Samantha A. Flax: “You have to learn to separate yourself from work”

You have to learn to separate yourself from work. When you are a COO of your company, it is easy to want to be immersed in your work all of the time. It takes energy and time to separate your work life from family life when you are in that role. Since having children, but […]

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You have to learn to separate yourself from work. When you are a COO of your company, it is easy to want to be immersed in your work all of the time. It takes energy and time to separate your work life from family life when you are in that role. Since having children, but even more now, I make an effort to mute my phone and put it in a room where I will not see it when I am with my children. I know that in doing that, I can be fully present with them. This is not easy for me, but I know that it works! The phone calls and emails can wait.

As a part of our series about powerful women, I had the pleasure of interviewing Samantha A. Flax the COO of Flax & Associates, LLC. Ms. Flax is responsible for all day-to-day operations, administration, human resources, marketing and business development for the firm. Ms. Flax is a Florida licensed attorney and member of the Florida Bar and Southern District of Florida. She is also a licensed insurance professional in both property and casualty as well as surplus lines in the State of Florida. She holds a Juris Doctor from Nova Southeastern University and is a graduate of the George Washington University with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. Prior to founding Flax & Associates, Ms. Flax was the Marketing Director at Lubell Rosen. She was also the event coordinator for the annual meetings for the nation’s largest groups of OB-GYNS including Florida Woman Care, UWH of North Carolina and Unified Women’s Health of Texas. Ms. Flax also has experience as a litigator having worked at several law firms throughout her career in South Florida. Ms. Flax is always eager to share her expertise and industry insight, and has been invited to serve as a panelist at the Loss Executives Association annual meeting and educational conference. In addition to her legal, marketing, and event planning background, Ms. Flax is a certified life and health coach, dating and relationship coach and matchmaker. Ms. Flax is also a member of AIPAC, the Boca Chamber of Commerce and FemCity. Ms. Flax enjoys spending time with her husband and their four children. She loves the beach, sunshine, a good book and great wine.

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?

Growing up, I always thought I would be a doctor. Both of my parents are physicians and on each side of my family, there are many members in the medical field. After my first year in college as a pre-med student, my gut was telling me that I was pursuing the wrong path. The problem was I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. This is one of the first moments in my life where I knew that taking action would help me decide. At the time, I was at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C., so I applied and interned for a year on Capitol Hill. Interning on Capitol Hill was an amazing experience to be a part of and it led me to pursue a career as a lawyer. After years of study and practicing law, that internal gut feeling nudged at me again telling me that I was not doing what I was meant to do. It took a lot of courage, but I decided to leave the practice of law and take time to figure out who I was. I studied Holistic Health, became a life coach specializing in dating and relationships and even earned my certification as a matchmaker. I loved working with people and helping them find themselves and in turn, find love. While working in that field was rewarding, it was not conducive to my life as a mom and I found an opportunity to use my background in law and in coaching to do business development for a law firm. Throughout my career journey, I always thought about doing meaningful work, my way and on my time. I come from an extremely entrepreneurial family and because of that, I knew deep down that to be the mom, the wife and the career woman I wanted to be, I had to be in control of those ever-changing moving parts of my life. My husband agreed. In 2017, we opened Flax & Associates and I feel that every experience I’ve had has led me to this role. My legal background, marketing in the legal world and even my experience and knowledge in life coaching, has culminated and proved to be so valuable in my role as Co-Founder and COO of Flax & Associates.

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

Most recently, I was invited to be on the panel for a conference that is one of the most well-known in our industry. I come from a completely different background than the work we do, so to be invited and accepted onto a panel with other professionals in our industry is truly an honor.

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?

One of the best parts of owning and being an executive of Flax & Associates is that I own and run my business with my husband. While for many that would be a huge challenge, it works for us! A big reason for that is that we can laugh at each other. We have had many funny situations since we started Flax & Associates and one that sticks out is during our first holiday season. That year, I thought I had given myself plenty of time to order gifts and have them sent to clients. I quickly found out that I was wrong. Not only did I not order the gifts in time, the company we had ordered them from had run out of the gifts we ordered and could not replace them with anything in time. As you can imagine for a new business, this would be disastrous! We were in a tizzy, but let it go and decided to run all over South Florida, buy the gifts, wrap them and deliver them just in time. We also took our three children (now we have four) all over town to make it happen. You can probably imagine what that looked like! Suffice it to say, we laughed the entire time and knew that in the years to come, that this could never happen again. I can report that it has not!

