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Cynthia Pharr Lee

Chairman, Corporate Board Member, Co-Founder Texas Women Ventures

Create a stand-out brand to win non-executive roles

Interviewing Cynthia Pharr Lee recently, I felt she was an outstanding example of how to be strategic to win non-executive director roles. She was kindly sharing her insights for Prime Women’s second act online program .

But now I want to share just how she created a portfolio of non-executive roles – and her tips anyone could follow. With a background in PR and marketing, Cynthia is the first to say, “Who would expect someone with my professional background to have a stamp as a cybersecurity expert?”

Her first roles – always the hardest – came from clients. One of her specialties was helping corporations in a crisis, “These are very high-level situations and you are working under pressure with the chief executive, accountants, lawyers and others. It was a good way for chief executives to see judgement and wisdom – something boards look for in their non-executives.”

But what Cynthia has done since is to look at what skills are missing on boards and get qualifications in them. As she says, this makes her distinctive.

She sets herself a “learning” goal every year. “Some years ago, I got a certificate in finance for non-finance managers, from Harvard,” Cynthia said. “Because of my marketing background, I was good at digital – however, I decided to validate this and did a Harvard course in digital marketing. To be honest, I didn’t really learn much that was new, but it makes me stand out to have this qualification.”

More recently, she noticed the growing issues of cybersecurity and a real lack of expertise to lead discussions on this at the board level.  Cynthia researched and signed up for the Cyber-Risk Oversight Program run by the National Association of Corporate Directors in partnership with Carnegie Mellon university. “It was a 30-hour online course, very credible and I learned a lot,” she says. “I can’t say I am an expert, but I now know the questions to ask around the board table and can oversee a strategic approach to the issue. It makes me distinctive as a non-executive director.”

Cynthia’s other distinction is that she co-founded Texas Women Ventures Fund in 2005 and was involved for ten years. “I became an early impact investor and we founded a family of venture funds to invest in women – an interest which turned into a passion, which turned into a distinction.”

She adds, “Being perceived as a venture capitalist was a rich field for developing clients, relationships and certainly for standing apart. You could probably count on two hands women who started venture funds – at the time, you could probably count them on one hand.”

Cynthia’s current portfolio includes independent board member of AAA Automobile Club of Southern California, Darling Ingredients Inc., and Lightstone Group, as well as chair of Dala Communications – the business she founded and built.

If you want help shaping your second act, join Prime Women’s online program – five 90-minute sessions over several weeks, with a small group of your peers. You will cover how to create a plan for a life on your terms and gain skills in personal branding, strategic networking, LinkedIn and more to make your plan happen. Click here for information and to book your place. You will hear more insights from Cynthia and other women who made stunning transitions – to become board directors, social entrepreneurs, wine writer and even having their own TV show!

Written by Victoria Tomlinson, Next Up 

Ornit Avidar

Founder & Managing Director, WaterWays Solutions Ltd; Former Diplomat

What are you passionate about? Do you want to change the world, leave a legacy, make a difference to society?

What’s stopping you?

If you have something in your heart, just read this story of Ornit Avidar and you will be inspired to just do it! Let’s get you going!

I interviewed Ornit because she is one of the women sharing her tips in an online program Prime Women launched to help women shape their second acts. More of that later, but for now just sit back and learn from Ornit!

Ornit has been a diplomat, CEO of a high-tech company, investor and currently writing her PhD  But it was when she was working in private equity that her passion began, “I was asked to research the issue of water for investment. And I fell in love with water and I understood that water is my future. I wanted to help countries in Africa to get clean water.”

Ornit set up WaterWays and started researching the issues in depth. She travelled to Niger, Madagascar, Cameroon, Kenya, Burkino Faso and more. She had been hesitant about having enough technical expertise to understand how best to help these countries. But what she found surprised her, “I was travelling deep into rural areas – often very difficult nine-hour journeys by car. What I kept finding was there was often an abundance of water – but not clean water for people to drink and use. And the big issue was more about politics and social issues.”

She realized her maturity gave her strengths to look at problems with a new perspective, “I realized a lot of what I was seeing was just not logical. Yes, there were people in NGOs doing a lot of good things, but we all needed to take a step back and look at the problem differently. I call this an ability of age.”

Ornit developed a methodology to bring sustainable water to rural areas in Africa – and it focuses on tackling the political and social issues first, then deciding which technology is needed, which is the relatively easy bit, because there is a lot of existing and relevant technology. And what she found was her people and motivating skills were more important than her technical knowledge and skills.

Her advice to others is to work out what skills you have first, “In my case I realized my strengths are people and motivating others – I was a diplomat for years travelling the world and this is what I am really good at.  And that is the issue with water – the tech is not the problem, but it’s working with people, motivating them to realize there are different ways to solve the issue and helping people realize they can do something about it.  It doesn’t have to be the way it always has.”

Then she looked to see what other help she needed and consulted experts to understand more. Through this she formed partnerships with networks and tech companies to make all this happen.

