Have NO regrets and ALWAYS do the right thing. Life is short. Live it. Enjoy it. Try things. Take risk. Do the right thing — always. Find your north star and follow your gut.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Nicole Small, CEO of Lyda Hill Philanthropies. Nicole G. Small serves as chief executive officer of LH Capital, Inc. and Lyda Hill Philanthropies. In these roles since early 2014, Ms. Small is responsible for overseeing the strategic direction of both entities, including financial and investment activities and philanthropic initiatives. Prior to LH Capital, Ms. Small was the CEO of the Perot Museum of Nature & Science. During her tenure (2001–2013) she spearheaded the merger of three existing Dallas museums and led the development of the $200 million new Perot Museum in downtown Dallas. Earlier in her career, Ms. Small held positions with several technology, venture capital and consulting firms, including serving as the founder and CEO of an internet start-up, an Entrepreneur in Residence at a California-based business incubator, and as an analyst with McKinsey & Company. Ms. Small received an undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. She currently is a member of the Dallas Assembly, YPO, Charter 100, and International Women’s Forum. She serves on the Boards of the A.H. Belo Corporation, Southwestern Medical Foundation, Communities Foundation of Texas and The Hockaday School in Dallas. Ms. Small resides in Dallas with her husband, two daughters and a dog.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Ihave been so fortunate to have a diverse and SUPER FUN career including being a tech entrepreneur, a strategy consultant, a science museum CEO, and now the CEO of Lyda Hill Philanthropies. Since a young age, I have always had a passion for science. The opportunity to combine the things I love — kids, communications, business, and science — and to be part of amazing teams to make positive change in the world makes me feel so lucky. Of course, looking backwards, it all makes sense, but much of my career has been a collection of fortuitous circumstances and opportunities that have allowed me to have leadership positions that have combined passion, profit and purpose. Not to mention my current position was only made possible by meeting the amazing Lyda Hill!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
The truth is that every single day something interesting happens here at Lyda Hill Philanthropies. One of my favorite and most interesting days was last December, when we invited 20 organizations to a pitch day for $100K of the things “they needed most”. We asked them to reach under their chair for an envelope that would provide the order in which they would pitch. When they opened the envelopes, they found that ALL of the envelopes contained a check for the full $100K to their organizations. It was one of the most amazing, heartwarming moments I have had in my job and one I will never forget.
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 was first starting my position as the CEO of the Dallas Museum of Natural History (now the Perot Museum of Nature and Science), I did not know that part of my job should have been to ensure that all the animal cages in the museum were appropriately secured every night. After receiving an email early one morning saying, “has anyone seen the snake????”, I DEFINITELY added a line to my nightly checklist! 😊
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
At Lyda Hill Philanthropies, our objective is to invest in game-changing advances in nature and science. We do this by trying to use all of our investment strategies, both for profit and non-profit, to make change in the things we care about. We believe we are making a significant impact in a variety of ways, from investing in oncology start-ups to NGO’s trying to save the oceans. Our most recent project that we are most proud of is the IF/THEN Initiative. IF/THEN® seeks to further advance women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) by empowering current innovators and inspiring the next generation of pioneers. Rooted in a firm belief that there is no better time to highlight positive and successful female professional role models, IF/THEN® is designed to activate a culture shift among young girls to open their eyes to STEM careers by: (1) funding and elevating women in STEM as role models, (2) convening cross-sector partners in entertainment, fashion, sports, business and academia to illuminate the importance of STEM everywhere, and (3) inspiring girls with better portrayals of women in STEM through media and learning experiences to pique their interest in STEM careers. We are proud to have just launched our first YouTube show in partnership with Goldieblox called, Fast Forward Girls, which has already reached over 2M views, and the new TV series, Mission Unstoppable, which airs on CBS on Saturday mornings. IF/THEN executive produced Mission Unstoppable in partnership with Litton Entertainment, Geena Davis and host Miranda Cosgrove.
Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted by your cause?
