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“You don’t always have to be strong; you just need to have purpose” With Shay Onorio, President of Red Thinking & Akemi Sue Fisher

I have been taught by so many people that you don’t always have to be strong; you just need to have purpose. It doesn’t mean we don’t all “have a moment” but as long as we pick yourself back up, dust off and keep moving forward, it’s a win. So I work to be inspiring […]


I have been taught by so many people that you don’t always have to be strong; you just need to have purpose. It doesn’t mean we don’t all “have a moment” but as long as we pick yourself back up, dust off and keep moving forward, it’s a win. So I work to be inspiring in that no one is perfect but we’re all allowed to have our moments of greatness. I mentor a handful of girls and women as it relates to both their personal lives and professional ones. I’m in the car so often I tell people that while driving you’ve got my undivided attention and half the time it’s when I do my best thinking and feel like I can be a solid voice of reason. I have passion to make a difference be it one small suggestion, an introduction or to help set goals with a follow up to check off the list of to-do’s.It’s so gratifying to watch people accomplish what they put their mind to. Watching team members, friends, industry contacts and even previous employees that remain close to me, I take advantage of my people person personality and put it to good use as best I can. Human interaction is comfortable and offers such quality to the well being of my life. If I can trigger an idea that helps someone; what a win.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Shay Onorio, President & Partner of Red Thinking in the DC Metro area. Her insightful instincts and acute business knowledge has enabled Shay to ensure Red Thinking delivers the unexpected; with the end-game goal of providing thought-provoking and effective digital strategy and exceptional design/branding for her clients.


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 grew up in Northern New Jersey and had the opportunity to be around the fashion industry which led to exposure to public relations, branding and media. I was placed at an internship my senior year of high school at Kerwin Communications where they specialized in high-end jewelry brands including Tiffany & Co., Mikimoto pearls and Cartier. I loved the energy and fast-paced environment. I was able to declare my major during my freshman year at Radford University — something most collegiates don’t do until at least their sophomore year.

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

Since taking the helm at Red Thinking it is the combination of many experiences where I have been able to quickly and confidently know that we were onto something unique and we are standing out against our competitive set. This passion for being the best in design and digital comes across in meetings with prospects and clients. They are quick to tell me so. Prior to, I was sitting in a large corner office at a fancy DC address, realizing I had worked so hard to get “there” yet knew that if I had continued working in the corporate world that I would have had to make a lot of mom choices that I no longer wanted to make. Flexibility in the workplace continues to thrive but working for myself will always allow more freedom and opportunity than working for someone else. I work even harder now yet I’m not sure my daughter knows I even have a job. For now, I’m ok with that. To her, I’m simply available and that’s a solid problem to have.

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?

Just so many unknowns. I’m a fast-paced personality; my brain doesn’t typically know when to hit the ‘pause’ button so I often find myself trying to do it all. Once, I accidentally took down our whole DropBox system and one of our designers worked through the weekend to recover all of our work that was completed and in progress. If you say the word DropBox around my team, I’m quickly made fun of. It’s rare you’ll see me looking around for stuff in our files these days…I ask for help.

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

In the last year, I’ve been told by at least three new clients that not only did our work speak for itself, but they also applauded me for not sending a business development team to pitch our business. I entered the meeting with the best designer and account manager on the team, familiarizing the client with who they’ll work with, right out of the gate. Other firms send in teams that have nothing to do with the actual work that will be needed, so how do you trust the fit is right? I rose through the ranks in account management so when Red Thinking wins a project, you still see me for the relationship, strategy, camaraderie and to support my team. We don’t win a piece of business and then I disappear, you interact with top leaders throughout. It definitely differentiates us!

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

The bulk of our business is real estate (apartments, condos, planned & mixed communities), hospitality, associations, and nonprofits. It is where my passions lie. We were awarded the branding and digital work for a brand new cidery coming to the area and it’s just such fun to see my designers WOW this client every step of the deliverables list. It’s an industry that is hip and energetic and it is amazing to see the creativity come to life throughout the process. When the client is texting you virtual high fives and is practically giddy; you’re doing something right.

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

Be you. Be honest. When you want to get upset about something, think of how you’d appreciate when being spoken to. When you’re excited about something you or your team have done, share it. Show the love. Make it known you believe in each person and they’ll see your honesty and how much you mean it.

