Tricia Benn EVP of the C-Suite Network: “It’s OK to make yourself vulnerable”

It’s OK to make yourself vulnerable — Early on in my career, I made it a point not to share my personal life or my worries with anyone outside my immediate circle. I realized if I was going to be a great leader and create a trusting environment, I needed to be upfront with the team where […]

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It’s OK to make yourself vulnerable — Early on in my career, I made it a point not to share my personal life or my worries with anyone outside my immediate circle. I realized if I was going to be a great leader and create a trusting environment, I needed to be upfront with the team where I was with things. What I learned was in sharing my own humanity, I created a more trusting work environment where I was able to build a place to share, build, and innovate.

I had the pleasure to interview Tricia Benn. Tricia is the Executive Vice-President of the C-Suite Network and General Manager of The Hero Club, a group of CEOs, founders, and investors who commit to a life balance of hard work while giving back to the communities in which they serve. Her responsibilities include leading teams across the organization, bringing in new partnerships and building new business models to monetize the growth and opportunity within these powerful communities. Previously, Benn served as a Global Chief Marketing & Strategy Officer and US Managing Director within MDC Partners, a $3 billion global holding company. Benn is an outcome and solutions-driven executive leader with proven success in developing new businesses; leading through extensive enterprise-level changes and building motivated, engaged, and profitable business models and teams. She was also the first person in Canada to create a revenue generating group in the market research industry.

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

My entire career I’ve dedicate myself to build people, teams, and organizations. That has been the common thread of my career. It all goes back to my conditions of satisfaction, which are:

1) Reaching for my great and helping everyone around me be their best self

2) Always be challenged

3) Find joy in my relationships

Make no mistake — I will be disruptive. But, I will do it nicely but I’ll be disruptive. It can be uncomfortable at times but it creates opportunities for empowerment, growth, and development.

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

Recently, we had an event in Las Vegas for members of The Hero Club and as part of the three-day event, we had a “connecting with a purpose” project as our way of giving back to the community that so graciously hosted us. With the help of one of our members, Jonathan Stone and his wife Dawn, and their company, Sababa Way, we gathered executives to pack meals for kids in need in Las Vegas. Our purpose is to give back every chance we get, wherever we go and Sababa’s mission is to make hunger a thing of the past. Why not join forces? That’s how we make a difference — even if it’s just one person at a time. The goal is to make things better, not just for ourselves, but for those who are next in line. As a result of this project, Jonathan was connected to another member whose father owns one of the largest food distribution companies in North America, specializing in e-commerce in home grocery delivery. The amount of food the facility throws out or donates on a daily basis is astounding. Why not use that food for people that need to feed their families? That’s the kind of change we want to bring and I’m proud to be part of that movement.

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 began my career in Public Affairs where I was the only female executive. During a business trip, I went to a meeting with the client — who was a government client. One of the topics we engaged in conversation with was same-sex rights. I was beyond excited to talk about this as I did my Master’s thesis on reproductive technology, law, and power theory. Given the topic, I felt compelled to share all of my knowledge with the client and the conversation continued. However, the head of the division caught wind of that conversation and in no uncertain terms told me to keep my mouth shut because no one cares about what I learned in school.

Looking back, I understood what he was trying to convey. It wasn’t necessarily to literally keep my mouth shut, it was more of a ‘this is not the time nor the place” to be having that conversation. I think that’s a mistake many still make. There’s a time and a place for everything.

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

What makes us stand out is we have a really important mission to help great leader succeed faster (Jonathan Stone story) and really fuel a movement to help the wider public understand how important entrepreneurial CEOs, founders, and investors are to our local communities, democracy and how many great things they do despite the bad actors we see in the news.

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

We are building out our ecosystem to create greater opportunities for executives to accelerate the growth of their businesses. For example, our newest partner, Angel Investors Network, has a similar mission as us, “to help entrepreneurs succeed and create wealth.” We have a series of “city summits” meetings in San Antonio, New Jersey and other cities across the country all relating to capital. In June, we are hosting a pitch tank event in San Francisco, and through the partnership with C-Suite Network, we will have leaders from investment community, venture capitalists, family offices, and corporate investors. While it’s all about ‘capital,’ it’s not all about money. It’s about resources, people, tools and the combination of these elements that make for great capital assets.

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

Create as many opportunities for growth, initiative, creativity, and responsibility and build those things into the creation of a fast growth organization. Many a times people at the top of the ladder come from a position of scarcity and have a hard time giving things up. That’s not my philosophy. I think if I can have someone step into my shoes, it frees me up to rise to the next level and do things that help move the needle forward. It’s also critical that we have an evaluation system in place that outlines achievement against each of our roles, but also what their goals are and what they can contribute to the team as they continue to grow in their roles.

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

The best advice I have is to align your teams and the individuals within the team with their strategic goals. Everything has to align with the strategic goals. This way, everyone understands how and where they fit in the bigger scheme of things. Everyone that reports to a leader, should understand what the team is focused on & what they bring to the table. That cohesiveness is what makes 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’m always inspired by the story that began what The Hero Club is today. Rob Ryan was the Chairman and CEO of a company called Ascend Communications. In 1989, he grew the company to more than $2 billion in sales. Ascend was acquired in 1999 for approximately $24 billion and was referred to as “the largest technology merger ever.” He was a successful man — at least financially. What to do with all that money? He gave some of it to the employees who made the company flourish. He didn’t think much of the gesture, except that it was the right thing to do. To his surprise, he was approached by a former employee while at a restaurant. The man said, “Mr. Ryan, you probably don’t know me. I was the janitor at your company and I wanted to thank you for your gift. It helped send my daughter to college.” He did so with tears in his eyes. Rob had no idea the impact he would have on his employees and he did so without fanfare. He did it because it was the right thing to do.

