One woman’s journey into the complete unknown of being a CEO
I was recently named CEO of Javelina, a company that brings branding and marketing to life for the world’s most important causes so that they can change the world. We work with non-profits, businesses, campaigns and individuals to give a voice to things that matter the most on this earth.
CEO feels like a pretty big deal. I have to admit, when we first made the decision I was thrilled. CEO! CEO of a company I co-founded no less. Since starting Javelina in 2012 with the best business partners on earth, we have built the company year-on-year. While it hasn’t always been easy, it’s always felt worthwhile.
This latest development felt like a promotion, a new job, a big challenge. Excitement abounded.
And then, one of my team members asked me a sobering question: What does that mean exactly?
In that moment, the thoughts that came to mind, in rough chronological order, were:
- It means that I need to order new business cards.
- It means that I need to google “what does a CEO do?”
- It means that I need a better answer to this question.
- It means I don’t have a clue what this actually involves.
- It means I’m going to fail!
But, I was having a conversation with a coworker here, so a public and messy meltdown didn’t seem like an option. So, I did what I always do when I don’t know the answer. I deflected with a question. Conversation tennis.
Then, I asked her the first thing that came into my head: “What are the first three things you would do if you had just been named CEO of Javelina?”
Her answers led to everything that has happened since that terrifying moment, including this blog post.
She said the following three things:
- Communicate to the team what this means for you and what it means for them
- Meet with other CEOs to learn and be inspired
- Write a blog post about it
When she made the last comment, I screwed my nose up. Who would care about my promotion? A big deal to me, yes, but hardly worthy of sharing with the world. And then she said seven words that will stay with me forever: “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
Her rationale: The vast majority of America’s CEOs are white men. If sharing my story helps just one young woman see that she can be a CEO, then my story would be worth sharing, right?
This is especially true when I consider that never in a million years would I ever have imagined this is what I would be doing for a job. If you’d have asked my younger self what you needed to be good at to thrive in business, I would have said math, science and computers – my three least favorite things in life. Business certainly was not for me. I was really more suited for something in an arts-related field – writing, or maybe teaching.
Born and raised in the UK, I came to Arizona in 2005 to complete my Master’s degree in Public Administration at Arizona State University. I intended to do my two years and then go home. I was far more interested in living in a hot climate and traveling than I was in seeking academic prowess. In my last semester, I volunteered on a political campaign (Bob Lord’s bid against then-Congressman John Shadegg) for academic credit. In an instant, I was sucked in. Despite almost no prior knowledge of American politics, the intensity, the fast pace and the sheer importance of it all took over my soul.
For the next four years, I worked for a consulting firm doing political campaigns, always learning but never with any grand plan. I just wanted to make a difference. In 2012, David Waid, my longterm boss and mentor, suggested we start our own company. Arizona political veteran Bill Scheel was leaving a long term position with former Phoenix Mayor, Phil Gordon, and the three of us decided to give it a go.
People often ask how we came up with the name Javelina. It was a long process. We took weeks playing around with combinations of our last names, or words that sounded strategic. And then we decided to do things differently and pick a name that evoked a feeling rather than described a service. That idea – to do things differently – has been a fundamental cornerstone of how we do business ever since.
To us, Javelina is at once creative and assertive, distinctive and memorable. Javelina may look cute, but it’s laser focused on achieving the goal.
In the five years since our beginning, we have grown and succeeded. We have failed and learned. But, we have always strived to make a difference by doing things differently – and we always will.
Now, to my amazement and excitement, I get to serve our vision for the way the world should be as CEO.
As I have discovered, your passion finds you. And you will be good at all kinds of things you might not expect.
If I can inspire just one person who doesn’t think of themselves as “business-y” to explore a career in changing the world through the private sector, then sharing my journey will have been worth it.
Here is what I have decided to do. I am going to be transparent. I am going to share my experience on this new path. The highs, the lows, the good, the bad and the embarrassing. I plan to share with our team and with you. To hold myself accountable, to learn from your reactions and ideas, to share what we learn, how we succeed and how we fail. But above all else, because you can’t be what you can’t see.
One other thing that my coworker’s answer to my question did was inspire me to ask the exact same thing of the rest of the team: “What are the first three things you would do if you had just been named CEO of Javelina?”
The answers astounded, inspired and challenged me. And they led me down a pathway that will have huge ramifications for Javelina and the people we serve.
Hold tight and look out for the next blog post…all will be revealed.