Just Launch! If you engage with me, you’ll know that one of my favorite sayings is, “Entrepreneurs build the plane as they fly”. We simply don’t have the luxury to “wait” until the product, service, the initiative is perfect. So often “showing up” is 95% of the win. I’ve seen founders, creative directors, coordinators, fail because they were too riddled with fear to release a deliverable and press go. Fear of what? Fear that the deliverable was not yet “perfect”. Fear that the proposal, flyer, product, pricing, website, speech, banner ad, you name it — could not be released because it’s wasn’t “ready yet”. Fear of failure. That means we must launch with confidence knowing that if we have the right systems in place, the numbers, the feedback, and our gut will guide us through continuous improvement and lead to success.
Asa part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrea Pirrotti-Dranchak.
Andrea Pirrotti-Dranchak is a 20-year veteran of the co-working industry and was recently named Office Evolution’s Chief Marketing and Development Officer. Pirrotti-Dranchak’s career spans thirty years, which includes creating revenue for emerging growth and Fortune 500 companies. An early co-working evangelist, Pirrotti-Dranchak’s depth of sales and marketing experience has supported new product/services, global expansions and new brand rollouts.
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 “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Growing up I had a dream to be a pop star. I played the violin, trumpet, piano and I sang. My parents supported me but provided some “gentle” guidance to have a plan B. My three siblings and father were all attorneys and I knew that wasn’t for me. A path that felt obvious to me was communications. After graduating from Boston University with a BS I landed a job on the business side of the record industry, working for an independent Jazz record label. I had a roll up your sleeves type of job to launch amazing artists to our international team of distributors. I soon realized, the music industry life wasn’t for me. I moved over to WarnerVision, now Warner Home Video, where I was project manager for Tony Little (who outsold Jane Fonda’s fitness videos) and launched new brands like LaCosta spa and SweatTracks. After a stint at Ernst and Young LLP, where they paid for my MBA, I found little satisfaction in trying to drive change at a 500 pound gorilla day after day — I wanted to go back to my roll your sleeves up, entrepreneurial life. I found myself at a little known company called Regus Business Centers, where I was a member of the leadership team that grew the business from $200 million to $1 billion in revenue. We were a small and lean team that brought the company through lifecycles none of us had ever experienced. We birthed the now “coworking” category, achieved unprecedented industry growth, launched new products and services which serve as the foundation for just about every cowoking provider in the world. We acquired a franchise arm that I ran marketing support for, we filed and went public on the NASDAQ and FTSE, we filed for bankruptcy (which I positioned as great news) and emerged in less than a year. Our next move: we acquired our largest competitor. I ran marketing for 65 countries and found myself steering a billion-dollar ship. I was no longer interested. I quit my job — without a job. Bought and flipped a house. And in the same year, I was offered a full-time job at PWC and a fractional job for a development company with $5 billion in mixed real estate assets. In that one year, I gave birth to two children (who are not twins) and I launched my consulting company, where during my tenure I became a fractional CRO to more than 80 companies across 65 countries. After a year of dating, my client Office Evolution, the #1 and fastest growing coworking franchise in the nation invited me to join as their Chief Marketing and Development Officer. The press release announcing my appointment read, “Office Evolution Hires Co-working Industry Rock Star”.
My life came a full 360. While I chose a different path and didn’t become a POP Star singing on a stage, I did achieve ROCK star status amongst my colleagues at Office Evolution.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Covid-19 hit and the world as we know it came to a halting stop. I ran marketing through 9/11 (Regus had a location in the World Trade Center the market downturns in 2000 (I successfully positioned Regus as the seatbelt for the economic rollercoaster) and a bankruptcy (which I positioned as “great news”) and the excitement of the IPO. So, when Covid-19 hit I knew that I had to take pages from my playbook early on in my career when unpredictable times took over the world. Our corporate team at Office Evolution knew we had to provide a beacon of hope. We needed to guide our messaging so that our Ohana (Hawaiian for family) had some semblance of compassion and continuity — business continuity. Our CEO and COO planned franchise owner meetings three times a week where they talked about lease negotiations, retaining members, providing guidance. From a marketing and development standpoint, we knew that our messaging needed to evolve and be nimble with the ebbs and flows of Covid. My creative manager and I would stay up every night developing new messages that we could post to social to guide our narrative. We would come up with the words together and then she would bring them to life. We relaunched our brand book reminding our Ohana (Hawaiian for family) of our core values and unique points of differentiation. We added an FAQ and narrative to show how to use those messages in practice. Every day we launched new messages to share via social. Our members are small business owners who use our coworking spaces to run their business. For them, working is fundamental to putting food on their table. So, we let them know: “Business is Getting Done. Here”. “Business Continuity. Found Here”. “Business UNusual made USusal. Here”. “Your Physical Presence in a Virtual World”. This narrative provided a sense of hope, which was greatly appreciated by members of our Ohana.
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?
