…It would be a “Reach Your Full Potential Movement.” We have women across the country sitting on their God-given gifts in the same way people used to save money under their mattresses. There are better places to invest that money and there are better places to share your gifts than solely within the walls of their homes. Women acknowledging their own power and giving themselves not just permission, but the push to reach their potential — it would make the world better, safer, more profitable and happier. Think of all the brain power that is sitting on the sidelines. It breaks my heart just thinking about it.
As a part of our series about powerful women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Samantha Ettus, Founder, Park Place Payments. Sam Ettus has devoted her career to supporting women in all aspects of their professional and personal lives. With the goal of helping women achieve and maintain financial independence, she launched Park Place Payments, an award winning company that has revolutionized the credit card processing space since it entered the fintech landscape last year. Since earning both her undergraduate and MBA degrees from Harvard, Sam has become a best-selling author of five books, a renowned speaker and host of a nationally syndicated call-in radio show. Sam’s most recent book is The Pie Life: A Guilt Free Recipe for Success and Satisfaction. She writes a popular weekly work/life newsletter and penned a Washington Post Op-Ed that landed in the top 10 Op-eds in 2017. Sam makes regular national television appearances on shows including NBC News, Good Morning America, the TODAY Show and The Doctors, among others. She has been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, Inc, The Washington Post, Fast Company and Success Magazine. She speaks frequently at corporations ranging from Twitter to Comerica and has given two TEDx talks. She was the host of leading Internet talk show Obsessed TV, which she created and produced with entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk. Sam is Co-Founder of the Los Angeles Women’s Collective, aimed at supporting women to run for office and win. She serves on the advisory board of the Forbes School of Business and Technology. Sam lives in Los Angeles with her husband and three children.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Samantha! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I have been working with women on their careers for years and the one group I was unable to help were those that had left the workforce and wanted to return. Though they had previously been professionally successful, with even just two years out of the workforce, they returned to find no opportunities or extremely limited ones. They are smart and motivated, so I created an opportunity for them and together we are growing Park Place Payments into a next generation merchant services provider.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Where do I begin? Every day is filled with the highs and lows of being an entrepreneur and then when you couple that with being in an industry that has been resistant to change… well every day is an adventure! What’s clear in our journey so far is that although the payment processing industry has been resistant to change, once you disrupt a stuck industry, you get notice, recognition and praise — Park Place reviewed an award for top performing newcomer in our region, I was a keynote at Money 2020 (the biggest Fintech conference), and industry journalists have theirs eyes on us as industry disruptors.
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?
Let’s just say that finding our first office space on Craig’s List might not have been my best decision. The comedy of errors that arose from that choice are endless. Think insect infestations, sewage issues, parking problems and another tenant who saw the number of women working here and asked if we were just a front for another kind of business.
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 didn’t get into this to be a CEO, I started this company to solve problems. On one side, women’s financial independence, and on the business side, fixing the lack of transparency in the payments industry and making a positive impact on small to medium businesses.
Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
The biggest difference is that as a CEO, the weight of the business is on your shoulders. You can be on vacation or at home but you are never ever rid of that responsibility. I feel enormous pressure to make our company a smashing success — for our employees, for our investors and for our clients who have come to rely on Park Place.
What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?
I love the impact our company is having on women and businesses across the country. And I love meeting new people and hearing their stories and being part of a change in their lives. This job offers that in spades.
What are the downsides of being an executive?
The weight of your responsibilities never dissipates.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
Being a CEO is not a power trip. Rather, it is a largely lonely ride, because at the end of the day, the buck stops with you. The decision is yours to make for better or worse. Do well and give credit to your collective team, do poorly and take responsibility for your poor choices.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
There are fewer women at the top so naturally, we are outnumbered at conferences, in meetings, and in boardrooms. This makes it so that we are left out of conversations, of decisions and often just left out of the option to get the opportunity at all.
Gratefully, we now have financial statistics to back up what we already knew. Companies with more women in executive leadership and more women at the board level perform markedly stronger. So it isn’t just diversity for social good, it impacts the bottom line. This is why adding more women in any industry has everlasting positive ripple effects both socially and economically.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I walked into this with my eyes wide open so there haven’t been too many surprises. I might have been slightly naïve about the time required to manage people. On the other hand, I have an incredible team and I have come to realize that I can do more to propel the company when I am out and about than in the office managing. My team needs me to be “semi-present.” There is a happy medium and I am still figuring out where that line is.
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?
There isn’t one personality type. I am an empath so I care deeply, sometimes too much, about how everyone is feeling. I sense a bad mood or unhappiness before it fully manifests. This can be a distraction to success. On the other hand, if I wasn’t a feeler, I think I would miss certain opportunities. So I believe that there isn’t one personality that would lead to success. Instead, I think the commonality of successful leaders is a hard core work ethic and extreme confidence. Hard work for obvious reasons and confidence because you have to make countless decisions in a day and you can’t move fast if you are second guessing yourself. I also think being competitive is a huge plus in this job. Like many CEOS, I like to win. If you don’t care about winning, leading a business might not be for you.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Be deliberate about the people in your mix. If you are raising money, be disciplined about only taking money from people who are aligned with your values and mission. Use this mentality when you hire as well. Hire smartly and once you do, be generous. When your team is financially incentivized, everyone is more likely to work towards the same goals.
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 credit my mom with raising me as a feminist and exposing me to the importance of financial independence. When I was 11 years old, I was in the elevator with my mom in our apartment building and we ran into Mrs. Riles. When we got out of the elevator, my mom told me that Mrs. Riles hates her husband but has no money of her own so she can’t afford to leave him. Her message was clear: “Don’t become Mrs. Riles. Don’t depend on a man.” Crass delivery, sure, but it was powerful.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I have spent years working with women to achieve their best professionally and personally. Launching Park Place Payments marks the best part of my career because I can truly mobilize women to achieve financial independence when they join our company. Running a for-profit company rooted in a strong social mission will lead to sustainable change. If I can inject thousands of financially independent women back into the economy, it is a win of enormous scale — for them, for their families, for everyone impacted by their financial power.
If I had all the money in the world, I would focus on prison reform. Hopefully in the future, I will have the resources to make a difference there.
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.
It would be a “Reach Your Full Potential Movement.” We have women across the country sitting on their God-given gifts in the same way people used to save money under their mattresses. There are better places to invest that money and there are better places to share your gifts than solely within the walls of their homes. Women acknowledging their own power and giving themselves not just permission, but the push to reach their potential — it would make the world better, safer, more profitable and happier. Think of all the brain power that is sitting on the sidelines. It breaks my heart just thinking about it.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
It is a quote I came up with a few years ago and my life is infused with it. “Don’t live life in the past lane.” I used to be a competitive tennis player and if you stop to admire your good shot, you will miss the next one. In that same vein, if you are busy kicking yourself over missing an opportunity, you might not see the next one.
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
I have had the good fortune to meet some incredible women in my lifetime from Oprah to Gloria Steinem to Barbara Corcoran and Hillary Clinton. I have never met RBG so that would be a thrill, and Nancy Pelosi too. I am obsessed with any woman who uses her voice and her gifts for the greater good.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.