C-Suite Moms: “Keep the glass balls in the air and let the rubber ones bounce” With Amber Quist CMO of Silvercar by Audi & Jessica Abo

I’d also recommend figuring out how to keep the glass balls in the air and let the rubber ones bounce. A manager once told me this, and it seems simple, but it took a watershed moment for me to realize that I couldn’t do it all. I had to recast expectations I’d had of myself […]

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I’d also recommend figuring out how to keep the glass balls in the air and let the rubber ones bounce. A manager once told me this, and it seems simple, but it took a watershed moment for me to realize that I couldn’t do it all. I had to recast expectations I’d had of myself of being the perfect mom, perfect spouse, perfect employee, etc. and determine what balls I was going to let slip through my fingers and fall to the ground. For instance, I stopped baking homemade cakes and being ok with store bought ones, my kids never match and rarely have bows in their hair, and sometimes the clothes don’t get folded, but letting those things be my rubber balls has freed me up to get the sleep I need and spend the time I need investing in my kids.

As a part of my series about “C-Suite Moms” I had the pleasure to interview Amber Quist. Amber Quist believes that great marketing starts with data and ends with a human connection. For the past sixteen years, she’s utilized a right meets left brain approach to successfully build some of the world’s greatest brands across a variety of industries including mobility, athletic apparel, and social media technology. As Chief Marketing Officer of Silvercar, she leads the marketing and communications agenda across Silvercar’s portfolio of mobility initiatives. Prior to joining Silvercar, Amber was the North American CMO for Daimler’s carsharing company, car2go. There she was instrumental in growing brand awareness and helping to launch the “Proud to Share” brand platform. Before her time in mobility, Amber led marketing at several social technology startups in Austin, including Bazaarvoice, where she helped grow the company from an early stage to a successful public company in 2012. Amber’s early career began at Nike, where she led marketing and communications for the Asia Pacific Vision, Timing, and Technology Group. Amber is a two-time graduate of the University of Texas at Austin with both her Master’s in Advertising and B.A. in Marketing. Outside of work, Amber enjoys Austin’s legendary restaurant and live music scene, cooking with friends, and spending time with her husband and two girls. Follow her at @AmberQuist.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” behind what brought you to this point in your career?

Mostly grit and a heavy dose of grace make up my “backstory.”

I played soccer for the University of Texas, and while I was there, I became very interested in consumer psychology, but I wasn’t sure how to apply that. After graduating the first time, and working for a while, I returned to pursue studies in consumer behavior research and advertising — these experiences helped land me my dream job in marketing at Nike right out of graduate school. That was an incredible first experience in understanding what it takes, both internally and externally, to build a purpose-based, emotional, and lasting brand. But, Nike was going through some changes and moving their Austin office to Beaverton, and I made the tough decision to stay in Austin.

I found this little tech company of 30 people building a ratings and reviews platform to help put user-generated content online. I was fascinated by the fact that for the first time consumers had a voice in the purchase process and that retailers and manufacturers could improve all measures of their product and brand experience by providing a way for consumers to interact. I was hooked and loved the energy that came from working on something so new and so transformative in the way people make purchase decisions. It was at Bazaarvoice that I also realized that while I loved big brands, I was going to become a start-up junkie.

Since then, I’ve been drawn to technologies and companies that are new entrants, changing industries and building great teams. But passion and hard work, my backstory is made up of being surrounded by great mentors and strong teams that have all helped me accomplish my best work. I believe that’s the secret for anyone trying to grow personally and professionally.

Can you share with us how many children you have?

I have two kids — Fiona and Nellie, ages 6 and 4 respectively.

Where were you in your career when your child was born/became part of your family?

It was my first time as an executive leader. I was 32, and I had just left Bazaarvoice to join my second technology start-up, a company called Mass Relevance. Mass Relevance was developing the first technology that enabled user-generated content to integrate into a live broadcast. Said more simply — we put tweets on television. I was recruited to lead marketing and build out a team,and about 11 months in I had my first child, Fiona. My second child came 2.5 years later just after Spredfast acquired Mass Relevance.

Did you always want to be a mother? Can you explain?

Wow. How do you describe the desire to be a mother? For me, it almost feels like the hope was always there, even from a young age. I never pictured my life in any other way. The desire to bring someone into the world with someone you love, loving them, learning from them, seeing them grow — it’s a feeling that is hard to explain. It’s by far the hardest job I’ve ever had and by far the most fulfilling.

Did motherhood happen when you thought it would or did it take longer? If it took longer, what advice would you have for another woman in your shoes?

Motherhood took a lot longer than anticipated for me. This is actually a topic that I’m very open about as my husband and I struggled for years to have a family without any real concrete reason as to why we couldn’t. Both of my children are via IVF, so I feel fortunate to be a mom. There was a period where I didn’t know if that would ever happen for me. That was a trying period in my life, but as I look back, having kids when we did allowed me the space to pour myself into work and into building my career in the ways that I hoped to do. It has also given me the perspective for empathy and advocacy that I may not have had without that experience.