I gave my Managing Director’s phone number out on a DM list to 10,000 people! It was 1992 and I was working for GramaVision, an Indy jazz record label distributed by RHIN/WEA. We were announcing a release party, Medeski Martin and Wood via a postcard mailer. I gave the Managing Director’s personal phone number for the RSVP! The great news is, we got a tremendous response (great band, great album), the bad news is the Managing Director’s secretary had to answer a lot of unexpected phone calls! The lesson: getting the details right is paramount.
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?
The power of the “last hurrah” and subsequent pivot. Joanna FitzPatrick who was my first boss, Managing Director at GramaVision records left an indelible mark. Joanna taught me the power of reinventing. The daughter of a Hollywood film producer Joanna had several “last hurrahs” and pivots. I joined her for a last hurrah in Provence, France. We had attended MIPIM, an industry event in Cannes where the Cannes film festival is held, and as we walked la Croisette she announced that she was leaving the label to get her MFA at Sara Lawrence College. She did. And, she has since published several books.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
Mornings are my quiet time. I lay in bed with a pillow over my head (with my nose out) so that it’s dark and I’m not distracted by light or sound and take a journey through the narrative of the event from different perspectives. Once I have the complete story line in my mind, I’m relaxed and confident to take “whatever it is” on.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
Allow me to start with what may be a bold statement. Diversity without inclusion does not work.Let me share why. When you have a diverse group of people working together without the tools to celebrate that diversity, and to bring out the best from that diversity, then the true power of innovation that is inherent in inclusion will not be realized. Moreover, there are statistics that prove the power of inclusion and the impact of inclusion on innovation. So when companies move beyond D&I as a compliance requirement and drive a cultural shift towards inclusion the business benefits and D&I moves to a core, and mission critical aspect of the business.
As a fundamental, having diverse representation at senior leadership levels sends a clear message to the workforce and the public, that the celebration diversity is indeed a priority and that promises of inclusion are more than PR and lip-service.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
There are three ingredients that will contribute to advancing a more equitable society- Empathy, Compassion, and Collaboration. These three components need to occur within all of us in our households, communities, and workplaces. Elevating underrepresented voices, and providing a platform for discussion is the vital first step. Equity only occurs when underrepresented voices are elevated by an establishment group, we only advance change and mutually beneficial growth when we collaborate.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. 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?
An executive establishes the prize — that incredible “prize” that each member of the team will play an integral and vital role to achieve. The executive keeps each person, individually, and the team as a whole focused, energized and motivated. The executive empowers each individual to fulfill their role enabling them to achieve their personal best. The executive removes barriers, breaks down silos and drives inclusion. Perhaps most important, the executive is visible and accountable. The executive is a good listener who has a clear vision for the business and his team. The executive is never too proud to say, “I appreciate you.”
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
I am NOT an expert in most things!I pursued and received my MBA early on in my career to gain exposure into all areas of business. And, I have had the opportunity to work with a wide variety of amazing people who I learn from. So, I do know what I don’t know. I am quite good about knowing how to surround myself with people who have diverse ideas — ideas different than mine- and how to break down silos and open opportunity for voices to be heard and those ideas to be fostered and brought to fruition.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
I gave birth to two babies, who are not twins, in one year. Our son was born on January 9, 2007, and our daughter on December 5, 2007. I worked up until the day of going into labor, in the room while in labor, I never took a day of maternity leave. I was concerned that if I left, I would be out of the game and marginalized. I had seen it happen before and was concerned it would happen to me. We will never know, but I didn’t want to leave it up to chance.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
When I sit down in a meeting, I put my phone on the table, face up with the ringer off. I let the folks in the meeting know that the only time I will pick up the phone is if my children or husband call. My family clearly understands the only time they are to call me during the day is with an emergency. Yes, occasionally asking for a play date turns up as an emergency, but I quickly learned that type of call is a call out to connect. A text, or an email is fine, but “the call” is the red flag. My job, the work I do, the people I work with is what I dreamed it would be. The striking difference is the push pull between the job I actually get paid for and the job where the lifetime development of a human is at stake.
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? Can you explain what you mean?
Every day, I feel that I am sprinting a marathon and there is always someone nipping at my heals to try to pass me.Do you know who that person is behind me? Me. Every day I try to better myself. I try to tear down my assumptions. Identify gaps in my execution. To be better than the person I was in the mirror the night before.
Just this morning my son told me that he was frustrated by a person who continues to show off how “amazing” at rowing he is. I asked my son (not for the first time) to look in the mirror and to know the only person he is in competition with is himself. The only person he has to be better at rowing than is the person he looks at each day. He is not the best rower in the group, but the fruits of his labor are paying off as each day he betters his performance and becomes a more powerful member of the team.