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

Communication. I’m on the road a lot for meetings so I often call my employees while going from one place to another. Don’t hide behind your computer. Make it personal. Pick up the phone, grab coffee together. Be real.

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?

When I was 22 I worked for a firm that represented a large, publicly traded home builder. The account was massive, with offices all over the country. A regional president and I just took to each other and while he was known to be tough, he has a heart of gold. He taught me to appreciate how real estate affects the economy, what messaging resonates with a first-time or move-up home buyer and how the two are very different. We laughed, he yelled, but I knew he was supportive of the work I was doing for him and we worked together for nearly a decade. We continue to have a strong relationship nearly 20 years later.

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

I was once asked my hobbies during an interview and I was stumped. The first that came to mind were my husband, my daughter and going to the Jersey shore. Not really bringing “goodness” to the world aside from wanting to be a great wife and mom. I joined the board of a nonprofit called Women Giving Back and stepped in to help with their messaging, online reputation and to expand their volunteers and donors. It resonated with me so much that nonprofits, in general, are a big part of my life. I volunteer for a number of organizations, we have nonprofit clients and once a year Red Thinking comes together and hosts Brand Jam. My business partner, Jen Sterling, created a 24-hour opportunity where nonprofits apply to receive pro-bono work. We shut our doors and work 24 hours straight, offering everything from messaging platforms and social media strategies to new logos, web design, marketing collateral and more. It’s exhausting and inspiring. When you see the looks on folks’ faces as we present what we developed on their behalf, in 24 hours. It’s incredible.

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

  1. Be available. Listen to your team; you cannot manage every person in the same way. I want my team to know they can pick up the phone, shoot me a text or email, ask for a video chat and that I will make myself responsible to talk things through as efficiently and timely as possible.
  2. Laugh. We are not doing brain surgery. Let’s wow our clients and have some fun. One of my team members has a sign above her desk that says WWSD? What would Shay do? It makes me laugh when she tells me she refers to it. I hope it gives her the answers she’s looking for!
  3. Be confident. Show some swagger, but toss your ego; it’s unflattering. I was once in a kick off meeting and sat down in the “pleather” chair and slipped right off it onto the floor. I thought the account manager with me was going to have to hide in a corner from laughing and blushing so hard. I just laughed at myself and continued on as is. I didn’t give the new client a chance to even ask me if I was ok. I was just like “slippery little sucker!”
  4. Have empathy. Work with your team to be solutions-driven, together. I recognize that I need to stop myself sometimes and further explain what my brain is thinking. I can’t ask folks to read my mind or always understand the direction I’m giving but I ask the same of them. Take a deep breath and collect your thoughts. We’re in this together so let’s not have meetings about meetings. Let’s just knock it all out, together.
  5. Empower. Give everyone the ability to make decisions versus simply following your lead. You’ll find me all too often asking my team well, how would you address that email? And 99% of the time it’s spot-on. I’m also a huge advocate for picking up the phone and I do find myself reminding everyone how important it is to have that connection and not leave perception to be reality as everyone reads emails differently. Own your conversations and ideas!

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 have been taught by so many people that you don’t always have to be strong; you just need to have purpose. Doesn’t mean we don’t all “have a moment” but as long as we pick yourself back up, dust off and keep moving forward, it’s a win. So I work to be inspiring in that no one is perfect but we’re all allowed to have our moments of greatness. I mentor a handful of girls and women as it relates to both their personal lives and professional ones. I’m in the car so often I tell people that while driving you’ve got my undivided attention and half the time it’s when I do my best thinking and feel like I can be a solid voice of reason. I have passion to make a difference be it one small suggestion, an introduction or to help set goals with a follow up to check off the list of to-do’s.It’s so gratifying to watch people accomplish what they put their mind to. Watching team members, friends, industry contacts and even previous employees that remain close to me, I take advantage of my people person personality and put it to good use as best I can. Human interaction is comfortable and offers such quality to the well being of my life. If I can trigger an idea that helps someone; what a win.

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

“If people are doubting how far you can go, go so far you can’t hear them anymore.” This quote resonates with me as I’ve seen the good and bad with successful female leaders and their support of me or others. Being able to tune it out and turn a WOW moment into a LET’S DO THIS moment has been cathartic.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@RedThinking on Facebook and Instagram, Shay Carson Onorio on LinkedIn

Thank you so much for these inspiring insights!

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