Women Of The C-Suite: “Don’t confuse decor with culture” with Jenny Thompson and Fotis Georgiadis

Don’t confuse decor with culture: Having kombucha on tap and a ping pong table aren’t culture. They are accoutrements. To build a strong culture, empower your employees, show them respect, admit your weaknesses, and celebrate their strengths and wins publicly. As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of […]

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Don’t confuse decor with culture: Having kombucha on tap and a ping pong table aren’t culture. They are accoutrements. To build a strong culture, empower your employees, show them respect, admit your weaknesses, and celebrate their strengths and wins publicly.

As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jenny Thompson. Jenny Thompson is a mission-driven business leader and natural-born marketer who builds to benefit shareholders, employees, and customers. Her skills include: strategic business development, customer acquisition and retention, win-win negotiations, marketing strategy, and benefit-driven product development. She spent 20 years at The Agora Companies, most recently as the CEO of NewMarket Health. During that time, she grew the company from $2 million to $70 million, oversaw the migration of the company’s marketing from 100% direct mail to 100% online, and was responsible for 14 brands. Jenny left NewMarket to start SafetyPIN Technologies, an innovative trust badge that lets people see at a glance if someone they met online is safe to meet offline. She’s also the creator of the 3-Day Business Cleanse, a novel process that helps companies get “unstuck” using her review, remove, and rebuild philosophy.

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 was entrepreneurial from a young age. In fact, I used to walk around the house and try to “sell” my parents things they had already bought. I would make up jingles and offer deals. But my family didn’t have the entrepreneur spirit. The mindset was more “find a good job and stay as long as they will let you.”
 After exploring various paths after college, I found a job at a very entrepreneurial company that offered the best of both worlds — a paycheck, autonomy and a high tolerance for risk. I had a great career there, but from early on, I knew it wasn’t my last endeavor. I wanted more, and I wanted to prove I could succeed on my own without the safety net.
 When I finally left the company almost 20 years later, I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do. But I’ve always believed that Change Begets Change. When you make one change in your life, others come. While I was figuring things out, I took a break and headed to Tahiti for some R&R. And it was after that trip that I found my new opportunity and my why…
 My dog sitter faked her own death when I found out she hadn’t actually stayed with my dogs.
 It was a crazy situation. I tried to get her to pay me back the $150 that I had pre-paid her for my next trip. But instead, she created an elaborate scheme and looped in friends to pretend she was in a horrible accident and died 4 or 5 days later.
 That’s when I decided I needed to be MUCH more careful about who I let in my home (and around my dogs). Once I started learning more about background checks — what they cover, and what they don’t, I was floored. That is what inspired me to launch SafetyPIN Technologies.

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

So many incredible things have happened. The most interesting would have to be meeting John Gill, the former Chief of White House Security. We had a mutual connection that introduced us and within 10 minutes, he said that he loved what we were building early on, and has since joined our advisory board! I’m grateful for crossing his path and the instrumental value he brings to the product we are creating and the team.

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?

Nothing knee-slapping comes to mind, which is one of the hazards of being in a business as serious as safety. The silliest mistake we made was entering someone in payroll that was a 1099. She was LITERALLY on payroll for less than 6 hours. We ended up having to issue her a W-2 and pay $15 in Unemployment fines when she was impacted by the government shutdown.

The lesson we learned was that even the smallest of mistakes can have a long tail. People will always make mistakes but don’t assume you can ignore the little ones entirely.

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

Our SafetyPIN methodology differentiates us from what most would consider the standard background check process.

Here’s what sets us apart: We rescreen people regularly — and revoke their PIN if they no longer meet our requirements. We use a proprietary behavioral review — to eliminate people without criminal history that still raise red flags. We look at the underlying psychology and patterns of behavior — to ensure maximum trust and safety. We go beyond the standard background check — the standard check stops at the county line, the standard criminal doesn’t. Lastly, we protect your private information, so you can let someone know they can trust you — without sharing your personal information or private history with a stranger.

As for a story demonstrating our value, we had one babysitter apply for a SafetyPIN with no criminal background, but her score on our behavioral review resulted in a decline. The app she came on through asked us to double check because they were so surprised — we confirmed it was correct.

What we didn’t share with them (due to our focus on privacy) was that she scored very high on questions indicating she had minimal concern for other people’s safety or well-being, didn’t care who she had to hurt to get her way, and was only focused on her own needs.