WaterWays provides water solutions to rural areas and has developed an ecosystem with a network of contacts, companies and tech.  Its vision is to bring a generic, comprehensive water solution from village to village – working with partners and co-ordinating with them.

Has this reminded you of a passion? Is there something at the back of your mind you always wanted to change? Is this the time for you to do it – and like Ornit, can you draw on your ‘ability of age’?

If you want help to make this work, join Prime Women’s online program – five 90-minute sessions over several weeks, with a small group of your peers. You will cover how to create a plan for a life on your terms and gain skills in personal branding, strategic networking, LinkedIn and more to make your plan happen. Click here for information and to book your place – this is limited to just ten women. You will hear more insights from Ornit and other women who have made stunning transitions – to become board directors, entrepreneurs, a wine writer and even having a TV show!

Written by Victoria Tomlinson, Next Up 

PrimeWomen Author Tricia Conover DWS, CSS

Tricia Conover

Wine and Travel Writer, Leads a Sales Consulting Practice; Former Technology VP

 

One of the challenges of shaping a second act career is the balance between having fun and earning money.  But you can do both – and Tricia Conover elegantly shows us how to do this!

I interviewed Tricia because she is one of the women sharing her insights and tips for the Prime Women Second Acts Program.

Tricia was one of the few senior women in the software industry and not only developed this into a business in recent years – recruiting for the software industry through Sales Strategy Consultants – but turned her passion for wine into a parallel career of wine writing.

Tricia loves this mix – she says it keeps both her left brain and right brain active, and allows her to develop her creative side while still earning money (software recruiting is a lot better paid, she says!)

I wanted to pick up on how Tricia got into wine writing – writing is something a lot of people want to do later in life.

Tricia explains, “I was VP in a software company that was restructuring. I got a handsome payout and decided to ‘drop out’ and go to Napa Valley for 12 weeks and immerse myself in a wine writing course.  This was to see if I really enjoyed it and could do it – and I was hooked!”

The course she went on was an intensive course by the Culinary Institute of America. The next step was a piece of luck or opportunity, depending on how you see it. Tricia had gone back into software and was in the UK, talking to a software client. She mentioned the wine course and he introduced her to a friend who moved to Florence in Italy and set up Tuscan magazine for expats in Italy. She persuaded them to let her try writing and she was launched.

Tricia then went on to pitch to local magazines, “You are always best to start writing for local publications,” using her Tuscan articles to show her ability.”

Alongside this she went to the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers in Napa Valley where, “The tutors are editors and publishers from other magazines – I met people from the Wall Street Journal, food, wine and travel magazines.”

But Tricia says her big break came when she was one of the founding writers for Prime Women. “The consistency and practice of submitting an article every month was really great for my craft!”

Tricia continues to study and qualify, now having achieved Level 4 in the WSET Diploma of Wine – just below the Masters of Wine qualification. This allows her to go to symposiums of Masters – she has just been to one in Spain.

Above all, Tricia says she just loves interviewing such interesting people working in wine – as examples, the owner of the Mondavi Estate and Kathryn Hall – the former US Ambassador to Austria who has built the brands, HALL and WALT wines.

My final questions for Tricia were around building this new brand, of her as a wine writer. How has she done this – and what is the role of social media?

“I have two distinct brands,” Tricia says. “Me as a tech businesswoman – which has just extended the brand I built over 30 years. And then me as a wine writer – and I have had to put a lot of energy into becoming known as this.

“I have two websites (see the images below), different social media accounts for each role. The wine regions are so beautiful that I strive to take pictures that reflect the stunning landscapes.

As Tricia says, “It is hard creating an identity. You have to work at it. It’s nine years since I studied that first CIA course, so I have built up nine years of credibility. I am getting invitations to industry events now – it is worth it. And, of course, I love travelling to such interesting places, tasting wonderful wines and writing about inspiring people.”

If you are inspired to create a second act on your terms, join Prime Women’s online program – five 90-minute sessions over several weeks, with a small group of your peers. You will cover how to create a plan for a life on your terms and gain skills in personal branding, strategic networking, LinkedIn and more to make your plan happen. Click here for information and to book your place – this is limited to just ten women. You will hear more insights from Tricia and other women who made stunning transitions – to become board directors, social entrepreneurs and even having their own TV show!

Written by Victoria Tomlinson, Next Up 

Sheree Clark

TV Show Host and Healthy Lifestyle Coach; Former Managing Partner of Design Agency

Can you become a TV presenter and personality after a corporate career? Most definitely yes – and if you have ever wanted to be on TV, here Sheree Clark shares her inspiration, insights and tips to help you do this.

I interviewed Sheree for an online program that Prime Women is launching shortly – more details about this below if you want to follow in Sheree’s footsteps. She is one of those taking part in the program.

I started my interview by asking Sheree about her transition – she had a very successful advertising agency for 25 years and decided to shut it down and start out in completely new areas. Was it a courageous decision?

