As part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gabriela Lechin, SVP at Global Results Communications. Gaby’s impressive communications career spans 15 years and includes extensive and global, diverse experience in tech, cybersecurity, intelligence, government, global affairs, big data, international relations, healthcare, sports and automotive. Prior to GRC, Gaby worked as marketing communications VP for Gavilan Vineyards, and founded and served as senior director of communications and creative director of Seven-G, an integrated marketing firm providing photojournalism, PR, advertising and design services for a client roster that included the NBA, Ferrari, organizations and professionals in the auto racing industry, as well as top officials in the United Nations. She also cofounded Appointy.com, a business management SaaS application available in 100+ countries. A U.S. Navy Reserve Officer fluent in Spanish and English, Gaby has traveled and liaised with individuals and organizations in 53 nations worldwide and volunteered in Australia, New Zealand, Africa and Latin America. A graduate of Universidad Central de Venezuela with a bachelor’s degree in communications, she holds a master’s degree in national security affairs and international relations from Nova Southeastern University.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Mycuriosity for the world and how we communicate began at an early age. I grew up in Venezuela, in a multicultural, immigrant family. My father was an art collector and entrepreneur while my mother was a psychologist. I have always been seeking knowledge about the art of communication and human behavior. Nevertheless, there were a couple of specific influences in my life that have shaped the path to where I am today.
Listening to my father passionately exchange his views on politics and religion with family and friends during our weekend luncheons, inspired my curiosity not only about every topic they discussed but the art of debate and negotiation as well. I found myself wanting to learn more, listening to political speeches by world leaders like Nelson Mandela, Margaret Thatcher, John F. Kennedy, Mikhail Gorbachev, Ronald Reagan, and Fidel Castro in my spare time, between playing sports and doing homework. I became fascinated not only by the world of politics and global affairs, but by the tactics politicians and notable figures used to communicate to their audiences, how they shaped their stories, and how newspapers and books would write about the legacy of these public figures.
At the age of 10, while traveling with my parents to New York City, we went to visit my cousin, Tony Suarez at his apartment in Greenwich Village. Tony was a staff photographer for TIME magazine, whom I’ve never met before this day due to his busy travels. As Tony opened the door, I had all the intentions to be polite and meet him adequately, but instead, I just stood there mesmerized by my surroundings. As I walked through his apartment, I became instantly fascinated by the African masks, cultural artifacts from all over the world, and the collection of photographs covering the walls of people like Pablo Picasso, Stan Getz, President Jimmy Carter, Muhammad Ali, Dizzy Gillespie, Lech Wałęsa, and Bob Marley. At this moment, I knew my future would always revolve around the world of communications and global affairs.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Coming from a technology background with a perspective of a software developer and SaaS application startup, my first few weeks at GRC felt like a whirlwind of acronyms and tech terms. Worlds like cybersecurity, telematics, artificial intelligence, IoT, augmented reality, machine-to-machine learning, quickly entered my vocabulary. I had to become an expert in such diverse and cutting-edge technologies and found myself analyzing how they all related to each other and impacted not only their industry but the world markets as well.
As expected, most of our clients anticipated us to focus and prioritize on media coverage that included top-tier publications and journalists, or maybe specific trade magazines. However, one of the first accounts I had to manage broke the mold and wanted us to focus on one thing only: SEO. This is back when SEO was a dedicated element for e-commerce and digital marketing. Our client, a company founded and run by engineers, saw communications and PR only in quantifiable numbers. I had to immerse myself and our team in the world of SEO, plus rank almost every media opportunity primarily by SEO standings. I had to change and adapt to how we approached our overall program to achieve our client’s goals. I draw a heavily blurred line between my 15 years of knowledge and experience in all fields of communications — PR, marketing, advertising and journalism — and applied tactics from all. It is a successful strategy that I use across the board and make sure to pass on to our younger staff. Technology never stops evolving. As a communications professional in the tech field, you have to evolve as well. Otherwise, you’ll be at risk of becoming irrelevant.
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?
My first few months at GRC were spent trying to learn the ins and outs not only of the agency and our staff but also about the clients and very complex technologies. I was pushing myself to do my job successfully, as I was still learning my role.
During my second week, I start receiving this weird email from our office manager every day, saying, “Karen is here.” The rest of the leadership team was copied on it, so I assumed I was meant to receive it. At first, I thought it was a metaphor or code word for some internal process or client-related issue. I did not want to ask since, apparently, they assumed I should know what it was. I needed to figure this out, they must expect for me to understand what it means. Maybe it is a test of some kind or a West Coast PR thing.
