on my journey. My initial interview with Baron Finance completely slipped my mind until I received a call asking if I was still coming. I told them I was on my way and raced straight over. I showed up at the office, over an hour late, wearing shorts and flip-flops. I went into my interview with the owner of the company and somehow aced it. For some unbeknownst reason, Michael, who is now my partner and CFO, offered me the job. I quite arrogantly declined. I wanted an extra two dollars per hour. To my immense surprise, Michael agreed, and I accepted the position. The cost of this minor increase was to be nicknamed “Shorts and Flip-flops” for nearly a year.

Eventually, I became responsible for all interviewing and hiring at the company and never judged a candidate by their appearance or previous experience. The only thing that matters to me in an interview is a person’s character and perceived work ethic. Much like Michael, who, by chance, hired the man who would buy out his partners to become CEO, I eventually hired the best COO, despite his resume and initial position within the company.

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?

I often think about my career and how I got to where I am. I can attribute much of my success to three mentors and friends. Michael Lukhton, my former boss and current partner, taught me much of what I know today, despite him not always passing on these lessons intentionally. When we grew Baron Finance together, Michael would often entrust me with tasks or projects that I was unqualified or inexperienced to handle. I never challenged or rejected any assignment, so they just kept coming. Thanks to Michael believing in me, I developed much of my knowledge through hands-on experience. I was eager to learn and hungry for the job title I wanted rather than the one I had.

When I left Baron Finance, the first person I went to see was Amer Sabanadzovic. He was infinitely supportive and genuinely wanted nothing more than to see me succeed. While looking for funding for Revolution Capital, we bought and sold a few stocks together — shared profits, shared losses. After picking two winners, I got cocky and convinced him to go big on a third. We lost most of the money we invested. It was my first financial loss. I immediately panicked, wondering how I would ever pay him back. To my infinite surprise, Amer calmly said, “Don’t worry, it’s just money. They print more of it every day.” He fundamentally changed the way I view and react to losses. We have since made much more than I lost on that unfortunate investment.

When we opened Revolution Capital, I approached Sam Ibrahim, a close friend, and persuaded him to take a chance on me. I asked him to close his line of credit and factor all his accounts with my company. Being the incredibly supportive and loyal human he is, Sam convinced his partners that moving their account to my start-up was a smart decision. This was the first of many meaningful gestures that helped me along my path. Since then, Sam’s company and Revolution Capital have both grown exponentially and in direct synergy with each other.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

Most finance companies and lenders believe their value is derived from the size of their portfolios. I have heard many financial executives say, “They need us more than we need them” when referring to both clients and employees. To these people, tangible assets are the only ones that have value and the bottom-line rules all. We named our company Revolution Capital because we wanted to do things a little differently — and because we wanted to challenge what we believed was an archaic view held by many (though not all) in our industry.

Our business is built on people. Our strength comes from the relationships we build both internally and externally. Our purpose is to help small-to-medium-sized businesses achieve their potential by alleviating worries about payroll or how they will afford more equipment or take on new business. We need them as much as they need us. Every facility is mutually beneficial, and we believe that this understanding is what sets us apart.

Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

I’ve held management positions for most of my career, and through the years, my leadership style has changed and evolved. I am by no means perfect, and I am constantly learning and trying to improve how I lead my team. Over the past few years, I have found that the best way to lead is by empowering my department heads, middle managers, and team leads. We saw moderate success when I was attempting to do everything myself. We’ve seen immense growth since I have begun trusting my team to do what they do best.

At the beginning of 2020, we monitored the COVID-19 situation closely and began planning for a finance company’s worst-case scenario: off-site work arrangements. It was uncharted territory for our industry as we were not equipped for remote work.

After completely reworking our IT infrastructure, we decided to allow everyone to work from home before Ontario went into its first lockdown. Employees were encouraged to take their computers from their desks if need be. Those who took public transit were sent home in Ubers (at our expense). We were going to work from home until this all blew over.

We made the decision swiftly and without hesitation. We put the interest of our employees ahead of our fears and insecurities. It paid off. The following week most of our competitors were offline for a few days while they scrambled to adapt. Any concern we had about loss of productivity was also immediately appeased — because we had shown our staff that we care about their wellbeing above all else, they wholeheartedly returned the sentiment and did not let us down.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

Never. I have always been highly ambitious and very hungry. I understand the path I have chosen will not always be easy to navigate and that every challenge is part of the journey. I sincerely believe that if I am too comfortable, I am not growing.

Although it seems that every new challenge is larger in scale and complexity, these challenges also become easier for me to overcome because I have a solid support system (at home and at work), a wealth of experience to draw upon, and unwavering conviction.

I am committed to my clients. I am committed to my staff. I am committed to my partners. I am committed to my investors. They have all taken risks on me, and I owe it to them to overcome any challenge that comes my way. I am eternally grateful to all of them for what they have done to support me, and I will never let them down.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

It is a commonly held belief that the role of upper/middle management is to support the CEO. I’m sure that on some level this is true and that for many CEOs this is of utmost priority. However, I believe, especially during challenging times, that the opposite is true.

Occasionally, I find myself in a meeting where staff from various departments must introduce or reintroduce themselves. “Hi, I’m Joe, and I’m in charge of Supply Chain.” “Hi, I’m Susan, and I am responsible for marketing initiatives.” When it comes to my turn, I usually answer jokingly, “Hi, I’m Loren. I’m the CEO, and I take credit for all your hard work.” It usually breaks the ice by inspiring a laugh, but it isn’t a joke. My job as a leader is to inspire, value, appreciate, encourage, and support all those who work with me and allow me to do what I do. It’s during the challenging times that people most need to feel valued and supported, and that’s precisely what I strive to ensure.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

Communication is key. I am (almost) always in a good mood and looking forward to the future, but I can’t expect the same from my team if they don’t know what I am thinking/planning.

Every Monday, I meet with my department heads to go over any pressing issues, address any concerns, and plan for the week ahead. These meetings usually involve more laughter than a productive discussion, but that’s part of the appeal. Happy managers inspire happy staff.

Whenever I come up with a crazy idea, want to make an acquisition, implement some new software, or create a new department, I share the vision and encourage open discussion. The only successful way I can implement a new idea is if everyone understands and agrees with the logic behind it. If it’s solely my idea, there is a chance somebody won’t accept it. But if it becomes our idea, buy-in and enthusiasm are almost always guaranteed.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

Directly, openly, honestly, and without hesitation. Bad news is a part of life — and of business. Deceit and duplicity don’t have to be.

Luckily, we are rarely put in a position where we have to give bad news. If it impacts the team, I will tell the bad news personally as I feel it’s better coming from the top. If I expect my staff to deliver bad news honestly and compassionately to clients when necessary, I owe them the same courtesy.

Giving bad news is only half the battle though. We also must be ready to suffer related consequences or make adequate accommodations, even to our detriment.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

The future is always unpredictable. Even some of my best-laid plans wound up derailing at the 11th hour. Knowing how to make a solid plan isn’t the concern — it’s learning how to freestyle, adapt, and pivot quickly and efficiently. That is key — and that takes practice and a strong stomach.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

People over profits. I believe that people are the most important intangible asset of any business. By treating company stakeholders ethically and with respect, you lay a foundation that can weather any storm.

During turbulent times, we rely on our customers to support the company, our employees to maintain the company, and our investors to finance the company. Showing our commitment to them during the good times increases the likelihood that they will return the goodwill when we need them most.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

When outside factors impact your business in ways you cannot control, it’s easy to make short-term reactionary decisions out of panic or fear. I watched a few of my competitors have knee-jerk reactions to the pandemic that I doubt they will ever be able to recover from fully.

One of my competitors was so desperate for business at the beginning of the pandemic that they reacted by cutting corners on due diligence to close deals more quickly. They ended up acquiring another portfolio (without doing adequate diligence) that we had ourselves passed on due to poor credit underwriting. They missed many of the problems we caught and ended up losing millions on the deal.

Another tactic that many in my industry resorted to was cutting prices. In the early days of the pandemic, leads were scarce and there were two or three factors fighting over every deal. It was easier to compete on price rather than service. The irony of this decision is that lower margins cannot support quality service, and poor service damages a company’s reputation resulting in fewer deals.

Some competitors became so preoccupied with increasing sales at the cost of margins that they had no choice but to start applying additional pressure on their staff to do more faster. They forgot about the importance of treating their people well. Some people who worked for years at their old shop ended up leaving for greener pastures. Their losses became our gains.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

Since the inception of our company, we have relied almost exclusively on word-of-mouth referrals for our growth. It’s been a great strategy that has led to quality leads and excellent close rates. That said, we naively assumed that this growth strategy would sustain our ambitions forever.

At the beginning of the pandemic, our natural sales funnel dried up completely. Although it has since recovered, we had no option but to diversify our growth channels. I immediately reached out to several competitors to see if they were looking to sell. Given the uncertain nature of the economy and the industry as a whole, I felt confident many would be. We acquired four companies and have since engaged an investment bank to help identify additional acquisition opportunities. We hope to make some announcements before the end of the year.

We also began building a dedicated marketing team and investing in SEO and digital ads. We are starting to see the fruits of our labour now with an overflowing digital funnel.

We engaged head-hunters to recruit salespeople from within the industry. Interestingly, this proved difficult, so we opted to pivot and asked the same head-hunters to find candidates with sales experience outside our industry. We asked them to identify targets who were unsatisfied with the overall culture at their current places of work. We invested in training these recruits, and they are performing better than anticipated.

When the world changed dramatically, almost overnight, we didn’t dig our feet in the sand. We immediately employed multiple complementary strategies, took risks, and ventured into uncharted territories.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. The first thing people do during uncertain times is look to the leadership for support, guidance, direction, encouragement — whatever they need to get them through it. Calm energy is infectious. Whenever my team is worried about something, I mindfully practice being as stoic and confident as possible. Things were highly chaotic when we did our first acquisition and merger. No one on our team had ever done anything like it before (including myself), and they would come to me every day to tell me about new issues that had arisen and say things like, “We will never survive this.” One of my top managers was convinced that this transaction would be our demise and that every day could be our last. Each day I listened to his concerns, reassured him that everything would be OK, and watched him leave my office only slightly calmer than when he had entered. Looking back, when it was all over and done with, he admitted to me that I was right and that it hadn’t been that hard. Little did he know that much of my confidence at the time was sheer bullheadedness. In fact, we are doing due diligence on a significant acquisition now, and he was the first to volunteer to take the lead on the project.
  2. Open and effective lines of communication are essential to the success of any enterprise. That is especially true when times are tough, and the strength of the team/company is put to the test. I never fully appreciated just how intricately intertwined every department is until I started getting my department heads in the same room once a week. The more I share my thoughts and ideas, the more insight and feedback I receive from people with completely different roles and experiences from myself that is of immense value. The more I listen in these meetings, the more my managers participate. And now, if we have a problem or issue that we need to overcome, we do it together.
  3. My job as a leader isn’t to come up with the answers to all of our problems — it’s to make the best decision I can with the information I have available to me. By allowing my key people to participate in the conversation actively, I am more informed, and my ability to make the right decision is greatly improved.
  4. Morale often suffers when times are tough. Although my focus is usually solving the problem at hand, I always ensure that I am also spreading optimism and positivity. I encourage my managers to do the same. Throughout the pandemic, each of my department heads spoke directly with each of their employees daily. Many employees told me that in an uncertain world with the challenges of working from home combined with the impacts of social isolation and loneliness, it meant a lot to have friendly and meaningful interactions with colleagues who cared about them. The efficiency and quality of our interpersonal communication have greatly improved over the last eighteen months, and I believe our work culture and company pride have been enriched as a result.
  5. Always be ready to pivot. If there’s anything the last year and a half has taught us, it’s the importance of being able to adapt, willing to try new things, and open to change. Two years ago, I would have said that working from home was not viable for our industry. I would have said that a flex-work schedule wouldn’t be conducive to a productive work environment. I would have said that no one would read a monthly company newsletter. I would have said the only salespeople worth hiring are the ones with proven track records. I would have been wrong on all counts. Empathy is a strength. It took me a very long time to understand this fact and many people, including myself, had to suffer while I figured it out. For years, I had a reputation for being a hothead who would argue to the death just to get my point across without regard for the person I was arguing with. I would “win” any argument by being the loudest and most forceful voice in the room. Being right was what mattered, regardless of the cost. I’ve since learned to listen. I am now far more successful at de-escalating and negotiating difficult situations as a result. A few months ago, we had an account debtor who was livid and making all manner of threats against the staff and the company. As it turned out, we hadn’t done anything wrong, and he was directing his anger at the wrong party, so I decided to give him a call. He started the call by threatening to find and kill me. He spent the next few minutes calling me names and insulting me. He spent a few more minutes letting me know how upset and insulted he was. I spent about nine minutes being verbally abused and didn’t say a word. Eventually, after he’d rid himself of this toxic energy, he began to calm down. It was only after I had listened to him, without interruption, and allowed him to work through his anger, that I was able to explain the situation to him and help him understand that he was actually mistaken. The total call lasted over an hour. In the end, he apologized and offered to send flowers and cakes to everyone in the office and my immediate and extended family.

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

I can’t think of any “Life Lesson Quotes” that really resonate with me, except maybe what Amer told me about the printing of money. I do, however, really enjoy “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost.

Although I am always conscious of what my competitors are doing, I remain true to our origins and encourage the team to remember our vision and hold fast to our core values of honesty, integrity, and transparency. In general, I believe that when we chase what someone else is doing — following a trend for the sake of conformity — we lose a little bit of what makes us special. That’s why, at Revolution Capital, we are committed to forging our own path.

“I shall be telling this with a sigh somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” — Robert Frost

How can our readers further follow your work?

Readers can find more information at www.revinc.com. They can follow our company Revolution Capital on LinkedIn and Instagram @revolution.capital.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!


Loren Shifrin of Revolution Capital: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Workhuman: Steve Pemberton’s Big Idea That May Change The World

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

That whenever you stop growing, you have to make a move. In my twenties, I worked in higher education and I really enjoyed what I did as well as the university itself. But after five years I wasn’t growing in the profession and I made the mistake of staying another five years after that realization. I never did that again!

As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Steve Pemberton.

Steve Pemberton is chief people officer for Workhuman, the leading online platform bringing positivity to the workplace through social recognition. Prior to assuming his role at Workhuman, Steve was a senior human resources executive at Walgreens. Steve and his wife, Tonya, are the proud parents of three children.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you please tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve had several different career paths. What I was doing in my twenties (working in higher education) was different than what I was doing in my thirties (entrepreneurial ventures) and forties (writer and senior executive in multi-national companies). And now in my fifties, I’m a Chief Human Resources Officer for Workhuman, former candidate for the United States Senate and author of three books. I am doing something different again. What has driven those different career paths is not a story as much as it was a set of childhood experiences where my fate and fortune were completely out of my hands. Those were difficult times and though I managed to get through them, I resolved then that never again were my choices going to be dictated to me by the randomness of chance.

Can you please share with us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

When my first book was published, it found an audience I was not really expecting. After all, it was meant to be more of a family history. But soon enough I realized I had inadvertently touched a chord of other people’s lives and they often write to me to let me know. One morning, I arrived at my office to find a letter from a fifth-grader telling me that he really appreciated my book and that I was his favorite author. It occurred to me almost immediately that I should repay the favor by going to his school to surprise him. His teacher immediately agreed to the idea and sought to get permission from the principal. Unfortunately, the principal said no, citing the school’s schedule and the time of year. The next day the teacher shared my book with her, and in that moment the principal realized that she had been my second-grade teacher!! When the young boy was writing to me, he did not realize the connection and I did not know either when I responded back to him. It was an amazing and beautiful coincidence-and, yes, I did go see him, his teacher and my second grade teacher.

Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?

I try to answer the question: what is my best? Not that which is best for somebody else but my best. Here are some other principles that guided me personally and professionally: the victory is in the effort, not the outcome; live with honor and integrity; always try to better someone’s else life; explore new worlds, spend some part of each day in gratitude, appreciation and reflection; leave the world better than you found it.

Ok thank you for that. Let’s now move to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

The Big Idea That Might Change The World is The Lighthouse Effect. The Lighthouse Effect is the idea that any of us, in any given moment on any given day, can both find a lighthouse for ourselves and be a lighthouse for someone else. What if we woke up each day with a first thought of looking to extend gratitude? That could be someone in our life whose impact we want to recognize or a complete stranger to whom we might extend a kindness. At the same time, each interaction gives us the opportunity to find a connection that guides us in times of uncertainty or difficulty in our own lives.

Think of all the wonderful attributes of the lighthouse: humble, steadfast, noble, selfless, resilient, courageous, resolute. These are also the best elements of humanity. It is why we remember our own lighthouses as fondly as we do because we realize that our journey would almost certainly have wound up in a very different place were it not for those human lighthouse who lit the way for us.

How do you think this will change the world?

We live in a time of incredible cynicism, negativity, and polarization. It seems so rooted in our culture these days that it can be hard to see our way through it all. Changing this dynamic means focusing on what we as individuals and as communities can do in our daily interactions. The secret to this Big Idea that is The Lighthouse Effect is that it gives us, the seemingly ordinary people, the power to bend the arc of lives.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?

The one potential drawback is that this might be seen as too idealistic or naïve. This might lead us to think simple acts of goodness might remedy systemic issues that are more complex.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?

There were two of them in fact. The first tipping point was my first book in which I shared my coming-of-age journey. It has continued to find an audience, but it was also an invitation to hear other people’ stories and it’s helped me better understand the heroism of seemingly ordinary people. The second is my company, Workhuman, where I serve as Chief Human Resources Officer. We power the recognition platforms of companies all across the world so each day I get to see how daily recognition makes such an impact on people’s lives.

It got me to thinking about how each of us, in our small ways, can recognize someone who was a lighthouse in our life.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

If each of us took a moment to recognize the human lighthouse in our life or share a story of how someone provided that for you, we can ignite a movement that can fundamentally re-shape the world. That is one of most important aspects of The Lighthouse Effect. It does not require any special skills or degrees to help someone in moments of doubt or to find others who might help you find your own way through uncertainty.

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 whenever you stop growing, you have to make a move. In my twenties, I worked in higher education and I really enjoyed what I did as well as the university itself. But after five years I wasn’t growing in the profession and I made the mistake of staying another five years after that realization. I never did that again!
  2. That it’s okay to trust yourself and your vision. I vividly recall sitting in front of some publishers who were working really hard to disguise that they simply didn’t know what to do with me. I didn’t fit into their mold of what a writer should be. But I was resolved that I had to write my life the way I lived it as opposed to the way they wanted me to write it.
  3. That your greatest dreams and aspirations do not require approval or permission. There is, within all of us, dreams that live within the quiet of our own heart. Often, we do not share them because we fear rejection or criticism.
  4. That the very adversity that scarred you is the same one that now empowers you to take on new challenges. It’s no accident that successes come after there have been several setbacks. Each setback is a learning that you take with you onto your next venture which you will do with better understanding and wisdom.
  5. That there are fewer things better than helping someone along their life journey. In a way I knew this before I started but I am reminded every day of the responsibility I have that we all have to one another. If we can wake up each day thinking about how to touch someone’s life, we can usher in a new world and a new way of being.

Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?

It can be trite to say it, but there are few things more important than discipline and good habits. On your next full working day, keep a log of what you do that day and how much time you spend on those tasks. Track everything!! At the end of the day, look back at the log and see what you accomplished and where you spent your time. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll find and where you can create better efficiencies.

That approach applies not only to your daily life, but also to your longer-term goals, whether that be monthly goals or yearly goals. It forces a mindset of consistency while at the same time breaking down your goals into a series of achievable objectives. That’s really what creates success-goals, discipline and the good habits necessary to achieve them.

Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Imagine a platform, be it an app or a social media community, that is focused solely on goodness. Whenever you have a lighthouse moment with another human being, this is the place you would go to share that experience or tell that person how that person impacted you. In most cases, those who have touched or impacted you would not be aware they had done so until they received that notification. Similarly so, you would also be on the receiving end of messages from those who were touched by you or something you did. Imagine the power of millions of messages of gratitude flying all across the world on a daily basis. We could quite literally change how humanity interacts.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

They can find me on all the major social media platforms: LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @istevepemberton.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.


Workhuman: Steve Pemberton’s Big Idea That May Change The World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Deque Systems: Preety Kumar’s Big Idea That Might Change The World

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

We need to make it so that accessibility isn’t the hardest part of a developer’s job. Every developer I have talked to wants to do it but can’t slow down velocity and doesn’t have time to learn one more thing. Nor do they want to do it in a “kludgy” way or in a way that creates technical debt. They want to do it right, from the beginning. That’s why we have committed to the “shift left” and making it easy and reliable to do accessibility testing.

As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Preety Kumar.

Preety is the CEO of Deque Systems. She founded Deque in 1999 with the vision of unifying web access, both from the user and the technology perspective. Under Preety’s leadership, Deque has grown to be the trusted leader in digital accessibility. Offering tools, training and services to organizations around the world, Deque’s mission is Digital Equality — making the web and all digital assets accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you please tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Just like accessibility is beginning to gain traction today, similarly, the Internet was gaining traction 21 years ago when I got introduced to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and Section 508 standards. These are the standards and laws that help us understand what we consider to be accessible. At the time, Amazon was just 5 years old but was already changing how we shopped. It struck me as I was reading the WCAG and Section 508 draft working copies that the implication of the Internet not being accessible to people with disabilities would limit access to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. As a result of this incredible innovation and culture shift, people with disabilities who are unable to use the Internet and its full capabilities, are being discriminated against and left behind, unable to fulfill this basic hierarchy of needs in the same way everyone else can. Obviously, this is especially concerning during a pandemic.

Instilled in me by my mother from a young age, inclusion has always been important to me. I knew that if these guidelines and laws were going to make a real impact, following them had to be as easy as possible. As a developer at heart, I also know that dev teams are critical to practicing accessibility every day, ensuring inaccessible features don’t get developed in the first place. This is what led me and my colleagues at Deque to building automated tools to help dev teams find and fix accessibility bugs while they code.

