“Find your voice and be true to it.” With Ben Ari & Amber Quist

Just as important as a brand’s purpose is your purpose, what are you trying to accomplish every day? When I was a mid-level manager, I had an executive pass along a piece of advice. He told me to figure out what my platform was and lean into that. I think about that often, our brand matters […]

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Just as important as a brand’s purpose is your purpose, what are you trying to accomplish every day? When I was a mid-level manager, I had an executive pass along a piece of advice. He told me to figure out what my platform was and lean into that. I think about that often, our brand matters and what we do matters. What is your purpose? What are you going to stand for? These are questions we should be asking ourselves every day and continuing to hold ourselves accountable for.

Ihad the pleasure of interviewing Amber Quist. She loves bringing creativity, humanity, and analytics together to build great consumer experiences and therefore, great brands. She’s spent the last 17+ years working on some of the most iconic brands in the mobility, athletic apparel, and social technology industries.

She’s passionate about building highly effective teams and her “get it done” approach has helped teams build brands from scratch, manage brands through an IPO and acquisition, and successfully launch new products into the market.

As a believer in coloring outside the lines with extreme execution, she’s led brands like Silvercar (an affiliate of Audi AG), car2go (a subsidiary of Daimler), Spredfast (now Khoros), and Nike to new heights.

Amber is excited to join the Hai Hospitality team in July as the Chief Brand Officer where she will focus on the brand and communication strategy across Hai’s portfolio of brands and help to elevate the customer experience.

You can find Amber outside of work hanging out with her two girls (ages 6 and 4), listening to her husband’s band or other live music, attending UT sporting events (hook’em) or enjoying Austin’s booming restaurant scene.

Thank you for joining us Amber! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I’ve had the good fortune to work in many different industries as I’ve grown my career in branding and marketing. I started at Nike where I learned first-hand about building a great brand internally and externally, moved to social media software startups in Austin, then to mobility, and finally hospitality. It’s maybe a non-traditional path to becoming a hospitality executive, but there are a few common threads that got me here. I love people, psychology, and building brands in new spaces. I’ve learned I’m best at entering companies in early growth phases where brand building is a key element to positive growth. But, I think most importantly, what led me to this particular career path are the mentors in my life who encouraged me to fail fast and told me to jump in, even when my inner voice was telling me the pool might be too cold.

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

It’s definitely the first time I’ve ever been in a leadership role at a company when a global pandemic took place. I guess that is truly the most interesting and surprising thing that has happened.

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?

Early on in my career at a B2B company I worked for, I ran email marketing. It was the early 2000’s, and I was personalizing the name field in my first campaign. I didn’t realize that the sales team was storing notes like “Jon-not friendly” or “Sam-Female” in the name field. So, I blasted our database with several people getting notes about themselves. I guess you could say I learned a few things: double-check your work and make sure you align across departments on approaches and processes, especially when it comes to database management.

What is it about the position of CEO or executive that most attracted you to it?

CMOs are managing a diverse set of responsibilities today, and consumer behaviors are changing alongside technology and communication avenues. I’m drawn to managing the complexity of the role, and now flexing both my creative and analytical side at a level I can make the most significant impact on the brand and people around 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?

I think the buck stops with most executives. They take full responsibility for the results, for the well-being of their employees, for the future of the company. It’s one thing to be good at executing a function and another to provide a long-term strategic vision for the company’s growth and adaptability to manage different people, tasks, and situations.

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

I enjoy building and creating, whether that’s a team, a function, or a product or brand. In the C-suite, you are accountable and an integral part of growth.

What are the downsides of being an executive?

The sacrifice of time. For me, time is the greatest asset, and it’s always been the most significant battle as I’ve pursued my career, especially as a working mom. On the one hand, I want my two daughters to see that they can do anything they want, no matter the industry, no matter their gender, anything is possible. But, going after something doesn’t come without sacrifice and consequences. Sometimes, that’s meant not being home or not always being available and making some hard trade-offs.

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

You have to give up your whole life to become a successful executive. Yes, all decisions have consequences. But I have learned and wholeheartedly believe that great leaders and executives set boundaries and demonstrate to their teams the value of shutting off and taking time out of work for being a friend, being a spouse, and being a parent, etc. We live in a time that the end of the day is arbitrary. We’re always connected to our devices. To be our best selves at work, we also have to be our best selves outside of work.

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

Even though women are now the sole or primary breadwinner in forty percent of US households, the overwhelming majority still go home to start their second job at night. I think gender equality at home is a huge challenge for women trying to establish gender equality at work.

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

Good question. When I think back to how I envisioned the CMO role early in my career as a highly creative role with a massive advertising focus, but of course, the digital revolution has completely changed the way brands and customers relate. Marketers today have to adapt quickly, be data-focused, and more analytical and financially savvy than ever before.

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?

