Amy Stanton: “People perceive a freedom at the top”

I’m committed to supporting and elevating women. I wholeheartedly believe in the principles of The Feminine Revolution — that if we allow our authentic selves to shine through, we will be happier, healthier, and more effective in work and life. I wish for more women to feel this freedom to be themselves. To stop holding parts of […]

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I’m committed to supporting and elevating women. I wholeheartedly believe in the principles of The Feminine Revolution — that if we allow our authentic selves to shine through, we will be happier, healthier, and more effective in work and life. I wish for more women to feel this freedom to be themselves. To stop holding parts of themselves back because of a belief system that these qualities are a problem. I know that these important shifts can impact women individually and also affect our society on the whole: if we can redefine power to be a more balanced combination of masculine and feminine qualities, suddenly that opens up a whole new world of possibility in leadership. Imagine the impact this could have on our country and our world!

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amy K Stanton, CEO of Stanton & Company, LLC. With a background in traditional marketing and deep experience in marketing and building brands for women, Amy Stanton has a unique perspective on the women’s landscape, the role of femininity in personal and professional lives, and the impact that unleashing our true feminine power can have on our happiness. Amy founded Stanton & Company (S&Co) with a passion for promoting and building positive female role models and messaging for women. Since 2006, when the company opened its doors, S&Co has built a roster of philosophy-driven brands, including exceptional athletes, lifestyle experts, and brands in the healthy, active living space. Before founding Stanton & Company, Amy served as the first-ever chief marketing officer (CMO) for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and was the head of marketing and communications for NYC2012, New York’s Olympic bid, where she developed and executed both the local and international campaigns for this first-ever endeavor. Amy started her career in account management at advertising agencies including BBDO, JWT, and BBH. Between her leadership roles on Fortune 500 accounts in advertising, her role as the CMO at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, and, most recently, as founder and CEO of an eleven-year-strong marketing and PR agency focused on building female-focused brands, Amy has deep experience in the women’s space and a wide range of relationships with powerful women who have inspired her thinking about femininity and how women can be their best. Amy recently co-authored The Feminine Revolution with Catherine Connors, challenging the idea that femininity is weak, and encouraging women to redefine and embrace their feminine qualities as sources of power. Amy has received accolades and awards from the Sports Business Journal, Women in Sports and Events (WISE) LA, and BlogHer, and Stanton & Company has been recognized as an industry leader. She speaks about femininity, marketing and representation, women in sports, and women’s leadership.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Coming out of college, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do professionally, only that eventually I would start my own business. Many of my family members are entrepreneurs, so I grew up inspired by them and knowing that doing my own thing would be possible when the time was right. I worked in advertising, then ran the marketing & PR for NYC2012, New York’s Olympic bid. This sent me on a new trajectory beyond my wildest imagination. From there I worked as the first-ever CMO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. This was less than a year-long job, but made it clear to me that I was ready to start my own business, and also that my business would need to feel meaningful…like I was making an impact.

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

Every day is filled with interesting moments when running a business! One of the most interesting times in my growth as a leader was over the past two years when a couple of pivotal employees and a couple of additional employees left for various reasons… time for a change, moving to new cities, to make a lot more money. This caused an enormous transition all at once for our small agency. I’ve been fortunate over the years that our team members often stay for several years so the mass exodus was unusual, unexpected, and ultimately, a bit traumatic. Over the year following, we made a couple of hires that weren’t the right hires, combined with young employees leaving after less than a year for a promotion or higher salary (people, perspective is everything!) The longer the “transition phase” went on, the harder it was on the team and I honestly wasn’t sure how to right the ship. It was one of those “dig deep” moments. I recommitted. I believed wholeheartedly things would evolve for the best. I made smart decisions about how to rebuild the team. And I held on for dear life! I am grateful to say that the ship is sailing smoothly now and our team is stronger than ever.

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?

