Olin’s popular annual Leadership Perspectives event “6 executives. 60 ideas. 60 minutes” drew an audience of about 300 on January 26.
Six leaders shared a lightning round of tips. Their suggestions included “think of confidence as a muscle” you can build, “seek and accept the truth” and many more. Todd Milbourn, Olin interim deputy dean and Hubert C. and Dorothy R. Moog Professor of Finance, moderated the event. These were the panelists:
Adrian Bracy, president, Adrian Bracy and Associates
Elizabeth Fratturra, EMBA 2016, first vice president, portfolio manager, financial advisor, Morgan Stanley;
Steve Harris, MBA 2008, principal, Edward Jones;
Jo Pang, founder/consultant, Culture Wise;
Patrick E. Smith Sr., BS 2007, EMBA 2016, senior vice president, operations and technical services, Ameren;
Kelli Washington, BSBA 1994, managing director of research and investment strategy, Cleveland Clinic.
Here’s a brief selection of wisdom they offered:
Bracy: Trust is the foundation for building a team. “Your word is your bond. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. If you can’t do it, let the person know. It’s very important to keep your word as a leader.”
Fraturra: “Believe in yourself and be confident. We all struggle with insecurities, and part of the reason is we’re privy to this sort of chaos behind the scenes.” Don’t “compare what’s behind the curtain to others’ polished, finished project.”
Harris: Understand your purpose and draw on it. His purpose: “Use what I’ve learned to help others grow so I can experience the rewards that come back to me later.”
Pang: Ask yourself questions and reflect on your personal answers to guide you. “What is my own definition of success?” “What would I do with my life now if I were to die in 10 years?
Smith: “Select a mentor who is at least a couple of levels above you.” That person likely won’t see you as a professional risk, “and that way, they won’t hold back on the good stuff.”
Washington: Ask yourself, “What are your biases, and how can they cause you to be wrong?”
Adam Stanley knows exactly when and how he decided not to be a jerk as a boss—the time he decided to opt-out of a group where he was being encouraged not to be himself, not to be authentically the nice guy he wanted to be. That moment was one of the lessons he shared in his recent appearance at “Like a Boss,” a Leadership Perspectives event for WashU Olin Business School on February 17, 2022.
Stanley, BSBA ’95, is the retired CIO and chief digital officer for Cushman & Wakefield, a position he held after a varied career in consulting, insurance and banking. He is now chief experience officer for Teach For America.
He appeared on the virtual Olin stage with Andrew Knight, professor of organizational behavior, to discuss the elements of a great team, how to build a dream team and how to keep it thriving.
Stanley spoke about strategies for managing diverse groups, the ingredients for building respectful team relationships, the need for “closed-loop communication” among team members, and the challenges of working with teams in a virtual environment—including the ways remote work is fundamentally different when it’s no longer a choice. He also addressed what choices he made that influenced his career path.
This is a selection of questions he addressed. Watch the full video for more.
What is your definition of success when it comes to teamwork?
“When I think about a team, the best teams have a clear understanding of what the challenge or the opportunity is. They understand the ideal set of outcomes, but they’re willing to admit that sometimes things are planned and outcomes are expected, and sometimes they’re more serendipitous. And sometimes you just luck out. The journey to get there may be complex, it may be tough, it may be easy sometimes and it may be completely different than what you’ve expected. Successful teams, they thrive in those kinds of environments.”
Is success whether a team reached its North Star or is it more nuanced?
Stanley recalled a conversation with the chief of medicine, the head of nursing and the emergency room attending physician at a Boston hospital, a conversation that acknowledged the obvious North Star in dealing with an ER patient.
Once the group saves the patient, “the temptation would be to say we accomplished our goal, but if you just do that without taking a minute to close the loop and confirm what went well, what didn’t go well, you’ve missed a learning opportunity. Especially in an agile environment, learning from how you did it is almost as important as the fact that you actually did it. Because one is repeatable. The way you got there is really the learning.”
Are there things that are unique to certain industry sectors as they relate to effective teamwork?
After working in consulting, insurance, banking, and now in nonprofit work, Stanley said, “what’s funny to me is that everyone thinks they’re so special. But they’re not. Now more than ever I’m learning—I’m in a nonprofit education-focused institution—and I come in and think everything is going to be completely different.