Rae Wynn Grant is a large carnivore ecologist who we have supported through the IF/THEN Initiative. LHP has supported her research through National Geographic and has recently been featuring her story through a variety of mediums, including the October issue of Marie Claire magazine (which after seeing on the shelves in a NY airport she said, “I’m freaking out — what a dream! Thank you so so much. I cannot convey how much this means, it’s incredible!”), GoldieBlox and several other outlets. Rae believes being part of this effort has been game changing for both her research, her career, and her ability to inspire the next generation of young women who will see themselves in Rae and believe that they, too, can change the world. In her words, “IF/THEN has been an initiative practically designed for me. As an African American urban girl and teenager, my love for the natural sciences and international adventures didn’t match up with what I saw in the media — especially on TV. I knew I wanted to be a scientist, and the only places I saw faces like mine were in the occasional doctor’s office, and even that was rare! I started my science career as pre-Med and wasn’t fulfilled until I finally took the leap into wildlife ecology and have been battling isolation in my field ever since. This initiative demolishes the visual and thus internalized barriers to help girls see themselves in any scientific field, which is the result we need in order to make sure we have the best, brightest minds and diverse perspectives tackling scientific questions of our era. I’ve been a part of IF/THEN for a short time, and already my inbox is flooded with messages from students (mostly Black and Latina young women) asking about my career path and expressing that they have similar interests. I applaud the IF/THEN Initiative for being the first of its kind and already making a huge difference. “
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
If you can see it, you can be it. If everyone would be conscious of the images we are using in our daily lives, our writing, our websites, our Instagram posts, our museum walls, our TV shows, our movies, our books, our art, we could show little girls everywhere what their futures might hold….after all, “IF we support a women in stem, THEN she can change the world.” It’s truly amazing how making a small decision to change a photo or a character in a narrative may change the world forever. So, just do it!
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
“Don’t be a sheep.” This was a classic from my dad. He said it to us all the time growing up. It means, be a leader, an individual, don’t be a follower, step up and out when others can’t or won’t…. Leadership is creating an environment that others want to be part of/ follow/ lean into the work or cause. It’s understanding that the role of a leader is to both set vision and support the team — it means doing anything and everything that is required of anyone on the team to accomplish a goal.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1) You can plan your life, but it never goes as you plan. Being flexible and resilient and open to what life brings you can open pathways and opportunities that you may never have expected. Also, things don’t always happen the way you hope they will — personally or professionally, and it’s how you handle those things that defines you and your life. Finding silver linings in challenges is important. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in the middle of building a new science museum, I wasn’t very happy about it, but I had to keep moving — I had a family, a museum to build and chemo/surgery to get through. It made me a better, stronger person — and frankly way more committed to my job at LHP of trying to fund organizations that might cure cancer one day!
2) Stop chasing balance, seek harmony instead. Too many people, especially professional women, talk about finding balance. Balance, according to science, means “condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.” Focusing on the “correct proportions” part, versus the “equal” part is really important. Different times in your life require different proportions of focus- and they won’t always be equal. Finding harmony, “the quality of forming a pleasing and consistent whole”, will allow you to find joy, happiness, and some peace. And maybe, just maybe, get some sleep along the way. This means keeping your priorities in order. What’s REALLY important? Show up for the people you love and remember there will always be another meeting, but may not be another ____ for a friend, or family member.
3) Have lots of fun along the way. I wish I had met Lyda Hill when I was at the beginning of my career. This is something I have learned from her and try to embody in our current work. Life is too short. Spend it with the people you love, the work you love and try to make a difference every day. It’s fun to make the world a better place.
4) Have HOPE and give hope. No matter what happens, never give up hope and never let others give up hope. I also saw a cool thing about hope this week: “Help One Person Everyday”. I love that too.
5) Have NO regrets and ALWAYS do the right thing. Life is short. Live it. Enjoy it. Try things. Take risk. Do the right thing — always. Find your north star and follow your gut.
You are a person of enormous 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 believe we are doing it right now with IF/THEN…. Empowering these amazing women in STEM fields to tell their stories and create more role models for little girls so they can see all the cool jobs out there. We know that girls drop out of math and science way too early and cite the reason for that because they don’t see themselves in these jobs. We must change that — our future depends on it.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have a few….
“It’s not what happens, it’s how you handle it”. This is relevant to all of us — every day — stuff happens — professionally and personally. It’s all about our ability to be resilient and what we do with what is given to us every day.
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” Wayne Gretzky. You never know if you don’t try. Standing on the sidelines doesn’t win games or change the world.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Susan Wojcicki . She has the ultimate platform to communicate with our target market of middle school girls. Can you imagine the good that could be done between IF/THEN and YouTube to change the way girls see themselves in the world?
How can our readers follow you on social media?
○ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/IfThenInitiative/
○ Twitter: @ifthenshecan
○ Instagram: @ifthenshecan
Thank you for all of these great insights!