Having perspective is one of our core values. We aren’t curing cancer or saving our planet. We are typically talking about luxury products and experiences. You are going to have a bad day, make a mistake, send an email with a typo. While the work we do is important to us and to our clients, in the grand scheme of things, mistakes at work shouldn’t be the penultimate factor of our lives. Life is already pretty rough.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mary Mickel.
Mary Mickel is a partner and co-founder of Resplendent Hospitality, a PR and Marketing agency comprised of creative marketers and storytellers that works with clients in Austin, Texas, Northwest Arkansas and Richmond, Virginia. Resplendent partners with clients in the following industries: hospitality, food, beverage, consumer packaged goods, cannabis, travel, tourism and lifestyle. With over 15 years of PR experience, Mary provides creative direction with a focus on campaign creation, digital presence and strategy at Resplendent Hospitality.
In addition to Resplendent Hospitality, Mary and her husband founded Austin, Texas’s first hard cider house, Argus Cidery. Mary resides in Northwest Arkansas with her husband, young son and their dogs, Yoshi and Astor.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I’ve had a life-long love affair with hospitality. Growing up in central Arkansas, every family function was centered around entertaining — food, iced tea, games. When I was old enough (15), I convinced my parents to let me host at a local Tex-Mex restaurant. From there, I continued working nearly every front-of-house position at a restaurant through high school and on through college. I worked as a hostess, server, and bartender and was even a Gaucho at a Brazilian spot for a few shifts when they were short-staffed. That was a workout. Everything about the restaurant industry fascinated me when I was young — from the culture to the camaraderie amongst the team, to the different types of people that would patron each place I worked — the good and the bad. You learn a lot of life lessons there — finance, efficiency, teamwork, multitasking, how to sharpen your memory. Once I chose the Ad/PR track in college, I realized rather than work in the industry directly post-college, I could promote the restaurants, bars, and venues that I loved in a different way. So I began applying for internships in major hospitality markets where I could build a resume — Napa, San Francisco, and Austin, Texas. I worked at Meadowood Napa Valley first, then made the move to agency life where I earned my first post-college internship at Andrew Freeman & Co. He was one of the original hospitality marketers in the Bay Area and was absolutely dynamic. After working there for a year, I worked for a wine-focused PR firm before moving further south to Austin. It was in Austin where I met my now business partner at another hospitality agency, and we decided at the very young and naive ages of 25 and 26 that we’d start our own firm. And that led to Resplendent Hospitality some ten years later.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Every single relationship I’ve developed has led to interesting opportunities and stories. From taking clients to the James Beard House to celebrating the big wins with awards from Bon Appetit, Imbibe and Food & Wine or landing the cover of Travel + Leisure. All our accomplishments and campaign yields are because we have taken the time to build strong relationships in our industry. We’ve listened to those wiser than us, and have learned from every mistake — big and small. Industry experts know we represent quality clients and turn quality work, and are therefore a reliable agency when someone has a need. The ability to build these types of relationships in a market like Austin gave me the confidence that I would be able to do the same in my home state of Arkansas, where we opened our second office nearly two years ago.
One of the most interesting moments of my career was driving my former client and friend chef Jesse Griffiths of Dai Due and the Hog Book to a dove hunt with Andrew Zimmern for an episode of his show Bizarre Eats. It was wild and beautiful and we had a great time.
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 wouldn’t call this a mistake per say, but the first two years of our agency were spent doing business at my dining room table. We were bootstrapping it and office space even ten years ago was quite expensive. Once we began to have more and more employees coming join our team, some would work at my house solo when we were out for meetings. One time I came back and one of our male interns quipped, “phew, glad you didn’t come here earlier when I was rifling through your underwear drawer.” He was kidding, but I knew right away that A., this guy had to go, and B., it was time to find an office.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience, what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
Encouragement. I realized probably about two years post-college that the way I was raised — under the predisposition I could 100% do anything I set my mind to — is not how other women in my generation were raised. And certainly not how my mother or grandmother’s generations were raised. I mean, my grandmother still refers to me as a “career gal!” I think women seeing other women with seats at the table builds up their confidence and encouragement, and frankly, helps their chances of getting a seat of their own; it builds a pathway and track for them to ask for not even what they want, but what they deserve — equal pay and rights in the workplace. And when the seat is simply not there, we must be encouraged and encourage other women to create our own beautifully set table. And that’s what we’ve done at Resplendent.