Can you please share with us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

That is difficult. There are so many. I remember being at the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) conference and going for dinner after the sessions were over for the day. This was in the mid 2000’s. I saw a young man who was blind standing outside the lobby describing himself. He would start the description and then repeat himself over and over again. I realized he was trying to get a date. Dating sites weren’t too accessible to his screen reader so he found a way to get a compatible date by using the oldest way of communication. Not convenient but ingenious.

Well, the evening got even more interesting. Our dinner party included the technology leader from the NFB who happened to be an adventurous individual. It goes without saying, but he is also blind. We were in Texas, and it was a life-long dream of his to ride a mechanical bull, so we called around and found a place. We called ahead and cleared what would be required for him to ride the mechanical bull — signing a disclaimer and so on and so forth. When we got to the facility, the mechanical bull operator refused to let him on. Obviously, management hadn’t informed the operator of our pre-clearance. We had to threaten to have all 6,000 attendees of the nearby NFB conference to come and protest if they didn’t honor what management had cleared for us to do. The smile on our friend’s face while he rode the bull is something I’ll never forget. The “inaccessibility” of life and experiences we take for granted, is something he had to fight for. People with disabilities shouldn’t have to fight for access to fun, knowledge, job opportunities, growth, voting and all the things we take for granted in our increasing reliance on the digital world. The Internet and Mobile world have become so centric to our lives that it is really not an option to not have it be accessible to everyone.

Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?

I created Deque’s core values to reflect principles I hold dearly. They guide my work at Deque and everything else in my life. Very simply they are:

  1. Innovation with results that matter
  2. Deliver what you promise
  3. Can-do attitude
  4. Open, Direct and Respectful communications
  5. We care deeply
  6. We practice humility

Ok thank you for that. Let’s now move to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

Making the ADA for the digital world a reality. Digital equality, to me, in so many ways is like the other movements such as human rights, racial equality and independence movements around the world. Self-sufficiency means independence. How can a person, in today’s world, be independent without being able to have equal access to the Internet? While this may seem obvious, removing obstacles to make it so is really the big idea. Gutenberg started the printing revolution by reducing the cost of printing books. We want to make digital accessibility a reality by reducing the cost of making digital properties equally accessible to all.

How do you think this will change the world?

Again, I think the printing press offers us keen insights of how this may change the world. Democratization of knowledge and reducing friction to accessing knowledge for people with disabilities will increase opportunities and contributions from people with disabilities. Frankly, diverse voices and contributions previously unheard will change society and I don’t think any of us know how. My prediction is that we will be able to look back and understand all the ripple effects it has.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?

There are little downsides to the democratization of knowledge that I can think of.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?

I think the tipping point was hiring my first blind employee and watching him work every day using his screen reader, sitting next to him and watching the challenges he had to face to do the things I took for granted, like fill out a rental application when he moved to join Deque, filling out the form to get on payroll. Just everyday things that need not have been challenging but were impossible because of the way the applications had been developed or coded. I’m sure every developer on the planet would never create inaccessible experiences if they got to spend a day observing the challenges faced by people with disabilities in using their applications and websites.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

We need to make it so that accessibility isn’t the hardest part of a developer’s job. Every developer I have talked to wants to do it but can’t slow down velocity and doesn’t have time to learn one more thing. Nor do they want to do it in a “kludgy” way or in a way that creates technical debt. They want to do it right, from the beginning. That’s why we have committed to the “shift left” and making it easy and reliable to do accessibility testing.

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

I’ve been fortunate to have several great counselors in my life, though these five ideas would have been very useful in my early years:

  1. It is okay to pursue your dream.
  2. Bite off what you can chew.
  3. Trust your intuition and instincts.
  4. Get a good mentor.
  5. Sleep on it.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Preety Kumar on Twitter: https://twitter.com/accessibility20

Preety Kumar on Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/preety-kumar/

Deque Systems on Twitter: https://twitter.com/dequesystems

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.


Deque Systems: Preety Kumar’s Big Idea That Might Change The World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Brand Makeovers: Michael Crooks of Solaray On The 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize…

Brand Makeovers: Michael Crooks of Solaray On The 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize Your Brand and Image

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Learn the terrain. First things first: get to know your brand inside and out. What is the back story? How did things start? How far is too far of a stretch? This seems obvious, but countless rebrands fail because they skipped this foundational step and instead operated only on their preconceived notions of what the brand should be. Humility is important here — because what you find out may change your plans.

As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview Michael Crooks.

Michael Crooks is Vice President of Marketing for HFS Brands at The Better Being Co., headquartered in the United States and sold globally. His portfolio oversight includes Solaray, founded in 1973 and known as one of the original pioneers in multivitamin health & wellness. Crooks is a proven brand builder with experience across luxury apparel & footwear, travel, and health & wellness. He leverages an unconventional range of applied experience across the creative-analytical and digital-physical spectrums to generate growth in volatile markets. Drawing on a prior background in cognitive-based psychology & biochemistry research conducted at the University of Pennsylvania, Crooks employs a new multidisciplinary approach embedded in cultural relevance, psychographic storytelling, and brand-first methodology, balanced across quantitative & qualitative components.

Several of Crooks’ initiatives have been shortlisted as finalists for the Glossy Awards including: 2020 Best Product Launch (winner); 2020 Best Brand Collaboration; 2019 Best E-Commerce Experience; 2018 Best In-Store Tech. He also conceptualized and led Stuart Weitzman’s first-ever sneaker collaboration and global launch, which became the company’s #1 best-seller worldwide and won the 2020 Glossy Award for Best Product Launch.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Initially I was dead set on pursuing a career in experimental psychology. While at the University of Pennsylvania I had the privilege of conducting research under acclaimed psychiatrist Dr. Aaron T. Beck, known as the founder of Cognitive Therapy, and what I learned from him still shapes my marketing approach today. When it came time to commit to graduate school, I had this lingering curiosity about how psychology could apply to the business world — so I switched gears.

Later that spring at a Wharton job fair, a recruiter from Lord & Taylor oddly gave me an interview because he liked my outfit — and thus began my career working in the fashion, luxury, and travel sectors. To gain hands-on expertise in a variety of specialties, I worked in positions focusing on analytics, creative, and everything in between. I quickly learned that this space would be an ideal intersection to blend my interests in brands and psychology, since the customer’s ideas and feelings about the brand and its products are what dictate behavior — and a staggering array of factors go into helping shape those ideas and feelings. At the end of the day, my passion now is still the same as it was when I worked in research: to understand people. And my non-traditional background in terms of coming from a separate field of study has helped me tremendously in helping me see things a little differently and approach scenarios from a new angle.

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

Early in my career at a large national department store we had spent a good deal of money on a rebrand, working with one of the most noteworthy ad agencies in NYC on creatives meant to appeal to a younger demographic vs. their core customer at that time. It was a comprehensive rebrand effort and helmed by some titans of the industry. Ultimately, the creative missed the mark because the way it was shot inadvertently devalued their core base — and some of the most valued clients were not shy in speaking up to voice their displeasure.

However obvious this point seems now, it certainly was not then — and truth be told, we all missed it within the organization. From this experience I learned that anyone, regardless of how seasoned they are, can make mistakes like this if they take their eyes off the road, and that it is important to remember that. Stay humble and always be open to the possibility that your idea needs adjustment.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lesson that others can learn from that?

A tipping point in my career happened when I started operationalizing cognitive principles from my psychology days directly into marketing campaigns. Leveraging a combination of optimizing creative design around segmentation, it amounted to early-stage psychographic messaging that produced significant gains over control groups in engagement and conversion. This showed me for the first time that considerable value existed in layering different approaches on top of one another to create a better aggregate result or outcome. This basic framework has proved indispensable to me to this day, just applied to different arenas.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am currently at the helm of the Solaray global rebrand and first-ever marketing campaign, Live Brighter. Solaray has been a longtime leader in the vitamin & supplement space, having pioneered several industry firsts, but since its inception in 1973 has never engaged in much formal marketing or advertising. With the growing demand for reliable and environmentally conscious wellness products, now felt like the right time to amplify Solaray and its core values of quality, service, and innovation to a wider audience.

The Live Brighter campaign is all about highlighting life’s most precious moments and underlining that we can best protect those moments by being the healthiest versions of ourselves. Solaray tapped into the power, passion, and quality behind the 900+ products that our customers know and love — and at the same time, leveraging some of the best creative teams from my previous worlds of luxury, fashion, and travel to create a beautiful campaign shot in film that really stands out in the health & wellness industry. Most importantly, with the support of exceptional teams behind this, we were able to create a campaign that brings the same level of precision and detail to creating the Solaray visual universe that the brand has applied to formulating efficacious supplements for nearly 50 years.

What advice would you give to other marketers to thrive and avoid burnout?

Put all your creative, strategic, and analytical marketing power behind a brand and product you honestly believe in and, as cliché as it might sounds, fall in love with the process. Not everyone has the luxury of finding work that they love, so if you are fortunate enough to do so, make the very most of it. That extra level of care for a greater mission and value proposition to the public can propel you through those late nights. That is something I have been fortunate to find with a few brands along the way, but none more so than Solaray. The pandemic has shifted society’s focus to health and wellness in a way that is permanent. So, bringing a brand like Solaray to the forefront is an endeavor that in some ways is greater than just my career or even just the company.

Ok, let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?

Brand marketing is putting a visual and emotional narrative to the world that your product sits in, the values they stand for, and matching that to different lifestyles across the board — it is all about giving context to what you are selling. So, in the case of Solaray, we created Live Brighter to give customers the context that Solaray products can be an efficacious tool in helping to live life to the fullest through achieving our healthiest selves, and thereby embracing those moments that matter most.

Product marketing is directly projecting the product qualities and characteristics of what you are selling. There is considerable and necessary overlap — you create the world it sits in, and then you can give context to sell that product. In addition, your corporate values matter — now more than ever — in portraying this world. Customers today care about what you stand for — not just about the product you want to sell them.

Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?

Short answer — it is the only way to really connect brand and product marketing at the visceral, emotional level. Longer answer — this goes back to something fundamental I learned in my early days from Dr. Beck: it is not just about the thing itself, but about the meaning people apply to that thing. And this applies directly to brands and their products, regardless of category. People are looking for context that they identify with on several levels, so brands that build that compellingly will connect more deeply with customers. And long gone are the days of consumers blindly picking a product off a shelf without considering where their money is going and who their money is supporting. This is something I welcome with open arms.

But the caveat is marketers need to make sure they are building a brand that consumers are willing to get behind. An example of Solaray investing the resources on this front is an extension of the new Live Brighter campaign, The Light House, where we will host health and wellness change makers for a personalized dining event at a one-time, customized pop-up restaurant, providing an exclusive experience based on their current health goals and interests. Our goal with The Light House is to highlight how and why consumers need to invest in their supplement routine, how a trusted brand like Solaray has the expertise and the products to do just that, and how this is sits in the context of relevant events and discussions on a wider scale.

Let’s now talk about rebranding. What are a few reasons why a company would consider rebranding?

Nuances aside and using overly broad strokes, it comes down to two reasons — either to boost sales, to become more relevant — or both. And once in a blue moon, the timing, environment, and brand DNA is perfectly aligned such that it would not make sense not to.

As for Solaray, we leveraged a rebrand simply to meet consumers where they are now and to support the growing demand and needs of today’s consumer for trusted wellness products. Solaray found so much success over the last 48 years flying under the radar and building this community of health of wellness gurus but after a certain point, if a brand is creating a product that is helpful to consumers, why let it remain an industry “secret” of sorts? This rebrand is not about rewriting the history of Solaray, bur about fleshing out what has always been there from the start and communicating it on a larger scale.

Are there downsides of rebranding? Are there companies that you would advise against doing a “Brand Makeover”? Why?

As a marketer, you need to ask yourself if the rebrand feels right. As overused as the word “authentic” is, that is really the key — does it feel authentic to the brand story, or does it feel forced? If you stretch the narrative too far then it comes across as inauthentic and consumers can feel that instantly, especially today. When designing this rebrand for Solaray, we knew immediately that all we had to do was tap into the brand’s existing roots because of the rich legacy that was already present but just not really being talked about. We tapped into the retro, classic DNA of the brand and by doing so we have created a campaign that feels singularly authentic to the Solaray people have known and loved for nearly 50 years.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Can you share 5 strategies that a company can do to upgrade and re-energize their brand and image”? Please tell us a story or an example for each.

  1. Learn the terrain. First things first: get to know your brand inside and out. What is the back story? How did things start? How far is too far of a stretch? This seems obvious, but countless rebrands fail because they skipped this foundational step and instead operated only on their preconceived notions of what the brand should be. Humility is important here — because what you find out may change your plans. In approaching Solaray’s rebrand, I did not necessarily have an agenda coming in that indicated the brand should go retro. As a nearly 50-year-old brand, I knew I had some things to learn before the strategy fully materialized. That said, after talking to the right people (some of whom have been with the brand longer than I have been in the workforce), the strategy became clear: they all shared the same facts about a brand with humble beginnings in the heart of Utah, founded in 1973 starting from 40 homemade herbs that grew into the global health & wellness presence it is today. The legacy was solid — that is what made the path clear — and the strategy in its simplest form is just to share with a wider audience what has already been there since the start. Those who had been with the brand far longer helped me get there the quickest.
  2. Talk to your customers — and have vision to see into the beyond. Your customers are your heartbeat. They also cannot tell you everything. Another obvious point, but healthy balance is necessary if you want to move your brand forward. Listen to your customers to help attune your compass and key you into the things that matter most to them — incorporate their direction into your strategies and have vision to be able to deliver something new to them that they have not even conceptualized yet or do not know how quite to articulate. In this regard, it is your duty as the steward of the brand to be able to see around the next corner. Maybe it’s the right collaboration with another brand that brings more incremental value to the customer. Maybe it’s a new product born straight out of the innovation lab. In either case, listen to the customer data, and have the fortitude to see into the beyond to flesh out what customers want but may not yet know how to verbalize. After all, it took some foresight to deliver a device to the public that was a telephone, a music player, and an internet browser all in one device — maybe we did not know we needed it at the time, but now most of us feel like we cannot live without it.
  3. Invest in the dream. The product quality must be solid, no doubt about that. But without the context of the brand universe to connect that product to deeper brand values, there is no emotional anchor. Customers regularly spend more on branded products despite generic versions being the same in composition or formulation. Why? Behaviorally speaking, this is the definition of irrationality. But if the brand has taken sufficient root in the psyche of the customer, they will keep returning. The best brands in the world understand that this type of loyalty is directly proportionate to how much and how thoughtfully they invest in growing it over time and across channels, and how closely they tangibly align customer and brand values in the same arena.
  4. Invest in the team — and have conviction. Cheating a little here, since this is technically two, but they are closely related. And this is a tough one coming from a data nerd. Having started my marketing career in CRM, I am obsessed with segmentation, response rates, control groups, and statistical significance. And in today’s world, there’s so much data available at our fingertips that it is easy for the modern marketer to become paralyzed and drown in a sea of spreadsheets. Data is essential — but in the specific arena of brand building, once you have done your due diligence it is even more essential to have creative conviction about the direction, you are taking the brand in terms of how it looks, feels, and sounds. In addition to analytical and technical knowledge, this requires a command of cultural nuance and aesthetic relevance — which is extremely difficult to find in a single person. So, invest in the team, and bring in the best of the best — because it cannot be done alone. Leverage data to fine-tune decisions but have a strong creative point of view after you have thoroughly done your homework and looked at all the numbers. The Solaray head-to-toe rebrand has taken a village — both of internal/external teams from the regional and global perspective, and the conviction to tap into its roots has only been furthered by these key partners that can help scale the vision.
  5. Be consistent — even (*especially*) when it hurts. Rebrands take time — and it does not happen overnight. There will be times when it is painful, when the numbers might lag, and when changing direction feels like the best course of action. If you are trying to build a brand, lack of consistency is the single leading cause of failure. It sends mixed signals to the customer which then leads to ambivalence about the brand work done up until that point. I have been part of companies both public and private that were not aligned at the leadership level in terms of brand building, and when push came to shove later in the quarter, this lack of alignment leading to inconsistency and course reversal amounted to one step forward, two steps back, never fully taking root with the customer. Resist the temptation to reverse course when things get tough — often, that is exactly the moment to keep pushing through, assuming you have done your due diligence properly. If you have, and it resonates with the customer, the sales will come. The best in the brand building business are singularly committed from the jump — and they set proper expectations internally and with shareholders regarding how long it may take to get there. Much easier said than done, but so is building a brand that stands the test of time.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job doing a “Brand Makeover”. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

I had the privilege to work at Gucci at the time when Marco Bizzarri became CEO and Alessandro Michele became Creative Director. Together, they turned Gucci around comprehensively, from their creative aesthetic to their flagging sales, to return to form as the leading luxury brand of the era. And they did it through knowing the terrain, communicating effectively with the teams and with customers while having the vision to see around corners, investing comprehensively in the dream, investing in the team, displaying conviction, and by not wavering in their consistency. And to do so on a global scale with such a large machine of an organization was nothing short of remarkable — business schools will be writing case studies about it for decades to come.

And I might be biased, but I think what Solaray has pulled off through Live Brighter is meaningful for the health & wellness industry overall, as more brands in the space move towards a more lifestyle approach — it stands out as a career accomplishment because it is in service of a nearly 50-year-old brand with the historic following and rich legacy to back up the idea of our campaign approach in general. Solaray continues to set itself apart through some of the most stringent in-house testing protocols, meticulous dedication to quality, commitment to pioneering innovation, and dedication to wide-scale global sustainability initiatives that give back to the environment and the communities within.

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. 🙂

If people can begin to have a deeper understanding of their health and wellness needs and become more educated on the power and benefit of Solaray products, even that level of preliminary education is worth all the work put in thus far. I think back to my roots in psychology and mental health, and from a holistic perspective, working with Solaray does feel full circle.

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

“Life is a game of inches” — that Al Pacino quote from Any Given Sunday. It is ubiquitous at this point, but no less true — any success I have experienced has not been so much from magic silver bullets, but from the cumulative effect of putting in the unglamorous workday in and day out, in the context of great teams like all the people behind Solaray. But over time, those inches do really start to add up. This is the best descriptor of my approach.

How can our readers follow you online?

Website — https://solaray.com/

Instagram — @solarayvitamins

Twitter — @solarayvitamins

Facebook — @Solaray

Thank you so much for these excellent insights! We wish you continued success in your work!


Brand Makeovers: Michael Crooks of Solaray On The 5 Things You Should Do To Upgrade and Re-Energize… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Hamish Thomson: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Stop being right. I used to be a leader who needed to be right on every single debate, dialogue, or discussion. In my mind there was always a winner and a loser. As with many senior leaders, this was amplified during turbulent times. This is the worst type of egocentric leadership as it restricts input, challenge and fresh perspective from others — all invaluable when times are tough.

As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Leadership author and former corporate CEO, Hamish Thomson.

Hamish Thomson, author of It’s Not Always Right to be Right (Wiley $29.99), is a former CEO/Regional President and global brand head for Mars Incorporated (UK, Australia, Chicago), a senior sales and marketing lead for Reebok International (England and the Netherlands) and an account exec in the London advertising scene. Based in Sydney, he is a strategic consultant, key-note speaker, start-up investor and non-executive director of OzHelp Foundation. Visit www.hamishrthomson.com

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I was born and raised in New Zealand and attended Massey University, graduating with a business degree majoring in marketing and commercial law. Most Kiwis are inherently curious, so I ventured to England for a supposed 12-month experience and ended up doing a 10-year European working stint. I started life in London advertising as a very junior copywriter and shortly moved into client management. For a young and naïve bloke, the UK advertising scene was certainly an eye opener. I loved the creativity, pace and energy (and inevitable daily hangovers) of the industry. I then joined Reebok who at the time was the leading sports and fitness brand in the region. I did various brand and sales roles before moving to the Netherlands to head up European marketing. A cool job, vibrant entrepreneurial sector and one heck of a fun country. Following the birth of our first son, my wife and I moved back to this side of the world where I joined the amazing team at Mars Incorporated. I was there for almost 20 years, with the last dozen doing various CEO/Regional President and Global brand head roles in Australia, UK and Chicago. Approximately 18 months ago, I ventured into the world of start-up’s, boards, leadership writing and consulting. It’s been different and energising to say the least.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

I love the notion of mistakes — particularly your ‘best’ mistakes. All are invaluable as long as you seek out insight (content and context) and turn specific learning into tangible action. Insight without action is an all-too-common phenomena within the corporate world. Probably my funniest pertained to my advertising days. During a new client pitch to Toyota, I was half-way through my presentation when I cut to the hero image of a massive outdoor billboard campaign. Unfortunately, instead of a shiny new Toyota, I had forgotten to replace the “positional image” of a Ford Sierra Cosworth! Needless to say, we lost the pitch. Learning was two-fold: you become very thick skinned (I still get annual ribbings from former colleagues), and secondly, double-down on your diligence. Detail is now a reluctant but necessary competency of mine.

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?

