Christine Alemany Of TBGA: “Be yourself”

Be yourself , Find the courage to be authentic, even vulnerable. By being transparent on what inspires you, people will genuinely connect with you. Authentic connections make people want to help you. How does a successful, strong, and powerful woman navigate work, employee relationships, love, and life in a world that still feels uncomfortable with strong women? […]

Thrive invites voices from many spheres to share their perspectives on our Community platform. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team, and opinions expressed by Community contributors do not reflect the opinions of Thrive or its employees. More information on our Community guidelines is available here.

Be yourself , Find the courage to be authentic, even vulnerable. By being transparent on what inspires you, people will genuinely connect with you. Authentic connections make people want to help you.


How does a successful, strong, and powerful woman navigate work, employee relationships, love, and life in a world that still feels uncomfortable with strong women? In this interview series, called “Power Women” we are talking to accomplished women leaders who share their stories and experiences navigating work, love and life as a powerful woman.

As a part of this series I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Christine Alemany.

Christine is an engineer by training and marketer at heart. Adept at reinvigorating brands and helping companies grow, Christine delivered top- and bottom-line growth to startups and Fortune 50 companies like Dell, Citi, and United Technologies. She is currently the CEO of TBGA, a branding and marketing firm that she built from the ground up.


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 childhood “backstory”?

I am a first-generation American and a first-generation college graduate. My parents stressed the value of hard work. Regardless of what I did in life, it was essential to be my best self.

Whether it was my studies or playing sports, the most important thing was putting in the work. I played tennis competitively until I was 15 and was ranked in the state of Texas. I was an A-student in honors classes. If I didn’t practice tennis or study enough, I would be grounded. If I did the work, I had free reign to do whatever I wanted.

Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?

My career has been an adventure. I like to say that marketing chose me. I didn’t select marketing. Over the years, marketing changed to fit my strengths rather than the other way around. As digital became more critical to the marketing mix, my analytical skills and coding experience were valued more in marketing.

The analytical skills I honed during my engineering education form the foundation of my career. I quickly transitioned to product leadership roles during the dot com bubble because I could easily translate between marketing and technology teams. After two startups and two acquisitions, I went to Columbia Business School to gain a deeper understanding of the financial side of business. Post-MBA, I have managed global P&Ls of up to 3 billion dollars and built a marketing firm from scratch.

I love solving problems, and I constantly seek out the next challenge. While the first principles of marketing mostly hold true, the human preferences, tactics, channels are in flux. That is why I find growth so rewarding.

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

I was in a meeting at a Fortune 50 company. We were meeting with a vendor who was pitching an integrated solution to multiple teams. As we were introducing ourselves, we described our roles in the organization so that the vendor could understand how we fit together.

There were about ten of us from different teams, along with the head of the entire business unit, a woman whom I had not yet met. One of her direct reports, let’s call him “Jay,” essentially described his role to be the same as his boss’s role.

I rarely worked with his team, so I took it at face value. Next, the executive introduced herself. She smiled and shared that Jay worked for her.

I was initially shocked by what, at the time, I thought was his audacity. But I later realized that he was doing something that women are less comfortable doing: boasting and displaying confidence. He gave me the confidence to put my best foot forward in every situation.

Like my entire family, I usually have a self-deprecating sense of humor. However, I tone down my natural tendencies in a business setting. To this day, when I start to downplay my contributions, I think, “What would Jay do?” Then I pivot and accept praise and share credit when appropriate.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Today, I help tech businesses scale and push through stagnating growth, from Series A to exit. My success lies in striking the right balance between strategy and execution. I use my analytical skills to develop data-driven approaches, lead with empathy to build high-performance teams, and -most importantly- I roll up my sleeves to measure, guide, and pivot my team to meet or surpass our goals. This balance is why I have won awards for innovation, content, and customer experience.

  1. Understanding Technology and Data. At United Technologies, I learned how to use data to negotiate and implement change by leading with data. We analyzed data to create new pricing and compensation structures. The models that we built were huge! Sometimes, they took hours to run. However, this quantitative approach convinced our internal and external partners to change how they sold our products. It was a win-win for everyone.
  2. Understanding motivations. At Dell, we constantly optimized the performance of the eCommerce site, from customer acquisition to purchase. We used data science to uncover new and different tactics to quantify consumer value. We used these results to improve eCommerce performance, but the data models are just predictions based on past performance that required testing. Because Dell is such a matrixed organization, I had to persuade multiple teams across various levels to dedicate resources to test our ideas. I had to understand how each party’s goals and motivations. With that understanding, I could structure the conversations to highlight the benefits for each party.
  3. Open and transparent. As a founder, I prioritized my clients above all else. I did whatever it took to make the client happy. Working long hours was something that just happened. But when my parents hit different stages of Alzheimer’s, I became their caregiver — and found myself having to ask for help. At first, I tried to keep up the pace and keep this highly personal situation to myself. Eventually, I couldn’t sustain the long hours. This forced me to open up to clients and employees about what I was going through. Doing so strengthened my relationships with my partners, employees, and my clients. It was better able to serve them — and to set more realistic expectations for myself.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. The premise of this series assumes that our society still feels uncomfortable with strong women. Why do you think this is so?

