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Women Of The C-Suite: “Everyone should understand how their work impacts others in other departments” With Sherré DeMao, CEO of BizGrowth Inc

Too many teams within a large organization operate in silos. They are so focused on their area of concentration, they are not considering…


Too many teams within a large organization operate in silos. They are so focused on their area of concentration, they are not considering how what they do impacts the rest of the organization for better or for worse. Additionally, within the team itself, especially if the organization is a “just do your job” mentality, there is a missing link of understanding on how each team member is a support and of value to one another in moving things effectively through the organization. I can’t take credit for this, but it has stuck with me from when I worked with Chobani Yogurt and Kyle O’Brien, who was the EVP of International Sales at the time and who I considered their chief people engagement officer. He said that he encouraged everyone to get to know who was sitting next to them on either side. He also encouraged everyone to understand how their work impacted and supported others within their department and in other departments. You only have to consider the fact that Chobani grew from 0 to $1 billion dollars in five years to confirm how powerful that approach is to mobilizing a large team for success. He’s now instilling that same team-mindedness in his role as EVP at La Colombe Coffee Roasters.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Sherré DeMao. Sherré is the founder, CEO and Strategy Maestro of BizGrowth Inc, an award-winning firm specializing in next-level, next-idea solutions for entrepreneurial enterprises with a focus on building sustainable value. She is an expert in helping entrepreneurs prosper in life and in business and has dedicated her 30-year career to this purpose. Her business acumen, advocacy and innovative approach to advising and working with entrepreneurs has resulted in national recognition including being honored with a Southeast Small Business Woman Champion Award by the Small Business Administration and named among North America’s 50 Most Enterprising Women.


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

It was by accident, really. Fresh out of art school, I fell in love and found myself engaged and living in Owensboro, Kentucky, in 1984. There were no big ad agencies, so I started freelancing as a graphic designer and writer. My clients were small business owners, who assumed because I could design and write that I also knew about marketing. I realized immediately that I needed more knowledge about being in business for myself so went back to school taking business, marketing, public relations, you name it … so I could be smarter in those areas. I was honest with my clients that I was back in school to learn marketing and how to operate a business. Like most business owners, they were too busy working “in” their business to work on their business, so they asked if I would share with them what I was learning. I was happy to share. It was probably two years into freelancing that I realized what my mission was as a professional … “To help business owners be better marketers, strategists, and operators of their businesses.” From that point forward, that mission inspired everything I have built today in my company.

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

I often say that my oldest daughter is my business, and then I gave birth to three human daughters, now ages 31, 27 and 19. It was after having children that I continuously realized these epiphany moments that directly shaped how I approached business, leading and working with others. When my oldest daughter, Cassandra, was 5–1/2 years old and my second daughter, Amaria, was around 9 months old, they were accompanying me, situated in the back seat of my car while I was delivering some materials to a fitness client who was about to open their second location. While stopped at a stoplight, I reached into one of the boxes on the front seat to look at one of the brochures, and much to my dismay, the printer had made an error by reprinting the flagship location brochures and not the new location. The Italian in me came out, as I talked out loud to myself in total disbelief that this had occurred. This was when car phones had just come into vogue. I, however, did not have a car phone. As my rant continued, Cassandra interrupted … “Mommy! Mommy! …” Once she got my attention, she proceeded to say, “You have three choices. You can calm down and we will all have a nice day. We can go straight home and there won’t be any treats. Or, you can get a licking. Now what’s it going to be?” Well, you can imagine where she heard that before! I chose to calm down, after a good laugh, and by the time I arrived with the delivery, I was able to figure out the best way to handle, and it ended up being great for my client in the end.

That incident resonated with me on so many levels. We always have a choice in how we choose to respond to any given situation. Humor really is the best medicine for helping you pivot when you need to pivot. And staying calm with a focus on the best possible outcome often results in an even better outcome.

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?