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?
That I can — parental leave and childcare being the very first thing that comes to mind, as I am in the second trimester of my second pregnancy. Anyone stateside knows that standards for parental leave in the United States are bleak. We are lightyears behind other countries that truly put families first. And since we are still very much in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve quarantined with my two-year-old for the bulk of the pandemic. Even now that school has started, he’s been out for 14 days due to a positive COVID exposure. I don’t know how parents who don’t have flexible remote work capabilities can do it. The data is there that the childcare burden falls substantially to the women. Women accounted for 100% of those who left the workforce in December of last year. More government-subsidized childcare and incentives for companies to reimburse or provide childcare are needed to get women on even footing. Help them to be empowered to take risks and blaze their own trails. Especially BIPOC women, who are the most severely impacted. US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said, “If you want a truly strong economy, which includes everybody, then you need more investments in job training for women; more tech and digital education available for women; and more child care, home care and elder care, the bulk of which falls on women.” Otherwise, women will continue to bear the burden and the economy will suffer and the unstoppable motion of men-led, well, everything, will just perpetuate.
The second is student debt — and this isn’t a sex issue. I recognize my privilege and the leg up I was given to be able to begin my business at age 25 without children or any significant financial burdens to speak of. If more women aren’t given that same opportunity, meaning not sidled with debt straight out of school, then fewer of us will be able to take financial risks to found our own businesses — or have the credit history needed to attract funding.
This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
I’m an avid follower of Sallie Krawcheck, the CEO and Co-Founder of Ellevest, a digital and financial advising platform for women; a platform where I personally invest. Her mission is to get more money into the hands of women. She states that “only good things happen when women have more money,” and I 100% stand behind that. Sallie and her team make it their business to make women more “risk-aware” rather than risk-averse. Meaning, we as women need to understand the risk before we take it. I think that’s why we make incredible founders. We analyze, catastrophize and weigh the risks and rewards of taking one path over the other. We look not only at the financial reward, but also consider if the action we’re taking actually solves a problem and helps meet our goal. For Resplendent, we ask ourselves, do these decisions align with our core values? Are these smart business decisions that will lead to the next opportunity? Is our team taken care of and considered via this course of action? Every decision is met with thoughtful debate. Not to say we belabor the issue to the point of indecisiveness, but that we take the time to weigh every outcome.
I believe that female leaders take the time to learn how to best communicate with their team, as every individual communicates differently. It is our job to understand where each employee will thrive and what they are best suited to do. We aren’t satisfied with the status quo and know there is always a better way, not the way. Brene Brown says it best in her definition of leadership: the act of holding oneself accountable for finding potential in people and processes.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
There are two sides to every coin. What you gain in flexibility, you trade for nearly always being on call. The flipside in job security is that there is always the unforeseen next crisis that could set your business back. Being the boss means managing people from all walks of life, and you will never please everyone. A myth that some perpetuate is that you can just receive a mailbox check at some point. At nearly ten years in, I’m nowhere close to mailbox money.
Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?
If you aren’t prepped to constantly take a sharp right turn, you aren’t prepped to be a founder. There is always something — a client issue, financial issue, employee issue, your personal issues. You must prep yourself for decisiveness.
This took me a while to really put into play, but if you aren’t prepared to not take things personally, you most likely are not prepared to be a founder. The client isn’t always going to like your work, the employee isn’t always going to love the new process or protocol, the journalist isn’t always going to love your pitch.