The message is — As the person who is in competition with others, you risk mediocracy because you limit your results against the abilities of someone else.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Give your team something to believe in. A prize to rally around.My daughter’s soccer team ran an entire season with no subs. No bench. Zero. Hot weather. Freezing cold. Rain. Injuries. They showed up. Each brought their best for that game and they played. They lost often but showed up to practice and games with the same zeal. The swan song was the Memorial Day 3-day tournament. They were so conditioned, that while other teams lost steam by playing game after game, my daughter’s team of underdogs won the entire tournament. I learned this early on in my career when our team launched Regus in the Americas. (1) Establish the prize. (2) Let each person know the critical importance of his/her unique role in achieving that prize. (3) Establish key performance indicators and ways to measure success. (4) Guide optimization. (5) Lead by example. Show your team that you believe; that you’re willing to do your part to capture the “prize”. Never give up.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
One person at a time. The only way I know how to make the world a better place is to display true empowerment, encouragement, and support of individuals — in action. I make human connections and I do my best to make each count. I try to identify areas that people feel are special about themselves. Areas the individual may not even truly be aware of. I endeavor to nurture and grow those traits, so each individual achieves his / her best. I’ve done this throughout my career. When individuals feel good about themselves, when they feel supported and included, the natural inclination is to progress that feeling. It truly works.
Someone once asked my direct report what it was like to work on my team and he said, “If you have the opportunity to work on Andrea’s team, you’ll work harder than you ever have in your life, you’ll learn more than you ever have, you’ll be empowered, nurtured and appreciated.” The satisfaction comes when I see the transformation in the individual and when that individual passes the mentoring forward.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- When you make a mistake. Keep going! I was the lead in the 8th grade play. I forgot the words to my song, so I simply stopped singing, said sh*t and walked off the stage. I wanted to be perfect, and when I wasn’t, I needed everyone listening to know that I knew that I was not perfect! I learned later in my career that if you just keep going, with your head up high, shoulders back, and a smile, that “mistakes” are often not even noticed by the audience (whoever they are).
- Never be afraid of “the numbers”. Embrace them. Numbers are you friend. Establish “the prize”. Map out the plan to achieve the prize. Put measurements in place to determine the key elements of the plan are working. The numbers guide the way to tell you what to double down on, optimize and indeed abandon.
- Just Launch! If you engage with me, you’ll know that one of my favorite sayings is, “Entrepreneurs build the plane as they fly”. We simply don’t have the luxury to “wait” until the product, service, the initiative is perfect. So often “showing up” is 95% of the win. I’ve seen founders, creative directors, coordinators, fail because they were too riddled with fear to release a deliverable and press go. Fear of what? Fear that the deliverable was not yet “perfect”. Fear that the proposal, flyer, product, pricing, website, speech, banner ad, you name it — could not be released because it’s wasn’t “ready yet”. Fear of failure. That means we must launch with confidence knowing that if we have the right systems in place, the numbers, the feedback, and our gut will guide us through continuous improvement and lead to success.
- Assume the Sale: My mother loves to tell me stories about the early stages of dating my father. About three weeks into their courting, my father, an attorney, took my mother to a business function. There she was, a young schoolteacher (valedictorian of her HS class) engaging with her new man in an unfamiliar setting. And, to top it off some other woman in a ravishing outfit was flirting with her date! She was a fish out of water and feeling uneasy. Rather than falling prey to her insecurities she assumed the role of the person she wanted to be — the wife of her new man, and a partner in their success. She reminded me of this story when I was determined to get a Marketing Director role in my late 20s. She told me to dress the part of the leader I wanted to be — right down to carrying a briefcase (no laptop bags then) even if I had nothing to hold in it. Assume the sale.
- You can’t learn if your lips are flapping: I sat next to a CEO of a financial services company on a flight to Miami. He shared with me some words of wisdom, “Andrea, my parents always told me, you can’t learn if you’re flapping your lips.” To be clear, he wasn’t telling me to stop talking (I don’t think he was anyway), he was sharing his philosophy, one he feels people should but don’t subscribe to. At that moment, I had a flashback to my first job out of college at GramaVision Records, where the GM told me underneath her breath to shut up while I was in the middle of a negotiation. She later let me know that if I had listened, I would have heard that I had already won the prospect over. She knew because she was listening. Listening is part of the magic. Active listening, leaning forward, engaging, participating while listening is the key.
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.
A commitment to be a part of the solution. We have all seen it time and time again. There are throngs of people out there who are ready, willing and able to tear down ideas. Telling someone why they are wrong is so easy. However, it solves nothing. Being a part of the solution by identifying, exposing and bringing to life the opportunity is where the magic can be found. If we all committed to building upon ideas, offering alternatives to ideas rather that tearing apart ideas, the world would truly be a better place. This doesn’t require technology, or investment of money. This only required commitment, and investment in progressing thought.
Can you please give us your favorite” Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The life lesson quote is from my mother. I was going through a challenging time and she said, “Andrea, raise your tolerance for discomfort.”. And it was that simple. When I think it’s too much or I can’t handle something I think about those five simple words. Those words drive me and compel me to figure out how to prevail.
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
Alex Morgan, #13 of the NWSL. Her accomplishments are many. Her physical and mental strength are palpable. She is an inspiration to my daughter who is 12, a high honors student and lover of soccer. She is determined to follow in Alex’s footsteps and attend Berkeley.