That’s the inspiration that motivates me and others to help like-minded leaders reach successful outcomes. Business isn’t just about profits, it’s about people, too.

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

As executives, we often underestimate how much impact we can have in the world. I recently gave a presentation titled, “The Hero’s Journey: The Calling of a CEO” and one of the major points of the presentation was to remind the entrepreneurs I was speaking to that they are heroes, too. What is a hero? Who is your hero and what qualities do you admire in them?

Getting up every day and doing something that takes willpower, fortitude, and effort, matters. If it impacts even one person, that’s awesome! You’ve enacted change. It might just be one person this time, but it still matters. Overall, we underestimate how much impact we can have to those around us. It’s all about creating purpose, camaraderie, a sense of achievement and belonging, and the ability to make a difference. Those are huge gifts we give others. Society can be negative and disempowering and can subtract from peoples’ souls. We need to give back as much, and as often, as possible.

We always think we’re not good enough, not wealthy enough, etc. — but, what if we are? When you appreciate those around you and you bring them on your mission, that’s a tremendous gift. I saw a quote that stuck with me, “Your tribe determines your vibe” and that couldn’t be more true. People are not impermeable. It matters to make a difference.

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

  1. It’s OK to make yourself vulnerable — Early on in my career, I made it a point not to share my personal life or my worries with anyone outside my immediate circle. I realized if I was going to be a great leader and create a trusting environment, I needed to be upfront with the team where I was with things. What I learned was in sharing my own humanity, I created a more trusting work environment where I was able to build a place to share, build, and innovate.
  2. Build to your strengths — Everyone needs to understand where their weaknesses lie. That allows leaders to play up to everyone’s strengths and accentuate the benefits. Often, executives get into the role of trying to improve something someone is weak at. No benefits come out of that. Regardless of intentions, it ends up belittling people and it’s hard to feel confident & hard to be disruptive when you’re focused on weaknesses. Leaders should encourages appreciation of diversity of thought, demographic makeup, experiences, and create an environment where the strength of the team can be celebrated.
  3. Never lose sight of your financials — At the end of the day, you can do no good without financial success. A clear strategic outline that aligns with the financial forecast is critical regardless of whether or not your group has direct P&L responsibilities or not. Back in the day, one thing I did was I noticed there was an overlap with selling directly to client. Other parts of the businesses were sold through internal customers and I worked with the CFO to track that financial impact along with direct revenue to demonstrate ongoing trending of P&L contributions.
  4. Measure what matters — I spent 20 years working in market research. I can’t emphasize enough how critical this is. Keep in mind these measurements don’t have to be perfect. In business, none of them are. The tracking of these metrics is incredibly valuable and they can always be adjusted as the business evolves and grows to incorporate new factors and criteria.
  5. Live in the moment — Don’t forget to have fun and think of the impact you’re creating today. Play time is really important. When people are playful, they create. It becomes the cog that makes things easier for any team. Free up your brain when it’s a casual environment. It gives you that sensation of camaraderie we all need and it lends to the importance of enjoying the moment. This is my approach every single day. I try to have as much fun as possible with my workload. It allows me to see things from a different perspective.One story I can share is when I was younger, I noticed my dad went out and did the chores. One time I asked him ‘how do you do all you do every day?’ His answer was a bit surprising. For him, it was meditation. The routine of the chores instilled a calm in him that he didn’t find anywhere else. He just lived in the moment and didn’t think about anything else. Later on, I had another take. He just wanted a few minutes of peace and quiet away from us. It’s critical to live in the moment and appreciate the impact it can have on those around you. As I examined my own life, I did a lot of travel in my career, but didn’t see anything. Take some time to enjoy the sights and do something different like ride a city bus. It’s the little things you can do to create that moment like have conversations with people.

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. 🙂

My mission is to create a movement of leaders and like-minded individuals that put humanity at the forefront of their business — where the metrics of success are measured beyond profit. Leaders who believe in leading with integrity, transparency, serving their communities and share their success with other. I want to empower great leaders with the right resources, relationships, education and experiences to drive change and get to the next level.

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

“A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business.” By Henry Ford.

This quote is relevant to me because it aligns with the mission of The Hero Club. We’re trying to create wealth and do good at the same time. Money is great, but people are greater. Profits are great too, but it’s the people that make it all happen.

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 🙂

I’m not a fame person. I’m not impressed by money, titles or celebrity status. My preference would be to have a private breakfast with any business leader that wants to make a difference in the world. I’ll take that over fame or fortune.

However, there are certain people that I admire:

Malala Yousafzai — I heard an interview she did once and I found her to be an incredibly courageous and amazing woman.

I love Helen Mirren’s attitude towards life and being a woman (of a certain age). She has aged with grace, beauty and poise.

Martin Luther King, Jr. — Aside for all he did for civil rights, the notion of being courageous enough to share a dream that inspired so much change, a movement. That is impressive.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg — I’m impressed by her tenacity and dedication to equality. The first gender-discrimination case she argued in court was Moritz vs Commissioner of Internal Revenue. There are many ways to approach injustice and thrive for equality and I would love the chance to speak to her about that.

Bill & Melinda Gates — Gates Foundation. This is one example where someone uses their fame and influence to do great things around the world to reduce inequity and help combat malaria, HIV, tuberculosis, family planning and vaccine development, among others.

What I admire in these people, I see in all the great leaders I work with every day. We celebrate people with notoriety, but that alone doesn’t make anyone a hero. The leaders I also work with are also heroes.

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