Be comfortable with not being liked by everyone. That’s been a lifelong lesson.
As women, and now this is shocking, we have to be comfortable with being seen as bitchy rather than assertive. Be prepared to have men begin conversations with, “Now, don’t get emotional…” as he preps you for feedback. I had a client do that while I was pregnant with my first child, right before a big presentation. It truly set the tone and I should have won an award for my acting cool and calm.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. My business partner Ali is incredible, the yin to my yang. You can 100% do it solo, but having a partner that you can rely on no matter what is clutch. When I’m having a panic moment, she’s cool, and when she’s having a bad day or an issue, I’m there for her. After nearly ten years in business, we’ve done an excellent job pinpointing where we truly excel and have forged paths for us to hone in on those skills and make us a better, more stable business. Your business needs to solve a problem. If your business isn’t intentional and filling a white space in your respective market, it won’t succeed.
2. Perspective. Having perspective is one of our core values. We aren’t curing cancer or saving our planet. We are typically talking about luxury products and experiences. You are going to have a bad day, make a mistake, send an email with a typo. While the work we do is important to us and to our clients, in the grand scheme of things, mistakes at work shouldn’t be the penultimate factor of our lives. Life is already pretty rough.
3. Experts and peers in the industry. Surround yourself with peers in your industry who have done it before you and are better than you. Learn from those who have gone before you. And hire experts in their field — we work with some of the best financial advisors, attorneys and crisis experts that have helped guide us to where we are today.
4. You can at once work with humility and confidence.
5. Roll with the punches — because you are going to get the shit beat out of you.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
That’s a great Q. Firstly, my goal has always been to positively impact the lives of women. As it stands, our team is 100% women. We always want to give women the chance to thrive. We want to create a culture that is conducive toworking women — great culture, flexible schedule, stable and competitive pay.
I’ve also used my talents and our firm’s resources to help organizations that I personally (and we as a company) believe in. I’m the communications chair for the local chapter of the NAACP, where I just helped them build a new website and am the conduit for all communications that go out to the community. Our Austin team spent the past year working with E4Youth, a nonprofit that works with and mentors creative youth, particularly those from underserved communities, by investing in them, teaching them new skills in the creative industries, and paying them for internships. We actually just finished completing our first-ever PR capstone project with our E4youth group. In Northwest Arkansas, we represent the oldest women’s shelter in the state, Peace at Home, to refine their digital presence. At the beginning of the pandemic, we worked with a local organization to spread the word and destigmatize this new idea of mask-wearing with the #MaskUpArkansas grassroots campaign.
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.
Just love your neighbor! Be kind to each other, everyone is going through some type of struggle that we can’t even begin to understand. We live in such a divisive world right now and desperately need peace, love, and understanding. Take time to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and have some perspective before immediately firing off shots or shutting someone down — it’s so needed. Don’t laser focus just on taking care of your own, but find ways to better serve your community. Take care of those in need in your own backyard! Give where you can.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I mean, where do I begin?
Sally Krawchek — because money is power and she’s a badass.
Whitney Heard Wolf — because she went public with a 1 year-old on her hip and has created an incredible product that puts women first, while simultaneously creating one of the most progressive work environments in the U.S.
Shonda Rimes — because I love every piece of programming she puts out and she’s not stopping.
Brene Brown — because she is the goddess divine. Constantly curious, funny, has empathy and keeps me curious.
Melinda Gates — because she knows women are the future and that they must be uplifted and invested in.
Terry Gross — because she’s met and interviewed the most interesting people on the planet. And her voice just soothes me.
Danny Meyer — because he is a trailblazer. Look at who was the first major restaurateur who is requiring vaccination cards to dine in domestically?
Becca Parrish of Becca PR — because she’s created a creative communications agency that is setting the standard for the hospitality industry.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
Thank you for having me.