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?

Being that I am the oldest of five children, I think I am a natural born leader. I have essentially been in training for this role my entire life. I also love making other people feel good about themselves and help them reach their potential. Nothing makes me happier than seeing someone accomplish something that they have always dreamed of and for me to know that I had a hand in that. It’s really special for me. Being in the role of COO allows that to happen for me all the time. Don’t get me wrong, it takes a huge investment in time, money and energy, but I am a firm believer that impacting one person can impact the world. Isn’t that why we are all here?

Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a COO. 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 is responsible for creating and maintaining the company’s culture. Of the many hats I wear, I know that creating a positive company culture is one of the main secrets to a company’s success. When your team is happy to come to work, everyone feels it, including your clients. I want everyone that works with me to feel proud to be a member of Flax & Associates. I also want them to know that they matter and that everything they do impacts the company in some way.

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

I really enjoy connecting with my team. My favorite part of the day is when one of my team members comes to me for advice or when we meet to discuss their successes, what areas they can improve on and most importantly, what they want out of their time at Flax & Associates.

What are the downsides of being an executive?

People disappoint you. You spend a lot of time investing in your team and you want to do everything you can to help them reach their potential for themselves and for the company. I also think that it can be lonely. Nobody can really understand what your days are like and what you devote to your company to make it successful. It also goes without saying that everything stops with you. That is a lot of pressure for one person. I like to believe that I rise to the challenges of being an executive every day and do it with a smile on my face.

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

I think that people view executives as people that are not working as hard as their team. The most successful executives I know work harder than anyone I have ever met, myself included. Everything that happens in a company falls on the shoulders of the executives. I work on being in tune with my team and checking in with myself, because I know that my company is only as successful, in both time and money, as my investment in them and myself.

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

I love this question! With all the strides we have made, I think there continues to be a double standard with women. There are so many instances I have encountered where I know if a man had acted, said or done something I did, no one would blink an eye. The expectations put on women in terms of their behavior or appearance is definitely greater for women than it is for men. I think that is true for society as a whole. In an executive role, women and men, are held to a higher standard. And for female executives, the standard seems to be way higher than it is for men. In some cases, it is almost unachievable. With that said, I have learned that being true to myself and feeling good about who I am and the decisions I make, allows me to brush off situations where there are blatant double standards.

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

There is so much that goes on each day that no one sees. In a more defined role, I knew what the goal for my job was and did everything I could and needed to do to accomplish that goal. As an executive, I have clearly defined work and work that is not as tangible. Every day is different, including desk work, maintaining client relationships, motivating my team, strategizing for each quarter and so much more.

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 believe someone in a leadership role needs to be comfortable with taking accountability. Everyone is watching you and everything about your company comes from the top. I think you must be open to new ideas, especially the ones your team members bring to you. Companies, in some ways, are living, breathing organisms. The company has an eco-system that is very delicate. Being one step ahead and spending the time to invest in your team is crucial to maintaining the balance you need to succeed. You must be a risk taker, a cheerleader and most importantly, always be there for your team. When you are there for them, they are there for you and your clients.

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

At the heart of every business are its people. I think women spend too much time (myself included), worrying about being too feminine or not “manly” enough. There is so much power in who we are. Our teams need us to be authentic, so they can have permission to be themselves. That diversity brings new ideas and truly helps a team thrive.

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 feel very lucky because from the beginning, my parents were always invested in my success. My mom showed me what it’s like to earn respect and be incredible at what you do but continue to be humble. Most importantly, she showed me how to be an amazing mom and also have a career. My dad always encouraged me to be my best and achieve success in whatever way I defined it. My parents have supported me throughout my entire life, and I can’t imagine getting to where I am now without them cheering me on.