Exceptional companies have exceptional leaders. I have been very fortunate in this sense. One mentor that comes to mind was the former President of Reebok International. Roger mentored me to believe that the best leaders are modest and humble. They promote others ahead of themselves and are not concerned about being right or wrong. They are concerned with mutually beneficial outcomes and that relationships matter above everything else. He had a strength in inspiring others to be their very best and provided significant freedom and autonomy to do so. He also instilled a belief that the best leaders are those that are both ‘respected and liked’. I have dedicated an entire chapter within my book to this topic. Many exec coaches disagree with the necessity to be liked (respect is a given) but I know from experience, that I walk over coals to support a leader that I both respect and like.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

I am a firm believer that “performance without purpose is meaningless and purpose without performance is impossible’. Organizations have a responsibility to be purposeful, yet in order to do so, they must perform successfully. A few examples that come to mind (in each case, motivating me to be at my best and making me a better leader of others); Mars Petcare — driven by a desire to “make the world a better place for pets’, and Mars Food — ‘better food today for a better world tomorrow’. In both cases, driving meaningful behavioral change. On a personal front, I am a board member of one of Australia’s leading mental health and suicide prevention organisations, OzHelp Foundation. The concept of creating a ‘world without suicide’ is both inspiring and purposeful.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

The first thing I would say is that I believe we have always lived in unprecedented times. The idea of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity), has been talked about for ages. I believe change, uncertainty and difficulties have always existed. It is a reality of both corporate and personal life and the earlier we embrace it, the better we will be. Like many, I have faced instances of turmoil — from factory closures, product recalls, team redundancies, to safety and crisis management issues. Probably my most interesting, was when I was brought in to lead the UK division for confectionery. The business had been in a period of decline for almost 5 years and the team was almost “apologetic to grow’. Despite being an incredibly talented team, limited mindsets and beliefs relating to share and category growth were commonplace. In turnaround situations, people need conviction leadership. A clear and purposeful vision, defined focus areas and key enablers and aligned cultural behaviors to execute. Teams need assurance, direction and answers — not endless discussion, and it is a leader’s responsibility to provide this. I love turnaround situations. When you achieve them, it is a magical feeling for all involved.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

There is a big difference between giving up and refining direction. The latter is reality. The former, a sign of average leadership. In the above example, my biggest learning was around creating a catalyst for change. Ideally this is ignited through vision and opportunity. In this case, the burning platform for change was created by the harsh reality of a headwind category and concerning P&L. Additionally, I discovered the importance of getting key sponsors within the organisation to be early sponsors of change. Earlier in my career, I used to try to ignite change alone. Whilst it was often quick to do so, seldom was it enduring.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

Outstanding leaders do three things; they honour the past, they respect the present and they provide hope for the future. In challenging times, ‘hope’ is paramount. If I was to add one more — empathy. Compassion relates to both the past and the present and during tough times, it matters considerably.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

A collective purpose and a shared team agenda. I am a massive believer in the power of ‘radiators and can do’ people within business and in life. They breathe possibility, are infectious with action, and people stand that much taller when they are next to them. The concept of “drains and radiators” is probably my favourite leadership philosophy (chapter 2 of my book!)

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

Do it early (no-one likes surprises), do it honestly (do not sugarcoat or divest blame), and do it authentically (with high fact and high emotion as to why it matters). Ahead of this, organisations must create exceptional relationships with relevant stakeholders — based on mutual trust, understanding and support. I have a working model that talks about how relationships will always be more important than law and logic. Mistakes and learnings make me confident this is 100% right.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

Interesting question. I concur that detailed long term planning (5+ years) can often be redundant, distracting and non-value add. However, all leaders must provide crystal clear clarity on long term purpose, organisational vision and goals. Strategic choices (what we play with, where we play and how we play) will always change when macro and micro conditions dictate. This is totally ok, so long as leaders effectively communicate why changes and refinements are taking place. Always talk through your assumptions (known and forecast) behind your strategic choices. Teams accept change when leaders are consistently transparent.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

Stay true to your north star — your purpose. It is the reason you exist and whilst conditions, strategies and activities may change, your overarching purpose should be enduring.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

The first is panic and unnecessary distraction for your teams (away from core priorities and profitable revenue segments). Time in motion analysis will ensure resource focus — painful to do, but it works. Next, businesses and leaders can start to become insular. Narrow perspective and an internal mindset usually result in declining stakeholder relationships. Always start with an ‘outside-in’ and ‘servicing others first’ mentality. Finally, increased pressure valves often lead to leaders not being authentic and transparent to those around them. Increase your visible presence during tough times and always do so with honest and open communication.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

I dedicate two chapters of my book to this very topic. The first is about the importance of never being content with current levels of performance in both good and bad times (Chapter 16, ‘Constant Dissatisfaction’). Outstanding leaders look outside for new perspective, revenue opportunities and operating procedures. I term this as having an insatiable curiosity for doing things better. One model that I use is called the 30% rule. Leaders set stretch objectives that can only be achieved by doing something completely different from current ways of working. It is amazing how much dormant potential and untapped thought leadership this creates. Chapter 18, ‘Who is Writing your Agenda’, talks about staying ahead of the curve and leading change versus simply managing change. It is difficult to achieve and requires a mindset committed to transformational agendas versus simply operational ones.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Stop being right. I used to be a leader who needed to be right on every single debate, dialogue, or discussion. In my mind there was always a winner and a loser. As with many senior leaders, this was amplified during turbulent times. This is the worst type of egocentric leadership as it restricts input, challenge and fresh perspective from others — all invaluable when times are tough.
  2. Hire radiators and remove drains. Do whatever you can to have optimistic and results driven, passionate people in your team during difficult times. Equally, be bold and fast on removing negative people. It not only adversely impacts a leader, but worse, it lowers the culture within an organisation.
  3. Deliver performance and purpose. This matters more than ever for internal and external motivation. Make communications compelling, motivating and importantly, regular.
  4. Lead versus manage. Ensure leadership agendas focus on getting ahead of the curve and setting a new agenda. Do not get distracted with operational matters as that can be handled by exceptionally talented people below you.
  5. Value relationships ahead of both law and logic. Enough said.

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

“If you are not in control, you are not driving fast enough”, IndyCar racing legend, Mario Andretti. Push the boundaries and see how tall you can be in all that you do. One of the reasons I even attempted to take on writing again, after starting corporate life as a very average London agency copywriter!

How can our readers further follow your work?

Book — “It’s not always right to be right — and other hard-won leadership lessons”https://booktopia.kh4ffx.net/YgqRyO

Website: www.hamishrthomson.com

Linkedin: www.linkedin.com/in/hamishrthomson

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!


Hamish Thomson: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Lori Ann King: How To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Headphones, a ball cap, and sunglasses can help prevent overstimulation. Keep them close by, especially when traveling or even going to the grocery store. One time my husband and I were visiting his cousin in NYC. We would be riding the subway, which I knew would be challenging due to the noise and crowds. I specifically chose an inside seat where I could burrow into the safety of my husband’s side while he used his body as a barrier of protection. I tucked my hat down and plugged into some calming music on my phone. I was able to keep myself from getting anxious and overstimulated.

As a part of our series about How To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lori Ann King.

Lori Ann King. is the Amazon best-selling author of Come Back Strong, Balanced Wellness after Surgical Menopause, and a two-time contributor to the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Her latest book, Wheels to Wellbeing, is a self-care guide and tool to help readers go from unbalanced, chaotic, and overwhelmed to a more balanced, calm, and happy existence. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her with her husband, Jim on their bikes, paddleboards, kayaks, or in the gym.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and what you do professionally?

Sure. My name is Lori King and I currently live in Las Cruces, NM, although I grew up and lived most of my life in upstate NY. I have an eclectic background, having worked in recreation, marketing, and web development jobs. I am currently a freelance writer, author, and speaker.

Thank you for your bravery and strength in being so open with us. I understand how hard this is. Can you help define for our readers what is meant by a Highly Sensitive Person? Does it simply mean that feelings are easily hurt or offended?

Being a HSP is more than being someone whose feelings are easily hurt or offended. It is directly connected to our energy or nervous system. A few years ago, I met a woman who referred to herself as highly sensitive. When I asked her to clarify what she meant by that, her description struck a chord with me. She was easily overwhelmed by bright lights, strong smells, and loud noises. She needed to withdraw during busy days to a private place where she could recalibrate, refresh, and re-energize. She became overstimulated when a lot was going on around her, and excessive hunger disrupted her concentration or mood.

I could relate. Bright lights, loud noises, and crowds are definitely challenging for me. For example, one time I got so agitated and frustrated at a Super Bowl party, I had to leave early. The same thing happened at a convention where I was surrounded by a crowd of over 7,000 people that was super high energy and enthusiastic. The price for being around that is an emotional crash or low period. It’s just my normal ebb and flow of life. I retreated to an exhibit outside the arena where I collapsed into a friend’s arms in tears. She took one look at me and said, “Ah. Too much peopling. You’re overstimulated.”

Does a Highly Sensitive Person have a higher degree of empathy towards others? Is a Highly Sensitive Person offended by hurtful remarks made about other people?

I believe that as an HSP I do have a higher degree of empathy toward others. I seem to sense the feeling or emotion beneath the words someone is speaking. I especially see it watching television. I am easily moved to tears of sadness or joy, depending on what I’m watching, especially shows that portray people pursuing their dreams.

I think it’s human nature to be offended by hurtful remarks or criticism, but as a HSP I find it harder than most to shake off. As an author I get a lot of reviews, and it’s the negative ones that seem to stick out in my head, regardless of how many positive ones I get. And I can still hear the snide remark a woman made years ago when I walked into a networking event. “Here comes little Miss Perfect.” I didn’t even know her and she certainly didn’t know me. To this day, I’m not sure why she said it or what I did to invoke her sarcasm. Her words still hurt.

Does a Highly Sensitive Person have greater difficulty with certain parts of popular culture, entertainment or news, that depict emotional or physical pain? Can you explain or give a story?

In today’s world, we are inundated with music, movies, newspapers, social media, texts from our friends, and television programming. This is an area I have to choose what I allow in.

When my husband and I started dating, he would ask what movie I wanted to see. I always picked the drama. He always picked the comedy. He still does. The dramas were my way of leaning into sadness, darkness, and negative emotions. The comedy was his way of lightening things up and adding more laughter to our lives.

During challenging times in my life, I realized how much I needed comedy to heal me and help me unwind. I took an inventory of what I was listening to, watching, and reading. I made sure I had a balance or overflow of things and people that lifted me up, changed my mood for the better or empowered me.

Can you please share a story about how your highly sensitive nature created problems at work or socially?

While on a double date at a popular restaurant I became so disengaged from the conversation that my friend’s husband picked up on it. He must have thought I was rude as I tuned into my own little world. It wasn’t so much that I was disinterested in the conversation as much as I was overstimulated by the highly charged discussion of politics. Add this to the noise level and the fact that my back was to the room, so I was being bombarded with multiple conversations from other tables that overpowered the one in front of me. With all that stimulation, I was unable to be present, engaged and connected, something I truly value. Later that night we retreated to the quiet of their home, and I was much more comfortable and able to enjoy deeper conversations.

When did you suspect that your level of sensitivity was above the societal norm? How did you come to see yourself as “too sensitive”?

I always knew I was an introvert and had prided myself in being a practiced extrovert. Yet ‘extroverting” took its toll on my emotions and energy. When I met a woman who referred to herself as highly sensitive, I had my “aha” moment. I suddenly understood myself better and I felt less alone.

I also realized that not everyone is like me. Apparently not everyone freaks out internally over the sound of the “Put your seatbelt on” alarm. Others don’t leave the mall on Black Friday feeling traumatized, and need three days to recover. Now I realize that while I hate a crowded mall, it’s not that I hate people or that all introverts or HSP’s feel that way; it was that I got overstimulated by the sounds, noises, voices, lights, signs, sales, babies, and emotions.

I’m sure that being Highly Sensitive also gives you certain advantages. Can you tell us a few advantages that Highly Sensitive people have?

Being HS forces me to really know myself and know what I need to feel calm and healthy. It makes me more in tune with self-care and knowing what triggers overstimulate me, so that I can quickly do something that grounds me and brings me back to a place of balance or equilibrium. And being more empathetic than most makes me a great listener.

Can you share a story from your own life where your great sensitivity was actually an advantage?

One time, a friend and mentor made a passive aggressive criticism of me in front of a group. She said something like, “Oh Lori doesn’t need help with organization. She’s got that all figured out.” It was on a Zoom call and I remember hanging up and thinking, Huh. I wonder what she meant by that? I do pride myself in being organized but I’m also open to learning new tools and tricks. But her comment felt snarky and sarcastic. Something about it stung.

I could have very easily drawn my own conclusions, wondered what I did wrong, or simply just put a wall up — which is my default — and let the relationship go. But she was someone I looked up to and respected. I chose to pause, take a breath, and call her back. I asked if she could clarify what she meant by her comment.

What ensued was a beautiful intimate conversation. She revealed that she actually admired me for my organization. She knew as soon as the words had left her mouth that they had the wrong tone and could have been received negatively. She apologized and we were able to move on. Today, we still collaborate and mastermind together, and our friendship continues to grow.

There seems to be no harm in being overly empathetic. What’s the line drawn between being empathetic and being Highly Sensitive?

Being highly sensitive, we sense or know or have deeper compassion for others. It’s our gut instinct or “Spidey” sense that tells us when something is off.

Being empathetic, we absorb and are deeply affected by the emotions of others. It is sometimes hard to differentiate between what emotion is our own, verses someone else’s.

Social Media can often be casually callous. How does Social Media affect a Highly Sensitive Person? How can a Highly Sensitive Person utilize the benefits of social media without being pulled down by it?

People seem to hide behind the anonymity of social media. They tend to be more critical or cynical or negative. My mission and purpose and intent are always to inspire on social media, and at times, I’ve felt attacked. I have to consciously choose to ignore the negative and take a “bless and release” attitude. But also, I know that social media works off an algorithm, and even a negative comment might bring more awareness to a post. So, my hope is that a negative comment increases my algorithm, causing the right person or someone that can benefit from what I’m saying to see it be feel blessed, hopeful, or less alone.

How would you respond if something you hear or see bothers or affects you, but others comment that you are being petty or that it is minor?

I would probably relate it to sexual harassment, in that it’s not the intention, but how it’s received.

What strategies do you use to overcome the perception that others may have of you as overly sensitive without changing your caring and empathetic nature?

I try to educate and empower people through my writing. Overall, just bringing an awareness to terms like highly sensitive or empathetic can be powerful.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a Highly Sensitive Person? Can you explain what you mean?

That being highly sensitive is a bad thing. I mentioned that I was highly sensitive to someone in a casual conversation one time and they literally laughed out loud. This person was highly extroverted, social, and loud. I’m more introverted, a loner, and quiet. One is not right or wrong, we’re just different. Each has it’s benefits and strengths; each has a lot to offer the world.

As you know, one of the challenges of being a Highly Sensitive Person is the harmful,and dismissive sentiment of “why can’t you just stop being so sensitive?” What do you think needs to be done to make it apparent that it just doesn’t work that way?

Kindness goes along way. We all need to learn to be more self-aware as well as to know those people in our inner hub. Knowing how we’re each wired. Acknowledging that we’re not the same. We all have different temperaments and mindsets. What’s right for you may not be best for the people closest to you in your inner hub. If someone is an introvert or highly sensitive, you can care for them by

  • respecting their need for privacy and quiet time;
  • allowing them extra time to think or process;
  • listening when they speak, don’t interrupt or override them;
  • giving them advance notice if you know change is coming;
  • giving them time to finish what they are doing;
  • not asking them to be more extroverted or outgoing — their superpower is their introversion and their high sensitivity.

Ok, here is the main question for our discussion. Can you share with us your “5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person? Please give a story or an example for each.

To survive and thrive as a Highly Sensitive Person, you need to know that

  1. Headphones, a ball cap, and sunglasses can help prevent overstimulation. Keep them close by, especially when traveling or even going to the grocery store. One time my husband and I were visiting his cousin in NYC. We would be riding the subway, which I knew would be challenging due to the noise and crowds. I specifically chose an inside seat where I could burrow into the safety of my husband’s side while he used his body as a barrier of protection. I tucked my hat down and plugged into some calming music on my phone. I was able to keep myself from getting anxious and overstimulated.
  2. It’s ok to take a break. When you can’t avoid a crowd, such as at a large event or mall during the busy holiday season, give yourself a break. Escape the crowds and duck into a quiet space or step outside. One time I was at a convention where I was surrounded by a crowd of over 7,000 people that was super high energy and enthusiastic. I could feel my energy and emotions dropping. The noise and energy of the large crowd was too overstimulating. There were multiple screens and conversations and music going on all around me. I retreated to an exhibit outside the arena that was quiet and had a small number of people that, probably like me, needed to take a break and recalibrate.
  3. You can manage your energy, not your calendar. Often, people manage their calendar, filling up every vacant spot from before sunrise to well after sunset. I certainly did for decades of my life. After years of trying to be a Superwoman every moment of every day, I accepted the fact that I am human, with limited energy. The old way involved jamming things into a calendar. The new way clears a space to live with intention and be fully engaged and connect with loved ones while practicing self-care.
    There are days my energy abounds and I put six or eight or ten hours into a project. And, there are days where I don’t have the physical or creative energy to put in any time at all. On these days I give myself permission to zone-out in front of the TV or get lost in a romance novel. After pushing for days and weeks, that’s exactly what I need.
    Some experts would advise me to write every day. I choose instead to follow the cycles of my energy, knowing that some days, the energy comes simply by parking myself in the chair and beginning to write. But on the days when it simply is not there — my creativity or energy — I don’t force it. I simply try again tomorrow.
  4. It’s ok to say no. Part of mastering this skill involves knowing your priorities and your purpose so that you can schedule things thoughtfully and with intention. It’s learning to say no more often, especially to things that don’t align with your health goals, purpose, passion, and priorities. Some weeks you can cross off the morning and evening hours on your calendar and schedule those as sacred “me” time. If you have an early morning Zoom call or yoga class, limit your activity that afternoon and evening. Plan on an afternoon nap or an earlier bedtime. If you have a late-night meeting or event, plan a slower, quieter morning the next day with a later start. When invited to add something to your schedule, ask yourself, “Is this something I really want to do? Does it align with my passions and purpose?” If the answer is not “heck, yes,” then it is “heck, no.”
  5. Self-care is non-negotiable. And the best self-care involves being self-aware. It’s about knowing yourself and what you need to feel calm and healthy. Growing up, I had a built-in system to get my needs met. I had plenty of alone time in my room. I received comfort from my feline friends Mittens, Muffin, and Spaz. We had a pool in the backyard and a powerboat to enjoy on weekends and week-long camping trips, nurturing my needs to be outside and near the water. I had softball and soccer games where I could hit, throw, and kick. I could safely bike around the neighborhood, walk barefoot in my backyard, and run around a four-mile block. Even mowing the lawn was meditative. In my late teens and early twenties I worked mostly outdoors on boats and at a resort. There was a built-in network of self-care all around me. In my mid-twenties, thirties, and forties I moved inside and away from those self-care practices. My technical, administrative and marketing skills developed. I became more responsible and productive. And I became really, really tired. I slowly moved myself away from the curious, playful, warm, whimsical adventurer I was. I told myself I could thrive in a fast-paced noisy world. I was strong, tough. I didn’t need a break. I didn’t need self-care. I used to fight the whole idea of slowing down. But beating myself up only intensified the energy and emotional crash that came from pushing too hard for too long. Now that I’m fifty, I recognize that I am content, cooperative, and calm when I’m not overstimulated, worn out, or hungry. When I don’t sleep or become overly fatigued, I lose my words and can’t focus or communicate; I’m helpless to autocorrect. My body relies on me to take care of my basic needs: water, food, sleep, and movement.

Knowing yourself and whether you are an introvert or extrovert — or something more, like a highly sensitive person or an empath — provides tools to cope and rebalance. Embracing who we truly are takes courage and hard work. But it can lead us from a life of struggle to one of strength. It can relieve anxiety and allow more room for empathy.

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.

Know yourself. Love yourself. Empower yourself.
Life and health are so much about being self-care and self-aware. When we learn to take care of ourself and our needs, especially emotionally, we are better able to serve others, and live a life of passion and purpose.

Many religions and spiritual traditions teach a version of the principles “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” It’s the premise of treating others the way we would want to be treated. The problem is, we don’t love ourselves enough, which adds to our stress levels.

Today, choose love, especially when it comes to yourself. Decide to love all of who you are… your past, history, flaws, misgivings, mistakes, weaknesses, and fears. In doing so, it allows you to love your present, future, blessings, victories, successes, strengths, dreams, and hopes.

How can our readers follow you online?

My website is LoriAnnKing.com, where you can find links to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and more!

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


Lori Ann King: How To Survive And Thrive As A Highly Sensitive Person was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Brian Pallas of Opportunity Network: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During…

Brian Pallas of Opportunity Network: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Have a clear purpose, and genuinely believe in it. Our purpose is central to everything we do, from our recruiting process to our product innovation, to our sales pitch, to our customers. We have made many tough decisions over the years to stay true to it. During the pandemic, we stood to gain financially from the huge inflow of new members, but instead, we decided to offer the year’s membership for free to all the companies that joined while struggling due to the pandemic. It was a big commitment on our part, but we felt it was the only ethical choice.

As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Brian Pallas.

Brian Pallas is an Italian entrepreneur, CEO, and Founder of Opportunity Network, a private business matching network for vetted CEOs and private investors worldwide. Brian holds a B.S. in Business Management and an M.S. in Economics, graduating with honors from the Catholic University of Milan. He also worked at the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), where he gained experience in venture capital, private equity and investment banking, before being sponsored by them to complete an MBA at Columbia Business School in New York, where the idea of Opportunity Network first began.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I was born and raised in Italy, where I completed my BSc in Business Management and a Master’s in Economics with honors from the Catholic University of Milan. After that, I worked for 2 years at Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and gained experience in Venture Capital, Private Equity, and Investment Banking. I then moved with my wife Henriette to New York to study for an MBA at Columbia Business School.

Intent on helping my father expand our family business, I joined the Family Business Club and started circulating an internal newsletter anonymously connecting my fellow club members with each other’s business opportunities. Soon I found myself with almost a billion dollars’ worth of deal flow passing through my inbox, and when I saw people successfully closing deals, I realized we were on to something.

That was just the beginning. Now, 7 years later, our digital deal-matching network hosts 50,000+ CEOs across 130+ countries and 100+ industries, as well as $450Bn deal flow.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

This is a hard one, while we did make many mistakes at the beginning, none of them felt particularly funny at the time… If I had to pick one it would be my first hire. He did not last a day. I was eager to find someone to help me as I was swamped and barely sleeping, so I picked literally the first person who came forward and after 5 minutes, I was already onboarding him. By that same night, he started asking how much longer he was expected to work. I looked at him with a puzzled look and responded: until we’re done, of course. He nodded, smiled, and resigned.

I am glad to say that we have since learnt to put the most attention into selecting the right people for our team. We want to make sure everyone that works with us really shares our burning desire to make our purpose come true and leave a dent in the world.

Every 3 months we run a survey asking people three simple yes or no questions. We ask whether they believe we will manage to increase global GDP, whether they think everyone does their best to live according to the values we picked for ourselves, and if they would recommend us to their best friend as clients, employees, AND suppliers.

Everyone receives the survey from myself all the way down to the interns and even contractors. It’s completely anonymous and untraceable.