In art school, at least all those years ago when I went, they didn’t teach you about budgets. The sky was the limit and your creativity was just encouraged to flourish in whatever assignment you were given. My very first project as a freelancer with my first client was to design a brochure. I was so excited and proud of my mock-up and the client loved it too, until he learned how much is was going to cost to print. He confirmed the amount he would be willing to pay for the printing, which meant I had to totally redesign and start from scratch. What makes this funny is my immature reaction, after leaving the client. I was irritated, and declared to the sky, “Why did I even go to art school, if I couldn’t be creative!” Basically, I was feeling sorry for myself. A few hours later, I started working on the project, and realized something profound. Creativity isn’t when the sky is the limit. True creativity is when you have limits and you come up with a solution that is amazing in spite of the limits. I had a one-color business card for almost two decades to prove creativity could even exist in one color.


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

Our company is successful because we see what others aren’t seeing, and then think what others aren’t thinking. What makes us stand out is our ability to then help our entrepreneurial clients see what they aren’t seeing and think like they have never thought before. I was sitting across the table with a client probably 15 years ago. I was sharing our CRISP Principle approach to marketing and operations. After absorbing the principle overview, he declared that what I was sharing was nothing new, and yet it was original. Then he apologized if he offended me. I smiled and said that he didn’t offend me at all, and he was spot on. We were simply able to see and put together what no-one else had been able to do in a way that was replicable, actionable and effective.

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

Two exciting projects are in the works. The first is what I am calling Dream Wide Awake, which is a workbook and audio to accompany a retreat and coaching offering. It is an evolution of concepts and best practices shared in my book, Me, Myself, & Inc. Dream Wide Awake and a Certified Synergy Coach program will launch on the 10th anniversary of Me, Myself & Inc.’s release in June of 2019. I truly do believe that everyone was put on this earth with a profound purpose to be realized and leveraged for the benefit of all humanity. Dream Wide Awake’s end result for an individual will be knowing without a doubt why he or she was put on this earth. Imagine the power in knowing the difference you were meant to make?

The second exciting project is my book, The Profitability Quotient, which will also be released in 2019. It introduces the Sustainable Growth Model for organic growth in a business and the ability to endure for decades to build and leave an ongoing legacy as a result. This book and its best practices and tools are the last in the strategic initiatives for a Certified Growth Strategist program as a part of my company’s national expansion. While conducting research, I came across the statistic that in 1957 the average age of the S&P 500 Index company was 75 years old. Today, the average age is 15 years. This was alarming and concerning to me. Has America created a disposable business economy? This statistic caused me to become passionate about enterprise growth, value-building, longevity and legacy in what we do with clients.

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

Giving your team members permission to take initiative from the first day they come to work with you is huge from an empowerment and momentum-building standpoint. An alarming and concerning aspect of the labor force coming out of universities is they are not being taught to take initiative. We source a variety of area universities for internship positions. A key aspect of our internship program that is appealing is, in addition to the student gaining credits to graduate, they can be paid at the end of the internship in a lump sum based on a three-tier performance-based model of compensation. The lowest tier of compensation is based on professionalism, showing up, completing tasks and having a good attitude. The second tier of compensation is based on all that is expected in the lower tier, as well as never being unexplainably late or miss a scheduled day, and to possess excellent communication and teamwork skills. The highest tier includes all the other tiers’ expectations with the added aspect of showing initiative, critical thinking and creative problem-solving. In over 20 years of internships under this performance-based program, only a handful of interns have realized the highest level compensation. Most interns’ compensation amounts have fallen within the middle tier.

Setting guidelines around levels of initiative to ease newbies into the process is recommended without curtailing out-of-the-box thinking or insights that could be gained. Being clear about expectations while also encouraging feedback and perspectives is also key. A thriving team is one that knows what needs to be done and gets it done. They know what actions need to be taken and can think on their feet and act in the best interests of the team, the company and the customer because they have been given permission and strong leadership and guidance to be able to do so. Initiative is key to possessing what I call a high Velocity Quotient as a company.