I think that social norms need to catch up, and they slowly are. Women have not been a substantial part of the workforce until World War II and Rosie the Riveter. Rosie symbolized women’s increasing importance in the American labor force as men joined the war effort. By 1945, almost one in four American women held income-earning jobs.

Fast-forward more than sixty years, the mounting research that links diversity in the executive ranks and improved performance against the market has opened the next phase. And women are using this research to advocate for themselves and shatter the glass ceiling for the next generation.

While women represent a small fraction of CEOs at the largest corporations, our ranks are growing. Today, women lead some of the largest corporations, from Safra Catz of Oracle in technology to Jane Fraser of Citigroup in finance. And Nasdaq’s Board Diversity Rule will encourage diversity beyond the C-suite and into the boardroom.

I ran into the “boy’s club” early in my career. However, these men had no idea that the club even existed. They were simply more comfortable working with people who looked, spoke, acted, and thought like them. It is just human nature.

As a side note, I usually find that men who have daughters were often my allies, especially if their daughters were in the workforce. They understood the microaggressions that women face in the workplace.

Without saying any names, can you share a story from your own experience that illustrates this idea?

My first experience with sexual discrimination was during a college internship with a construction company. I was one of two interns, and you couldn’t find a more different pair of people. I was a barely 5-foot tall Hispanic woman, and my colleague was a 6-foot “good ol’ boy.” Let’s call him James, which isn’t his real name.

Once a week, the engineers had a status meeting, and the secretary would take a break. Every time, the engineering head would delegate phone duties to me. I would have to excuse myself from the meeting to answer the phone while wondering when James would be tasked with the responsibility.

In the meantime, I spent time with the entire engineering team outside of the workplace. We had lunch together. We would shoot pool and go hiking. The team even invited me to an excursion to a local casino. We were on friendly terms, and we enjoyed each other’s company.

After three weeks, I asked if it would make sense if James could answer the phone for this meeting. I said that it was only fair if we rotated the responsibility. The meeting stopped.

I answered the phones that day.

I continued on phone duty until a new boss began to join the meeting. Then I advocated for myself again, and we rotated throughout the remainder of the internship.

What should a powerful woman do in a context where she feels that people are uneasy around her?

There is no hard and fast rule. It really depends on the situation and the person.

The best decisions are made in collaborative environments. I like to make people feel included because you need a diverse set of opinions to see things from all angles. I encourage dissenting opinions and use disagreements to create better solutions.

Some people will feel uncomfortable around powerful women in every context and every situation. That is their problem, not mine.

Here’s an example — —

At a Fortune 50 company, I recommended testing new merchandising based on a week’s worth of analysis. During the meeting, a male colleague tried to poke holes in the recommendation. Because I came prepared, I provided data points that directly addressed his concerns.

Then, when he ran out of issues with the recommendation, he asked why I was “being emotional.” His reaction caught me by surprise. I provided analysis to address his concerns, and he was upset because I backed my proposal with data.

I smiled and ensured him that the analysis was based solely on the data. Perhaps he could be more specific about how I was emotional because this was not my intent. Then I directed him back to the discussion at hand by saying, “How should we look at the data to address your concerns?”

What do we need to do as a society to change the unease around powerful women?

Businesses need to invite more women into positions of power.

There is a mountain of research links diversity in the executive ranks to improved performance against the market, which has hastened the push for diversity. It’s just a matter of finding allies who look beyond their immediate network to make it happen. There are many women who are just as, if not more, qualified as their male counterparts.

Women still are playing catch up in the C-suite and on corporate boards, and we are using this research to advocate for themselves and shatter the glass ceiling for the next generation.While women represent a small fraction of CEOs at the largest corporations, our ranks are growing. Today, women lead some of the largest corporations, from Safra Catz of Oracle in technology to Jane Fraser of Citigroup in finance. And Nasdaq’s Board Diversity Rule will encourage diversity beyond the C-suite and into the boardroom.

In my own experience, I have observed that often women have to endure ridiculous or uncomfortable situations to achieve success that men don’t have to endure. Do you have a story like this from your own experience? Can you share it with us?

Women are expected to be “softer.” They are sometimes harshly judge for negotiating for higher wages and pushing for promotions. Women are even expected to smile more than their male counterparts. And we most often have to do it in style.

This is just a surface-level example, but it illustrates the difference. I often attend conferences to network, catch up with old colleagues, and spend time with our clients. I used to wear clothing similar to my male counterparts: jacket, button-up shirt, jeans, and flats. I noticed that almost every woman around me dressed to the nines: dresses, full hair and makeup, and ridiculous heels. Can you imagine being on your feet for 8 hours in 3-inch heels? No, thank you.