I think it starts with being an excellent communicator and good at building relationships. There is a level of humility that is necessary, too, to be successful. As an executive, your peers are not others in your function, and you work cross-functionally with strong personalities and people who typically have strong opinions. I’ve seen a lack of humility in the past be a trait that can create a lot of friction in the C-suite and lead to dysfunctional teams.

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

Be authentic. We live in a world now where every day, we live out our best selves on social media when we know that many of our lives are not as perfect as we may portray them to be. When I first entered an executive role, I wanted everyone to believe that I was ready for that. I didn’t want to expose my flaws or mess to others, so I bottled a lot up. Meanwhile, I was struggling trying to keep it all together with a newborn at home, a husband that traveled a lot, and me teetering on burnout. When I started being honest with myself, I asked for help in the areas that I needed, let go of things that weren’t critical, and allowed my team to see a little more of me, which allowed for greater relationships and trust.

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?

I’d be remiss not to mention two people. The first is my longtime mentor and one of my early bosses who gave me a lot of early chances to take on new projects or new jobs, probably before I was ready. I think he bet on me as an “athlete” — someone with more grit and drive to not fail vs. someone with loads of experience. It was through some of the early opportunities and experiences that opened doors for me later in my career. Second is my husband. He’s been a true partner in supporting me through building my career and having a family. He’s helped me let go, he’s been my cheerleader, and he’s been a huge reason I’ve even had a chance to gain a seat at the table.

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

Well, I wish I could say I’ve started a foundation or been a part of some great movement. But, I’d like to think I am making the world better through merely helping others on a micro-level around me, whether that is through mentoring my teams, being available to get coffee with people to chat about their career, or simply by putting a smile on a guest’s face. Maybe most importantly, I hope I’m raising children that respect people, are kind, and believe in themselves.

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

  1. You can’t do it all or have it all. It’s been a learning process for me, but I had a moment when traveling back from Germany in my first CMO role, where I realized I couldn’t actually do it all. My second baby was five months old, and in my second week on the job, I flew to Germany. I was still breastfeeding and was fully prepared to be gone for a week and transport all the frozen milk back with me. This idea did not excite me, but I was willing to do what I needed to do to take on my new role while keeping up my supermom powers at home. My trip went well until I was on my way home. In the Stuttgart airport, I was stopped, questioned by authorities, and asked to empty my frozen milk. I’ll spare the details, but at that moment, I realized the idea of leaning in and doing it all certainly did not equate to having it all. The illusion of attaining “balance” between a successful career and also delivering on all of the expectations I had for being a perfect mom, wife, and homemaker was simply just that — an illusion.
  2. Find your voice and be true to it. Being a female in the many male-dominated industries that I’ve been has challenged me to find my voice. It’s been an evolution. I’ve struggled in the past with the idea that to gain a seat at the table; I would need to look and sound like those around the table. I recently found myself in a board room of about thirteen men, where I was the only woman.I know I wasn’t the only one that noticed, but it was a reminder that I have a voice, it doesn’t have to sound like the ones I’m surrounded by, and I’m here perhaps because it doesn’t.
  3. Just as important as a brand’s purpose is your purpose, what are you trying to accomplish every day? When I was a mid-level manager, I had an executive pass along a piece of advice. He told me to figure out what my platform was and lean into that. I think about that often, our brand matters and what we do matters. What is your purpose? What are you going to stand for? These are questions we should be asking ourselves every day and continuing to hold ourselves accountable for.
  4. Jump in, if the pool is cold, find another pool. My husband dropped this nugget of wisdom on me when I was recently considering a life change. All too often, we can become paralyzed by fear that our actions are permanent, or if we start down one path, that means we can’t go a different direction later.
  5. Find a mentor and ask someone to be an advocate. These can be two separate people, but certainly, find someone you can go to with any question and also someone who can be an internal advocate for you inside your organization. You will need both, and remember, you don’t get what you don’t ask for.

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’ve been involved with a local charity in Austin in the past, Generation Serve, that seeks to engage children early in life in philanthropy. If we teach our children at an early age the value of community involvement and that they are fully capable of giving back at any age, we can help create waves of service and generations of community-minded leaders that will impact our world.

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

A previous manager once told me, “Keep the glass balls in the air and let the rubber balls bounce.” That saying has become even more true as I’ve taken on more responsibility and have worked to maintain a healthy balance between my career and my family. Being deliberate about what’s important and what really matters, and letting go of things at work, at home, and in motherhood that doesn’t really matter or there is someone else that can help do it. I’ve had to recast expectations of myself and redefine what success looks like for me.

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

Oh gosh, that’s tough. Right now, at this moment, it would have to be Ruth Ginsburg. There’s a reason she’s called the notorious RBG. I don’t care what side of the fence you are on; you can’t deny here’s a woman who stood against all the odds, is smart as hell, and is such an inspiration to all women. I have a lot of admiration for her and the legacy she has created.

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