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Sherry Orel: “I’d like to start a movement to promote ‘calculated fearlessness’ for women”

…Particularly for women, I would love to promote “calculated fearlessness.” I’m sometimes asked “what made me think I could do” some of the things I’ve accomplished. I remember in high school, I was a fast, spunky gymnast and sprinter and not particularly tall. As a freshman on the track team, I was jogging past the […]


…Particularly for women, I would love to promote “calculated fearlessness.” I’m sometimes asked “what made me think I could do” some of the things I’ve accomplished. I remember in high school, I was a fast, spunky gymnast and sprinter and not particularly tall. As a freshman on the track team, I was jogging past the high jump pits while another athlete was preparing to jump. I had never attempted high jump before but was feeling silly so I sprinted in front of them, jumped over the bar and scooted off the mats. I didn’t realize the coach was nearby and I heard him yelling at me. Fearing that I was in trouble, what I thought he was saying was “why did you do that/what were you thinking”. I apologized and then realized what he was actually saying was, “What made you think you could do that?” I didn’t understand the question, and he clarified that I had just cleared the bar that was only a couple inches below state qualifying height, and he wanted to know what motivated me to try that when I had never tried a lower height. This was “ignorant fearlessness.” I later channeled this mindset into calculated fearlessness, as I’ve become more experienced over the years. Having the attitude of “how hard can it be?” can be liberating. Everything is impossible until somebody does it.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Sherry Orel. Sherry is the CEO of Scentered, an aromatherapy company with a Wellbeing Ritual that teaches people how to use the power of scent to mindfully transition from moment to moment throughout your daily journey. Previously, Orel was CEO of Brand Connections, a private equity held NYC based marketing services agency.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve spend the past 25+ years on the agency marketing services side of the business helping companies like P&G, Unilever and Target market their products and services to consumers. That experience has been very useful as I focus on building a CPG brand poised to create a new category in the health & wellness space.

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

The story of how I got here is interesting in itself. In September of 2017, I traveled to Scotland for a women’s business event. I had just completed the sale of my last company the month prior and while I was still reeling from the exhausting transaction, I knew I was ready for a new adventure. It was there that I met my now partner, Lara Morgan. We realized our careers ran in parallel paths and after a successful personal exit, she was now running a family office investing in brands she was passionate about. After a year of “long distance dating” which included many calls, emails and meetings in 3 different countries- she entrusted me to take the reigns of Scentered. It’s not often that two strong women “across the pond” from each other can team up as well as we have.

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 learned the importance of communication very early. My company is UK based and while we largely speak the same language, I quickly realized that I needed to ask clarifying questions to make sure we were always on the same page. Simple things like referring to Christmas timing as “holiday” caused confusion with my UK counterparts who assumed I was talking about their vacation when I was actually talking about our seasonal gifting strategy. Seeing my team’s face glaze over when I would refer to “Monday morning quarterbacking” and getting consensus on whether we speak in a British or American accent in our consumer copy (mum versus mom or minimize versus minimise) caused all of us to shift our thinking to make sure we are always aligned.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We are the only company in the aromatherapy space that has created a Wellbeing Ritual, a system that uses different scents designed to work together throughout your day to help you mindfully and deliberately transition between everyday mind states. Your 10:00 meeting might be to give someone a promotion, while your 11:00 is to put someone on notice, and we rely purely on our strength of character to make these mental shifts to navigate between moods, settings and desired outcomes on a moment’s notice. We are teaching people how to create their desired mental states using the power of scent, both reactively (as our human brains have evolved to do so subconsciously) and now also proactively using our Wellbeing Ritual. A great example is how I use our “I Want To Be Happy” blend. I’m so grateful that my commute now consists of the 8 stairs from my home office to my kitchen, so about 30 minutes before I end my workday and shift from CEO to mom, I light a “Happy” candle and express thoughts of gratitude. Once the beautiful citrus aroma makes its way to my son’s room where he’s doing his homework, it’s an unspoken cue that he can come up to my office and chat. We’ve all experienced the sensation of having a smell bring us back in time, whether it’s the whiff of a cologne your best friend wore or the smell of a dish cooking that your grandmother made. This scent is that connection to quality time spent with my son. It’s quite amazing when you realize how to unleash this power within yourself and others.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We are expanding our hospitality line to include our “I Want To De-Stress” blend in shampoo, conditioner, hand & body wash and lotion. We are the first refillable brand to be made with 100% recycled plastic bottles. As more people and governments move towards the elimination of single-use plastics, we are excited to be leading in the hospitality space.

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

You’re not a “female leader.” You’re a leader who happens to be female. As a woman, you will naturally bring certain elements to the party that differ from your male colleagues. Embrace this competitive advantage. If you view yourself as an underdog, others will too.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Same advice, set the “female” part aside. Stereotypically, women are “nurturers” and are considered more emotional, and therefore are sometimes expected or compelled to “be nice.” I love the quote that “well-behaved women seldom make history.” Resist the compulsion to be “nice” when you should be decisive and firm. Be consistent, so the people who report to you will come to expect certain levels of support from you while accepting clear accountability for their own actions. But don’t go overboard. The line between confidence and arrogance is thin and changes by circumstance. Strive to find the balance.