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

I am 5-feet tall, and I am a no B.S. kind of person. I speak frankly, which can be interpreted as aggressive. I like to say assertive. So I have to be careful about dissenting, providing constructive criticism, and sometimes advocating for myself.

I am forever a student of the art of “yes… and.” I am lucky to have mentors that have coached me on how to soften my approach. It sometimes feels forced, but it has worked for me.

Let’s now shift our discussion to a slightly different direction. This is a question that nearly everyone with a job has to contend with. Was it difficult to fit your personal and family life into your business and career? For the benefit of our readers, can you articulate precisely what the struggle was?

Over the past 20 years, I have navigated through Fortune 50 companies, startups, and eventually my own company — with my husband at my side.

I have been lucky to have a partner who cheers me on. When I had to push through the boy’s club, he had my back. When new opportunities arose, we have moved across the country in the service of my career. My husband, Mike, picked up the slack at home when work bled into nights and weekends.

Mike ensured that I didn’t get stuck in my job. He made spending time with our friends a priority as well. He encouraged me to focus on life outside of work. I picked up flamenco and writing.

When each of my parents was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, he held down the fort in NYC while I went to my parents’ aid in Texas. He helped me get through the most challenging moments of my life and continues to support my role as their caregiver.

Today, I am the CEO of TBGA, a marketing firm that works with B2B tech companies from Series A to exit. Building a company isn’t easy. When I was overwhelmed, my husband would pitch in behind the scenes.

What was a tipping point that helped you achieve a greater balance or greater equilibrium between your work life and personal life? What did you do to reach this equilibrium?

I prioritized my clients above all else for years. I did whatever it took to make the client happy. No detail was too small.

Working long hours was something that just happened. But when my parents hit different stages of Alzheimer’s, I became their caregiver. At first, I tried to keep up the pace and keep this highly personal situation to myself. But, I couldn’t sustain the long hours.

The breaking point was when a client called me in the middle of my moving my parents from their home into assisted living. And my client called me about an issue that one of their employees could answer on my day off.

It was a rough, heartbreaking day. On the verge of tears, I opened up about what was happening to my client. He quickly apologized, but it was my fault. I never set boundaries around my time. I was always available.

From that moment on, I set boundaries around my time. I asked my employees for help to take on some of the administrative tasks. Doing so strengthened my relationships with my partners, employees, and my clients. It was better able to serve them — and to set more realistic expectations for myself.

I work in the beauty tech industry, so I am very interested to hear your philosophy or perspective about beauty. In your role as a powerful woman and leader, how much of an emphasis do you place on your appearance? Do you see beauty as something that is superficial, or is it something that has inherent value for a leader in a public context? Can you explain what you mean?

It takes time to overcome superficial impressions, so I lean into it. A professional appearance is an essential part of the executive brand — for women and men. Looking put together quickly builds credibility, and as a CEO, my job is to represent my company in the best light.

At the beginning of my career, my appearance conformed to the company where I worked. As I have advanced in my career, I have focused more on comfort and ease of execution. For example, I prefer solids over patterns and stick to a basic color palette. My suits can be mixed and matched, and I only wear heels when meeting with prospects and new clients.

Beauty is superficial, but it unfortunately matters. And age is not your friend in the tech world. Luckily, I have always looked young for my age. It’s finally beginning to pay off!

How is this similar or different for men?

I don’t see a vast difference between men and women, other than the “costumes” that women wear are usually more constrictive and less comfortable. Oh, and men don’t have to wear war paint, otherwise known as makeup.

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 Powerful Woman?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

Number 1: Be yourself

Find the courage to be authentic, even vulnerable. By being transparent on what inspires you, people will genuinely connect with you. Authentic connections make people want to help you.

Number 2: Know your strengths

People are more effective and happier when they focus on what they are good at. So do what you do best and “outsource” the rest.

Number 3: Be curious

Show that you are thoughtful and willing to dig below the surface. Asking questions allows you to gain different perspectives, learn new things, and build rapport with others.

Number 4: Speak up.

You are your best advocate, so don’t be coy. And don’t wing it. Come prepared for a conversation. If you are uncomfortable, you can ease into it by asking questions or simply responding to them.

Number 5: It takes a village.

Start building your support network early. Surround yourself with people who are candid and trustworthy. From mentors and coaches to friends and family, they will help you navigate difficult situations, make tough decisions, and help in ways that you may never know about.

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 am fascinated by people who go against the grain, speak their truths, and unleash their authentic selves. A conversation with these people would be enthralling:

  • Simone Biles: I didn’t understand when she paused her Olympic competition. Once I saw her speak to Congress about the system that enabled the abuse by the gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, I had an entirely different perspective. She’s an incredibly strong woman who refused to walk away.
  • Krystal Ball: She left MSNBC to launch a YouTube news show with The Hill for more creative control. The experiment went so well, she went on her own.
  • Ellan Pao: As the former Reddit CEO and venture capitalist, Ellen helped change the conversation around diversity and sexism in tech.

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

    We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.