It’s now 11 quarters in a row that we’ve received a 100% response rate and >90% of people responding yes to all 3 questions. The last one was 94% average, and what we love the most are the comments from people.

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?

Everyone talks about some famous mentor or inspirational leader they look up to. I must admit that I learned more from my colleagues than anyone else.

We are fortunate to have people that are incredibly senior in our team and on our board. If I had not founded this company, they could have easily been mentors for me.

Working with them every day is what really enables them to give me punctual input and to grow. The most important thing that we’ve achieved is a culture where no one is scared to speak up and ideas are truly accepted and welcomed.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

We’ve always dreamt of a world where every reliable CEO/investor has equal access to business opportunities. A world where it doesn’t matter whether you are located in the New York, Bologna, or Nairobi.

Most companies’ success is driven by having access to the right people at the right time.

Finding an investor when capital is needed, new clients for global expansion, new suppliers in times of crisis… These are the things that separate winners from losers, sometimes even more than the quality of one’s product or service.

Our purpose is to foster economic growth on a global scale by breaking down first vs third world barriers in an effort to increase global GDP and improve standards of living, wages, and employment opportunities in emerging markets.

Our network connects vetted CEOs and decision-makers worldwide with their reliable counterparts for any business need. We want to address issues such as unmet financing needs and eliminate economic inequalities in order to create a real global level playing field where every entrepreneur grows based on merit.

Since the pandemic, we’ve also been striving to help businesses recover, whether it be through helping them replace trade partners, address urgent liquidity needs or overcome logistical and supply chain disruptions.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

Transparency has been key for us. We want people to be aware of any risk they’re taking by staying with us.

A few years ago, we had very little cash left, and we put our bank balance on a screen for everyone to see, alongside all the other KPIs.

People saw the number decrease each month; 3 months, 2 months, 1 month and a half…

A few people (very few) looked for other jobs, scared by the uncertainty. Everyone else fought ten times harder to make it happen, and I believe it’s because of that, that we’re still around to tell the tale.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

No, I have not thought about giving up, despite the fact that we’ve had no shortage of challenging moments.

I believe that very few people have the privilege in their lifetime to be able to fight to make a real difference on a large scale.

Here we all feel proud that we have a shot, even during the times when it looks like a very long shot.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

Show resilience, have empathy, and be fully transparent.

People need to know how hard it is going to be and how risky it is going to be. Hiding the truth only destroys trust.

What really builds trust is recognizing challenges, showing a clear direction, and proving with concrete actions that we’re all here shoulder to shoulder fighting tooth and nail to make it happen.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

Every month we have a Town Hall where we meet any newcomers, discuss our targets and KPI progress, inform everyone of what’s going on in each area of the company, and answer any questions.

And when I say any, I mean it.

We pride ourselves on being a transparent company and any suggestions or questions are welcomed. By being so transparent and open with our communication, we are able to create an atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable to speak up and trusts one another, which I feel is what makes us such a strong team.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

First, transparency, transparency, transparency.

And then again, a little empathy goes a long way. Before you even speak to your team and customers, think about how you would feel if you were receiving the same news. Keeping your teams’ emotions in mind will help you navigate the situation better.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

Moving forward, leaders must focus on their ability to adapt. And for that, you need a Plan B mentality. Executing strategies are far more difficult than creating them. There are too many forces at play during the execution phase of the plan to prevent it from succeeding.

Whether it be the introduction of a new technology/innovation, a new competitor to worry about, market pricing dropping suddenly, or government policy and customer demand changing without warning.

The only effective coping mechanism in the face of such situations is to have multiple contingency plans ready to go.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

Yes, and that’s never to lose sight of why you’re there.

Your purpose is what will guide you through turbulent times and tough choices.

Many companies during times of crisis just try to survive and weather the storm.

I believe that companies go down when they start playing for survival rather than to achieve their purpose.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

  1. Failing to adapt to market demands — Lots of organizations like to lay low through challenging times when what they should be doing is re-evaluating how they can evolve their business model to adjust to the ever-evolving market needs. We can always do better and keep growing. Who knows, you may even find areas of new revenue that you’d missed previously.
  2. Failing to measure business operations — Storing and tracking data is key to measuring the success of business operations. After all, you can only manage what you measure. If you don’t have a clear, objective picture of what is happening in each aspect of your business, it is very difficult to pinpoint the areas that need improvement or attention.
  3. Under-communicating — Business leaders who under-communicate tend to exacerbate issues rather than alleviate them. Business is all about people. People are human and they have insecurities that can be a significant hindrance to daily work life. Over-communicate and eliminate that air of uncertainty.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

Well, since we offer a means to continue growing your business at a time when it is easy to stagnate, business leaders have actually been drawn to the platform. Since the start of the pandemic, more than 15,000 new companies have joined Opportunity Network, and our levels of activity have skyrocketed. We’ve seen a 70% increase in conversations among members and a 60% growth in the number of new business opportunities posted.

As we all know, we are now in the digital era, and people are starting to realize that many of the things that were previously done in person can now be done by the click of a button, at a fraction of the cost, and at much greater convenience.

Our members simply have to post their business opportunity on the network and our matching algorithm and account managers share it with potential counterparts within our network of 50,000 business leaders. On average, every opportunity receives at least one connection in the first 48 hours. This offers unprecedented scale and capacity for any type of company to grow faster than any competitor.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

1. Have a clear purpose, and genuinely believe in it. Our purpose is central to everything we do, from our recruiting process to our product innovation, to our sales pitch, to our customers. We have made many tough decisions over the years to stay true to it. During the pandemic, we stood to gain financially from the huge inflow of new members, but instead, we decided to offer the year’s membership for free to all the companies that joined while struggling due to the pandemic. It was a big commitment on our part, but we felt it was the only ethical choice.

2. Set a clear direction towards that purpose, one that everyone can understand and embrace. Every year we write an email to all employees and investors. It always starts with the purpose, and then goes on to discuss our honest understanding of the business and its direction, the choices we’ll have to make and the assumptions on which we’re relying on. We then hold a town hall meeting and allow everyone to ask any questions about it.

3. Be unyielding in the pursuit of the purpose, and very flexible on the means. We have often tried different paths to achieve our goal and switched around things until we found a solid sustainable recipe. Looking backwards, we feel that for the first few years, we did not have a solid economic model on which to rely. The reason why we were able to continue our journey in an industry such as business matchmaking where there is not a clear market leader example to follow is due to our relentless pursuit of our purpose. As a result of our unwavering commitment, our investors kept backing us.

4. Be completely transparent. In our company, every employee that stays for more than a year gains access to the same information we share with all existing and new shareholders. The shares they own are the same we issue to new investors. We’re all in the same boat, and we all have full visibility on where the company is going.

5. Remember to create occasions for celebration and socialization. Otherwise, the daily struggle will make the mood unnecessarily gloomy. Recently, we organized a BBQ for the first time in a while (due to COVID, all in-person activities were suspended) and the turnout was amazing. It was wonderful to see everyone socializing and getting to know each other on a different level. In fact, many of our team members got to meet their colleagues that they had been teleworking with in person for the first time. And even though the occasion was purely social, many took the opportunity to brainstorm ideas, talk about their roles in the company, and understand more about what others’ roles entail, too.

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

I’m not too keen on inspirational quotes. They often just sound nice.

I’m a big believer in full dedication to a worthwhile purpose.

How can our readers further follow your work?

Our website

My LinkedIn

My Twitter

Company LinkedIn

Company Twitter

Subscribe to our monthly Insights newsletter

Medium account

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!


Brian Pallas of Opportunity Network: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Internet Reform: Lillee Jean’s Big Idea That Might Change The World

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Be ready for anything because what you envision as something bad coming your way, probably is not one-tenth of what is going to come your way.

As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Lillee Jean.

Lillee Jean is a content creator who focuses on beauty, wellness, and advocacy for her YouTube, website, and Instagram channels. She is also well known for being a young entrepreneur in the entertainment business, who is an influencer, actress, model, writer, producer, director, and model. Born in New York in 2001, her content is relatable and often touches on such items as the global pandemic as well as climate change. You can catch her self-produced web series, “Lillee Jean TALKS! Live”, which airs on her IG TV, her website, and her YouTube channel, and is IMDB approved.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you please tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Even as a little girl I loved entertaining people, I just didn’t realize my niche would become more than just makeup tutorials. I’m grateful I cannot only bring joy to people by giving them fun tutorials to watch, but also to be able to touch people with current events that need to be talked about, instead of ignored. I think I always knew that entertaining was a good fit for my personality and this would be where I would start my path.

Can you please share with us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

One of the most rewarding things that have happened to me, has been having the ability to work with organizations, such as CHOOOSE Today, to help spread awareness on climate change. I think that while entertaining is in my blood, being able to also have a teachable moment with my fans, is equally of great importance.

Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?

I believe that following your gut is always the best way to do things. There have been so many times throughout my career, I have allowed, my heart to rule, what I knew was a bad decision, and ended up with a poor result. Nowadays I live by the “follow my gut” rule all the time, the “Lillee Gut” is never wrong.

Ok thank you for that. Let’s now move to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

We live in a digital age, so nowadays, we no longer look at things in a 2-D format. I believe along with the privilege of accessing information quicker, we need to enforce real laws, that will bring actual change to the “Wild West” which is the internet, right now. No rules, no laws seem to apply. I think making everyone more conscious of what they are doing online, educating them about the consequences of what they put out as a digital imprint in the world, will make a huge impact going forward. Even with as technological we are as a people, right now, people tend to weaponize their usage on the internet in a way that can not only have mental side effects for them, but also the people that they affect. I think this will change how we look at privacy, freedom of speech as well as dissemination of information.

How do you think this will change the world?

It will put an end to a certain degree, the online bullying that exists out there, on the wide vast internet, which is bigger than most people realize. It will emotionally help a lot of people that not only depend upon their addiction of being “connected” on the internet, but also will end their dependence on feeling powerful enough to hurt others because they cannot be found. It is a bit like crypto in away. Crypto is not traceable, and fake profiles, to a certain degree, are untraceable too. It takes the screen away from the people who commit, what they believe are victimless crimes.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?

I was once told if you aren’t doing something wrong, then you have nothing to worry about. That stands true for anything you do in life. In this instance, people who are affected, will be those who are doing something wrong. They’ll argue that you are taking their rights away, and that you are stepping on their Freedom of Speech. Lots of arguments, all empty, without texture. The potential for good here, outweighs any argument these internet fake protector of rights might have.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?

The tipping point started when I was 15. I was a teenager when online bullying started. It was a 24 hour a day onslaught that has lasted still to this day. I have learned over time, after talking with law enforcement, that better laws need to be put into place. There are, it seems limits, to what even law enforcement can do on the internet, and the pain and suffering I have gone through, not to mention having to rebuild, at my age, a reputation, when I’m only 20, is preposterous to me. The time starts now, for all of us to make a real change, and I believe I can be part of that change.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

I am aiming for a Federal law to be put into place. This is my goal, and I do have a Senator that is interested in pushing this agenda forward. We have been sidelined because of the global pandemic, the insurrection and other things that are deemed (and I agree on this point), far more important at the moment, for Congress to deal with. I intend, however to continue pushing forward, and I hope to make some real headway in 2022 on this subject. We have lined up next year (hoping Covid is not as prevalent as it is right now) some speaking I will be doing at schools, etc., as well as interviews I plan on giving. My ultimate goal is to go to Congress to testify on having some real substantiative laws put in place.

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

  1. Be ready for anything because what you envision as something bad coming your way, probably is not one-tenth of what is going to come your way.
  2. Success is not ever easy.
  3. Don’t sweat the small stuff, because there is going to be a lot of big stuff that is going to drive you over the edge at times.
  4. Build a team you can trust, don’t build it on pity for giving someone a job.
  5. Surround yourself with people who will nurture and live your dream with you.

Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?

I believe to be successful, you must believe in yourself. I find a mood board to be quite helpful when I am envisioning what I want my goal to be that I am aiming for. Being meticulous, waiting for the right moment to do something, even when you want to burst at the seams and tell the world about an upcoming project, sometimes is better when you wait, and allow the idea to flourish and grow.

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

The old elevator pitch I am guessing you mean? I would say that my ideas are easy to attain, this in five points is what needs to get done to achieve the goal I am looking for, and to be part of the bigger picture with me, join forces with me to make a change that is meaningful.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/lilleejean/

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCGQF-GZ2oWfgb1NN3QtJJlA (Lillee Jean)

Websites: https://www.lilleejean.com and https://www.lilleejeanbeauty.com

Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/REALlilleejean/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RealLilleeJean

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/LilleeJean

Digital Art: https://www.deviantart.com/lilleejean

Giphy: https://giphy.com/lilleejean

Tenor: https://tenor.com/official/lilleejean

IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm10479689/

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.


Internet Reform: Lillee Jean’s Big Idea That Might Change The World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Future Is Now: Mike Betzer of Hypergiant On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up…

The Future Is Now: Mike Betzer of Hypergiant On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Tech Scene

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Taking care of yourself is not selfish. To be the best you have to feel your best and you do that with sleep, exercise, spiritual time, learning time and away time. Prioritizing those things is what enables you to perform at 100 percent when you’re working. I meditate every day. I schedule routine vacations, and I often spend them with my grown children. I work on my spiritual health and my physical health. Altogether, I think that helps me lead big teams and make hard decisions — I know that I’m balanced in what I am doing, and that balance makes me capable of making the right decisions.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Betzer.

Mike Betzer is the CEO at Hypergiant, an enterprise AI software company. He joined the company in May of 2021 to continue Hypergiant’s aggressive growth and expand the three-year-old startup’s customer base, which includes the likes of Sumitomo Corporation, Boeing, Schlumberger, Booz Allen Hamilton, and the United States Department of Defense, among others.

Betzer previously served as the Chief Digital Transformation Officer at Khoros — a role he took on following tenure as Chief Product Officer. Prior to Khoros, Betzer served as the SVP of Lithium Technologies and CEO of Humanify. He has held multiple CEO and C-suite roles throughout the past three decades at companies including Social Dynamx Inc, Convergys, and Siebel Systems.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve been in enterprise sales for over thirty years. That makes me, in some regards, a dinosaur. But it’s always been something I’ve been extremely passionate about: helping companies solve big technical problems is the backbone of industrial and social progress, and I’ve loved being a part of that. Watching this industry change over the past thirty years has been a journey that I’ll never forget.

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

I’ve worked at several different organizations since I started, and I have a lot of stories about teammates and leadership. The one through point in them all is that culture always wins. When you find the right way to fire up and win over the hearts and minds of the team, the team will win. I’ve seen this over and over again in every single company I’ve been part of — and in nearly every sports movie you could watch.

Can you tell us about the cutting edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

Artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and 5G are the “big three” of the next decade. Together they are the technologies that will enable us to radically respond to and transform our world. Leading an AI company that is part of this moment in history is an honor that I don’t hold without humility. We are building technology that is helping to reinvent supply chains, to create commercial resiliency, to respond to economic and environmental dangers and save lives.

Right now, the biggest challenges with AI and the ones we are working on, are sort of boring. Over 80 percent of data science models never make it into production which means that a lot of good technology just doesn’t get seen. This matters because the better AI/ML models we have the better they all get. It’s like early websites: they were all terrible, until they weren’t.

To respond to this challenge, we are building Hyperdrive which will help data scientists and ML engineers scale models into production faster and, down the road, the same tech will help business leaders understand and respond to their data better too.

The long-term journey here is towards what we call Common Operating Pictures, which are dashboards that essentially everyone at all levels of the company can use to access the right data and make real-time decisions. These dynamic, data-rich visualizations and predictive simulations of potential outcomes help customers fully understand the sometimes complex data interactions needed to improve supply chain logistics, fleet management, employee-machine tooling and other vital business optimization areas. That is going to change the way we build, operate and respond to a company’s challenges. It’s not a particularly glamorous process, but I think it is extremely important to get right.

How do you think this might change the world?

The more control we have of our data, the more we can change how things work, remove inefficiencies, improve systems and reduce our negative impacts. That is the work everyone should be doing and thinking about right now.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

All technologies are only as good as the people who build and use them. This is why we are focused on ethical AI, not just in our own company, but also helping others to build ethical frameworks into their company’s solutions. Will Griffin, our Chief Ethics Officer, has helped us and continues to help us peer into the future, wondering where our technology might fall apart and where we might not think about something that ends up being critical to our success. But this isn’t his job alone in the world; he helps to train our teams and other teams to have ethics top of mind, but every company and employee needs to uphold these ethical principles as part of their own personal job.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

For us at Hypergiant, the “tipping point” to focus on Hyperdrive and the development of Common Operating Pictures was a direct response to the products we were building for clients like the U.S. Department of Defense, GE and Disney. These clients were having vastly different business struggles but utilizing similar ML/AI solutions to solve for them. As we built these solutions, we started to see the need for more comprehensive software and have since brought that solution to the market.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

We need more data scientists building models, and we need more businesses including data science and AI/ML as part of their business strategies. By 2025, 50 percent of businesses will be using ML/AI — those who aren’t will be left in the dust.

What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?

We believe in building the best company and the best culture for our teams. I think there is no greater marketing than a great product evangelized by customers and employees. That is what we are focused on and what we really want to build.

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 helped so much by Vint Cerf. I worked with him at MCI during the years of great innovation: the internet, email and the power of data centers were all becoming a reality and changing the way that people worked in every single industry. It was incredible to watch that process come to life; Vint taught me that even though technology changes, businesses are made with good people, strong processes and great technology management.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I have a deep religious and spiritual practice and honestly believe my ultimate role as a leader is to serve my community. That’s what I try to do with each success. I want to make the world around me a better place by bringing jobs, leading from the heart and trying to improve the lives of everyone I meet.

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

  1. It is harder than you think. We always hear about the great successes, but we do not hear about all the amazing hard work along the way. When you just hear the highlights from others, their journey always seems easier than it actually was.
  2. Have fun with the difficult parts. The challenging eras are where you learn the most. I’ve run marathons on nearly every continent and, to be honest, they are always terrible. But they are also rewarding and have kept me healthy, energized and engaged ever since the first one I ran. The secret is that while we hate the pain of mile 18–25 of the marathon, that pain is really what makes mile 26 so great. You only love the last mile because you ran all the others.
  3. Slow down and listen to people, the environment and your soul. Technology is made by a lot of people who want to work very fast to bring something to market. Mark Zuckerberg has made “Build Fast and Break Things” an industry mantra. But faster is not always better. When we go too fast, we aren’t listening. When we stop listening, we build things that are irrelevant, harmful and destructive. That doesn’t feel good in your soul. And, at the end of the day, if your soul doesn’t feel good then whatever you’ve built wasn’t worth it.
  4. Take care of people. If your team can count on you, they will perform at their best and that is what creates an amazing culture. I do this in little ways by ensuring we send birthday gifts, and in big ways by really listening and paying attention to my employees. When I’m on the phone with someone, I’m on the phone 100 percent. When they need something, I work hard to make it happen. We need to be focused on helping others win.
  5. Taking care of yourself is not selfish. To be the best you have to feel your best and you do that with sleep, exercise, spiritual time, learning time and away time. Prioritizing those things is what enables you to perform at 100 percent when you’re working. I meditate every day. I schedule routine vacations, and I often spend them with my grown children. I work on my spiritual health and my physical health. Altogether, I think that helps me lead big teams and make hard decisions — I know that I’m balanced in what I am doing, and that balance makes me capable of making the right decisions.

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. 🙂

You have one body — learn to take care of your body, mind and spirit. If we all do this, we will be better partners, leaders, teachers and parents.

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

I have to share my top three favorite quotes:

  • Enjoy the journey — The highs and lows of life is where we learn. Enjoy them as you experience them.
  • Be humble — You either are humble or will become humble, you choose
  • Have a Servant’s Heart — The Servant boss will win over the long-haul. Think every day what you can do to serve those around you.

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

AI is the future. Our company makes that future possible.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.


The Future Is Now: Mike Betzer of Hypergiant On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Allison Moss of Type:A Brands: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During…

Allison Moss of Type:A Brands: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Conserve cash — as one of my investors shared early on, as a CEO my job was to manage the strategy, the team and always make sure we have cash in the bank. When times are uncertain, a small or emerging business likely has less cash reserve and also is more susceptible to being hit hard by small changes. If a key retailer’s foot traffic drops by 50%, that future cash flow you had been counting on is suddenly now also likely cut in half. Small businesses especially need extra runway as truly anything can change on a dime.

As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Allison Moss.

Allison Moss has 22 years of prior marketing and management experience working with some of the biggest beauty companies in the business. But her passion for wanting to bring cleaner, safer beauty & personal care products to market brought her to where she is today, Founder & CEO of Type:A Brands.

Since launching Type:A Brands three years ago, Allison has created award-winning, non-toxic, high-performance body care items. Allison has led the company to develop an impactful foundation and immense growth. This includes the hero product, a game-changing aluminum-free deodorant, being awarded a patent for it’s exclusive sweat-activated technology that delivers best-in-class odor and wetness protection. Type:A Brands is a certified B Corporation, carbon neutral, cruelty free, woman-owned and all products are made in the USA.The brand’s commitment to making a difference through the business has recently garnered actress, activist and clean beauty enthusiast Sophia Bush as an investor.

Type:A Brands has gained a well-respected reputation in the industry winning multiple beauty awards from top publications such as Health, SELF and Women’s Health and has developed incredible retailer reach, with Type:A products being sold at CredoBeauty, Whole Foods (California), HEB, Bed Bath & Beyond, Thrive Market, Target.com and many more.

With all this, Allison has stayed true to her word and mission and continues to strive to be better, do better and offer others better in the beauty industry.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I grew up outside of Los Angeles, and moved to New York City after college (Boston University, go Terriers!) to start a career in Marketing. I’ve spent 20 years in the beauty industry, focused on brand and product marketing. At the start, I worked with mainstream brands like Estee Lauder, MAC Cosmetics, Lancôme and L’Oreal Paris, and more recently I’ve shifted to work with smaller brands that have a clean or natural focus, including Jurlique and Beautycounter.