I am also so grateful for my husband. He has seen me at my best, has seen me at my worst and loves me anyway. He has always supported me and continues to support me in becoming the woman I want to be. Whether it is at the workplace or in our home, he has always made it known to me, that his support for me is unwavering. Most recently, we had a fourth child and I questioned my role within Flax & Associates. I came to him crying because I felt that I was just being pulled in too many directions which is something I know every working mom feels! I asked him whether our kids would be better off if I stayed home and left my role at Flax & Associates. Right away he answered, that without question, they would all be better off seeing me as someone who had the opportunity to do something I love every day. He knows me and knows how much of an impact having a working mom had on my life. He knows that deep down I would not want it any other way. I am so proud of how far we have come and what we are building together. I am thankful I have a partner in life, who sees the things I don’t and says the words, I need to hear.

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 need thicker skin than you already have. When you start a business, your business is your baby, so unfortunately everything is personal! You learn that not everyone is empathetic. I learned from reading The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz that people don’t necessarily react to you, they are projecting their reality onto you and whatever they are saying or doing usually has nothing to do with you. Even so, it’s hard to separate. Most recently, I was in a business meeting where the person I was dealing with was completely unreasonable. When I called attention to their behavior, they gave me a condescending response and made me feel like I was being unreasonable. When I recounted the meeting to a mentor of mine, they first asked me, why was I even dealing with someone like them? I laughed and learned that I can’t let people, like that individual, affect me in that way.
  2. The people that work for you will impact you in ways you could never imagine. My team is my family. When they disappoint or when they exceed my expectations, I feel it all! It has been harder to swallow the disappointments and I never thought about how those would impact me, even though, of course I knew that the road would not always be smooth. Since founding and becoming COO of Flax & Associates, I have learned that my team will be all things. We will celebrate successes and deal with disappointments. The highs and lows are real. I don’t think I knew the depth of what that meant until I was in it. I have learned that it is unavoidable to be impacted, but I am more selective in how deep I will let that go.
  3. No one will love your company the way you do. The truth is, you cannot expect anyone to work for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. When you own and are the COO of your company, it is natural to go the extra mile every single day. I have the most amazing team on this earth, but I can’t expect them to be in Flax & Associates mode all the time. I have learned that not only is that OK, it actually makes them incredible employees.
  4. You will be pushed in a way you could never imagine, and then you will go some more. There is nothing like being your own boss and building a company the way you want to. I pride myself in building a company I would want to work for. You can’t just wake up and expect your company to be that way. It takes a lot of effort, dedication and hard work. I don’t use those words lightly. When we opened Flax & Associates, I knew that it would take a lot, but I didn’t know what I was capable of until I was in it!
  5. You have to learn to separate yourself from work. When you are a COO of your company, it is easy to want to be immersed in your work all of the time. It takes energy and time to separate your work life from family life when you are in that role. Since having children, but even more now, I make an effort to mute my phone and put it in a room where I will not see it when I am with my children. I know that in doing that, I can be fully present with them. This is not easy for me, but I know that it works! The phone calls and emails can wait.

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 start a campaign to teach and build confidence. We are in a phase of the world where people value who they are based on things that are outside of themselves. In the era of social media, external validation is more prevalent than ever. Unfortunately, the circumstances that provide that validation are fleeting and can leave you empty and feeling worthless. Without a true foundation of who you are, your confidence can really suffer. The world moves so fast and knowing who you are and feeling confident in who you are will help you navigate anything that comes your way.

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

“We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it.” — Charles R .Swindoll

Right away, I think, “well ain’t that the truth.” I have learned that there are very few things I can control in my life. One of those few things is my attitude. I look back on different situations I have been in and wish I could have reacted differently. I look back on other situations and I am proud of my reactions. I have learned that while I can’t control other people, I can do my best to control myself. Knowing that I have that power is freeing and quite remarkable.

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

OPRAH! Oprah is the ultimate example of a person who, just by being who she is, impacts the world. I think that we all have this notion that we have to be famous or have many followers to make an impact, but I truly believe that we have an opportunity to impact the world every day. For example, smiling at the barista who serves you your coffee or taking the time to listen to someone talk about what they are going through. That smile or listening may make their day better and in turn, would make the people they interact or deal with every day happier. From there it’s a ripple effect. Oprah positively impacts people every day, by who she listens to, who she interviews, how she chooses to run her businesses and more. She is conscious of her platform and truly tries to make the world a better place. I hope that in some small way, in my role, I am doing the same.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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