Cindy Eckert of The Pink Ceiling: “If the cliche of complaining around the coffee pot is true of your culture, your company isn’t thriving”

Happy employee. Happy culture. Happy customer. Happy bottom line. If the cliche of complaining around the coffee pot is true of your culture, your company isn’t thriving. A happy employee is as important as your bottom line…they create your bottom line. As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work […]

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Happy employee. Happy culture. Happy customer. Happy bottom line. If the cliche of complaining around the coffee pot is true of your culture, your company isn’t thriving. A happy employee is as important as your bottom line…they create your bottom line.

As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cindy Eckert. A self-made serial entrepreneur and vocal advocate for women, Cindy defies convention. Her work today in The Pink Ceiling, a venture firm meets ‘pinkubator’ continues to break barriers by investing in and mentoring other women to get to her same outcomes. She’s on a mission to make women really rich. You cannot miss Cindy. Everything she touches turns to pink. Over a distinguished 25-year career in healthcare, in only the last 10 she has started and sold two businesses for more than $1.5B. Cindy has made waves, and made her own success, creating mission-driven companies that deliver big. Her results, like bringing Addyi, the first ever FDA-approved drug for low sexual desire in women to market, have become a widely covered business success story featured in major media outlets. She is most proud of helping others take command. The profoundly positive impact those companies have made in people’s lives is what keeps her coming back for more.

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 left college with a singular focus. I wanted to work for one of the most admired companies in America. And I did. I can remember my excitement when I landed the job. I called my business professor from college who promptly told me we were going out to dinner to celebrate…and that I was buying. HaHa. But the bragging rights of scoring that coveted position began to fade as the realization crept in that my voice, and the difference I wanted to make, was going to be muted in a large organization. Simply put, I was a number. While I loved healthcare for the difference it could make in people’s lives, I couldn’t make a personal difference in that company. Enter my big brother. Always a huge influence on me, he started to push me to go smaller. At the time he was part of an early days dotcom startup and knew instinctively that smaller was the right environment for me. After all, he’d been dealing with my need to be heard my entire life! As he started to plant those seeds, his company started to prep for an IPO. They had a “friends and family” program to purchase stock. The idea that he owned a piece of this company spoke to me. They listened to him AND he got a piece of the value he created?! I scrounged up the little money I could and bought shares. When I sold the shares for a 4x return I thought to myself, this is what I want. I want skin in the game. I immediately left the giant for a smaller company in which I was given equity. Then smaller, smaller, smaller until I ultimately created my own company and gave ownership to everyone who joined me. To this day, ownership is foundational to the culture of my companies.

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

A moment I’ll never forget came right after selling my first company. While my executive team knew we’d sold the business, I wrestled with how to tell all of my cherished employees. Building a business of extraordinary value was, of course, the outcome we’d all chased but it was still going to be a little sad to have that incredible ride come to an end. I made a decision to print “monopoly money” of what every individual employee was about to make on their stock options and gave it to them in sealed envelopes. For those who weren’t in our headquarters we overnighted packages so we could all open our “secret envelopes” together on a national call. I delivered the news and they ripped open their envelopes to find representative stacks of cash that were about to go into their bank account. We hadn’t been off the call 5 minutes when one of my most beloved salespeople called me. The daughter of immigrants and one of the most loyal, hardworking women you’ll ever meet, her voice shook with tears. I immediately began to reassure her that our run together wasn’t over (in fact, she’s still with me for our 3rd company together) but through the trembles she interrupted me. No, I remember her saying, that’s not it. She was calling to tell me that there was enough money in her envelope to pay off her parents mortgage. Now I was the one crying. My biggest ambition and greatest success is creating the multiplier effect of ownership.