On my own personal journey into using safer products, I naturally made clean-beauty swaps in my daily routine. When I decided to switch to a natural deodorant, I tried dozens of them, but each and every one was a disappointment. With my background bringing amazing products to the market across the beauty industry, I saw that a better deodorant was absolutely possible. So I engaged a freelance chemist, took a leap of faith, and never looked back.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

The funniest mistake I’ve made was thankfully completely innocent. I was moving way too fast, trying to do 500 things at one time — typical founder life — and I sent an email intended for my husband to someone else involved with the business. There was nothing embarrassing in the email, thank goodness! But the simple act of moving too fast and sending the wrong message to the wrong person was embarrassing. The lesson of taking an extra beat before hitting send on EVERY email has stuck with me ever since. It’s a good practice to have in place anyway.

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?

My husband. We met in business school and he’s an entrepreneur at heart, having started several side businesses over the years. So when I first had this crazy idea, we sat down and geeked-out on what starting a full-fledged personal care brand could look like. One afternoon, I presented my competitive analysis to him and we had a very detailed discussion while the kids napped.

Of course its been invaluable having someone I trust, who also has a different approach than I do, to strategically brainstorm with and work through all sorts of business questions and challenges along the way. But even more important, once we decided I would start this business, he started to volunteer to take on more responsibility at home. Like making school lunches and grocery shopping are now his tasks. His support at home, tactical support for the business, and emotional support throughout for my own mental sanity have made this all possible.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

From the very beginning, I was inspired by having a product that worked differently from what was on the market, and better for people who tried it. I was motivated that this could help more people make the switch they wanted to make and stick with it. The idea of helping people make this healthier choice in their lives is a huge part of why I left my corporate career to take on starting a business. And it’s been the best decision!

We could use this business as a force for good, and we try to do that and are always looking to improve. I wanted to get our B Corporation certification as early as we could for just this reason, to help us do a better job of making a positive impact for all stakeholders.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

Leading a team during Q2 2020, at the start of COVID-19, is the definition of uncertain times. The biggest challenge was not knowing how long the pandemic would last and how it would impact consumer behavior short term and long term. We reacted immediately in mid-March, and further in April and May, to revise marketing plans dramatically, conserve cash, re-evaluate our runway, and revise our sales plans. It was an exhausting and emotionally difficult time for everyone. I approached this by being honest with the team, and giving everyone space to adjust and cope in their own ways. We had an advantage in that our team was partly remote pre-COVID. Even so, we doubled down on finding alternate ways to stay connected as a team, starting a cadence of 2x / week all-hands zoom meetings that we’ve continued to this day, and identifying a block of work-hours across time zones where we can all be available to connect.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

I’ve had my moments where I feel overwhelmed, as anyone would. I run a growing, early-stage business and am a mom of two. For the business, there’s a never-ending amount of work and always more that we can be doing! My biggest challenge is not get bogged down by what we haven’t tackled (yet!) and stay focused on moving forward, motivate my team and continue to make progress.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

Finding a way to process your own reactions to the times so that you can be there for your team as humans as well as professionals. And also letting the team be there for you, and recognizing you’re all in this together. That sense of unity can be an advantage to the business.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

I’ve found in the last 18 months that as a small team, we’ve all supported each other in so many ways. My first step was to connect individually with each person, see what they needed on a personal level and how as their employer we could support this. If a person feels supported and in a safe space, they can be more present for the job as well (or take the time they need so they can return fully present). In connecting with the team, I found my spirits lifted and really felt we strengthened our connections which inspired all of us to get creative, and be flexible, to get through the tough times.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

Finding a way to process your own reactions to the times so that you can be there for your team as humans as well as professionals. And also letting the team be there for you, and recognizing you’re all in this together. That sense of unity can be an advantage to the business.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

Making plans when the future is unpredictable is about conservation and flexibility. When it comes to future commitments, be selective. Take calculated risks on people and programs that are low-risk or deliver on necessary goals (e.g. — ramp up a new sales channel that makes sense for your business regardless of an unpredictable future). And make sure every program that carries uncertainty has the ability to be paused, rescheduled or cancelled without penalty or with an acceptably low penalty.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

We wouldn’t be here without having doubled down on cash-management, and making our weekly 13-week cash forecast our north star. This allows us to revisit decisions weekly to invest or cut spend across every aspect of the business, to shift with the ups and downs of the times.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

  • Keeping plans as-is hoping things will go back to normal
  • Not giving yourself and your team time for personal and emotional well being
  • Be compassionate with yourself and your goals, as they will change

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

Our mentality of being willing to revisit our entire strategy and putting everything on the table was important to our success in generating new business. We worked quickly to reconsider our sales and marketing plans, and stayed open to all ideas.

We also took a calculated risk and followed-through with a new hire we had identified just before the pandemic took over. The role was Head of Retail Sales, with the goal of managing our retail channel for success. We brought in an incredible candidate and now key team member, and quickly together we revised our retail expansion strategy. That was over a year ago and today the result has been opening 1400 doors with incredible regional, national and e-tail partners including Meijer, Whole Foods (California regions), Bed Bath and Beyond, and Thrive Market.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Be compassionate — keeping the team motivated requires first ensuring everyone feeling supported and safe. With that, they can ‘show up’ (over zoom) and be present to do their roles and stay flexible as the landscape shifts and tasks/projects inevitably change.
  2. Be flexible — be willing to let go of what was planned and re-evaluate every inch of the business and team.
  3. Conserve cash — as one of my investors shared early on, as a CEO my job was to manage the strategy, the team and always make sure we have cash in the bank. When times are uncertain, a small or emerging business likely has less cash reserve and also is more susceptible to being hit hard by small changes. If a key retailer’s foot traffic drops by 50%, that future cash flow you had been counting on is suddenly now also likely cut in half. Small businesses especially need extra runway as truly anything can change on a dime.
  4. Seek out partners / advisors / friends of the brand — we spent a lot of time socializing with other brands at our stage, across categories. It was good for our combined mental health to know we were facing similar challenges. But equally if not more important, we learned from each other, shared tips, ideas, advice and resources.
  5. Take calculated risks. When COVID-19 hit, despite the immense uncertainty, what we knew that investing in sales growth was mission critical, it had to be our #1 focus. Moving forward to add a strategic retail sales lead was one of the best decisions we’ve made as a business.

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

Staying positive does not mean pretending to be happy even when times are tough. Rather it means knowing that even through tough times, remembering it is temporary and that better times are coming soon.

A team member shared this to me during COVID, I have revisited this countless times since Q2 2021.

How can our readers further follow your work?

@typeadeodorant on IG and FB

@allisonrmoss

https://www.linkedin.com/company/type-a-brands/

https://www.linkedin.com/in/allison-moss-23b9002/


Allison Moss of Type:A Brands: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Marisa Dore’: Five Ways To Develop More ‘Grit’

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Be kind to yourself after having to push through something. Using your grit can be exhausting. When I was called on to fill in for my boss at a senior management meeting, it was exciting, but pressure-filled. My boss was awesome, and those were big shoes to fill at a very important meeting. I had to dig deep, knowing that what we had to present was not great news. My grit got me through it; my self-care helped me move on joyfully.

As a part of my series about “Grit: The Most Overlooked Ingredient of Success” I had the pleasure of interviewing Marisa Dore’.

Marisa has had an unorthodox and interesting career leading to being a chief marketing officer and marketing and product vice president. She is currently a business consultant, advisor and mentor. She began working as soon as she could. She worked multiple jobs through high school and college with the goal of having a good job and being able to live without roommates. We are glad to report she surpassed that goal years ago.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what events have drawn you to this specific career path

My career chose me, and I am grateful. I could never have dreamed of my success. I am a worker; I like to get things done. After years of doing miscellaneous retail, food service, sales, bookkeeping, quality assurance and print production jobs, by strange circumstances I landed my first career position.

It turned out to be a great fit, and I was on my way. The company was family-owned, wildly successful and was doing fundraising for schools and organizations. I was drawn to the company goal of helping to do good in communities. I stayed with the company because of the wonderful people that were my coworkers and leaders. Who knew that making copies would lead to great things?

Can you share your story about “Grit and Success”? First, can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

The chip I had on my shoulder started in high school. I was often told I could not do things, which made me more determined to do them, including making the softball team and the tennis team. I was elected the tennis team captain in my senior year. Then I was kicked off the team for “not taking seriously” the role of leading the warm ups and introductions at matches. I did take them seriously, but thought they should also be fun, often giving our players pro-wrestler type introductions. This was my first experience with being in a leadership position. I was devastated, but it turned out great. My teammates refused to play unless I was brought back onto the team. I had to agree to be a bit more serious. I learned important lessons about balance, responsibility, support and humor.

My sheer determination and hard work in college and at jobs while in college helped me earn my bachelor’s degree in art and minor in business. The art people did not think I was good enough, and the business people thought I was a bit to nonconforming. Once again, I had to prove myself better and worthy. These are more valuable traits honed by grit. I did not have a career plan after graduation. I tried several things before landing on what I was meant to do.

My first career opportunity came by fate. I was staying with a friend, sleeping on the floor in my trusty sleeping bag, when a past co-worker called and said I needed to get my act together and get a “real” job. She had an interview scheduled at Entertainment Publications for a job in the manufacturing department, but she decided to get married and move out of state. She suggested I go to the interview in her place. Neither she nor I told them I would be showing up for the interview. We both had done the same job at another company, so I decided to go for it.

I sat in the lobby in the new ugly business suit my parents had bought for the occasion, with my extra short Annie Lennox hair, tapping my foot, waiting for her name to be called. When they called her name, I confidently walked up, but there was a woman I knew from college who said I was not the person she called. I explained I was there for the interview to be the manufacturing clerk. She was shocked, as were the others interviewing me. It took coming back four more times before they offered me the position, and I started making photocopies. My career had taken off!

Over the years, I was promoted several times, worked in many departments and eventually became the director of manufacturing at that company. Then I was transferred into marketing and product management by the new owners. That was my next best move, again by fate and hard work. It was not planned.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

My grandparents were immigrants and farmers. They were hard workers and loving people. I saw their drive and listened closely to their inspirational life stories. As the last girl of three in my religious and close family, I felt like I always had something to prove. My oldest sister is a kind person and talented musician. The middle sister was great at school, sports and was a cheerleader. I had a sense of humor, a creative mind and was okay at math.

I always felt like I did not fit in, but I had faith. My drive came from being decent at things, but I learned early that it is not the cards you are dealt, but how you play those cards. I had to try harder, be more creative and learn from failures to be good or great. At a young age, I figured out that if you got up and worked hard you could compete. I enjoy a healthy competition.

So how did Grit lead to your eventual success? How did Grit turn things around?

My grit lead to my eventual success because I said yes to anything I saw as an opportunity. They do not always go well, but that is okay. In my early 20’s I got a job over the phone at a printing plant as a quality assurance clerk. I was living in Michigan, and the job was in California. I packed my little car and drove across the country. My bicycle and half of everything I owned was stolen on the way. At the facility, I was introduced to the midnight shift staff — 30 men and several were second- or third-generation employees. I had the responsibility to shut down the presses if the quality got to unacceptable levels.

The guys were big and older; I was the only woman, young and short. I took my job seriously and had the authority on paper to shut things down, but had no idea how I could make that happen. The approach I took was to earn their trust, communicate often, get to know them on a personal level and demonstrate that I would be fair and work with them before shutting things down. On breaks, slowly they accepted my presence, and I even started playing football with them in between the huge reams of paper. At our holiday party, my table was covered with drinks bought by the guys, and I felt triumphant. We ended up with the best quality of all the shifts.

Grit on sandpaper has ranges — course, medium and fine. My grit has changed over my career. When I was at the beginning of my career, I was course. I felt like I had to work harder and get things done on my own to prove my worth to an organization. Rough sandpaper is used on rough wood, just as pure determination might be rough on others.

Medium-grade sandpaper is primarily used for removing planning marks. As a middle manager, my grit became more communal. I wanted my teams to do well and started mentoring my staff and others in the organization. I listened more and pushed more gently.

To finish a project, it takes fine sandpaper. In my later years, I have become more like fine sandpaper. I find joy in helping others to be successful, projects to run smoothly and efforts to be appreciated. I have experience with all levels of grit and consider it to be one of my best tools in facing adversity or challenges. I started with grit and am now grateful, though sometimes I have to still grit and bear it.

Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit? (Please share a story or example for each)

  1. Celebrate your accomplishments, big or small — the first big budget project I was responsible for was a difficult and important piece of work. When my team and I got it approved, we had a team potluck. It increased our comradery and commitment to the budget. Grit is like a muscle that needs to be exercised.
  2. Challenge yourself to try something new at least a few times a year (say yes to things that will make you uncomfortable). Keep your grit going by exercising it. I recently joined a Zoom meet-up for improv games. The others clearly had been doing it together for some time. I was very uncomfortable at first, but enjoyed the event.
  3. Be kind to yourself after having to push through something. Using your grit can be exhausting. When I was called on to fill in for my boss at a senior management meeting, it was exciting, but pressure-filled. My boss was awesome, and those were big shoes to fill at a very important meeting. I had to dig deep, knowing that what we had to present was not great news. My grit got me through it; my self-care helped me move on joyfully.
  4. Recognize grit in others; seeing is believing! I have seen people who have overcome real and traumatic adversity who have reached deep to be successful. I find them to be so inspirational and motivating.
  5. Look for opportunities to help encourage grit in others. I have had some great young talent cross my path. Many of these people were underestimated and passed over. They kept at it and kept going. As a manager, I had the chance to make a difference in their career paths. When I am able to reward grit, my grit is re-enforced. And laugh often.

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 you when things were tough? Can you share a story about that?

I have been blessed with many encouraging people over the years, personally and professionally. The two biggest professional influences are Mark Metcalfe and Sheila Potiker. I am going to focus on Mrs. Potiker. She was the co-founder of Entertainment Publications, along with her husband. They started it in their home and sold the business for hundreds of millions of dollars after running it for about 30 years.

Mrs. Potiker was one of only a few successful business women of that time. She was a shrewd negotiator, stately, intimidating, brilliant, yet quietly kind. It was only because she enjoyed having company-wide events to celebrate successes and build teams that I got on her radar. There was an annual Halloween costume competition in which you could win gift certificates to high-end restaurants which at the time I could not even dream of being able to afford. I hated attention, I disliked Halloween, but I wanted that award!

I was able to make myself a real page-turning, full-body Entertainment coupon book costume. I won! I was working at the lowest level of the company and because I went out of my comfort zone and used my creativity, she noticed me. It was the beginning of her taking an interest in my daily work. Up to that point, I had felt like an imposter in my job. I went to work and did the best I could and pushed through due to my grit. Once she took notice and started mentoring me, everything changed. I felt like I belonged, then knew I belonged.

One of the best skills she taught me was to listen. I would be asked to accompany her to lunch meetings with vendors. I was not to join in the conversation unless I was asked to say something. It was made clear I was there to listen and then report back after the meeting what I had heard or observed. This became a very valuable skill. Not only did I learn the value of actively listening, I learned by observing her how to gracefully handle important negotiations, sometimes difficult people and how to control yourself. These are only a few of the great lessons she taught me. How lucky am I?

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I have done my best to take what I have learned and help others be successful. If you can in some small way help another person be successful in whatever they pursue, who knows what impact that can have down the line. It has been a joy to encourage some overlooked or negated, talented people to get hired or promoted or helped to have opportunity. I am so proud of the young people I have been able to manage or mentor and see the good they are doing in the world.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

In recent months, I have started conceptualizing a life choice-related to financial health learning tool. I believe education is as important as handouts in changing lives for the better.

I work with youth groups, teach art and crafts to grade-school children and volunteer for projects related to feeding underserved or ignored communities. These are the people who show true grit. I am always inspired after an event.

What advice would you give to other executives or founders to help their employees to thrive?

The best advice I can give to help their employees thrive is, be kind whenever you can. Look for ignored or under-utilized talent and give them an opportunity; it will have an impact on everybody. Seek ideas from everybody all the time. Create open communication, be honest and give consistent updates and feedback, and encourage the same at every level of management. Find humor during difficult situations. Reward your employees’ success. Lastly, encourage acceptance and diversity.

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. :-

This is a simple idea that I have started doing in the last couple of months. When I am out in public and I am interacting with anybody, I say, “May I ask your first name?” Not how are you doing, which always gets a response of “fine, how are you?”

It is so interesting, the wide variety of responses. I love it. Even with masks on, more often than not comes a smile and their name. It makes people feel seen, appreciated and sometimes just surprised and they wonder why I asked. Most times, that is it; other times it creates a conversation. Try it. You may like it, and it does not cost a thing and only takes a minute.

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

There are so many great ones….

Here is one of mine:

“I never know how much of what I say is true”

-Bette Midler

This is so true, not only of what I say but what others say. It makes me laugh every time I think about it. Not that people are lying, but it is more that we hear, see, absorb so many things almost every minute of every day. It is a good reminder to take a minute and think about what you hear and say, plus it is funny. I try to listen actively and try to speak with caution.

Another is “If you knock and a door that doesn’t open, build a new door”

-Milton Burle

Grit and Gumption, Grace and Humor

  • K.P. & M. D.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://linkedin.com/in/marisadore/

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.


Marisa Dore’: Five Ways To Develop More ‘Grit’ was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Future Is Now: Emmanuel Addy Of The Money Cloud On How Their Technological Innovation Will…

The Future Is Now: Emmanuel Addy Of The Money Cloud On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Tech Scene

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Be prepared to be out of your comfort zone. Often you’re juggling several different plates, some of which you know and some of which are very new but you have to be able to adapt to the situation.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Emmanuel Addy.

Emmanuel is the CEO and co-founder of The Money Cloud, he started the company in 2004, before starting his company with co-founder Huw Jenkins, he was a solicitor. Throughout his career, Emmanuel has gained versatile leadership experience in legal, publishing and financial technology sectors. Emmanuel has extensive experience and expertise in financial services and the payments space. He has been a commentator on Radio 4’s The Money Box program and is a guest lecturer at Warwick Business School and the IESEG School of Management, Lille.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I started my career in Law, did a law degree, qualified as a solicitor. But I decided that I didn’t want to work in my professional life as a solicitor. I moved into the world of publishing which is where I met my cofounder. We worked on a project for the UK government’s Department for International Development to look at remittances from the UK to 3 African and 3 Asian countries. That’s how I got started in the world of cross-border payments.

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

International payments have always resonated with me. Every person who has moved from one country to another to study or work or search for a better life has their own story of trying to look after the family in the country they have left and need to send money to them. I’ve seen it first-hand in my family from Ghana. Sending money for education or day-to-day living expenses can make a massive impact on their lives. Working hard for that money and ensuring you get the best deal and it’s sent safely and quickly is obviously hugely important.

Can you tell us about the cutting-edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

Managing finances in this well-connected and materialistic world can be a challenging task for so many of us, as we look further into the future, we can see AI helping us to manage our finances.

Our AI tool aims to help users make smart decisions about their international payments and when they make them. The idea behind the tool is very simple it just accumulates all the data from your search and transactional data across the platform and creates your personal graph.

How do you think this might change the world?

It will be the first currency analysis tool that can enable a much more accurate prediction of volatile exchange rates and trends globally.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

In today’s connected world, data is the new oil. How we keep people’s data safe and in the hands of people who will use it for good is critical. We’ve made sure that we have introduced safeguarding, but we cannot predict world events that affect the volatility of exchange rates, so whilst being the most accurate prediction tool, it will never be 100% correct.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

Most FX brokers and currency market specialists provide information about factors that affect exchange rates retrospectively. We saw a gap that would be able to provide information in real-time that affect the market

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

Money is essential. It will help us get us to market, we have a strategy and team ready to kick start. It will also help us continue with our tech development. We’re innovators and ensuring we stay ahead of the competition and top of our game is key.

What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?

We are raising funds currently to do just that.

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 owe my parents everything. They taught me the values of hard work, persistence, and treating people as you would like to be treated yourself.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I do think that if you can do good, then you should. That can be in small ways in local communities or charities or certainly as the pandemic has highlighted, being supportive to friends, family, and neighbors. The pandemic has certainly made us all think about how we live our lives and what is really important.

When it comes to technology, tech developments have massively changed the way in which we live our lives over the past 10–15 years. There is so much more development in the pipeline and hopefully, this will be used for good. We see our technology as part of that next generation that can bring goodness to the world.

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

  1. Surround yourself with people you trust.
  2. Be prepared to be out of your comfort zone. Often you’re juggling several different plates, some of which you know and some of which are very new but you have to be able to adapt to the situation.
  3. Build a team with people who are great at other things. You don’t need to be good at everything.
  4. No one gives you anything, you have to hustle, meet people, listen to your customers, and work at it.
  5. Look after yourself. It’s a tough and sometimes lonely journey. Your mental and physical health is a priority — don’t lose sight of that.

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. 🙂

Marrying the traditional retail banking infrastructure with mobile wallets in emerging markets to provide financial equality with the unbanked. We are already in the process of doing this pan-Africa

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

“Learn from yesterday

Live for Today

Hope for tomorrow.

The important thing is never to stop questioning.”

I’ve always loved this quote from Albert Einstein. Life experiences shape who we are today and it’s always been important for me to learn from my past and try to do better in the future. Having started my career in law and then as a fintech entrepreneur, there have been many experiences both good and bad that have shaped me. Building technology and developing something new is a difficult journey. You have to be resilient, hungry, and questioning if we are to leave a footprint in the sand and leave the world in a better place.

Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

  • TMC first got involved in the world of money transfers whilst working for a publishing company that won a contract from the UK government’s Department for International Development (DFID) to study remittances to emerging markets and during the project created the world’s first money transfer comparison site.
  • TMC has created a truly global footprint, to simplify and level the playing field, to help anyone anywhere manage and move their money. Wherever you are in the world, wherever you are sending money to and from, TMC can match you with the best rates and enable you to register with multiple payment providers and execute trades on a single platform coupled with a bespoke FX management platform to help manage your overseas payments.

