“You be you.” With Tyler Gallagher & Tracy Tannenbaum

For my kids, it is “You be you”. I encourage them to be the best they can be and not try to be someone else. Popularity comes and goes and the only friends who matter are true friends; those are the ones who will stand by you no matter what. Be a true friend even […]

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For my kids, it is “You be you”. I encourage them to be the best they can be and not try to be someone else. Popularity comes and goes and the only friends who matter are true friends; those are the ones who will stand by you no matter what. Be a true friend even if others don’t reciprocate. This also applies to work because it is so important to bring your whole self to work every day and be who you are. Whether at work or at home, don’t ever try to be something you are not. Be comfortable standing alone and standing up for something you believe in respectfully, but do it for the right reasons. Having a passion for what you do and always striving to be your best is what makes your personal brand unique and something to cherish.

Asa part of our series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tracy Tannenbaum.

Tracy Tannenbaum is the chief marketing officer of Meritage Homes, the seventh largest homebuilder in America. As a dynamic, results-oriented executive, Tannenbaum brings nearly 30 years of diverse experience ranging from marketing to strategic planning and operations. She is known for her exceptionally strong leadership, motivational management and communication skills, including hiring and training direct reports across functional disciplines. With significant experience in strategy creation, implementation and successful execution, Tannenbaum is able to lead her high-performing teams to generate growth, superior financial results and exceptional customer satisfaction across regions.

Tannenbaum has a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Penn State University and an MBA from New York University’s prestigious Leonard N. Stern School of Business. She developed a strong work ethic during her higher education, as she worked full time in the day while studying at New York University at night. Tannenbaum has an exceptional track record of high performance, having worked in the field of marketing for nearly 30 years. She has demonstrated her expertise in various verticals including housing, technology, education, and consumer products. Prior to joining Meritage Homes in 2015, she held key leadership positions at leading corporations including Banner Health, Abrazo Healthcare, Centex Homes, The Princeton Review, Petco and AT&T.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I started out working at AT&T in a more technical role and was fortunate to quickly get placed on a fast track program, so I was able to get exposure to different departments and various roles, all with high expectations for quick and significant impact on results. It not only gave me broad exposure to different roles and functions, but it also taught me how to take on new challenges and look for out-of-the-box solutions with the ability to work for many different types of managers and peers to get results. Since then, I have worked across multiple industries and found that all industries are relatively easy to learn if you are willing to invest the time and not make assumptions. I personally enjoy roles more in companies that make a positive impact on people’s lives, and where I can work in a fast-paced environment across diverse projects. Most important to me, and another reason why I love my job at Meritage Homes, is the culture and the people I get to work with regularly. I have an incredible team, as well as peers and leaders that I admire and enjoy working with every day.

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

As CMO, I travel quite a bit. One of the most interesting times, I was driving from Greenville back to Atlanta in order to fly back home. I was in the car with one of our regional marketing directors when there was a tornado warning. We were racing to beat the tornado so I could make it to the train to get to the airport on time. We somehow managed to navigate the tornado, hefty winds and rain, with my luggage in tow, and made it on time. Needless to say, it was quite an experience!

One other story I’ll mention was our 100,000-home milestone. It was a great celebration and it was one of the first times we had a milestone companywide celebration across all of our divisions. We surprised our CEO with a presentation and a custom-made globe created out of house keys. What was most special was the ribbon-cutting ceremony we hosted at the 100,000th home, which was built in Phoenix. It was a momentous celebration and a thrilling feeling to be a part of this key moment at Meritage Homes.

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?

While I am sure there are many funny mistakes I can think of from when I was first starting out, the thing that sticks out to me the most is actually something that happened recently. At our marketing meeting this year, everyone flew into town to attend and we were all going out to dinner one night. We were a large group so local people like me were providing transportation. I inadvertently invited a non-employee into my car with other employees and ended up driving her to dinner and being dubbed the Uber driver for the evening.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What is it about the position that most attracted you to it?

In homebuilding, there is really no brand that stands out. It is not an industry known for being a trailblazer in marketing and, yet, it is one of the most important purchases people will ever make. There was a huge opportunity to develop a brand at a company that already has an incredible and truly differentiated product. And the people; they continually inspire me to come to work every day to make a difference to consumers and the environment as a sustainable, leading builder.

Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

I focus on setting the high-level vision and strategy. My goal is to create the roadmap for the team and help protect them against distractions that are non-essential in moving the needle so they can focus on priority projects. I trust my leaders to do the work and manage their teams — I don’t want to be a roadblock or get pulled into all the details. That said, we all roll up our sleeves here so nothing is beneath me and I will jump in to help the team as needed to ensure we are all successful. Another important role I have is helping establish a positive culture and building team morale, offering recognition for accomplishments and ensuring everyone has a development and growth path so they feel valued.

What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?

One of the things I enjoy most about being an executive is helping others develop to achieve their potential both at work and outside of the office. I may be biased as I feel like my team at Meritage Homes is the best. Being able to push them to do things they believed were not possible and seeing them succeed is one of the reasons I enjoy coming to work every day.

At Meritage, one thing that is unique about our marketing team is that we have teams located in many different cities. Since coming onboard, it has been my goal to make everyone feel like one big cohesive team whether you sit with the corporate marketing team in Phoenix or are part of the field marketing team in Orlando. To do that, I’ve implemented better communication along with some fun. In addition to bi-weekly calls, we do things like an annual all-hands marketing meeting, remote secret Santa, contests and other activities, as well as recognitions and celebrations. Today, a lot of companies struggle with remote employees which is why it so important to make the whole team feel like they are right next to each other, even when they are, in fact, thousands of miles apart.

I am also involved in several charity organizations in Phoenix. One I am most passionate about helps the poorest communities by providing them with food and resources to help them get on their feet. We’ve also done some special activities like providing school supplies for kids in need, gifts for the families that otherwise wouldn’t receive any during the holidays and more. It resonates with me because I work for a company that helps families achieve the American Dream. Having the opportunity to work at a company that also gives back to the community and participates in programs that supports Veterans, combats homelessness and does many lore things locally to give back makes me proud to be an executive.

What are the downsides of being an executive?

The unwritten expectation of always being available 24/7 and the challenge of finding the right balance. While there really is no such thing as “the perfect balance”, it is important to ensure you have your priorities between work and family with the flexibility to focus on what is most important at that time. This can mean longer days and less sleep to fit it all in.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

There seems to be a belief, especially in a male-dominated industry, that as a woman, you need to be very aggressive to stack up. Finding that right balance between being aggressive, which tends to be counter-effective, and assertive at opportune moments when you have strong convictions for the right reason is important. There can also be a perception that women need to work harder to prove themselves and their commitment. Naturally, many women have a greater capacity to juggle multiple things at the same time and keep many things moving forward, which is a skill they can use to their advantage.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

I knew coming in as an executive I was going to have a say in Meritage’s overall company strategy. However, I have more say than I expected and I love to see the impact on the evolution of the company as a result of my input and contributions. I am thankful to be an integral part of the company’s mission to innovate. Additionally, when joining I knew the team here was great but they are downright outstanding and I feel lucky to be a part of it.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive?

The ability to be receptive and open to feedback. The higher up you go, the more you must learn in terms of leadership and managing others. You can’t assume you have the answers and it’s ok not to have all of them. A successful executive helps their teams solve the issues versus solving everything themselves. This gives them opportunities to achieve success. It is about putting trust in your team, and you must be able to put your ego in check. You also need to be creative with solutions, as well as help others, think out-of-the-box and aid in removing roadblocks. As an overachiever who sets a high bar, this isn’t always easy.

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

Set the bar high and help your team achieve success by removing roadblocks and brainstorming ideas. Leverage your EQ (emotional intelligence) skills to adapt your style to different team members to optimize their success. Focus on results and accountability, while keeping in mind that with growing a team, it is critical to help them learn from their mistakes. Attitude is the most important element of success so if you hire the right team with the right attitude and the fundamental skills to get the job done, you can achieve anything. Set a clear direction with priorities and motivate the team through recognition and celebrations along the way. It’s important to instill a strong work ethic with your team but also make the office a fun environment.

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 have been fortunate to have many people help me along the way. In my first job, my mentor sponsored me for a “fast track” program that helped me get diverse experience and exposure that built a strong foundation for the rest of my career. He gave me confidence to try challenging roles and work for a variety of different managers because I knew he had my back to support me if I made a mistake along the way. At a different company, I had a mentor who was dissimilar to me in many ways, but someone who I greatly admire and probably learned the most from for both my work and personal life. She was an exceptional manipulator, which typically has a negative connotation, but this was not the case with her because she did it in a transparent way, always providing you with more benefit than she asked for in return. While I didn’t adopt this specific trait, I learned a great deal from her around evaluating gray areas, and realizing that everything is not simply black and white. She also helped me refine my negotiation skills, which have allowed me to accomplish strong win-win scenarios. Above all, I think her best trait is her creativity and she taught me that there was always a way to creatively solve problems. She often made the impossible possible and I tried to take as much of that learning from her when I face new challenges each day.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

As mentioned, being able to be involved in charity organizations in Phoenix and supporting those less fortunate in my community has enabled me to use my success to make the lives of others better.

