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“How to feel empowered.” With Beau Henderson & Marshall Porter

Prioritize relentlessly, and feel empowered to put your needs higher than may feel natural. When I do a good job of prioritizing my family, staying active, and giving myself time to focus on non-work interests, I am happier, more productive, and almost certainly a better leader — both in practice and by example. As a […]

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Prioritize relentlessly, and feel empowered to put your needs higher than may feel natural. When I do a good job of prioritizing my family, staying active, and giving myself time to focus on non-work interests, I am happier, more productive, and almost certainly a better leader — both in practice and by example.


As a part of my series about the “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness” I had the pleasure of interviewing Marshall Porter, U.S. CEO at Gympass.

Marshall has spent the last 20 years building growth companies, with a special focus on marketplaces. Marshall spent over 5 years at Gilt Groupe, initially building and leading business development, and then building the international business, where it accounted for over 20% of total revenue. From there, he moved to Spring, where he led the day-to-day business, building a management team across all business functions, and realigning the culture to encourage ideas, risks, innovation, and ownership that led to a sale to ShopRunner. He then served as Chief Strategy Officer at ShopRunner, where he conceived, led, and commercialized a transition from consumer-facing business to enterprise-facing Marketplace-as-a-Service offering. Most recently, Marshall joined Gympass as US Chief Commercial Officer where he oversees client sales in the US. Marshall completed his BA at TCU and his masters degree at the University of St Andrews in Scotland.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Icame out of grad school with two choices: to go into consulting or join a startup building a marketplace for mobile content and applications. Against all advice, I went with the startup because I really wanted to get my hands dirty, build, and own outcomes. I love getting to see results, adapting, and building businesses, and I’ve been in marketplaces and eCommerce since that decision. I’ve been lucky to work for some of the most incredible people along the way, and they all have certainly been more impactful to my path than that decision itself!

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

I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of 3 company exits, and they’ve all been so different, with unique dynamics, some of the most interesting people and businesses, and more twists and turns than would fit in an acceptable length here. A former boss, Charlie Oppenheimer at Digital Fountain, told me during my first exit experience that every exit dies 3 times — that a deal will go away, come back — a few times — even at the end and mostly when you least expect it. I’ve found that to be spot on.

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?

Very early in my career at Handango our CEO, Laura Rippy, pulled me aside and quite bluntly (with more than a little humor) explained to me that the engineers really disliked me — that I didn’t understand exactly what they did and treated them and their work not as partners and foundational, but as a service organization. I’m thankful that I had this experience early on. It really opened my eyes to those working around me in roles that I might not be so familiar as to what they do on a daily basis. That’s stuck with me and made me focus more on empathy and understanding. Where possible, I try to occasionally do some work in every function area reporting to me to help me understand each team, and how they work and collaborate across the business.

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?

There have been so many, at every stop. Susan Lyne, a truly remarkable woman who was my boss and our CEO at Gilt, couldn’t have been more generous with her time, her network, her encouragement, or her consistent and perfectly weighted pushes. Susan believed — and got me to believe — in the right side of my brain, really convincing me that I was more creative than I gave myself credit. The belief and trust she had in me led me to think bigger and ideate and execute on ideas that drove some of the coolest partnerships in consumer eCommerce, including collaborations with Starbucks, Google, and others in my time at Gilt. Others at Gilt — Kevin Ryan and Michelle Peluso, in particular — made me a better leader, better colleague, and gave me some amazing opportunities that allowed me to get to this point. I rely on each of them to this day.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

Prioritize relentlessly, and feel empowered to put your needs higher than may feel natural. When I do a good job of prioritizing my family, staying active, and giving myself time to focus on non-work interests, I am happier, more productive, and almost certainly a better leader — both in practice and by example.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

I deeply believe in being authentic and being an active listener with all stakeholders. If you’re listening to stakeholders — whether investors, team members, partners, customers — it’s much easier to build a culture where the team believes in the business and the stakeholders all have a voice.. It doesn’t eliminate tough decisions, but it does create trust and align interests, both of which I believe drive a great work culture.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Mental health is often looked at in binary terms; those who are healthy and those who have mental illness. The truth, however, is that mental wellness is a huge spectrum. Even those who are “mentally healthy” can still improve their mental wellness. From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to improve or optimize our mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each.

  • Breathing exercises help me stay calm — or appear calm! — in stressful situations; I’m a particular fan of box breathing, and use it in stressful meetings and with my kids.
  • I’m a big believer in being active, from long before my time at Gympass. Whether it’s a long meditative run or getting lost in a SoulCycle class, I try to start almost every day with a workout that gets the day off on the right foot.
  • Outside relationships are important. I say that as an introvert, so I really have to intentionally prioritize that, but I’m happier when I am spending some regular time with friends, whether in person or, these days, on Zoom and the phone.
  • Travel for perspective. We all get caught up in the trappings of those around us, but travel has a way of centering us and granting us far greater perspective. We try to travel as often as we can, and the kids go with us everywhere for the same reason.
  • Give your mind time to wind down before bed. I’m far from a good example here, but I’m most balanced when I can read — ideally not on a screen — before bed. The time away from blue light is nice, and the only time my mind calms down is when I’m not looking at screens.

Much of my expertise focuses on helping people to plan for after retirement. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In addition to the ideas you mentioned earlier, are there things that one should do to optimize mental wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.

Aside from having a financial plan and sticking to it, the biggest advice I can give is to just keep learning; keep the mind engaged and growing. Whether it’s a creative skill or something academic, the act of learning and the community of others doing the same keeps us engaged both mentally and socially. The happiest retired people I’ve met never stopped learning, and looked at that transition as a chance to go enjoy new things for which the newly free time allows.

How about teens and pre teens. Are there any specific new ideas you would suggest for teens and pre teens to optimize their mental wellness?

As my kids approach those ages, social media terrifies me — the social pressures and chatter we dealt with as kids are now broadly networked, always on, and on the record. In younger kids, we focus on screen time, and as they grow older, I’m worried less about screen time and more about the impact of social media. The more we keep kids at that impressionable age active — in the community, in creative and athletic endeavors, and forming real, healthy connections — the better.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

“Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain. I love this book because there’s a whole half of humanity that gets energy and processes information differently that tends to be misunderstood. Selfishly, this was like reading a biography of myself, but it also explained so much of myself that had previously been a mystery. Great for the quieter among us to read to get a better understanding of ourselves, and great for the less quiet among us to read to promote better understanding about how we can all work better together.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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’d be hard pressed to choose between food security and gender equality — both would unlock tremendous gains in global security, health, and productivity, not to mention the broader moral impacts.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou

I try to live — at work and home — with this in mind. We can be direct, we can be generous with feedback of all types, and we can do that in a way that fosters collaboration and a real camaraderie between and among people, groups, and teams.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

LinkedIn

Twitter

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

Thanks for having me!

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