Get speech training and coaching early and often. People who learn to articulate and motivate with confidence become leaders faster. There are many wise people with leadership potential who cannot package their words and thoughts with the efficiency and confidence they need to move others.
As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Moira Vetter. Moira is the founder and CEO of Modo Modo Agency, a strategic creative agency serving Fortune 500 companies and hypergrowth mid-market companies. Modo Modo Agency has won over 275 awards in every category of marketing. In 2019 appeared on the Inc. 5000, the Chief Marketer CM200, and the Entrepreuer360. Moira is an author, a Forbes Contributor and has been recognized for entrepreneurship, including a TiE Atlanta Entrepreneur of the Year and an Enterprising Women EOY. She serves on the Kennesaw State University Executive Advisory Board, the board of non-profit 48in48, the Executive Advisory Board of the Atlanta AMA, and is an advocate for GoBeyondProfit and Conscious Capitalism.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I was born to be a storyteller. I wanted to pursue a film career but ended up working for a tech startup in sales and marketing. Once I met and worked with an agency, from inside the client organization, I was hooked. I moved to the agency side of the world years ago and have helped companies build their brands, engage their customers, and tell their best-kept secrets ever since.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
As someone who is curious, running a company where curiosity is one of our core values, it is tough to narrow this to the one most interesting story. I find that the power of relationships over time leads to the most interesting stories. One of the first hires I made in the agency business years ago, became one of my first employees when I started Modo Modo Agency in 2007. She left to join a client and has been our client for more than ten years at two different companies. Just this month, I introduced her as she won an AMA Marketer of the Year award. We both had recorded videos, unbeknownst to each other, highlighting the power of mentorship and how influential we each have been on each other’s careers. It is wonderful to collaborate with people from the beginning to career maturity who become your greatest friends.
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?
The funniest mistake was believing that getting an office, building a website, getting business cards, and letting people know you’re open for business was entrepreneurship. Being an entrepreneur has little to do with starting, and much to do with having a vision for the future and bootstrapping to get there as you create a swell of wins and successes.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What is it about the position of CEO or executive that most attracted you to it?
I am an ENTJ — a field marshal — in the Myers-Briggs system. I was born to lead, but for much of my early career, I was a “second in command.” At some point, you realize that you’re doing the work of leadership, running the P&L, yet still lack the ultimate accountability and equity. I wasn’t just attracted to the position of CEO; it was who I had to be.
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?
What a CEO does changes over time and over the scale of the business. Early in the business, the CEO has to be the glue that makes ideas, customers, products, and money come together. As the organization scales, the CEO is the person that finds and develops the other leaders who become the glue. In both instances, the CEO is focused on the vision and representing the values, but the way activity and action come to fruition changes over time. As they say, leaders are assessed on their ability to win at their core area, and CEOs are evaluated on their ability to identify and motivate the leaders.
What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?
I am proud of the impact I have and the responsibility of leading a successful organization with thriving customers and employees. Titles and responsibility are hollow, where there is no success.
What are the downsides of being an executive?
If you’re serious about growth and having an exponential impact, you are always the hardest worker in the bunch. I don’t believe those that say you have to work smart, not hard. You have to work smart AND hard. Working hard doesn’t necessarily mean working continuously. Still, at times the smart/hard work requires you to be on when others are off. To put it in perspective, I have been in a business that records timesheets nearly my entire career. Although I have been in the workforce for 32 years, I have logged over 45 years of time on the job. Some people may think that’s sick; to me, it is a point of pride.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive? Can you explain what you mean?
There is a myth that you are important. You are only as important as you decide to be by developing a network of influence and using it to do good.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Women that are decisive and driven are often judged by their peers and seen as disagreeable by some male counterparts. I’m happy to say that my belief system never allowed me to dwell on the differences. Instead, I focused on performance and doing good and rarely experienced these challenges. It was harder when I was younger and looked very young to be taken as seriously as men of the same age. I like to believe that wasn’t because I was a woman, but rather that, like many young women, I lacked confidence at the time.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
People view CEOs and leaders as vocal extroverted people. I find that my greatest success in recent years has come from listening and not being the most vocal person. That’s really hard when you’re a talker. The trick is getting your leaders to be frank and then learning to accept it when they are.