A week and a half had gone by, and I researched internal docs, clients’ files, but I could find nothing. It became a personal challenge. Finally, I just gave up and asked the office manager. Apparently “Karen” was a lunch delivery service lady, who called her daily from downstairs as soon as she arrived.
Never be afraid to ask questions, regardless of how simple or complex they may seem.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our global and multi-faceted cultural mindset sets us apart. Our leadership team is composed of a team of powerhouse professionals. Together, we bring over 80 years of diverse experience to the table. As well as the brilliant, global and diverse experience, backgrounds of our staff.
We work as a team. There is no “I” at GRC. It is always “we.” We work based on individual excellence and measure our success based on our achievements for our clients as a team. At the same time, the professional growth of every member of our agency is carefully managed, inspired and fortified.
The world is not in black and white, nor you can fit it into a mold. Your ideas and approach to communications should have the same principle. We approach every project and client with a unique strategy. We measure and evaluate everything not only from a local but global perspective. We focus on results.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
While we typically work with private and public organizations, we will work with a nonprofit that is partnering with one of our clients from time to time. Right now, we are in the process of developing a fresh new fundraising campaign for Oakville Meals on Wheels, a small volunteer-driven organization outside of Toronto. They recently parted ways with a major funding source that had been fueling its efforts for years. The decision was made because future funding was conditional on participating in a centralized intake system that included an eligibility assessment and provided for a standardized menu. This would compromise easy and efficient access to service and limit access to the essential social interaction and well-being checks that are so important to many homebound clients. Rather than pushing this as a hard-luck story, we positioned it as taking a positive new direction, with this campaign theme: 43 Years, Infinite Miles and Countless Meals: Time for New Wheels. The volunteers and board members involved are ecstatic and rejuvenated, ready to move forward.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Don’t want to manage your team; lead your team to success. The only way to achieve this is by inspiring them to do what they never thought they could, and that is the primary distinction between a manager and a leader.
Let your curiosity fuel your wisdom. Read, listen, investigate. The more knowledgeable you are, the more resourceful and more insightful you’ll be. Inspire your team to do the same. Show them that they are capable of much more by example and their achievements. When I took on the task to manage all operations of a 200+ acre vineyard in Argentina, while working as a VP of Marketing Communication for an American real estate project in Mendoza, my knowledge about farming and wine were pretty basic. Yet, I made sure to learn every detail. From the winemaking process to driving the tractor, I was then able to foresee solutions to future problems and understand what our staff needed to thrive firsthand.
Know yourself. We often say, “be yourself,” and in fact it is an excellent advice. However, rarely anyone tells you that in order to be yourself, first, you need to know yourself. Self-confidence comes from recognizing all of you, the good and the not so good, and still be proud of who you are. More importantly, self-confidence is contagious.
Push your team with encouragement, a little humor and show them it is okay to fail. Remind them it is okay to laugh at yourself. Your team doesn’t need you to be perfect or to have all the answers. Don’t pretend you do either. Instead, your team needs to know that no matter what, you’ll always figure it out, work it out, and make it work together.
A few months before launching a scheduling SaaS application startup back in Miami, my partner and I used to joke about when would our first customer sign up. Still, we never doubted. We made sure our team knew we were giving it all and that defeat was not an option. A couple of days after we launched, we already had several subscriptions. Two years later, we had reached over 20,000 customers worldwide (surpassing the top competitor in the market).
Lastly, don’t hire qualified people to then tell them how to do their job. Instead, learn to delegate. Your success is your team’s success; you must never forget that. Empower your team to believe in themselves by believing in them. There are few things more powerful than the words, “I trust you.”
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
There are many things we need to keep in mind when we manage a large team. One of the most important, you must earn their respect. Respect can never be demanded. Lead by example and put your money where your mouth is. They don’t need to like you, but they need to respect you to be inspired to be successful. Moreover, remember that respect goes both ways. Be strong in your ideas and convictions, but always stay humble.
Don’t see titles or gender or age; only see capabilities. This approach will help your team work as one, without biases or predisposed beliefs. By stripping away any partisanship or dogmas, you’ll be able to strategize based on your team’s true potential. You can’t manage a large group and achieve success if you do not know what you have to work with.
It is easy to lose sight of the individual when managing a large group. Regardless of how small or large a team may be, they are individuals first and foremost needing to work together in harmony as one. Always recognize their individual achievements and work toward promoting strong relationships.
Request ideas from everyone. Give them a voice and empower them to make decisions. It will not only make you understand their strengths but also foster a sense of ownership by uplifting their self-confidence about their role. We give our best, take great pride and feel loyal to what we feel we own.