When I first started the agency, I was building what I envisioned to be a mini-IMG but focused on women’s sports: representation, marketing consulting, content development, events, PR, all under one roof with synergies and a focus on building positive female role models. Despite the fact that I never had a desire to become an agent of any sort (I grew up in LA and was turned off by the idea), suddenly I found myself as a sports agent! The business quickly grew in that direction and I was representing athletes in sports I had never even seen before. The best was after meeting my uncle’s best friend’s niece informationally, she hired me and suddenly I was representing the best female snowboarder in the world, without ever having seen a snowboard contest! Let’s put it this way… there was a LOT to learn and it was a total adventure!

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What is it about the position of CEO or executive that most attracted you to it?

I always wanted to start my own business. I loved the idea of building and creating something from scratch. After working in corporate America at big ad agencies and as the CMO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, I was tired of the bureaucracy and ready to do my own thing. I wanted to be the boss and to be fully accountable. I wanted to set the vision and felt I could do it my way and do it well. And sure enough, I love that part of it. I know that regardless of whether things go right or wrong, I’m ultimately accountable. And I can take responsibility and solve the problems. While ultimately there’s very little freedom in running a business because you’re always on (including all vacations), I do feel empowered to do things to the best of my ability and nothing can stop me.

Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

In a small PR agency, my role as CEO means I create the vision, set the tone, lead the operations, manage the staff, lead strategy for each of our clients, provide input on the day-to-day execution of issues, handle HR issues, ensure the growth and productivity of the team, manage the finances, and take out the trash. So more than a little bit of everything!

What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?

I like the accountability. I appreciate that because I’ve been doing this for a while, people trust me (my team, my clients). I like driving the decisions. I trust my instincts and have the freedom to follow them.

What are the downsides of being an executive?

Some days it would be great if someone would just tell me what to do. (Then again, my clients and team members sometimes do, so there’s that!) There’s no roadmap for what we do so I’m always figuring things out, often from scratch. I generally enjoy the process but there are times it would be great to have a more straightforward job that requires less time and energy. I’m sure I’d be bored quickly if that were the case which is why I choose my job any day.

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

People perceive a freedom at the top. It’s the opposite — endless accountability and responsibility and it never turns off. Sure, I can choose to vacation when I want, but on that vacation, I’ll be emailing, texting, and calling. I’m ok with that!

Sometimes junior executives or team members think there’s less work at the top. Untrue. It’s actually more work because we’re responsible for the big picture and day-to-day tactics. We are in charge of our work and ultimately for the team’s work as well. We’re just more efficient and better at time management/prioritization which makes us work faster and smarter.

People believe that building and running your own business is an accomplishment. Yes, I’m very proud of what I’ve built. I still can’t believe it has been 14 years — time flies. And yes, it is an accomplishment. But there’s no there, there. I’m still building, still creating. I don’t see it as a success or endpoint. It’s always still the beginning, all part of the journey.

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

I’m fortunate. I’ve always perceived a level playing field or at least I haven’t been acutely aware of inequities. I think men can be better negotiators for themselves so when I was a young account executive in advertising, my male counterparts may have made more money than I did, even if I worked harder and was better. I never focused on it. I’ve always been focused on the work, on progress and building. So as much as I’ve worked in male-dominated environments like the sports world, I have always seen it as an opportunity for growth and a worthy challenge.

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

I thought I would build a successful business and it would get easier so that I could relax a bit. That was wrong!

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

Most valuable traits would include resilience, patience, persistence, open-minded, solution-oriented, learning from your mistakes, willingness to take risks, willingness to fail, compassion and empathy towards others, and self-awareness.

Avoid the executive path if you’re easily thrown, give up easily, attached to specific outcomes, care too much about what others think/pleasing others… the list goes on!

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

I co-wrote a book called The Feminine Revolution, all about femininity, reframing femininity, and feminine qualities as our superpowers. Leaning into our authentic feminine qualities like emotionality, sensitivity, intuition, even crying openly, can allow us to be our best, most authentic, happiest selves. And ultimately the best leaders and managers.