Additionally, corporate social responsibility is one of the cornerstones of Meritage Homes and that starts from the top-down. Our CEO promotes this value and encourages divisions across the U.S. to find ways to give back every year. One of the programs that I find rewarding is Operation Homefront, which provides a new, mortgage-free home to military veterans. We have provided 13 homes to date. Being able to witness the veterans receive their new home is so impactful and meaningful. It is an honor to be a part of an organization that gives back to those that have spent their whole lives serving our country to keep us safe.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

These are the five things I wish someone told me before I started my professional career, and I think they can apply to all jobs at any level:

1. Be willing to take risks and challenges because it is the best way to grow. When I started out in my career, I worked for a larger company and had the opportunity to gain diverse experience in different jobs. I took on positions no one else wanted and didn’t stay in any position more than two years in order to expand my knowledge. For example, I took a role early in my career that everyone warned me against. It was supervisory role over an operations center, leading a group that implemented all of the international toll-free numbers. They had two key metrics to track against, ‘on time’ and ‘completed correctly first time’, and both metrics were well below 50%. Not only were they low, but they had consistently been low across at least five different supervisors over the years. I was able to get both metrics consistently up to above 90% by thinking out-of-the-box and willing to take the risk to do things differently.

2. Be willing to make mistakes because it is a great way to learn. I am a type A overachiever so being okay with making mistakes is not something that comes naturally to me. I always want to be my best. Becoming a manager made this easier as I learned that in order to be the best manager I could and help others grow, I had to let people safely fail. When I think back on when I learned the most, it was definitely from making mistakes, and learning from them to help shape future successes.

3. Be humble and willing to ask for help. I used to feel like I had to have all of the answers. I am a solver by nature. Give me a problem and I will find a way to solve it. But I learned that everyone needs help along the way, and when you try to tackle everything on your own, you are missing the best part of teamwork — the many insightful perspectives. My team and peers are amazing and they many times have better answers than I do, so it is critical to get input and help to come up with the best solutions.

4. Be relatable and human. Early in my career, I overcompensated for being young by being too professional. This carried with me throughout my career, and being too professional was one of the biggest criticisms I received, as I was sometimes perceived as cold or harder to get to know. I now work hard to build genuine, personable relationships so people can get to know the real me. It isn’t always easy when days are filled with busy meetings and long to-do lists, but one of the most important things I can do. When you have strong relationships and people know you really care, it is much easier to tackle the challenges that come along the way.

5. Surround yourself with and leverage the people who have skills and strengths you don’t. You are only as strong as your team. If you have too many people just like you, you miss out on the other ideas. And when these ideas are spun across a diverse group with unique perspectives and skills, brilliance can happen.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Despite the many challenges and issues that resulted from COVID-19, one positive that came out of it was a significant short-term reduction in pollution that had a positive impact on climate change. It showed us that we can make a difference with a worldwide effort. So the movement I would like to inspire would involve improved healing of our global environment by achieving a similar level of pollution reduction as we go back to a “normal” state and begin to start recovering from the initial impact of COVID-19. If every country makes a concerted effort to adopt new policies and all businesses commit to better practices, it can make a significant positive impact on global warming, which we are seeing during COVID-19. Concepts like working from home with less commuting, less travel and more video conferences, and finding creative ways to spend more time at home could have a tremendous impact on the planet for us and our future generations.

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

For my kids, it is “You be you”. I encourage them to be the best they can be and not try to be someone else. Popularity comes and goes and the only friends who matter are true friends; those are the ones who will stand by you no matter what. Be a true friend even if others don’t reciprocate. This also applies to work because it is so important to bring your whole self to work every day and be who you are. Whether at work or at home, don’t ever try to be something you are not. Be comfortable standing alone and standing up for something you believe in respectfully, but do it for the right reasons. Having a passion for what you do and always striving to be your best is what makes your personal brand unique and something to cherish.

We are very blessed that some very prominent 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

Elon Muskbecause he is an incredible entrepreneur who has proven that he can implement very creative, future-focused ideas successfully. It would be fascinating to hear any innovative/out-of-the-box ideas he might have for the housing industry, as well as just anything on his mind in general. He has diverse interests and his innovations are changing the world.

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