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

After selling my second company (for $1B), I created The Pink Ceiling/Pinkubator to champion new health breakthroughs — by and for women. I am fortunate. Success is an opportunity as well as an obligation to pay it forward. The lessons I learned on my unconventional path inspired me to close the gap for other female entrepreneurs and, today, I’m honored to say I work with some of the most talented and passionate up and coming female founders. One company has invented a technology to detect date rape drugs in drinks called SipChip. Another, Lia Diagnostics, has reinvented the pregnancy test, making it plastic free, private and flushable. Bethany, Lia’s founder, is power packed in a 5-foot, 30 something package. And she’s just getting started. The list goes on — including getting my company back with the first and only FDA approved drug for women’s low sexual desire. These products and platforms are transformative in how they protect, empower, and provide women important choices. We view the products of The Pink Ceiling as creating ownership for female consumers while simultaneously creating an army of female business owners who will get to outcomes like mine and pay it forward themselves. The multiplier effect is what The Pink Ceiling is all about.

Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

I am surprised it’s only 53%! When you consider that most companies stifle creativity to try to homogenize process you realize how little room is left for true diversity of thought or innovation. If your company isn’t letting you bring what you uniquely have to offer to the table, you’re bound to be unhappy. In fact, I have this basic belief: if you’re in a work environment in which you do not feel like there’s room for you to be you, leave. It may seem scary to make that leap, but remind yourself that you spend most of your life at work. A recipe for perpetual unhappiness is an environment in which your individual quirks, drive or opinions aren’t welcome.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

Research shows unhappy work environments correlate to decline in health and wellness. Less healthy employees equals less productivity. Less productivity equals less profitability. Said another way: a) negatively, b) negatively, c) negatively. This is really a simple one, isn’t it? Happy employee. Happy culture. Happy customer. Happy bottom line. If the cliche of complaining around the coffee pot is true of your culture, your company isn’t thriving. A happy employee is as important as your bottom line…they create your bottom line.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture?

Describe it clearly, hire against it, fire against it, reward those who are exemplary of it and live it yourself for all to see. To work for me there are six choices you have to make. There’s not a single person working in our culture who doesn’t know what those choices are because we do all 5 things listed above.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US work force’s work culture?

I’ll boil it down to my basic belief above. Each of us holds the power to change it on our own terms. You vote with your time and talent by choosing to only work in cultures in which your personal contributions are recognized and rewarded.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

I love the quote “a leader is one who knows the way, shows the way and goes the way.” With the emphasis being on the last part. Just this week I made my new sales hires a pancake breakfast. Why? Because I want them to do that for our customers and I’m not going to ask them to unless I’m willing to. I sit and answer our customer service calls some days so I can get a firsthand picture of what we’re tackling and remind myself just how much better our head of customer service is than me! I’m a grateful leader. One who recognizes that if my team of owners didn’t choose to hit the alarm clock and jump out of bed every day with passion for what they do, I wouldn’t be where I am.

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?

A person?! No — countless people. Everyone who has ever bet on me by coming to work for me I’m grateful for. Everyone who has ever written me a check that was earmarked for their retirement or their kids tuition because they believed that I would deliver back even more, I’m grateful for. Every outstanding founder determined to make a difference who knocks on my door and shares their intoxicating vision with me, I’m grateful for. Mentorship is a funny thing. We often see it as one person we look up to that helped us. I’d contend that every single day you have mentors standing to your left and right that are helping you. I have learned from and continue to learn from so many people for which I am grateful. Tomorrow I’ll add another to that list.

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

By taking the winnings in my wallet and the wisdom from wars won and using it to propel others. After my last exit, I knew my best work would be to reach my hand back and pull other women to outcomes like mine faster than I got there myself. It’s the entire basis of The Pink Ceiling. These founders, who the system today would overlook, are not only bringing goodness to the world with their groundbreaking products, they’ll bring a ripple effect of change when their success redefines the stereotypes of who we should bet on. Then they’ll use their success to bring goodness by paying it forward.

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

This one I’m going to borrow from Gandhi. My favorite quote of all time is this: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Not only is that the story of every company I’ve built, it is a powerful reminder that if you want to truly create change in this world you better have unwavering conviction.

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 have so many answers here! For now, if I stick to workplace culture, the big idea is really the simple one. Design cultures (or choose to only work in cultures) in which individuals participate in the value they create. That design ensures accountability, productivity and, most importantly, contentment. The most amount of good to the most amount of people? A world full of contented contributors.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!

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