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

Wow, so many people have helped me along the way. One of my most important mentors was a man named Jay Kriegel. He hired me as the Director of Marketing & Communications for NYC2012, New York’s Olympic bid, and was an incredible role model in business and in life, both during the bid and after. He taught me everything about strategy, negotiation, people skills (both good and bad), the beauty and magic of New York City, and so much more. When I started my business, I would continue to seek Jay’s advice for all kinds of things. He always made himself available to me. He gave me great guidance and left me feeling that everything would be ok, much like my late grandfather did. Jay passed away in November of last year and I miss him constantly.

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

From when I first started the business, one of my main goals was to help build and promote positive female role models, specifically in the sports world. I’ve been able to help elevate a number of incredible women, inspiring many others. And as the business expanded beyond the women’s sports space to be focused on the broader healthy, active living category, we’ve worked for businesses and individuals that I would describe as philosophy-driven, meaning, they’re making a positive impact by helping people live healthier lives, educating the public about important health issues, pioneering and innovating in health — by helping and supporting them, I feel we’re also making an impact.

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

  1. When something isn’t working, it isn’t working. Take action. I’m persistent and a problem-solver. So when it comes to challenging clients or employees, I’ve always done everything in my power to make it work. One of my longest-standing employees had run her course at the agency — she was no longer motivated, didn’t love her job anymore and it showed. It became challenging for me yet because of my stick-to-it-ness, I waited it out…an extra two years before she was ready to move on and made the decision to leave. I was avoiding the challenging moment but instead ended up with a challenging couple of years.
  2. You’re never alone at the top. When my business partner and I split up after the first couple of years of business and divided the company, I was scared to truly be on my own. I wondered if I could do it without a partner, a sounding board, someone to commiserate with. I quickly learned you’re never alone! There are always so many people I can call for advice or guidance. And people appreciate the opportunity to help.
  3. All you can do is your best. There are so many failures along the way of building a business. They never end, truly. I used to beat myself up over every single one, thinking I could have avoided mistakes or done things better. I would lose clients or employees would leave and I’d always overanalyze an obsess over the specifics, wondering what I did wrong. The truth is, I always have done my best. These mini-failures along the way have always been an important part of growth. I’ve learned from them and my best has gotten better and better over the years.
  4. Have fun along the way. In my 20s and even early 30s, I used to say “I’m so stressed” all the time. I only know that because my grandmother used to point it out and respond with “I wish you weren’t always so stressed.” I look back on some of the most “stressful” times (and they really were stressful!!) and because of my worry and anxiety, I didn’t enjoy them as much as I could have. My business is always in a state of evolution — that’s one of the things I love about it. Now “fun” is a priority — when I hire people or sign clients, I do a gut check to make sure that working with them will be enjoyable. And it has made a big difference!
  5. Sleep! It seems like such a simple one really, but early on in my career, I prided myself on maxing out my days and sleeping as little as possible. It seemed like that was the way to the top. (Yes, I was a workaholic.) Now I know that sleep is what makes everything else possible. We work in health and wellness so we know that based on science, sleep is one of the most critical components of a healthy lifestyle. So now I’m walking the walk and I feel better physically and calmer and more mentally balanced than ever.

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

I’m committed to supporting and elevating women. I wholeheartedly believe in the principles of The Feminine Revolution — that if we allow our authentic selves to shine through, we will be happier, healthier, and more effective in work and life. I wish for more women to feel this freedom to be themselves. To stop holding parts of themselves back because of a belief system that these qualities are a problem. I know that these important shifts can impact women individually and also affect our society on the whole: if we can redefine power to be a more balanced combination of masculine and feminine qualities, suddenly that opens up a whole new world of possibility in leadership. Imagine the impact this could have on our country and our world!

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

“Things are never as bad or as good as they seem.” — Grandfather

This was one of many things my grandfather would tell me to make me feel better throughout my life. It helped put things in perspective. Things always feel more extreme in the moment and it’s important to have perspective and take a deep breath.

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

Michelle Obama!

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

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