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

Too many teams within a large organization operate in silos. They are so focused on their area of concentration, they are not considering how what they do impacts the rest of the organization for better or for worse. Additionally, within the team itself, especially if the organization is a “just do your job” mentality, there is a missing link of understanding on how each team member is a support and of value to one another in moving things effectively through the organization.

I can’t take credit for this, but it has stuck with me from when I worked with Chobani Yogurt and Kyle O’Brien, who was the EVP of International Sales at the time and who I considered their chief people engagement officer. He said that he encouraged everyone to get to know who was sitting next to them on either side. He also encouraged everyone to understand how their work impacted and supported others within their department and in other departments. You only have to consider the fact that Chobani grew from 0 to $1 billion dollars in five years to confirm how powerful that approach is to mobilizing a large team for success. He’s now instilling that same team-mindedness in his role as EVP at La Colombe Coffee Roasters.

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 grandmother, Lura Pauline Williams Yantone Welch, affectionately called Granny Pea.

She instilled in me to keep these three promises to myself. I didn’t fully embrace them until I was in business for myself and had my first daughter. These promises are: 1) Find a way or make a way by helping others find a way or make a way; 2) Don’t feel guilty about making life easier for yourself; 3) Be open to all possible resources and support. I have shared these promises with countless people I have mentored and led with these promises, which have helped me embrace any challenge with optimism and fortitude.

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

There are so many ways to share and bring goodness into the world. It is the very essence of “finding a way and making a way by helping others find a way.” Giving of time, talent and resources has been at the core of how I have conducted business as well as encouraged others in how they give back as well. Mentoring other women and entrepreneurs has been a source of great satisfaction for me. Giving a percentage of profits from my books has also helped a variety of non-profits over the years, as well as direct giving through my business and personally. My firm has adopted a local charitable cause with support of time, talent, and resources for multi-year commitments. These have included a local theatre guild, children’s non-profits, and currently a land conservancy advocacy group focused on building hiking trails, blueways and greenways in the area.

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

I have a keynote speech entitled: Confessions of a Mompreneur: Leadership Lessons Reinforced by my Daughters … Here are my top five favorites:

1. Be willing to be held accountable. Too many leaders, as well as parents, operate from a mindset of “do as I say, not as I do.” When a leader views himself or herself as an authority figure first, then they are more focused on having followers instead of growing more leaders. It becomes about their ego instead of the vision, mission, purpose and the why behind what needs to get done. When a leader creates an environment of mutual accountability, self leadership, initiative and respect, a team is ignited to succeed.

2. An empathetic leader is the most engaging one. There is a fine line between the use of positivity, sympathy and empathy when nurturing relationships as a leader. I love the fact that the same letters that spell listen, also spell silent. Empathy is the most powerful skillset a leader can possess when someone on her team may be struggling on a project or with a life or work situation. Sometimes all a person needs is to be listened to and heard … to feel as though they are understood in the place where they are at that time. Positivity, while well-intentioned, may come across as too rah-rah and sugar coated. Sympathy will make the individual feel as though you are feeling sorry for them, potentially making them feel worse about what is going on. An empathetic leader can make a seemingly disengaged employee rally back quickly because they felt valued enough to be listened to and considered.

3. Be open to all possible resources and support. I have countless examples in my personal and professional life where the most unexpected person had an insight or solution to a problem being faced, simply because I was willing to share or ask. We should not fool ourselves or cloud our judgement as leaders by believing we must have all the answers. To the contrary, by leading discussion, encouraging ideas from all areas of a company, and recognizing and rewarding individuals for their contributions, you exponentially expand all possibilities.

4. Make it fun and the mundane gets done. When you can get people excited and looking forward to completing tasks or assignments that might otherwise be viewed as monotonous or tedious, chances are you have figured out how to add a bit of fun to the mix. Whether it is a friendly competition, a bell that gets rung, music blaring or a silly team tradition, adding an element of fun that motivates and inspires productivity and camaraderie will have everyone looking forward to coming to work and getting to work.