TMC is now a cross border payments marketplace for government, NGOs, business, and consumer segments that:

  • Aggregate multiple financial services and act as the backbone infrastructure serving up multiple services and payment types on one platform, offering choice and value to its users
  • Provides a money management platform, to which additional revenue-generating services can be added
  • Delivers transactional capabilities and services to other mobile/digital platforms through a single API
  • Generates business insights and market data utilizing UK Innovate award-winning AI/machine learning platform to provide currency trending and analysis in real-time
  • Empowers the unbanked in emerging markets by offering financial services on a digital platform.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://twitter.com/themoneycloud

https://facebook.com/themoneycloudltd

https://www.linkedin.com/company/the-money-cloud-ltd

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.


The Future Is Now: Emmanuel Addy Of The Money Cloud On How Their Technological Innovation Will… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Kim Cameron of University of Michigan: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During…

Kim Cameron of University of Michigan: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a positively energizing leader. All human beings are attracted to and flourish in the presence of positive, life-giving energy. The heliotropic effect is universal, so positively energizing leaders can have dramatic impact on helping other people and their organizations flourish.

As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Kim Cameron.

Kim Cameron is a world-renowned scholar and best-selling author on positive leadership and virtuousness in organizations. In his latest book, Positively Energizing Leadership: Virtuous Actions and Relationships that Create High Performance, he provides in-depth insights based on validated research around the effect of positively energizing leadership on an organization and its employees.

Cameron serves as the William Russell Kelly Professor of Management and Organizations in the Ross School of Business and Professor of Higher Education in the School of Education at the University of Michigan and consults with a variety of leading business, government, and educational organizations around the world. He is a co-founder of the Center for Positive Organizations at the University of Michigan. Cameron was recognized as among the top ten organizational scholars in the world whose work has been most frequently downloaded on Google.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better.

Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started? I grew up in small towns in Utah — small meaning that my goal was to trick-or-treat every house in town. I assumed that I would be a school teacher since my father was in education, and it seemed the logical path to take. During my undergraduate years at Brigham Young University, I changed my major three or four times and landed on a topic that seemed to be an acceptable prerequisite for almost any advanced degree — sociology. I was exposed to an extraordinary scholar, Reed Bradford, who influenced me to be a university professor with my door open to any and all students so I could counsel with and influence them. My PhD at Yale University altered my goal; however, since I came to believe that instead of influencing 30 students face to face, I could positively influence 3,000 or even 300,000 by producing high-impact scholarly research. My university career has been focused on that goal, combining face-to-face interaction with students and colleagues with producing scholarship that matters.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

My first job interview after completing my PhD was at the University of Wisconsin. As a poor university student with three children, I had one suit and was to spend two days on campus giving presentations and being interviewed. I awoke the first morning in a hotel room to discover that my suit pants were split from stem to stern. The front desk did not have a sewing kit or safety pins, but I had one band-aid in my shaving kit. I did my best to tape the pants together and then spent two days making certain to not turn my back on anyone and to keep my knees tightly together while sitting. Since then, I have a safety in on every shirt, coat, and pair of pants that I own — just in case. I am much more empathetic of women in skirts.

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?

I have had many people in my life that, without their support and assistance, I would not have succeeded nor, possibly, even survived. Two colleagues — Dave Whetten and Bob Quinn — are especially noteworthy in making a difference in my life. I have published books and scholarly papers with both of them independently, but their most important impact has been on the small, unremarkable support they have provided as a colleague and friend. For instance, at a difficult time serving as the dean of a business school, I received an unrequested but very personal and supportive letter from Dave which offered emotional support and significantly changed my perspective. His letter mattered a lot at a crucial time. Upon returning to the University of Michigan after being dean, I taught an executive education class in which student ratings were less than desirable. In an open meeting to discuss the results of class, the lead faculty member in the course, Bob Quinn, simply dismissed the ratings by saying, “Don’t worry. Cameron will get his sea legs after coming back from being an administrator. He will be just fine.” This single statement saved not only my ego but, potentially, my future teaching career.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

I am a firm believer in the power of purpose. My own purpose — the overriding reason for choosing this profession — and the universities in which I have chosen to work share a common purpose. It is to contribute in meaningful ways to our understanding of important societal issues with an ability to do something about them. In addition, the purpose includes the dissemination of the knowledge gained through scholarship in a manner that it can be usefully applied by students and executives.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

For more than a decade, I have studied how organizations succeed in conditions of volatility, uncertainty, uncertainty, and ambiguity — a “VUCA” environment. Empirical evidence confirms that the most important factor in predicting success is the organization’s leader. Strategy is important. Processes are important. Culture is important. Incentive systems are important. But if each of these things is in place but the organization has a poor leader, things probably won’t go so well. Among the most important attributes of leaders — which is frequently ignored — is their positive energy. A great deal of evidence confirms that positively energizing leadership produces successful performance in organizations. Positive energy, in fact, is far more important than the influence, personality, information, or the charisma of the leader. Several kinds of energy exist — physical energy, emotional energy, and mental energy all of which diminish with use. If I run a marathon, take final exams, or involve myself is an intense debate, I become exhausted and need recuperation time. The only kind of energy that elevates with use is positive relational energy. We never get exhausted around people with whom we have loving, supportive relationships. Positively energizing leadership is characterized by an abundance of relational energy, so these individuals are not exhausting to us but are elevating and life-giving. Importantly, anyone can be a positive energizer, and title or hierarchical position are not related to positive energizing.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

At least three things sustain my motivation and drive. One is the support of my family including an incredibly patient, loving, and helpful wife along with seven children and 25 grandchildren. Almost everything else pales in comparison to that influence.

A second is the thrill of uncovering evidence that we really can make a difference as a result of the research being conducted. A third is the colleagues in my university. We have three criteria by which we hire new faculty members: (1) they must be world-class scholars; (2) they must be great teachers; and (3) they must be net positive energizers. They must add more positive energy to the system than they extract. This means that we do not hire selfish, self-aggrandizing, egotistical people. I have at least 15 colleagues who are committed to helping me get better every day.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

All human beings flourish in the presence of light or of positive energy. This inherent tendency is known as the heliotropic effect, a concept adapted from a phenomenon typically ascribed to how plants respond to the sun’s rays. The evidence verifies that all human beings respond favorably to and are renewed by positive energy. The type of energy that is most powerful in affecting performance is relational energy, and it is created and enhanced through the demonstration of virtuous actions (e.g., generosity, compassion, gratitude, trustworthiness, forgiveness, and kindness) on the part of leaders. The science clearly verifies that virtuousness — especially as demonstrated by leaders — produces extraordinarily positive outcomes in individuals and their organizations (e.g., profitability, productivity, quality, innovation, customer satisfaction, employee well-being), particularly in trying times and in situations of loss or grief.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

Mandating that employees behave positively, think happy thoughts, or be cheerful when they are depressed, anxious, or experiencing emotional pain produces false positivity. It is inauthentic, disingenuous, dishonest, and untrustworthy. The reason virtuousness in leaders is so crucial is precisely because it helps people cope in a genuine and authentic way. Positive energy increases rather than decreases when virtuousness is displayed. For example, studies show that individuals who suffered the loss of loved ones but who subsequently became stronger as a result, learned to appreciate life more, and flourished personally had experienced virtuous actions — compassion, authenticity, kindness, and higher purpose. Evidence suggests that organizations as well as individuals achieve significant improvement in trying times when leaders are the role models of virtuous behavior. For example, the former CEO of Prudential Retirement, John Kim, credited positively energizing leadership for the dramatic success achieved by his organization: “Implementing positively energizing leadership was initially seen as just being positive — smiles. It became clear, however, that this was a significant change. . . There is no end, no final grade. This is about changing our culture, our strategy, and our approach. It is not a destination or a conclusion but a process. I will know that we have succeeded when customers and employees see us as above average in all the technical aspects of our business, but then by succeeding above all understanding . . . If I wanted to stop this movement I couldn’t. It’s way beyond my control. People are doing things now that are self-perpetuating.”

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

Being a positively energizing leader does not mean being soft, fluffy, tolerant of low performance, or not holding people accountable. The best positive leaders, in fact, help us achieve more than we thought we were capable of. They give negative or corrective feedback in a way that helps us flourish and that strengthens the relationship rather than diminish it. One way in which bad news and negative feedback is positively delivered is by using supportive communication. Supportive communication is based on eight principles, but one of those principles (descriptive rather than evaluative communication) is especially effective in delivering bad news. It involves three steps: (1) Describe as objectively as possible the behavior, the situation, or the incident. (2) Identify the consequences, the negative outcomes, or your own feelings about the behavior, situation, or incident. (3) Suggest a more acceptable alternative. This eliminates blaming, labeling, defensiveness, and arguments and focuses, instead, on identifying acceptable alternatives for moving forward. (See my book, Developing Management Skills.)

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

Fluctuating directions from national leaders and institutions, contradictory scientific findings, and a barrage of social media advice for how to cope with the anxiety, stress, and apprehension often produce more confusion than clarity. In such circumstances, an important principle becomes even more relevant: In order to effectively manage turbulent circumstances, we must identify something that is stable, universal, and constant. Consider the case of John Kennedy Junior. He was flying his private plane from New Jersey to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts when the conditions became dark and cloudy. He had been trained to fly by sight navigation but not by instrumentation through conditions of invisibility. He ended up flying the plane into the ocean, killing himself, his wife, and her sister. He had not known he was headed toward water. When the plane’s black box was recovered, it was discovered that he had actually been accelerating toward the ocean, erroneously assuming he’d been climbing in altitude. When everything in the environment is changing, it is impossible to effectively manage the circumstances, especially over the long term. Something must be constant in order for people to navigate change effectively. Positive leaders articulate a vision of abundance, demonstrate virtuous principles themselves, and reinforce these universally accepted standards throughout the organization. A stable, universally accepted set of values, purpose, and vision of abundance in a sea of change helps the organization navigate more effectively.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

PRINCIPLE: Every living system — from single-cell organisms to complex human beings — is inclined toward positive energy and away from negative energy, or toward that which enhances life and away from that which detracts from life. This is called the heliotropic effect, and abundant scientific evidence confirms its presence in human beings.

SUGGESTION: Not only leaders, but every individual, can capitalize on the heliotropic effect in their leadership roles, in their relationships, in their marriages, in their work, and with their children. Every person can enhance and engender life more than detract from life. All can be a source of thriving for other people by behaving in ways that are virtuous. This kind of behavior is not limited to senior executives and can positively affect performance throughout the system.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

In addition to ignoring or failing to manage positive energy in organizations — that is, not recognizing, rewarding, hiring, or promoting positive energizers — organizations mostly ignore another important principle, namely, that contribution is more important in predicting performance than is recognition or reward. To illustrate, in a study of multiple sclerosis patients, half of the patient participants were assigned to receive a phone call each week in which another person expressed love, support, and concern to them. The other half of the patients were assigned to place a weekly phone call to someone in which they offered love, support, and concern to that person. At the end of the two-year period, patients were assessed on five factors: well-being, self-efficacy, physical activity, hope, and depression. An eightfold difference between the two groups was observed. Patients who placed the phone calls were eight times healthier on these five outcomes than were patients who received the phone calls.

Another study of individuals who had recently lost a spouse showed that those who provided instrumental support to others had no depression six months after their loss compared with substantial and lasting depression among those who merely received support but did not provide it. No receiving-support factors were positively correlated with an absence of depression, but giving-support factors were significantly correlated. (These are just two of multiple studies.)

The point is, when employees do especially well, they usually receive recognition or rewards, but seldom do organizations provide opportunities for these employees to contribute to someone else as a result of their high performance. Contribution is a more important predictor of subsequent performance than is recognition or reward.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

In a study of 40 financial services organizations over a two-year period, we accounted for almost half their financial performance as a direct result of implementing positive leadership and positive practices — by far the strongest predictor. Furthermore, employee engagement, voluntary turnover, customer retention, and innovation scores rose substantially above industry averages. Another study of 30 hospitals showed improvement of almost 10 times industry average in nine effectiveness indicators as a result of the same positive leadership practices. Interventions included gratitude practices, contribution practices, relationship-building practices, feedback practices, strength-building practices, and trust-building practices. But the most important predictor of all was positively energizing leadership. Positively energizing leaders inspire others by clarifying and advocating profound purpose and meaning in the work, are trusting and trustworthy, expect and foster high standards, gather and deploy other positive energizers in the organization, focus on contribution goals more than achievement goals, and help other people flourish (customers and employees) without expecting a payback. These positive practices are not scripted and controlled from the top, but they are often generated by the innovativeness of employees given the opportunity to implement on their own.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

A large number of practices are available for achieving extraordinary success in trying times (many are described in my books, Positive Leadership, Practicing Positive Leadership, and Positively Energizing Leadership), including exhibiting and fostering positive relational energy throughout the organization. One company with 69 different organizations in 12 regions throughout the world expressed a desire to become a more positive and successful organization. One strategy was to identify positive energizers — 46 were selected — train them for two days in positive leadership and positively energizing practices, and assign them to “infect” 90 percent of the 135,000 members of the company with positive practices and positive change in 90 days — a 90-in-90 challenge. More than 96 percent of the employees were infected in 90 days and company performance scores increased substantially over the next year.

A second strategy is to merely expose individuals to the findings regarding positive studies, positive practices, and a positive approach to leadership. In a set of studies, college professors in 14 different disciplines taught their classes by implementing a positive approach and using positive practices, and then various outcomes were compared with the same class taught the year before by the same instructor. Student attendance went up 10 percent; average grades increased more than half a point; test scores increased more than 10 percent; and student satisfaction ratings increased more than 10 percent. Still another strategy was to ground the reward and incentive systems in the organizations to attaining a profound purpose rather than merely completing the job. For example, the Rocky Flats Nuclear Arsenal was created in 1951 to produce the triggers that went into the nuclear weapons produced by the United States during the Cold War. At the conclusion of that war when the USA announced the intent to cease production of nuclear weapons, Rocky Flats was left with tons of nuclear waste — plutonium, uranium, beryllium, and other highly toxic materials. A blue-ribbon task force of energy experts estimated at least 70 years and $36 billion to clean-up and close the Rocky Flats arsenal. The company that won the contract — which had been exposed to and was practicing positive leadership strategies and applications — finished the job 60 years early and $30 billion under budget. This is among the most dramatic organizational change successes in the history of our nation, and much for the success was due to positively energizing leadership and positive practices. (See my book, Making the Impossible Possible.) The profound purpose changed from just cleaning up a dangerous mess to keeping the planet safe, keeping grandchildren and generations yet unborn safe, and accomplishing a mission that had never been attempted in the history of the world.

A third high impact strategy is to institutionalize gratitude practices throughout the organization — i.e., gratitude journals, gratitude walls, gratitude letters to families, and so forth. Several studies have been conducted in high school and college classrooms in which students were assigned to keep a journal during a semester — half the students were instructed to write down each day things for which they were grateful, and the other half wrote down events, interactions, or problems they encountered. At the end of the semester, students who kept gratitude journals were physically healthier, had higher academic performance, exhibited more creativity, and had higher attendance records than those not keeping a gratitude journal. In organizational research, gratitude has been associated with improvements in productivity, quality of outputs, profitability, innovation, customer retention, and employee turnover. Among organizations facing trying times and difficult challenges (such as downsizing or pandemic lockdowns), resilience and financial performance have also been shown to be significantly higher in organizations with high scores in demonstrating gratitude.

Fourth, a frequent complaint regarding our current culture involves the lack of trust in our nation’s leaders, the media, and most business, educational, and religious institutions. Trust in our society is at an all-time low. Empirical evidence confirms, however, that uncertainty and ambiguity are significantly reduced when trust is high, especially in leaders, and complex, ambiguous situations can be managed more efficiently. Flexible work arrangements and teamwork become more feasible. Innovation and risk-taking increase. Productivity improves as much as tenfold. Reciprocity among employees escalates. Expressions of gratitude are more frequent. Prosocial behavior and unselfish service accelerate. Generosity and sharing with others increase. Cooperation improves. Most importantly, the interpersonal relationships that provide positive energy are strengthened. Trusting relationships are almost always energizing, but positive energy is destroyed quickly when trust, honesty, and integrity deteriorate. Not surprisingly, telling the truth, being dependable, and demonstrating competence help strengthen trust.

Fifth, the fundamental motive of positively energizing leaders it to help others flourish. This is accomplished primarily through virtuous actions. The irony regarding virtuous actions (e.g., kindness, generosity, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, courage, trust) is that, whereas they produce extraordinarily successful outcomes in organizations, they don’t need to in order to be valuable. If I am kind only to get a payback, it ceases to be kindness and becomes manipulation. So, virtuousness is its own reward. Yet, organizations and individuals flourish more abundantly in the presence of virtuousness. One simple example of this outcome comes from an acquaintance who is a senior executive and has a young daughter who hated to go to school. This child would hang on to her mother’s leg when it was time to go to school and would cry when her mother dropped her off, making the mother feel terrible. The girl’s teacher suggested that the mother ask the child to report on the best thing that happened during the day as a way to help her focus on something positive. Asking that question each day after school improved the situation somewhat, but it the symptoms didn’t resolve. The mother decided to change the question to “What is the best thing that you did for someone today?” Somehow, that made the difference. The child was excited each day to report on what she had done for someone else during the day at school. The payoff came when they took a trip to Disneyworld. They visited a restroom where a cleaning lady was present. Often, these service personnel are ignored or treated as just being in the way. This child went up to the cleaning lady and said, “I hope you have a magical day today.” The woman began to cry. She replied, “I have worked here for 14 years and no one has ever wished for me to have a magical day.” That incident, the mother reported, was the payoff — her daughter was consistently looking for ways to make a difference, to help someone else flourish, or to foster positive relational energy by making a small contribution every day.

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

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a positively energizing leader. All human beings are attracted to and flourish in the presence of positive, life-giving energy. The heliotropic effect is universal, so positively energizing leaders can have dramatic impact on helping other people and their organizations flourish.

How can our readers further follow your work?

team@kimscameron.com

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!


Kim Cameron of University of Michigan: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Jennifer Weedon Palazzo: 5 Things You Need To Become A Highly Successful Airbnb Host

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Flexibility-Be ready to modify your home for Airbnb. Remove items that are too “personal” like family photos. Lock away anything that you would be devastated to lose. (family heirlooms) When doing any renovations or repairs, keep in mind what will be easiest to clean and most durable.

Many people dream of becoming an Airbnb host but don’t know where to start. In this series called “5 Things You Need To Become A Highly Successful Airbnb Host” we are interviewing successful Airbnb hosts who share lessons from their experience about how to run a very successful Airbnb property. As part of this series I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Weedon Palazzo.

Jennifer Weedon Palazzo is a video creator, editor, producer, and Mama-in-Charge at www.MomCaveTV.com, an online community of 80,000 moms and counting. Along with her husband, they have been Airbnb Superhosts for the past 5 years.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. 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 first start becoming an Airbnb host?

My husband and I had been “landlords” before in the traditional sense, renting an apartment in Manhattan and multi-family homes in Massachusetts. When we decided to move from NYC to The Berkshires and buy a home, we knew that renting out the home we bought would help us afford it. The area our house is located in is a bit of a “resort” area, especially during summer and ski season. We travel often and had family in the area we could stay with for occasional rentals.

My husband is the bandleader of a touring jazz band. Once the pandemic hit, all of their gigs were cancelled for over a year. To replace his income, we started renting our personal home out as much as possible. Sometimes we’d travel in our RV, sometimes stay in town with family or at a motel.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this?

I’ve learned to actually get pleasure out of cleaning! I can’t believe it. I’ve always been a bit disorganized and HATED the tedium of cleaning. But now, it’s a challenge to see how fast I can do it and how thorough I can be.

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 once rented to a group of professional guys in their twenties. They said they were on a work retreat. I had forgotten to sign out of my Netflix and Amazon Prime accounts on the house’s televisions. So when they started watching a movie, a notification popped up on my phone. At 2am, they started “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” followed by “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” and then “The Boys in the Band.”

When they checked out, I found glitter everywhere, long neon pink hairs (like from a wig), a sequined evening gown and a large bag of toiletries.

I called them to tell them that they had left their toiletries (which included some upscale beauty products I’m too frugal to buy) and they told me to keep them. This group was definitely “Fabulous!”

But don’t forget to sign out of your streaming accounts.

What are some of the common mistakes you have seen people make when they first start hosting with Airbnb?

The number one mistake is not cleaning thoroughly enough. High-end renters expect a spotless house. If you hired someone else to do the cleaning, you are still going to have to go behind them and do at least 2 more hours of cleaning. Trust me. Not a hair on a pillow or a fingerprint on a lightswitch.

What are some of the things that can be done to avoid these errors?

Look at your house with fresh eyes. If you were paying top dollar to stay here, what would stick out to you? When it’s a house we live in, we start to overlook the little things that are out of place, need replacing, etc.

Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the Airbnb experience? In your opinion, what makes you different from the rest?

I provide personalized recommendations of things to do in the area and restaurants to try. I’m extremely responsive. When I have a rental, my phone is always next to me. But most importantly, you literally could eat off the floors.

Wonderful. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you share “5 Things You Need To Become A Highly Successful Airbnb Host”? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Responsiveness-Airbnb rates properties based on how long it takes you to respond to messages. And renters expect to be able to get in touch with you at all times, day or night.
  2. A thick skin-Some renters are difficult. You do everything you can to make them happy but sometimes things are out of control. Never lose your cool. Always behave like a “host” and don’t let it bother you too much.
  3. Great Eyesight-People will be grossed out if they find a tiny piece of hair in the shower drain or on a pillow case. People will complain if they find a single ant crawling on the kitchen floor. Inspect everything more than once.
  4. Organizational Skills-If you are renting on more than one site, keep them synced up at all times. Never over book. If you accept a booking for a date in advance and then someone tries to book that some date on the OTHER site, you will have to reject it, which will hurt your host ratings and you properties’ rank in the search listings.
  5. Flexibility-Be ready to modify your home for Airbnb. Remove items that are too “personal” like family photos. Lock away anything that you would be devastated to lose. (family heirlooms) When doing any renovations or repairs, keep in mind what will be easiest to clean and most durable.

You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?

I’m a huge fan of cruises. I love having a vacation be about lounging by the pool or ocean by day and then getting “dressed” for dinner and trying lots of new restaurants. And cruises tend to have free childcare that the kids beg to go to.

Can you share with our readers how you’ve used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Raising two good humans is the best thing I can do for the world.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. 🙂

Hmm… that’s a tough one. I wish there was a way to take all of the food we waste here in America and effectively get it to places where people need it.