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?

My first mentor, Gail Sharp, was a powerhouse in a male-dominated environment. She proudly wore her 4 inch stilettos into any boardroom and wasn’t shy with her opinions, which were delivered unapologetically and, more often than not, were right. She taught me the importance of preparing, and over-preparing, for importing meetings. One of my first big meetings was presenting to a group of executives in NYC. It was a great opportunity for exposure and Gail made it clear it was my show to run and she would be there for support. I flew in from Chicago the day before and ploughed through a random box of sales slides to present using an old-fashioned carousel (yes, I’m dating myself). It was a disaster as the slides were all made for different purposes with no consistent format or story flow. Gail came in the next morning a couple hours before the big meeting. She was less than pleased with what I had prepared and made a frantic effort to reorganize it into something somewhat respectable, while making it very clear that I should have allowed more time, perhaps had custom slides created, and other “constructive” suggestions delivered very directly. I had spent the entire night before memorizing the previous slides and now going into the meeting had no idea what slides were still included or the order they would appear. We were one of several companies presenting to this group and the last on the agenda. As each company presented with finesse and elegance, choreographed like a well-conducted symphony, I sank deeper into my chair, preparing to sound like a pre-school violin recital. I was so wrapped up in my own doom that I hadn’t noticed Gail beginning to sweat. When it was my turn to rise and face my fate, she grabbed my leg under the table, took a deep breath and stood up. Her presentation was a blur of relief for escaping a catastrophe and fear of the repercussions for having put her in that position. After the meeting, ready for my tongue lashing, instead- she apologized. She took personal responsibility for not asking enough questions about the purpose for the meeting and the caliber of the audience. She shared that I would have been completely in over my head no matter what I did, at that stage of my career and that she should not have put me in a position to fail. It was a great lesson in preparation for both of us that I have never forgotten.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

When I began thinking about my next adventure after selling my company, I knew that I wanted to be involved in a business that had the ability to help people live happier lives and reach their potential. I believe that every professional experience has led me to this opportunity with Scentered to create a product that will do just that. Benjamin Franklin suggested we could, “do well by doing good,” and I believe that the mission of Scentered fits that ideal. When we are doing well as a company, we’re doing good for our consumers mental wellness.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Over my career I have come to rely on 5 principles that guide my actions and that are used throughout my companies as pillars of our culture.

The first is Accountability. We have to be personally accountable for the outcomes of our actions and expect our peers to hold themselves accountable for theirs as well.

Consistency. It’s better to be consistently average than veering between fantastic and awful. An organization can plan around skill or knowledge gaps, but when someone capable of greatness under-delivers, it stresses an organization.

Effectiveness. No matter how many hours you put in, if the work output isn’t hitting the mark, you might be in the wrong role. Managers need to understand the difference between when training can improve performance versus when someone just isn’t cut out for the job.

Harmony. It doesn’t matter if you’re the top salesperson or the most talented strategist, if you are negative, gossipy or unsupportive of the company vision, you’ve got to go. The impact of one negative nelly can disrupt an entire office.

Empowerment. Delegation is a two-way street. Managers need to train their team with the skills and knowledge they need, and them let them loose to succeed and fail. If they always feel like they have a safety net, they won’t take full responsibility. When they fail (and they sometimes will), resist the urge to take back responsibilities. Instead, dissecting the failure to adjust process, filling knowledge gaps or providing alternative solutions will make them stronger and smarter the next time.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire 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. 🙂

Particularly for women, I would love to promote “calculated fearlessness.” I’m sometimes asked “what made me think I could do” some of the things I’ve accomplished. I remember in high school, I was a fast, spunky gymnast and sprinter and not particularly tall. As a freshman on the track team, I was jogging past the high jump pits while another athlete was preparing to jump. I had never attempted high jump before but was feeling silly so I sprinted in front of them, jumped over the bar and scooted off the mats. I didn’t realize the coach was nearby and I heard him yelling at me. Fearing that I was in trouble, what I thought he was saying was “why did you do that/what were you thinking”. I apologized and then realized what he was actually saying was, “What made you think you could do that?” I didn’t understand the question, and he clarified that I had just cleared the bar that was only a couple inches below state qualifying height, and he wanted to know what motivated me to try that when I had never tried a lower height. This was “ignorant fearlessness.” I later channeled this mindset into calculated fearlessness, as I’ve become more experienced over the years. Having the attitude of “how hard can it be?” can be liberating. Everything is impossible until somebody does it.

Some of the biggest 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. Growing up in Chicago in the 80’s when her star first began to rise, watching her evolve into the mega-woman she is today, I’ve had this premonition over the years that our paths would cross in a meaningful way. I once attended a conference where we had to create a vision board with images that represented aspirational goals for ourselves and I used a picture of Oprah in the center. We had to present our boards to the group and I’d sensed a few snickers from the room when I shared mine. After the conference I flew back to Chicago and while I was rushing to catch my car service, I bumped into (literally) Oprah’s boyfriend, Stedman Graham. I think it was a sign to be patient to wait for the right opportunity, and they’ll come when you least expect.

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