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?
People that aren’t flexible and adaptable should not be executives. You don’t one day become an executive as if you’ve arrived at a destination. Being an executive means existing in a state of continuous challenge, growth, and change. For many, this state of flux is uncomfortable, inconvenient, and generates tremendous anxiety.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Ask your team what they think thriving looks like. Is there alignment between what you see and what they see? If so, ask them how they want to accomplish the growth they envision. If not, you have two choices. You may be willing to change and hand-off some of the vision work to explore their path. Alternately, you may need a different team whose ideas of growth and success align with yours.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful for helping you to get where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Without a doubt, my client and dear friend Carol Godfrey. Our early relationship began with me as a vendor and she as the client. Over time, we both grew into more successful and more scalable professionals who have satisfying personal lives. Carol and I have lived together through corporate restructuring, the life and death and rebirth of client/supplier relationship, professional promotions, getting old, experiencing births and deaths in the family, and so on. Through it all, whether the issue was professional or personal, we have counted on each other’s counsel and caring because we are positive, forward-looking, gracious, and honest. Some people may think that love is a personal thing, and pragmatism and logic is for business. I find that love underlies all my best business relationships (with employees and clients). It is what makes the logic and candor safe and fruitful.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Absolutely, and I’m not done. I mentor many, frequently speak at colleges and professional associations, and I’m looking at teaching a course soon for professionals in my industry. At Modo Modo Agency, we created the DoGooder program 11 years ago. We close the business quarterly for a day and take the entire staff (including out of town team members that we fly in) for onsite volunteering at a charity or non-profit chosen by employees. We have supported over 32 organizations with more than 4,800 hours of volunteer support worth nearly 750,000 dollars in our time. I’m active with GoBeyondProfit and Conscious Capitalism. I was also a founding member of League of Change, and I have served on the boards of non-profits 48in48, GoRedForWomen, Zoo Atlanta, AMA Atlanta, ANA Business Marketing, the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs, and the Kennesaw State University Sales & Marketing Executive Advisory Board.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Make mistakes faster and move on. I was a perfectionist early in my career and took too much time to learn lessons. When I failed, I beat myself up rather than absorb the lesson and quickly apply it. See if you can put your feelings to the side and view yourself as a project.
- Get speech training and coaching early and often. People who learn to articulate and motivate with confidence become leaders faster. There are many wise people with leadership potential who cannot package their words and thoughts with the efficiency and confidence they need to move others.
- Learn to manage for profitability all the time. I spent too many years accepting break-even profitability or small losses when the market conditions or our business situation wasn’t great. Always understand profit, and always design and expand your business from that understanding. The years move fast, and each break-even quarter or year sets you back on investing in the growth you dream of.
- Develop your leaders more quickly, with more honesty. The world moves faster than it did 10 or 20 years ago. You need to develop leadership talent faster, so they succeed in your environment, or they will go somewhere else to move up. If they aren’t willing or able to develop, they will likely end up somewhere else anyway. Your growth is not dependent on your ability to scale your business; it is dependent on your ability to scale your leaders.
- Start writing about what you know earlier. I waited until I was 40 to begin writing professionally. This wasn’t a setback for those that read my work product. It was a setback for me. Writing about what you know — and interviewing others that know more — is the best continuous education available. I have learned more from my writing than I ever have from the courses I took. If I had begun writing in my 20s and 30s, I would have learned even more than I know now.
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 would inspire a movement for women business owners to scale their leadership teams faster, like an Inc. 5000 of Women enterprises. Although women own many businesses, we do not scale them en masse like men. If more women learned to scale their teams and their businesses faster, the impact would be tremendous in job creation and the expansion of often mission-centric enterprises.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Without question, the quote is Winston Churchill, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” People that succeed typically fail early and often. It is critical that you develop the grit to keep moving through chaos and failure. Each time you get through, that’s a new marker or stamina, wisdom, and potential mistakes to avoid as you continue to ascend and expand.
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, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I would love to have breakfast with Peter Thiel. He is successful, invests in the future, is outspoken, and puts his money where his mouth is.
Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today.