5. Be a goal collaborator, not imposer. As leaders, we naturally have high expectations for ourselves and those we lead. However, those expectations must be balanced with a clear sense of individual ownership when it comes to goal setting and achieving. If you impose and decide for a team member what their goals are going to be, you have not allowed them any skin in the game. You have become a dictator, not a leader. Determining goals in a collaborative spirit creates a sense of belonging and connectivity, and most important of all, a more genuine interest to achieve. The collaboration doesn’t stop with the setting of goals; it also continues forward with check-ins to see what may be needed in resources or support along the way.

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. 🙂

Earlier this year, I attended the funeral of a young man who had committed suicide. He had struggled with addiction through his young adulthood, and the family had done everything humanly possible to support this young man and try to get him the help he needed. The service touched me to my very core in bringing the reality of his choice to end his life to those in attendance as a means for creating awareness, and with hopes that others could be helped as a result. While driving back from the service, I called a friend who was serving as Chairman of the Board for the area Mental Health Association to see what the organization was doing related to addiction and suicide. It seemed that my attention was constantly being directed to addiction-focused messages, and I found myself getting more and more upset by how it was being depicted and treated.

One night after seeing a billboard that blared “Stop Addiction” with the 1–800 number, I was compelled to write the following down just to get it out of my head.

Addiction is not the problem. It is the choices being made around the addictive nature of that person. We all have control to make positive choices or harmful choices. The problem is in the mental state of mind of the individual who believes a harmful choice is all they are worthy of or because they know no other choice as an option. We do not need to stop addiction. We need to help people use this characteristic that they possess for their and others’ greater good. We need to help them shift to choices that are empowering and positive versus destructive and diminishing.

Steve Jobs was addicted to innovating what people didn’t even know that they wanted. Thomas Edison was addicted to finding every way that didn’t work until that light bulb glowed. Mother Teresa was addicted to nurturing and believing in the goodness in every living being. Richard Branson is addicted to adventure and is fearless in his entrepreneurial pursuits. Lori Greiner is addicted to inventing. She is the epitome of thinking what no one else has thought. All of these individuals made positive choices with their addictive behavior.

I believe in my heart that the solution is shifting the choices, not stopping the addictive behavior as if it doesn’t exist in that person. It also is rewarding to know that now the local area Mental Health Association is making suicide prevention and addiction a primary focus in their Power of One campaign.

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

“Discovery is seeing what everybody else has seen, and thinking what nobody else has thought.” by Dr. Albert Szent-Gyorgyi.

I came across this quote when I was 13 years old. It has guided and inspired me in everything I am doing and have done. To look deeper than what one may be seeing on the surface and to be open to all possibilities by thinking in ways that have not been considered before is what is at the heart of creativity, ingenuity, problem solving, and entrepreneurship.

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 🙂

The first person who came to mind is Warren Buffett. I respect him on many levels. First and foremost, I respect his total disregard for “keeping up with the Jones.” In living in the same place he bought in 1958, he proves that you don’t need to buy bigger and better to prove your worth or your wealth. His actions have spoken in much more powerful ways, such as the fact he has given more to charities and good causes than any other self-made icon.

He also came to mind because I believe he would appreciate a research project I have been conducting since 2014. I discovered while doing some research for a client on corporate culture that Google, compared to Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft, has never dipped below their end-of-first-day IPO stock price. Google started their first IPO day at $86 and ended at a little over $100 and has never dipped below that per share price. Microsoft, Apple and Facebook ranged from a starting IPO per share of $24 up to $38 and each have dipped below their initial IPO per share price. When I discovered this, I simply had to see if this was something more than a coincidence. Could corporate culture be a tangible determinant for more favorable stock performance? At the time of this “aha” moment of curiosity, I Googled “companies that have never dipped below their IPO.” And guess what? A list could not be found! My firm has been studying this and we have identified several companies that have never dipped below their IPO with each of them having an enviable, documented positive and empowering corporate culture.

I presented my initial qualitative findings in 2016 to the Institute of Management Consultants. We are continuing to identify companies in the research as a special project for business economic interns.

Originally published at medium.com

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