In terms of advice, it may seem abrupt, but I tell a lot of women in their early thirties that if they aren’t sure they want children or want to prioritize their careers first, to freeze their eggs. Yes, it’s costly, but it can remove some unnecessary stress and provide you optionality later.

Can you tell us a bit about what your day-to-day schedule looks like?

I think all parents — working and non-working — would agree that there is no norm to the day with children. My husband is also a full-time musician who travels often, so there is very little consistency to our day-to-day. But, some of the things that I hold sacred are my morning cup of pour-over coffee, usually crafted by my husband if he’s home. We also take our kids together to drop them off at their schools, and even though it’s just a few minutes, that time has somehow evolved to a cherished family time where we have good chats with the kids and then a few minutes to catch up with each other. If I’m lucky, I also try and squeeze in two to three 5:30 am workouts a week, which has become some of the only “self” time I have.

Outside of that, the day is pretty typical during working hours filled with meetings and emails. The evenings contain a similar amount of chaos as the mornings, but I have invested in having a nanny help in the evenings with getting the kids’ baths done and prepping meals so that my time with them is quality time.

Has being a parent changed your career path? Can you explain?

No, I don’t believe the mere fact of being a parent has directly changed my career path. I certainly make trade-offs sometimes at the wonder of how it might impact my overall success. For instance, choosing a soccer game over an executive dinner, but I’ve been fortunate to work for family-oriented companies, and I haven’t experienced any direct consequence of those decisions.

Has being a mother made you better at your job? How so?

Being a mother has made me more efficient with my time. When every minute counts, you tend to make faster decisions, get to the point and move on.

I also believe that motherhood has helped me become a better leader. I’ve developed more empathy towards others, more profound patience, and willingness to open my eyes and ears to more fully understanding my team and my peers. It’s directly in line with what Simon Sinek says about leadership — “the daily practice of putting the well-being of others first has a compounding and reciprocal effect in relationships, friendships, in the way we treat our clients and our colleagues.” I’m trying to take the small acts of “otherness” that comes with being a parent and apply the same principals to my team.

What are the biggest challenges you face being a working mom?

I definitely struggle with “working mom’s guilt.” The guilt is in both directions. I never feel like I give my kids enough time and I never feel like I have the time I’d like to invest in my team at work, especially in the softer activities that build relationships.

Then there are the more tactical struggles of simply getting out the door on time and managing through power struggles to make morning meetings while staying cool, calm, and collected. I remember one time when I had infants, I finally got out the door on time with everyone in a good mood. I was feeling like I’d scaled Mount Everest that day, only to arrive at work and look over my shoulder during a 9 am leadership meeting and realize that I had spit-up running down the back of my shirt. That was awesome.

Are there any stories you remember from the early days of parenthood that you want to share?

I still feel like I’m in my early days of parenthood, but one of the more profound moments I have as a parent is when I had to hand my first child over at 3 months old for kidney surgery to a group of doctors. I had to walk down along hallway, and I recall there being a little stop sign on the floor and a group of doctors and nurses in scrubs waiting for me to hand my little bundle to them. I didn’t feel that nervous leading up to this, but in that moment of handing her off, I lost it.

Our pastor was with us and as he hugged us he reminded us that this is what we will be doing the rest of our lives — letting her go. Whether that be to school, to a spouse, to a job in another city. As parents, you are preparing your children the best you can to let them go, and so much of it is out of our control in the end.

Are there any meaningful activities or traditions you’ve made up or implemented that have enhanced your time with your family? Can you share a story or example?

My daughter came up with the idea of “Daughter Dates” where my husband takes one of the girls, and I take the other for a one-on-one date during the week, and then we switch off the following month. It’s been a good reminder of how important some of that one-on-one time is to have with each other.

I also have been involved in a local non-profit called Generation Serve which seeks to get children involved in philanthropy at a young age. We try and plan a service activity once a month where we volunteer with a local non-profit. It’s quality time that we spend together doing something good for not just ourselves, but the broader community.

We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed and we may feel that we can’t spare the time to be “fully present” with our children. Can you share with our readers 3–5 strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention?

My oldest daughter a few years back had a hard time transitioning into a new school. I couldn’t pinpoint what the exact issue was, but I started to spend the first ten minutes that I was awake solely focused on my kids vs. getting up and throwing everyone into the madness of the morning routine. I’m not always consistent about this, but it does seem when they start their days off with getting just those few minutes of ALL of my attention, we all function a little better.