“But it’s not. I tell people all the time, the greatest muscle expansion I had that’s been most consistently helpful from job to job was my time as managing editor of Student Life newspaper at Washington University. As odd as that sounds, the intellectual curiosity, the ability to ask questions about something completely new to you, that’s completely consistent across industries, across jobs, across any opportunity.”
Is there a core set of generalizable ingredients to a successful team?
“One thing that’s worked for me, and it’s so incredibly simple — and I’m actually drinking tea right — there’s an acronym that I’ve used throughout my career which is TEA. It’s based on a premise I’ve said for years and years.
“Respect is the non-negotiable foundation behind any team, any initiative any element of work. That’s the foundation. If the foundation is respect, what are the ingredients of that foundation?
“Trust is first. You have to trust your team members. That is earned. It’s hard to earn, and it’s really easy to lose. Empowerment is the next ingredient. A lot of people misuse that word. The vast majority of people who empower their team members don’t train them and don’t actually give them the tools and the training and the support.
“Finally, it’s accountability and having metrics you can use to measure the success of whatever the initiative was. If you have those three ingredients, teams just work so much better, and I think that’s completely transferrable from organization to organization.”
Growing up, Nikkia Reveillac moved in a lot of culturally diverse environments. As a native of Trinidad and Tobago, she recalled one of her biggest adjustments in the United States was to the casual “Hi, how are you?” greeting strangers and friends alike would toss her way.
She quickly learned they weren’t really inviting a conversation about her well-being.
Reveillac’s candid introduction to her cultural upbringing and early experience moving in multicultural groups served as the introduction to WashU Olin’s new presentation series, Diversity Perspectives, on February 11. The director of consumer insights for Netflix gave a lively 40-minute overview of her philosophy before opening the event to questions. Her biggest message focused on the power of curiosity.
“The one thing I want to leave with you is we have the power to hold ourselves to a higher bar. That bar is curiosity,” she told viewers. When we introduce ourselves to each other, when we become responsible for the careers of others, when we consider how we allocate opportunities—how is curiosity playing a role in helping us learn about other people? “It’s almost like our brains are inherently lazy. The quality of my life has been enriched to no end by my ability to raise the bar of curiosity.”
Reveillac urged viewers to consider five qualities to develop “alongside being technically amazing and prepared for work.” With so much of a leader’s job focused on managing the three P’s—people, personalities and politics—”these are really important to work on alongside all your other tasks.”
Self awareness. Who is in front of me? Bring awareness of myself into the conversation.
Empathy. “It’s this ability to put yourself into someone else’s shoes. This is easier said than done.” Consider adopting an ego-less and self-less approach to life.
Humility. A recognition that you may be exceptional in one area but you can always get better and others around you may have the same skills. Example: Netflix’s culture memo says, “Netflix does not tolerate brilliant jerks.”
A growth mindset. Every quality builds on the previous one. Once you have awareness about where you need to improve and where you’re not great, it’s helpful to be open to working on it. For your benefit and the benefit of the team. You’re open to other points of view, different mindsets.
Relationship building. Establish a sense of trust and credibility.
“I want you to start thinking on Monday how you can make some shifts.”
Megan Berry, MBA ’15, is the founder and CEO of by REVEAL, a turnkey pop-up retail platform. More about her company in a bit.
Olin tapped Berry to speak at our Leadership Perspectives event last week, “Start Me Up: Venture Capital and Transforming Traditional Industries.” She and Doug Villhard, professor and Olin’s academic director for entrepreneurship, talked about the entrepreneurship process, the ins and outs of venture capital investing, and digital transformation’s place for many sectors of business.
As a student, Berry came to WashU to earn her master’s degree in architecture. She did that—and more. “I’m the first person in my family to go to college, so it was super exciting,” Berry said.
Often, she would read bios of people she admired, and she realized everyone she aspired to be like had an MBA. “So, in my first semester, I kind of marched up to Olin” from WashU’s Sam Fox School to learn more. She met with Evan Bouffides, director of MBA admissions, and he steered her to the entrepreneurship program. She enrolled the next semester.