How can our readers further follow you on social media?

facebook.com/MomCaveTV

instagram.com/MomCaveTV

twitter.com/MomCaveTV

TikTok.com/@MomCaveTV

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


Jennifer Weedon Palazzo: 5 Things You Need To Become A Highly Successful Airbnb Host was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Britt Nichols of ExamSoft: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent…

Britt Nichols of ExamSoft: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Be transparent. Keeping your employees in the know about where the company stands leads to fewer misunderstandings down the road. We provide a monthly revenue report to the entire organization that doesn’t just share the actual revenue, but shows all the various activities we’re doing to achieve revenue goals. We want people to have that level of clarity so they can see what new accounts are being onboarded, what areas we’re focusing on, and what we’re doing to try to be successful.

As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Britt Nichols.

Britt Nichols is SVP at ExamSoft, a Turnitin company, that builds scalable education technology software solutions that provide the highest level of exam security and integrity to education and certification institutions across a variety of verticals, settings and modalities.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I’ve had a varied background across different industries and with diverse roles. I started in the entertainment industry and transitioned to executive recruitment in the financial services industry before moving to entrepreneurship, which included launching a job board for senior care professionals. I learned a lot from that role, including many digital marketing elements that are still useful to me today. After selling that company, I moved into higher education working for an organization that was at the forefront of partnering with non-profit universities to them develop online degree programs. Now, I am at ExamSoft leading sales and marketing. With each role, I valued the opportunity to embrace accountability with a creative problem-solving mindset. Regardless of industry, I always look for the opportunity to work with talented people who are willing to work with me to tackle interesting challenges that will hopefully make a meaningful impact.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

After college I lived with roommates, and I didn’t trust a communal answering machine, let alone a roommate sticky note using the shared house phone number — it’s important to note this was long before cell phones. So I set had up a cheap voicemail service for people to get ahold of me and then I could call them back from anywhere in Manhattan. The problem was, when I had applied to a new professional opportunity, I couldn’t actually speak to the people doing an in-person phone screen or calling to talk about setting up an in-person interview. For this one opportunity, the gentleman kept leaving messages, and I’d call him back and leave messages of my own. This went on for six or seven messages before I finally just left a voicemail with the exact dates and times I was available for the initial phone screen and then I sat by the phone. The interviewer took this as positive persistence and decided to bring me on, but in reality, it was a very frustrating experience for a young kid trying to get a new job. From that experience, I learned to always have a good way to keep in touch and to set clear expectations of availability, especially when applying for jobs. Of course, that’s much easier with today’s technology!

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?

Yes, one person who did have a significant impact on me was a man named Greg Finkelstein. He firmly believed in hiring for talent, not just focusing solely on industry knowledge or a specific skill. He always said, “We can teach the business; we can’t teach the talent.” This was particularly meaningful to me when I met him because I had previously worked in executive recruitment and often saw companies that would hire the second-best candidate because they were only looking at a very narrow area of experience or skill, and not necessarily the inherent qualities — whether that be a thirst for knowledge, strategic insight, or passion — that would be critical for success in the role or organization. Hearing his refreshing approach, I promptly joined his team and continue to employ that line of thinking when hiring today. I am very grateful to him for that opportunity and the license he gave to take risks on developing people with potential.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

ExamSoft started out as a computer-based alternative to a pencil-and-paper exams. The company has grown since then and the software has evolved into a comprehensive assessment solution that provides meaningful and useful data to our users. Our vision is to harness the power of data to transform learning for everyone, everywhere, and our mission is to deliver superior assessment solutions to increase learning performance for every student, teacher, and institution. Our vision remains our north star and guides us in delivering an elevated testing experience up and down the educational ladder.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

Throughout the pandemic, our organization has kept all employees in the know on our protocols and return to in-person plans. Any plans we had for team members to work in-office were made far in advance and according to CDC guidelines. Employees were then given a 30-day notice before that specific date of any changes, to allow for accommodations to be made. We’ve currently pivoted to be a remote-first organization, meaning that for the most part, employees can choose whether to go into the office. We know navigating these COVID-times has been challenging for everyone, and we believe being transparent with our employees helps alleviate any unnecessary stress. Being transparent and having effective communication can make all the difference during uncertain circumstances and instill confidence in your employees.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

As the song goes, knowing with hold ’em and knowing when to fold ’em is really important, but that is very different than giving up, and for me, giving up isn’t often an option. It helps to have a clear vision of what you’re committed to and to know how your actions may affect others. Maintaining a sense of ownership and a responsibility to my team helps me keep going even during the ups and downs of the day-to-day.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

Knowing your company’s mission, vision, values, and direction and effectively communicating them is imperative for a business to succeed. Having this strong sense of direction when things are going well, will prepare the company to move forward when inevitably hard circumstances come into frame. When someone leads with the company’s core values and purpose for being in mind, everything else falls into alignment.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

Some people say to find a common enemy. I believe it’s more successful to identify something positive to help motivate the team. Try to focus on the things that you’re already doing well and why you do what you do and then bring the areas that have room for improvement and need more attention to that standard. For most people, when they know what their core areas are to focus, and they can see that by focusing on those areas they are moving the needle, they become more motivated. If they understand the why and believe in it, then they’re going to try to do what’s best for both them and the organization.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

The best way to communicate difficult news is to remember two things. The first is to be honest and truthful, and the second is to try to understand all perspectives. For example, it may be time to sunset a product and the employees working on that product and team may be frustrated by that. They need to understand the reason and logic behind the decision and how they fit into the organization as those changes materialize. Communicate those reasons and then listen and try to understand their point of view and concerns. A client using that product may also feel frustrated because perhaps they have a very specific need for it though they may be one of the few users. Again, sharing the reasoning for the product change and helping the customer find an alternative solution is necessary for mitigating a negative response or pushback. Above all, when communicating difficult news, do so with honesty and integrity.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

When it comes to facing an unpredictable downturn, I like the Mike Tyson quote, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” This has played out throughout the pandemic. Everyone has a plan, until, suddenly, that plan no longer works. So, it’s really important to be flexible and to have structures in place that you’re able to quickly pivot and communicate the what, why, and how.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

The number one principle is being able to have a plan for quickly creating a plan. This is almost more important than having an actual regular operating plan, because the standard operating procedures can get disrupted as soon as the challenging times approach. The same holds true for good circumstances. You can be in perfectly normal times and sailing in calm, smooth waters and suddenly there’s an opportunity that appears. If you don’t have that plan for disruption, then you can’t take advantage of change for the good opportunity either. If you have a plan for creating a plan, you should be able to take advantage of the best path forward.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

  1. Having an unclear direction. Leaders need to always know the answer to two questions: What are we trying to do? Why are we trying to do it? You need to know the motivation behind the goal and task at hand. Without these two questions in mind, you and those you’re leading will feel lost. Get everyone working toward a common goal and purpose.
  2. Only focusing on financials. Doing the right thing is always more important than solely focusing on the revenue. This doesn’t mean that revenue isn’t important, because of course, it is, but only focusing on the revenue misses the bigger picture. Missing this point can not only mean losing focus on your core values, or worse the talented people in the company, but focusing on only finances puts you in a box. By focusing on trying to do what is right, you typically find that the revenue will follow and profit and loss will balance.
  3. Not prioritizing people. All businesses are built on people. You have to appreciate and understand your clients, their customers, and just as importantly, your employees. Leaders need to do the work to understand everyone’s perspectives and communicate in a way that’s meaningful to them.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

If you maintain a clear goal, are flexible, keep the plan for change in mind, communicate effectively externally and internally, and remember the perspectives of everyone involved, you’re going to ultimately be able to get all the boxes checked to support the business. It’s important to take one step at a time, knowing that acting with integrity and doing the right thing is the best you can do.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Communicate effectively. The most important thing a leader can do is to have open communication internally and externally. Both are equally as important, especially when moving through difficult times.
  2. Keep mission and core values top-of-mind. Organizations won’t lose sight of their vision if they keep their values at the center of everything they do. At the beginning of company wide update meetings, highlight a core value and have a short discussion about what it means as an organization. This sets the tone of the meeting and helps guide decision-making to align with the mission.
  3. Regularly touch base. Encourage frequent check-ins with your teams to make everyone feel more connected while working remotely. For us, this means cross-functionally as well — marketing meeting with sales regularly, for example. Finding small ways to stay present with each other helps bolster our company culture even when we can’t meet in person.
  4. Hire the right people. Casting is the most important part of any film. If you hire people aligned with your mission, vision, and core values, then you’re always helping move the organization in the right direction. It’s much easier to keep people focused if they believe in what you’re doing.
  5. Be transparent. Keeping your employees in the know about where the company stands leads to fewer misunderstandings down the road. We provide a monthly revenue report to the entire organization that doesn’t just share the actual revenue, but shows all the various activities we’re doing to achieve revenue goals. We want people to have that level of clarity so they can see what new accounts are being onboarded, what areas we’re focusing on, and what we’re doing to try to be successful.

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

A couple of quotes that stand out to me and that seem particularly relevant for turbulent times are: “It’s not the size of the man in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the man” and “The harder you work, the luckier you get.” Especially during challenging times, it’s the ability to keep working toward your goals that will drive success. Another lesson I like, especially given my interest in the education industry, is the Dr. Seuss quote, “The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

How can our readers further follow your work?

You can keep up our company’s work on our website or follow us on LinkedIn. We also regularly publish insights on our blog, where readers can stay informed on the latest assessment and education-related trends and topics.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!


Britt Nichols of ExamSoft: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Million Marker: Dr Jenna Hua’s Big Idea That Might Change The World

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Know that you can always ask for help. Lean into your team, mentors, other entrepreneurs, and your entire support system. Never hesitate to ask for help because you alone can’t do everything. This will make you work more efficiently and open up new doors and opportunities.

As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jenna Hua, RD, MPH, Ph.D., Founder of Million Marker — a health-tech startup that empowers people to detox environmental toxins out of their lives through mail-in test kits, lifestyle audits, product recommendations, and counseling.

Even at low doses, exposure to environmental chemicals has been linked to developmental delays in children and infertility and chronic diseases in adults. Frustrated by the lack of data for how harmful chemicals (like BPA, phthalates and parabens) from plastics and everyday products affect our health and clinical outcomes, and the absence of personalized approach to mitigate harmful chemical exposures, Jenna is set out on a mission to change these.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you please tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was always a health-minded, nature lover, a physically active person, but also an admitted lover of food! So, all of these passions have naturally created this path towards my career. I am an environmental health scientist and dietitian by training. I hold a BS in Nutrition and an MPH and Ph.D. in Environmental Health Sciences from UC Berkeley and completed my postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford Medicine.

I’ve followed what I’m drawn to, and loved challenging myself at solving hard problems. My love for food led me to become a dietitian, which exposed me to how serious the obesity and chronic disease epidemic is, domestically and globally.

Soon I realized that practicing dietetics alone wouldn’t be enough to move the needle to curb this epidemic, so I went back to graduate school to study environmental health, particularly the food environment, believing that if we can promote the availability, accessibility and affordability of healthy food, we can fundamentally change people’s behavior.

My research focused on how the changing food environment in China (i.e. increased fast and packaged food) and other environmental factors affect childhood obesity risk there. Through this research, I found that it is not only what we eat that influences obesity and chronic disease risk, but also what is in the food: pesticides, heavy metals, and other contaminants. When I measured the levels of pesticides and heavy metals in fruits, vegetables, and rice, the levels of toxic exposure in these foods were shocking. With over 30% (almost as high as in the US) of children in China considered overweight, it was pretty undeniable that these food sources could play a role in their health issues.

The issue of environmental toxic chemicals also became personal. As an active person who has the privilege of living in a country with safe products and organic foods, I never considered my own personal levels of toxic exposure. When I started experiencing fertility issues, including four late-term miscarriages, my instincts told me that environmental toxins could be the triggers.

Many of the environmental toxins are common chemicals used in everyday products that we use to eat, put on our bodies, and clean our houses. They also mess with your hormones. For instance, BPA can mimic estrogen, which can throw off your body’s natural hormone cycles.

When I went to my OBGYN to ask for a toxic chemical test, I was told the only test available was a test for heavy metals. There are also plenty of tests for lead, mercury, arsenic, and other common heavy metals. Consumers can even order genetic tests, but you can’t change your genetics. However, there aren’t any direct-to-consumer tests for toxic chemicals like BPA, phthalates, and parabens, which consumers can actually take action and reduce their exposures. Through curiosity and frustration, I decided to put all of my years of schooling, all of my passions, and all of my struggles into creating Million Marker. I wanted to provide an easy way for people to measure these toxic chemicals in their bodies and eliminate them from their daily lives, particularly those who are trying to conceive, staying pregnant, postpartum, and parents with young kids.

We measure the levels of 13 hormone-disrupting chemicals in a customers’ body through an easy mail-in urine test. The customer also logs diet and product use in an exposure journal.

This information is compiled in a personalized health report. We use the consumer’s own data and daily routine to expose which foods and products are increasing their toxic exposures. Then, we provide actionable lifestyle changes and safe product alternatives to help them reduce toxic chemical exposures and achieve hormone balance, health optimization, and potentially prevent chronic diseases.

Can you please share with us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

The most interesting thing that has happened to me since I began my career was changing my mindset and making a leap from academia to industry/startup. I was on the trajectory of becoming a professor in environmental health/public health, but realized that we need better ways to collect data for environmental health research and policy making, translate and communicate the research and scientific knowledge to the public, and activate consumers to push for safer environmental policies. Being a health-tech startup, we will be able to address these limitations in a much more time-efficient and cost-effective manner and use technology, citizen science and marketing to maximize impact.

Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?

There is a well-known saying that’s simple but really resonates with me. It’s kind of in line with this whole “big idea” article, as well. That saying is, “Be the change you wish to see in this world.”

Whether it’s me as a supervisor, a spouse, a friend, or an entrepreneur, I try to treat others as I would want to be treated.

I also lead by example. That’s why my own toxic exposures and fertility issues shocked me so much. I’ve always tried to eat healthily and use clean products.

However, there is so much greenwashing out there, giving false or misleading claims on labels. For instance, “unscented” products are still made with fragrance, which can be made of thousands of chemicals, including various phthalates. Food brands could write “organic” on their labels if just one ingredient out of dozens were grown organically. This lack of transparency is dangerous, and we’re seeing the effects of it now.

I champion for honesty, transparency, and sustainability. Million Marker is my platform for this change. We hope to collect as much data about toxic exposures as possible so that we can influence change on the corporate, local government, and global scales.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now move to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change the World?”

Million Marker offers a simple, science-backed way to detox your life. Let’s face it. A lot of education is required to understand, 1) what toxic chemicals are, 2) how they affect our bodies, and 3) what to do about it. I’ve studied for years to learn about these things. The average person doesn’t have the time, energy, or foundational knowledge to comprehend all of this.

So we’re breaking it down for the consumer to understand. We take the guesswork out of their toxic exposures. Our mail-in test can confirm your exposure levels of bisphenols, parabens, phthalates, or oxybenzone.

We then let you know which products are causing these toxic exposures. This information is priceless for people who are loyal to their everyday products. Confirming that your shampoo is safe can be a huge relief, trust me!

In the same respect, learning which products, foods, or supplements expose you to hormone disruptors can change your life. When you cut down on these exposures, it gives your hormones a chance to recalibrate.

These effects can positively impact a person’s health in so many ways. That’s because hormones influence our sleep cycles, moods, focus, stress, skin, and fertility.

Today’s consumers don’t have the time to read every item on an ingredients list. If they do, they might not know what they’re reading. These chemicals have some ridiculously long names. So, we did all the vetting for them.

Through the Million Marker app, customers can replace questionable products with toxic-free alternatives. Our team highly vets every ingredient, the company’s testing processes, and even their packaging. We want to make toxic-free living a seamless experience for the everyday person.

How do you think this will change the world?

It’s going to give a lot of people who are losing hope the answers that they need. As a registered dietitian myself, I can say that it is frustrating talking to doctors sometimes. When you turn to a trusted professional, and they say, “I don’t know,” it can be deflating. I was at an all-time low after each miscarriage. Million Marker wants to provide every individual assurance through science.

As we help the world get well, person by person, it allows us the unique opportunity to collect data about the exposome and key biomarkers. With this information, we can grow from supporting the individual to supporting the community.

Hormone-disrupting chemicals like BPA, phthalates, parabens, and oxybenzone aren’t easily biodegradable. They are messing up our hormones and the climate. It’s not a sustainable way to live by any account. Learning about your personal toxic exposures won’t just change the world; it could save it.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?

One potential dystopian result of any health company is if that company sells user data for personal profit. That is not our intent. Our intent is to use this data for the greater good so that we can advance precision medicine by discovering and developing novel biomarkers and make tangible changes in manufacturing processes and policies.

Million Marker operates in full transparency. That’s a core belief ingrained in our company from the top down. We will not share anybody’s data without their permission. All samples are held for two weeks in the event the customer needs a re-test. After, it’s destroyed. We don’t want to risk the privacy of any customer.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?

Everything in my life was leading towards this tipping point. It really bothered me to see the raw data firsthand. Pesticides and heavy metals are causing innocent children to have health problems, including obesity. Obesity is a leading cause of so many health issues, including heart disease, cancer, and infertility.

When I was witnessing my own personal setbacks, I knew something had to be done. Not only are children being impacted, but people who are making what they perceive to be educated decisions about their health are also being impacted.

And once we address these issues, we hope to close the gap in toxic exposures. Underprivileged communities are at a far greater risk of consuming contaminated water or buying processed foods and everyday products (personal care, cleaning, and household products) with hormone-disrupting ingredients.

Even if we can’t test these populations directly for BPA and phthalates, we’re hoping to use the data we’ve compiled from our customers to influence change on a legislative level. That way, underprivileged communities will have cleaner options for purchases.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

We are still a burgeoning health-tech startup. So we’re fundraising, attending health conferences, and going through all those exciting growing pains successful companies do in the early days.

Right now, it’s about making connections and establishing partnerships. We’ve made some great relationships with fertility doctors, women’s health advocates, and environmental groups. We’ve recently entered a partnership with the Healthy Nevada Project (initiating an exciting pilot study that could lead the way to large-scale population studies) and are looking for other ways to spread via word-of-mouth.

It’s been a grassroots approach so far, which is what it needs to be. A lot of education is required. People are being confronted with truths about their health and pushed out of their comfort zones by discovering that their foods and products are causing toxic exposures.

We need more open conversations. We need people not to feel scared. Instead, they should feel empowered to learn about their toxic exposures and get rid of them. Change is scary, but it’s also necessary for growth.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Share examples for each)

  1. Building a business is both physical and mental. You will be working many long-hour days and you need the physical energy to keep going. You will also need to make thousands of decisions day in and day out. So self-care is extremely important.
  2. Building a brand takes time, especially one with an innovative product. It will take people time to get to know your brand, so you will need to be patient and persistent. You are in for the long haul!
  3. Have thick skin and be resilient! You will hear 10 times more “no’s” than “yes’s” from investors, potential collaborators, and customers. This can be demoralizing, so growing a thick skin and being resilient will help you stay on track and keep pushing.
  4. Learn to manage time, stress, and people. Management comes with experience and can be learned. You will realize that 24 hours a day is not enough to get all the work done. You will be stressed, and people expect you to lead and make decisions quickly. So it’s important to figure out a way to prioritize the to-dos, how to de-stress and relax, and lead by example. Treat people as you wish to be treated. Over-communication is better than under-communication to make sure everyone is on the same page to achieve the common goals.
  5. Know that you can always ask for help. Lean into your team, mentors, other entrepreneurs, and your entire support system. Never hesitate to ask for help because you alone can’t do everything. This will make you work more efficiently and open up new doors and opportunities.

Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had to make a 60-second pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she may see this if we tag them 😉

Million Marker empowers people to detox their lives through mail-in test kits, lifestyle audits, product recommendations, and counseling. Harmful chemicals are present in food and drinks, plastics, and everyday products. These chemicals have been linked to infertility, IVF failure, child development, obesity, diabetes, and cancer. Million Marker is the first and only company that makes it easy for everyday consumers to learn about their toxic chemical exposure, and provides scientific and actionable solutions to minimize future exposure. While anyone who wants a healthier lifestyle can benefit from our service, our initial focus is on those wanting to start or expand their families. The company is led by a group of ardent scientists and professionals who are trained in environmental health, medicine, toxicology, analytical chemistry, big data, AI, design and marketing.

Our mission is to crowdsource biomonitoring and assessment of environmental exposures and build the world’s most comprehensive environmental exposure database and metabolic profiles.

Starting with a few markers of harmful exposures, our vision is to discover over a MILLION MARKERS to inform and improve individual health and advance precision medicine.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

We are on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram as Million_Marker. Don’t forget the underscore. We hope to see everybody on an upcoming IG Live, or in one of our DMs. Drop-in and say “hi” any time!

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!


Million Marker: Dr Jenna Hua’s Big Idea That Might Change The World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Jim Dischert of Three Sixty Wealth Management: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader…

Jim Dischert of Three Sixty Wealth Management: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Focus on your TEAM: Tough times often bring isolation, which tears at the foundation of any team. Be consistent, check in with your team, communicate, and show a genuine level of empathy. With the right FOCUS, your TEAM can thrive even in tough times.

As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Jim Dischert, Founder & CEO of Three Sixty Wealth Management.