I’d also recommend figuring out how to keep the glass balls in the air and let the rubber ones bounce. A manager once told me this, and it seems simple, but it took a watershed moment for me to realize that I couldn’t do it all. I had to recast expectations I’d had of myself of being the perfect mom, perfect spouse, perfect employee, etc. and determine what balls I was going to let slip through my fingers and fall to the ground. For instance, I stopped baking homemade cakes and being ok with store bought ones, my kids never match and rarely have bows in their hair, and sometimes the clothes don’t get folded, but letting those things be my rubber balls has freed me up to get the sleep I need and spend the time I need investing in my kids.

Another thing I believe helps to build high-quality connections is to volunteer at the school or even go eat lunch with your child from time to time. Also though this sometimes feels hard to fit into our busy lives, the act of being present in a place that is unexpected leaves a long impression on my kids.

Finally, having a special ritual with your children, I think it can help create those connections. We have Friday night movie night and little bedtime routines that always feel like our time to reconnect.

How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?

I believe inspiring my kids to dream big starts with them believing in themselves, fostering curiosity and imagination, and genuinely believing that there are no limitations to what they can accomplish. As a working mom raising two girls, I’m focused on eliminating gender roles and stereotypes both in our home, but also in the workforce. For me, this has meant being more deliberate about sharing the workload at home, being more aware of the media my children consume and toys they play with, as well as starting to take a more active role in talking publicly about closing the gender equality gap.

My kids are also lucky to have a dad who started with an Ivy League education and a banking job and left it to pursue music full time and has had success in doing so. I believe it is true that you can’t be what you don’t see, so my hope is that my children see in us that they can accomplish more than they can imagine.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?

By far, the best parenting resources I have are my sister and my friends. I rely on them the most for guidance and support.

There are so many opinions today on parenting that it can be overwhelming. When my first child was two, she started demonstrating extreme strong-willed behavior. At my wit’s end one night, I ordered six different books on parenting a strong-willed child. They all had different approaches, and I confused myself more than I helped myself at the time.

That said, I did benefit from reading The Whole Brain Child, which presents a handful of specific strategies to deal with everyday emotions of your child. The book is grounded in neuroscience, and it helped me to understand my child better.

I also tune in from time to time to Little Sprigs and have enjoyed several guests that have participated in on-air interviews.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you share or plan to share with your kids?

When I was growing up, my mom let me wear her diamond drop necklace, which she made from her wedding ring, to an 8th-grade dance. Seems crazy, but she thought it would compliment my dress. When I returned home, I realized it had fallen off at some point during the night. I was terrified to tell her what had happened, but I finally mustered up the courage to do so. Surprisingly, my tear-filled confession was not met with the anticipated anger or disappointed that I was bracing for, but instead, she simply hugged me and said: “you can’t take it with you.” And that was it. At the time, I didn’t realize how this moment would shape my view on parenting and impact my values in my personal and work life, but I’ve reflected on that moment so many times to remind myself of several life lessons — maybe most importantly to value and love the people and adventures in your life more than the things in it — in doing so, you will be free to write your best story.

If you could sit down with every new parent and offer life hacks, must-have products or simple advice, what would be on your list?

The simple advice I’d give to new parents is to find your tribe. The old saying is right about it taking a village — especially as working parents. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. We’re all in this together.

Utilize the heck out of things like Amazon Prime and Instacart. Buy plenty of boogie wipes and always pack an extra pair of clothes in case of a blowout.

And, don’t forget to let the rubber balls bounce.

Thank you so much for these insights! We appreciate your time.

About the Author:

Jessica Abo believes no matter where we are in our careers, relationships or level of activism — we are all a work in progress. Her debut book, Unfiltered: How To Be As Happy As You Look On Social Media was released in August 2018 and sold out on its first day. Women’s Health Magazine named Unfiltered #1 on its list of self-love books and it was selected to be in the official GRAMMY Awards gift bag. To bring her book to life, Jessica launched a collection of statement tees and hoodies at New York Fashion Week. Jessica has spoken about her research and #liveunfiltered movement on The TODAY Show, Access Hollywood, ABC News, KTLA and in dozens of publications including Forbes, Fast Company and SHAPE.

A multi-award-winning television journalist, Jessica spent 15 years working as a television anchor and reporter. She started her own production company, JaboTV, in 2013, which profiles athletes, celebrities, CEOs, entrepreneurs and changemakers. Her videos appear weekly on Entrepreneur.com.

Jessica’s nationwide speaking tour has taken her to Facebook, Microsoft, Delta Airlines, Weight Watchers, TEDx, the United Nations and hundreds of conferences, nonprofits, universities and schools. In her spare time, Jessica is a passionate philanthropist, having raised more than a million dollars for several causes by organizing her own galas. Jessica sits on several boards and committees and contributes to their recruiting and fundraising efforts.

Jessica received both her bachelor and master degrees from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. You may have spotted her, cast as herself, in several shows and movies including: House of Cards, Gossip Girl, Nurse Jackie, Girl Most Likely, Delivery Man and The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

A New Yorker at heart, Jessica now lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their daughter.


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