These are not qualities you want in a childcare provider, and thus we were proud to offer that extra layer of protection that is typically ignored.

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

100% of my time is focused on building SafetyPIN. I believe giving people a way to build and share trust directly in the peer-to-peer economy through a neutral 3rd party is the most important piece that’s missing.

My experience with the dog sitter that I had found online is a great example of how SafetyPIN can be used to help people make better choices, or at the very least, ask more questions and take more time to hire someone who does not have the badge.

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

One of my favorite lessons to share with my team and with other leaders is to be realistic about defining a “crisis.” Learn to define the true impact of an issue, and offer support to treat it appropriately.

The other piece of advice I have is to be as approachable as possible. People get scared when they make mistakes, and the tendency is to downplay them or hide them. If your team trusts that you understand people are imperfect, and you have perspective about that, then they will come to you when something happens, so you can help to address the issue early on and mitigate risks more easily.

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

I recommend never having more than 7 people report directly to you (if you can help it). And don’t get overly friendly or too personally involved with anyone on your team. Your job is to lead, inspire, and build. Blurring the lines of overly personal communications can make things tricky, both legally and professionally.

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?

So many smart and successful people have helped me along the way, but I think my grandmother had the greatest impact. She was born in the early 1900s and never thought of a career as an option. She was a wife and a mother — who made the BEST chocolate chip cookies and stuffed cabbage, by the way. As I was growing up, she always encouraged me to be strong, speak my mind, and chase any dream. I always thought she was born 50 years too early. And if she had the opportunities I did, she would have done something we would all be talking about every day. I hope that is what I am building now.

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

I’ve been a significant supporter of The Innocence Project for the last decade. I’ve primarily supported travel and readjustment for when someone gets out of prison after a wrongful conviction, in addition to contributing to the cost of the defense.

I believe that our criminal justice system is terribly broken and there are far too many innocent people in prison. My plan is to continue my personal mission for criminal justice reform and greater exonerations through activism and financial support as SafetyPIN grows.

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

Be the boss you want: I learned this the hard way. I had a boss who was fairly authoritarian and took credit for our ideas. I used to drive around the parking lot to see if she was at the office so I knew how my day was going to go. To be honest, early on, I was just like her. It took me a long time to learn how to lead and inspire effectively, while still focusing on quality and results.

Leadership isn’t a title; it’s a state of mind: You can be a leader at any level in an organization. Leadership is about being focused on the right things, caring about the team, and elevating others. It’s not about the best office, fancy title, or a name plate. You can be a boss without being a leader — and you can be a leader without being the boss.

Don’t confuse decor with culture: Having kombucha on tap and a ping pong table aren’t culture. They are accoutrements. To build a strong culture, empower your employees, show them respect, admit your weaknesses, and celebrate their strengths and wins publicly.

Do not embarrass someone in public and apologize in private: Like I said, it took me years to learn what real leadership was — and I still learn something every day. So if I mess up and say or do something that embarrasses someone, they get an apology in front of the same group.

Audit your business every year: Not for financials but for opportunity. There are so many ideas and projects that people start that don’t have legs or are dragging the team down — and good ideas that get tossed aside because resources are dedicated to other things. It’s critical to analyze the business regularly, and prune the projects — and the team — so it can thrive again.

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. 🙂

I heard someone say the other day that the prosecutor is the most powerful person in the courtroom. That’s not true. The members of the jury are. I encourage everyone to serve jury duty and pay attention. If smart, focused, caring people try to get out of jury duty, how will the system ever work? The judges, prosecutors, police, and defense attorneys are somewhat “set.” WE are the only part of the system that changes all the time. Serve jury duty proudly. And study up on and vote for judges. Those are the two most important steps individuals can take toward a system more focused on JUSTICE than CRIMINAL.

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

“If a problem can be solved with money, it isn’t a problem.” I know how trite that sounds to people struggling financially, but when you compare it to terminal or mental illness, abusive relationships, etc. then it comes into perspective.

My father taught me that lesson at a young age and it’s been a guiding force. I never let money force my decisions. I’m willing to lose money or overspend to get myself out of a negative situation or into a positive one.

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 🙂

Far too many to count. But front of mind today is Jillian Manus — I’m so inspired by her story, what she’s accomplished, and her generosity of spirit.

Thank you for joining us!

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