Jim Dischert, RFC serves as Founder and CEO of Three Sixty Wealth Management based in the Chicagoland area. Since 1995, Jim has specialized in assisting business owners, affluent families, and individuals in addressing the long-term financial and retirement planning issues they face. In 2006, he founded Three Sixty Wealth Management, determined to provide a superior level of commitment, dedication, and service to his clients. Jim is an Investment Advisor Representative holding the appropriate registration with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). He is a fully licensed Insurance Producer in the state of Illinois and holds his Life/Health and Property/Casualty licenses. Jim has also attained his Registered Financial Consultant (RFC) designation and is currently finishing his Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC®) and Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU®) designations from The American College. For three consecutive years in 2014, 2015, and 2016, Jim was named a Five Star Wealth Manager Award Winner and was also highlighted as a featured Financial Leader in Chicago by Forbes Magazine in 2013.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

After school, I started my career with a large global insurer, working with business owners on their transitions after selling their privately held businesses. I worked on a team of highly skilled professionals and gained knowledge on what the wealthy do when planning their financial futures. When I started Three Sixty Wealth Management in 2006, I decided that I would take the skills and knowledge learned to the clients I served. A big driver and influence on me delivering these solutions was seeing my grandparents run out of money in retirement. Initially, they had enough to make it to the end of their lives, but due to some bad advice, poor decisions, and an unfortunate bankruptcy, they needed to rely on their children to get them through retirement — not an ideal outcome!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

One of the funniest mistakes I made when I was first starting out happened during our first group presentation to an audience of 25 potential clients. I spent weeks preparing, rehearsing, and roleplaying the presentation. The room was perfect, overlooking a beautiful golf course. The sun was out, and the temperatures were warm outside. I started with my opening remarks and then completely went blank, followed by a dreaded 2 minutes of silence. Luckily, my assistant had printed off a hard copy of the presentation, so I was able to stand in front of the group and systematically read each of the slides to them, occasionally looking up at the clock, as well as checking to see if everyone was still in the room. The biggest takeaway from that experience was that being prepared ahead of time is great, but it is not until you are ‘live’ and deliver the real message that you truly learn from it!

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?

That person for me is Tony M., my first real mentor. I worked with Tony for several years before gaining enough confidence to go out on my own. Tony saw something in me before I ever did. Tony was not easy to work with — he was tough, challenging, and never let up. He gave great business advice that was hard to hear at times, but in the end, it has served me well: “This business is like constructing a building: You don’t start at the top — you start with a solid foundation and build one floor at a time. One day you wake up and you have built several floors, and the view there is better than where you started. You can see more and make better decisions from that point of view. From there, you continue to build, but with other people — people who believe in your vision and want to be a part of something greater than themselves — that is what gets you to the next level. Your movement is up — never stop moving up!”

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

I can’t say that I had some elaborate vision or mission statement, but I did have a strong work ethic that drove me. Early on in my journey, it was survival and fear that kept me motivated to figure things out. Today, our mission at Three Sixty Wealth management is to serve a select few families that need the help that we have expertise in, and for our firm, that drives our everyday direction.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you led your team during uncertain or difficult times?

On June 17th, 2016, I fired 50% of my staff. Unfortunately, I let a toxic relationship ruin the culture of our firm. Once I realized how it was affecting me, my staff, and our clients, it became the easiest decision to make — it was just the hardest to execute. I fired my protégé and partner, which was extremely difficult to do. However, in the end, it was the right thing to do and was better for everyone involved. I led our remaining staff through these uncertain times and together, we built our firm up stronger than ever.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

I never considered giving up — not once. I didn’t have a choice; my motivation has always been my family. I wanted to be a positive point of comparison for them, to have someone in their lives that they could point to and say, ‘That’s what hard work, sacrifice, and love looks like.’

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

I think that during challenging times, the most critical feature of a leader is the ability to remain calm and composed. It’s never as bad as your mind leads you to believe. When you panic, it creates the opportunity for desperation to set in, and that often leads to bad decisions.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate, and engage their team?

The best way for a leader to boost morale amongst their team is to acknowledge their fears and concerns but let them know that they have been well-prepared. This will create a sense of confidence, and when uncertainty is present, confidence will move you past it. Always be the leader that instills confidence.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

The best way to communicate difficult news is through direct, personal, one-on-one, and face-to-face meetings. No one wants to receive a difficult message any other way. As a leader, you need to be able to see reactions and lead from the front.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

How can you not? With a strategic plan, you have better VISION — otherwise you’re reacting to every situation that comes your way in real-time. Your plan gives you the ability to be PROACTIVE, not REACTIVE.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

Have a NEVER QUIT mentality, no matter the circumstances! Times change quickly, meaning turbulent times are temporary. Never quit. I started my business right before the financial crash of 2008 — probably one of the most difficult times to start a wealth management firm. If I quit then, I would have failed many families, which was not an option. I made mistakes, but I learned from them and kept grinding. NEVER QUIT.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

Here are some common mistakes I have seen other businesses make during difficult times:

  • Not saying ‘NO’ enough, or sooner
  • Giving up too soon
  • Avoiding the difficult and/or unpopular decisions that are often the correct decisions

Always trust your gut. You will know deep down what the right answer is for you and your business.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

I’ve noticed in the last few turbulent market cycles that our referrals actually increase significantly. This is partially due to the nature of a market cycle, but also there is a big correlation to our branding and messaging of simplicity, clarity, and a sense of calmness when times and markets are volatile. For Three Sixty, continued conversations on the big picture and overall plan work well to reassure clients that are focused on the long game. There is volatility daily, but that’s not what we focus on to make progress with our clients.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Be Prepared: It’s very easy to lead when things are good, but TRUE leaders set themselves apart when times are tough. It takes discipline to be ready and prepared for when times are tough, and practicing your expertise daily/weekly/monthly helps to keep you prepared.
  2. Remain Calm: It’s quick and easy to lose control — the hard part is remaining calm. If you buy into whatever the current hysteria is, your family, your staff, and your clients will too. Be the light that people can look to — you make better proactive decisions when you have a sense of calm. Your confidence is boosted and that feeds those around you.
  3. Stay Positive: Focus on what you can control, reflect on small victories, and be grateful. Gratitude is the gateway to a Positive Mental Attitude (PMA), and with that, you can navigate through any difficult time.
  4. Focus on your TEAM: Tough times often bring isolation, which tears at the foundation of any team. Be consistent, check in with your team, communicate, and show a genuine level of empathy. With the right FOCUS, your TEAM can thrive even in tough times.
  5. Simplify: Get rid of the noise. Get back to basics.

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

“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” — Henry Ford

This quote speaks to me in a way that helps reinforce my mindset when it comes to business activities. There are many things that influence my decision-making process, but what never changes is the fact that I believe I can accomplish all of my priorities.

How can our readers further follow your work?

Be sure to check out our website at https://www.ThreeSixtyWM.com to learn more about us and access educational resources. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and follow Three Sixty on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

Thank you for having me!


Jim Dischert of Three Sixty Wealth Management: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

BUG THERAPY!: Michele Jourdan’s Big Idea That Might Change The World

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Making a movie is like remodeling your house. The price is going to double, and then double again. And, the time it takes to do it will, too! But you know what? It’s worth it!

As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Michele Jourdan.

Michele Jourdan hails from Austin Texas, and after a decade in Los Angeles, she moved back home to Austin in 2020, with late-night comedy writer — Michael Jann, her husband. Michele co-wrote, co-created and co-Executive Produced “Bug Therapy” (2021), and she’s co-written four romantic-comedy screenplays. Michele is also a personal trainer and a gold-medal-winning bodybuilder. In fact, she likes working out so much, she actually married a dumb-bell: Mike.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you please tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

It’s been quite a meandering road! I’m a recovering self-doubter. I grew up believing that what I want didn’t matter. When you believe that, it’s easy to fall into things (jobs, relationships) that you don’t really like, and that aren’t good for you. I started my career in semiconductors, marketing, and abusive relationships. That life was slowly killing my soul. And, quite nearly, me.

After a decade of soul searching (ok, two decades) I finally met the love of my life. And with the help of a few great therapists, I finally learned that, “What I want matters”. That revelation led to my eventual escape from corporate life to became a personal trainer, and ultimately (nudged by the pandemic shutdown) a full-time writer/filmmaker with my husband, Mike!

Can you please share with us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I entered my writing career very timidly. When Mike and I first started writing scripts together, he’d write a first draft of a scene, and send it to me to review. If I felt some dialog wasn’t quite right, I’d write him a note saying, “What if she said something like this?” And I’d suggest some lines. Later, I’d see the script, with my lines in it! I was initially horrified, thinking, “I didn’t mean for you to use that!” Then, I slowly began to realize… What if I’m actually good that this?!

Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?

So many quotes and cliches are actually true: My younger years were a little troubled, so it was, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” As I started to get my life together it became, “whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.” Once I hit 40 it was, “you’re never too old to do something you’ve always wanted to do.” And, “Consistency is key.”

Ok thank you for that. Let’s now move to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

My big idea is our short film BUG THERAPY!

How do you think this will change the world?

By encouraging people to talk about their mental health! Mike and I think, and hope, that our short film, BUG THERAPY (and the feature-length version, which we’ve written!) will help people open up about their struggles. We’re all human. We’re all in this life together. And let’s face it… it’s not always easy. ESPECIALLY lately! (I’ve been through some dark days myself, and if I hadn’t gotten help, I probably wouldn’t be here right now.) There’s a stigma around mental illness, and asking for help, and we think if we can get people to talk about their struggles, we can normalize asking for help. Because we all need help from time to time.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?

Honestly, yes. I can imagine some people asking, “You think mental illness is funny?” And my answer to that is, hell no! I’ve suffered from it. It wasn’t funny. Shortly after we starting writing BUG THERAPY Mike’s son, Max suffered a severe mental breakdown. A full-on psychotic break. One of scariest and most heartbreaking things we’ve ever experienced. He ended up in a couple different psych wards, mental health in-patient facilities, and a sober living house for about a year. That wasn’t funny. It’s heart wrenching and painful. But, think of how much worse that period of time in our life would have been if we had to keep what was going on a secret, because it was shameful?!?!? I’m sorry. There should never be an added blanket of shame on an already difficult situation. So yeah… we come at this subject with humor… but from a place of understanding and compassion, having experienced it ourselves.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?

BUG THERAPY is about a mosquito who faints at the sight of blood. And her name is Citronella. In the short film, Citronella is getting up the courage to go to group therapy for the first time. The therapy group is made up of bugs with arguably bigger problems than hers, and run by a Pill Bug therapist named, Dr. Pill.

We laughed at the thought of Dr. Phil playing the role of Dr. Pill, and wouldn’t you know it — HE DID!

We stumbled upon the hugely important topic of mental health, and from there everything started to fall into place. NAMI the National Alliance on Mental Illness endorsed us, saying our movie is literally their mission statement. And we were able to attract the top talent we did because this is such an important topic for so many people. Our message is simple: Everyone struggles with something. And, there’s no shame in asking for help.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

We need the feature version of BUG THERAPY to be made, and seen by kids, parents, everyone! We need people to start talking about “what’s bugging them”. ☺ Go see a therapist! Get some help, get some support. I promise you, you are NOT alone in your struggle. And once you start talking about it, you begin to see that. Our vulnerability is what makes us human. It’s what allows us to connect to each other. And there is such beauty in that honesty.

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

1. I wish someone told us how to make a movie! LOL

2. That India is 10.5 hours ahead of us. So, if you’re going to making a movie with an animation studio there via Zoom meetings, prepare to be up late!

3. Trust your instincts. If something — or someone — doesn’t feel right, listen to that.

4. Don’t fall too in love with your first draft. Because when you see the first “rough cut”, you’re going to want to vomit! And, frantically rewrite it!

5.. Making a movie is like remodeling your house. The price is going to double, and then double again. And, the time it takes to do it will, too! But you know what? It’s worth it!

Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?

Don’t ever let anyone tell you you can’t do something. Of course you can.

Never, never, never, never, never give up on something you believe in.

And my personal motto, “What you want matters!” YOU MATTER. Don’t ever forget that!

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

It’s a story about a mosquito who faints at the sight of blood. And, her name is Citronella. BUG THERAPY is a story about Citronella getting up the courage to go to group therapy for the first time. The feature film version is a MUCH bigger broader version of the short film, with more bugs, more mental issues, and more laughs! Wanna make a movie, and win an Oscar with us?

How can our readers follow you on social media?

My personal Instagram is @whatyouwantmatters

Instagram: @bugtherapy_film

Facebook: BugTherapyFilm

www.bugtherapy.film

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.


BUG THERAPY!: Michele Jourdan’s Big Idea That Might Change The World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Bhumi Bhutani of Way: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Time

Bhumi Bhutani of Way.com: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Encourage honest feedback- Not to sound cliché, but it is important, if not vital, for leaders to be open to hearing the good, the bad and the ugly about what members of the team think about the company, the mission, projects, and strategy. It is important to be questioned, as it yields more reflection and enables leaders to take a second look if something is missed as well as firm up their position.

As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Bhumi Bhutani.

Bhumi is the Co-Founder and VP of Sales of Way.com, where she’s responsible for the sales and operational leadership of the company’s online organization.

Bhumi brings with her over eight years of industry experience, during which she has made hundreds of direct alliances with parking companies and operators, further establishing Way’s presence to include thousands of parking locations throughout the United States.

Prior to Way, Bhumi was the Co-Founder and COO of Raksha International — and has held management positions at Genentech and the California Department of Health. Bhumi received her Master of Science degree from the London School of Economics and her Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Thanks for having me here. I grew up in the bay area and saw this place transform as Silicon Valley. I had the pleasure to see this first-hand when my father in partnership with Nolan Bushnell was able to change the gaming world with Atari. That was my motivating factor, and then slowly watching how Silicon Valley was able to transform the world with innovation fascinated me further. I always related innovation with convenience, and everyone was ready to pay for convenience. So around 8 years ago, when Binu (Girija, CEO of Way.com) and I were meeting up in San Francisco for a quick meal, it took me over 20 mins to find cheap parking, and during our dinner Binu pitched the idea of transforming the parking industry by adding convenience. I connected to that right away, and that’s how our Way journey started.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

Yes! It was one of our first Thanksgivings actually. We never anticipated the demand that we had and sold out of our airport parking inventory! We were scrambling, looking for more spaces to help our customers with their travels. We realized that the holidays required more sophisticated planning. A funny and true story which led us to think more deeply about market trends, develop a far greater understanding of travel, our customers’ needs and paved the way for available data in-house to equip up in advance for the peak seasons!

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?

I’ve been fortunate to have met and build friendships with smart and thoughtful leaders who were generous enough to offer their time to me at various stages in my journey. I recall in 2014 when I first met Frank Ching, Deputy Executive Officer at LA Metro. Frank was being honored by the National Parking Association with the innovator of the year award for his work in transforming the City of Santa Monica to adopt shared mobility programs and the latest eco- technology in his city sites. I had the pleasure of being introduced to Frank and within minutes we sat down sharing experiences. We had so much to share, and he had so much insight on the industry. I was new and he was open to listening to my challenges. He offered strategies, solutions, and helped me network across the industry. He never said navigating the industry would be easy, but he understood what we were trying to do and wanted to help because he understood the problem. His mentorship has been a boon for me and to this day I am grateful for him and his willingness to help me.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

When we set out to start Way.com we recognized that there were some key problems facing drivers when it comes to their vehicles. To start, car services are inconvenient to use, they are priced too high, and more than 40% of drivers are in debt due to a car-related issue, more than 50% of them are millennials. We set out to understand the industries and have set out to solve these problems.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

Fortunately, for the sake of this interview, I do not have to think back too far. Let’s take March 2019. The world stopped for most, but not for us at Way.com. In fact, we went into hyper-mode. The individuals who thought the “ship would sink” jumped almost immediately, but those who remained worked because they believed far deeply in Way’s purpose and did not want to lose all that we had struggled to win. As a leader, your organization looks to you for stability, growth, and vision. At that time, no one could see from one day to the next as news headlines would lead to more unknowns. We did know one thing though; we knew our company’s mission and we knew we had to organize more closely with our partners and each other to sustain. At the most critical and uncertain time, I aligned myself more closely with each team member and spoke to each of our clients personally. I was not afraid to have the difficult conversations. The team saw that and gained confidence to do the same. Our CEO seized the uncertain time to reflect on a pandemic-resistant product line leading our engineering team into a full R&D cycle. As leaders, we aligned more closely with each other, were empathetic, supportive and transparent with our team about the company’s next steps. During the height of this challenging time, leadership asked the most difficult questions of everyone around them, reflected on what was working and what was not. We made our team more inclusive in the decision-making. The heightened level communication and clarity within our company during the period of uncertainty was energizing for the team and became deeply motivating. You could say that it made up for the lack of uncertainty around the world.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

No, that is one characteristic that I refuse to take up. In fact, the thought never arose. For me, Way.com and the vision that we have, the problem that we set out to solve is far bigger than any of us and we know it is a big problem that needs solving. This is where my drive comes from. My motivation is derived from knowing that someone has to solve it and we have!

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

Over-communicating and articulating and repeating both the mission and targets of the company’s vision. During challenging times, people become insecure. Leaders need to ask the hard questions and include their team. Teams tend to look at leaders as having the answers all the time, but during challenging times, the role of the leaders shifts to one that asks the team the harder questions and creates a safe place for others to reflect on the business goals, the shifts in the industry, market changes, competitors’ strategies to enable new growth opportunities and new corporate strategies to take root.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

Stay calm, focused, and confident. People follow good leaders and learn from them if they are at ease and stay consistent. In uncertain times, build more opportunities for team building. These moments do not have to be expensive, in fact it can be a white board session in which the team brings a dish to share. The purpose is for others to remain comfortable, engaged and open in their work environment. As a leader, be vocal of the challenges and ask questions of others in these sessions. Be open to receiving honest feedback and allowing the team to speak freely. You hired these individuals for their expertise — so trust their insight. Having these opportunities boosts morale and productivity and when people are at ease it allows for the free flow of ideas. There could be a new strategy which seemed impossible at the time. Another morale booster is sharing success and recognizing others for their accomplishments. Sharing your successes even if they are small wins daily, acknowledging and thanking teams for delivering their tasks and going above and beyond if they put in a great deal of effort. Staying engaged with the team as much as possible. If you are distant, they will read the signs and think something Is wrong. If you are engaged and going about your interactions with optimism, this will rub off on your counterparts and boost morale. I believe inspiration comes to those who watch leaders who roll up their sleeves and get work done. This is what inspires me.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

In-person. During the pandemic this was a struggle, however, I took the opportunity to make a personal call to all of our clients and whenever possible we would be on zoom. Difficult news should always be communicated verbally. It is critical that you can make eye contact with the recipient of the news and express the tone and emotions attached to the news. Empathy and sincerity are difficult to convey over email and you need both deliver difficult news to anyone. In fact, they are vital to keeping the relationship.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

As a leader, you look at uncertain times as opportunities. A great example is when the travel ban was mandated in March 2019, we faced uncertainty as overnight our airport parking sales had plummeted. The decline forced us to think beyond our day to day and reinvent our next product line.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

I would say companies are meant to have ups and downs, successes and failures, that’s the beauty of innovating and part of the growing pains of expanding. You need to fail to listen more closely to your customers at times or evaluate your product so it can improve. The principle I follow is to remain agile and never stop learning. It’s a mindset for me. If you have this you can face anything your company goes through, learn and grow from it.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

Keep doing what you have been doing hoping things will get better. It’s a mistake because difficult times would require you to pivot and try something new. It may mean taking a risk; make sure it is a calculated one, but if you do not shift you will only sink further. Another mistake is pretending or disguising that the company’s doing fine internally and/or to your clients. This is a huge mistake. During difficult times it is imperative that you over communicate and focus on solutions. Firstly, you will gain trust and support among your teams, and they will be motivated to brainstorm with you. Secondly, your clients will become trusted partners. A thoughtful leader shares the difficulties along with the vision and plan towards a solution.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

I read as much as possible on market trends, politics, industry and technology. I use what I read to help influence my daily work with the intention to grow. There are many strategies, processes, and solutions one can utilize from outside one’s own industry to positively shape your growth strategy.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Transparency — One of our most challenging financial times was in 2017 when we had switched to a new database stack during holiday time. Our system was failing us because of the exponential growth of traffic on the site. We couldn’t wait any longer and our team had to make the switch, otherwise we would collapse. It was one of the most challenging times because we didn’t have any reports for our vendors for weeks. We had the difficult conversations with our business development and account management team as well as with our vendors. We were open and honest about the reason their reports were no longer available. They were upset, but we were committed to delivering whatever they needed even if it was manual. The vendors were trusting, and we stayed committed. It brought our teams closer and our vendors closer.
  2. Stay Agility- We’ve heard this often and that is exactly the reason it is near the top of my list. In turbulent times, acting swiftly is most effective because you are quickly working to figure out what is working and what is not. As an example, when we started our city parking program at Way, we were not the first to market and it was a completely new product for us. We thought we knew what we needed to deliver to the customer from a business standpoint, which was successful, however we couldn’t quite get more eyeballs on our amazing deals, and we couldn’t figure out why! If we sat around waiting for customers to check us out without trying different levers on our side, whether it was adding more parking locations in San Francisco, or swapping out better images, we needed to be open and agile to shift and improve. When we did, we saw an improvement overnight!
  3. Encourage honest feedback- Not to sound cliché, but it is important, if not vital, for leaders to be open to hearing the good, the bad and the ugly about what members of the team think about the company, the mission, projects, and strategy. It is important to be questioned, as it yields more reflection and enables leaders to take a second look if something is missed as well as firm up their position.
  4. Nurture Collective Self-Confidence — I am big believer in Ronald Heifetz’s work in leadership, so I take from him and Donald Laurie here. It is critical to instill confidence in your workforce rather than have them place their dependence on you. Instead of controlling people give them the space to make mistakes because that is how they will find solutions. As a leader you must instill this for scalability.
  5. Push Collaboration- As a business leader you often have to peel through layers of work politics to draw out individuals or teams working together. Blame tends to go around during challenging times quite frequency. I like to start my meetings with an agenda that expresses the mutual objective which I know everyone wants to reach. If you start with everyone’s best interest in mind and encourage open and thoughtful discussion this tends to encourage a spirit of collaboration even during the most difficult times.

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

“Where there is a will there is a WAY.” There have been several obstacles and failures that I have had in my life, both in personal and in business. When I started, not all the deals came flooding in. Clients didn’t know who I was or what our company was. On top of that, I had to build awareness about our company, our value. I had to be persistent all the way and shake off moments of despair. I keep this quote close to my heart and it’s the first quote I have taught my daughter. If you are resilient, tenacious, and can envision yourself with the success you are seeking — whatever that might be, I truly believe you will achieve it eventually.

How can our readers further follow your work?

You can follow all the news about Way on all of our social channels and on LinkedIn.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!


Bhumi Bhutani of Way: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Time was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.