Your team will follow your lead, so remember it’s all about balance. Keeping a balance between your team, your clients, your company, and your life will foster a thriving environment and the perfect canvas for any task you and your team take on. I’ve known this since early in my career, but never experienced it so vividly than after becoming a US Navy Officer. Learning how to balance my civilian and military responsibilities have been challenging, but it has also made me a better professional, a better Officer, and a better woman.
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?
Many people helped me along the way, from family, friends, and sometimes even strangers. My biggest cheerleader and advocate is my brother, Juan Claudio. He has been part of almost every story that defined not only my professional success but also my personal achievements. When the road got bumpy, he has always been there to remind me that I am capable of achieving anything. That there is nothing I can’t do, that my strength has no limitations, and that limitations exist only in my mind.
In 2014, when I began my National Security and International Relations master’s degree program at Nova Southeastern University, I was running my SaaS application company, a design and communications firm, and a vineyard in Argentina. Needless to say, I had a lot on my plate. About ten months into the master’s program, my personal life took a hit that could have derailed everything I’ve worked for in the past seven years. My brother was that beacon and guide that kept telling me, “You can do this. Just go one day at a time.” He helped me prioritize, which in times like these can mean the difference between success and absolute failure. Juan not only helped me keep focused on what mattered but also never allowed me to doubt for one second, I was my own superhero. Two years later, I finished my master’s degree with a perfect GPA and began my US Navy career. As I look at my life today, I can attribute my most significant accomplishments to how high I was able to bounce after hitting bottom.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Today, I focus on paying it forward, passing down (and up) everything I’ve learned and trying to train new leaders and better professionals. Also, by promoting and advancing tolerance, diversity and inclusion, in both my professional and personal life; as well as living a life that is guided by a simple rule, humility precedes honor.
I’ve done volunteer work since I was a teenager and continue to do so today for a diverse number of programs, empowering young girls in rural areas of Latin America and Africa. Some of these girls may have three children before the age of 17, never been to school or owned a toothbrush. When I began working in this program, I was their same age and it opened my eyes to a world unknown to most.
I’ve also done work for several wildlife and environmental preservation programs in Africa, Australia, Latin America and the US. Additionally, I’ve advised cultural, health, environmental and educational development programs in the Amazon, Latin America, New Zealand and Australia.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- Never stop learning. The more we learn, the more we realize how much we don’t know.
- Every decision you make should open doors to more choices in your life. Your decisions should not lead you to dead-end roads.
- There’s always going to be someone more qualified than you, but none will be you. Your uniqueness is the only capability no one will ever have.
- You will make mistakes, lots of them and it is perfectly Ok. They will be part of your story and will define your success. Love your story, be proud of it.
- Sometimes, to get from point A to point B the road may not be a straight line, and that is just fine. Straight lines tend to be short of opportunities, learning experiences, growth, and many times, fun.
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. 🙂
Our planet’s massive loss of its biodiversity, growing problems with food and water distribution, added to the incremental changes of our climate, are serious challenges to our generation. Unfortunately, these are the type of problems our society hates to address. Developing something new is sexy, while repairing something that already exists is not. We see innovation and working to create something new as a lot more fun and attractive. We hate fixing stuff so much, we don’t mind spending tons of money and human resources looking for alternative planets to earth.
I would take NASA’s example of their long track record in reprogramming damaged robots, extending missions, or repairing existing space stations to embrace a new movement and culture focused on “innovation for conservation.” Let’s challenge everyone with the will and means — corporate tech giants, individuals, universities and even high schools — to find repair solutions to our top global issues, from environmental to food supply and distribution. A list of our top ten most critical issues to be fixed will be published, and the 12-month race to find the best repairable strategy will begin. They will have to work with the resources we already have. Innovation for conservation to refurbish, repair, recycle — without creating waste.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
From the many quotes that have a deep meaning in my life, my favorite is by Henry Ford. Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you are right.” This sums up what I see as the secret to success, perseverance and growth. Your road will be determined by what you believe. Are you ruled by the fear of failure or the determination to succeed against all odds? Do you believe failures and obstacles to be the end of a dream, or instead are challenges that prove you have the power to succeed? How you choose to answer those questions will determine your future.
We are blessed that 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 🙂
It would be an honor to have the chance to meet Dr. Ellen O. Ochoa. She is an American engineer, veteran astronaut and 11th Director of the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, TX (2013–2018). She joined NASA in 1988 as a research engineer. Ellen became the world’s first Hispanic female astronaut in 1991, and the first Hispanic woman to go into space in 1993 after a 9-day mission aboard shuttle Discovery. She grew up in a time where space exploration was the most valued innovation in the U.S. However, women were never expected to become astronauts. It wasn’t until 1978 that the astronaut program included minorities and the first women. Nevertheless, she dared to say, “sure, why not?”. Her legacy will inspire many for many generations to come, regardless of age, race or gender.