What attracted her to architecture? “For me, it was really about creating something that was physical in the real world. How can I create something that’ll last, and how can I create something I can touch and feel?”
What attracted her to business? “I quickly realized that there was a lot more than actual physical, tactile—you know—materials that went into it. If you really wanted to make an impact and actually build something, you really needed to understand the business side of it.”
She also learned she wanted to work in a fast-paced environment. “And I wanted to be in an environment where I had resources at my fingertips.” At Olin, she had resources. She was surrounded by people and a support system that gave her the opportunity to test an idea that would evolve into her business today.
“I could launch and then iterate and fail, and I had that safety net that was able to say: ‘Just go try. Go learn. What’s the worst that could happen?’”
Paid in pizza
Berry and a band of friends (whom she promised to pay in pizza) beta-tested her idea for a business. She had found a small piece of land by a fountain in St. Louis’ Central West End neighborhood, and she tracked down the owner. He agreed to let her borrow it for her experiment. There, she set up a pop-up shop to sell headbands, purses, belts and other things women in the Midwest made.
“Within an hour, we had paying customers,” she said. “You can’t get lucky if you don’t try.”
Berry’s company, based in Brooklyn, New York, was built to give emerging designers and established brands access to consumers in-person. The company’s trained concierges operate “reveals” in unusual locations for limited times. The aim is to make it easier for consumers to find products they love and easier for designers to be in retail. Overall, by REVEAL provides brands, developers and technology companies a full-service solution to test markets, build awareness, generate sales and capture consumer data with live retail experiences.
Berry has worked for dozens of brands in 15 US cities on custom pop-ups in spaces ranging from 36 square feet to 10,000, including sidewalks, hotel lobbies, corporate lobbies, festivals, universities, malls, parks and public plazas.
Villhard: “So you got this business going. It’s wonderful. Brands are learning a ton. I’m sure you’re having fun, too, hiring people, growing people. The pandemic hits. What happens?”
Berry: “It was brutal. I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much my entire life.”
The pandemic threatened to unwind everything she’d built. Customers were canceling contracts. She had to let employees go.
“It was horrible,” Berry said. “But one of the most important things of being an entrepreneur is that you constantly need to balance what you want to do versus what’s best for the livelihood of the company. And it was extremely, extremely difficult.”
Berry has friends who kept on many of their employees for as long as possible thinking the worst would be over in two weeks, or maybe two months. But Berry? She said she was “ruthless.” She buckled down and asked herself what she needed to do if she didn’t have revenue for the next 12 months.
“People thought it was crazy.” They told her to go home and watch some Netflix for a couple of weeks then come back.
“I cut every single line item I could. And now, you know, 18 months later I’m grateful that I did that, but it was not fun. … You need to manage your budget like crazy. Money does not count unless it’s in the bank. When you’re a tiny company, a contract is very wonderful.
But if your client is bigger than you and has more expensive lawyers than you, then it doesn’t mean anything unless the money is in the bank.”
After she had “used up all of the Kleenexes in the entire island of Manhatten,” Berry started her company’s daunting shift to e-commerce. “People didn’t want to do anything that was focused on the physical world.”
But Berry didn’t know anything about e-commerce. “I’m not a developer. I’m not an engineer.”
Friends told her she had better learn.
By REVEAL now partners with a firm in the Bay Area and offers e-commerce services as well as physical retail services. “It was a very, very scary pivot,” Berry said. “Delegating is something I’ve always struggled with, but with e-commerce I was forced to delegate because I do not know how to code.” To get dollars coming in, she had to focus on a digital strategy.
The company now adapts to the same patterns that retailers and brands are going through as the pandemic continues.
“It’s like a lever,” Berry said. “We are physical, or we are digital, or we are in the middle.”
Meanwhile, consumers want products when and where they want them. “From a consumer standpoint, there is no difference between the physical and the digital. It’s about convenience.”
Berry said the shift was “a great reset where brands basically had to drop and become as lean as possible. And now brands are scaling up with a tremendously enhanced skill set that covers both the physical and the digital.”
The physical retail environment, however, never will be fully replaced, she said, “because we’re human beings. We like engaging with people. We like engaging all of our senses. We like to touch things and smell things and be in new environments.”