Sheree agrees that many have seen this as a courageous move, but she has a different take, “Most of what we do in life is about moving towards something – or moving away from something. In my case it was very much moving away. I spent 25 years building and running a company and loved it – but I had ceased to enjoy it. I am now nine years on from making that decision but with hindsight I should have done it years before. Yes, at the time I had doubts, terror, buyer’s remorse – all that. But there is a good saying – it will be all right in the end and if it’s not all right, it’s not the end.”

Sheree is now a life coach and has her own weekly TV show, Fork in the Road, about healthy living. This all started with an opportunity, “I was running Des Moines Raw Food Week– a seven day festival which I created. It was manic. In the middle my friend and our PR agent told me I needed to attend a meeting – she was persuasive! It turned out to be with TV executives and they needed someone to create a show. To go live in two weeks. And I had to make a decision then! I said yes and have not regretted this.”

For women who have thought about going on TV, Sheree reminds them television has to fill their shows with people – they NEED people to go on air, “To make my show interesting, I need to have guests every week. We need to know if there are people like you out there, so put yourself forward.”

She says you need to stand out, but not in a splashy or annoying way, “Be professional and detail-oriented. Spell people’s names correctly, watch the program and match what you do and can talk about to the show you are approaching.”

Sheree says you can’t overstate the importance of social media for anyone wanting to have a new career or promote what they do, “What I say is, if you have trepidation about social media – get over yourself! There is a bit in all of us that resents being attached to our phones and longing for more privacy, but that is the way of the world.

“Do you remember your grandparents and their friends, when they seemed so old fashioned?  Don’t be that person! Reframe how you think about all this.”

I would absolutely agree with Sheree’s advice, which is to think about your audience and where they are and also which social media is most likely to suit you – then focus on one or two channels. “I am good at talking to camera,” says Sheree, “so it is natural to have a YouTube channel – I post once a week. I have Instagram and Facebook but I am not good at saying things in a condensed way, so I don’t do much on Twitter. It doesn’t suit me.”

Sheree coaches women transitioning to their second act. I asked her for tips, based on what she sees. She says, “It doesn’t matter what stage of life we are at, we are all held back by the gap between what is in our heart and what is in our head. You should at least allow your heart to be heard and ask ‘what if?’”

She advises women to think about people they know who seem to have made ‘brave’ decisions and ask them to share a piece of their heart with you. And listen intently. “I don’t know any woman who wouldn’t help you if you asked. You just need to ask – but also make sure you are a role model to others and help them when asked.”

If you want to hear more of Sheree’s insights and tips or help to shape your second act, join Prime Women’s online program – five 90-minute sessions eover several weeks, with a small group of your peers. You will cover how to create a plan for a life on your terms and gain skills in personal branding, strategic networking, LinkedIn and more to make your plan happen. Click here for information and to book your place – this is limited to just ten women. You will hear more insights from Sheree and other women who made stunning transitions – to become board directors, social entrepreneurs and even a wine writer!

Written by Victoria Tomlinson, Next Up 

Julie England

Independent Director, Artist and Former Technology Executive

 

Have you spent your life working in the corporate world and longed to become an artist, a musician, a chef – explore your creative skills?

Julie England has done just this – going from an engineer and VP in Texas Instruments to becoming a recognized artist, exhibiting her work. And picking up a number of independent board positions along the way!

I have been interviewing and sharing tips from a number of women who successfully created second careers. They will be talking in more detail on the Prime Women second act program, due to be launched October 23, 2018.

It was particularly Julie’s transition from a corporate leader to an artist and painter that interested me. I know from helping people in my own business that many find themselves almost frozen when it comes to thinking what they want to do next – and how to make it happen. Too many don’t give themselves permission to dream and ‘go for it.’ Yet, as Julie says, we are generally fit and healthy in our 50s and 60s and there is plenty of time to learn, qualify, experiment, develop skills and start something completely new.

So where did Julie start? She had collected art starting in the 90s and at that time thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to paint when I leave corporate life?’

But when the time came to leave corporate America, as she puts it, she felt she had to nail getting independent board roles first. Once she landed her first two, “I gave myself permission to try an art class. (As an aside, Julie has been asked so often how she got those roles she has produced a short guide on her tips, Eight Steps towards a Board of Directors Seat)

The challenge, Julie says, is when you try something completely new, of course you are, “Totally incompetent at it. The hardest part was to give myself permission just to enjoy it and not focus on outcomes – which I spent my whole life doing.”

She joined a community college – and recommends this to anyone who is starting on something radically different. An unexpected challenge was to convince her professors she was serious about becoming a professional painter, not just a hobbyist.

I am interested in how people manage their personal brands at this stage of their life – when you have years at the top of your game in corporations, how do you switch people’s perceptions of you? You need to create a new brand, especially if you want to sell your paintings, as in Julie’s case.

Social media played a part in this, and Julie created a website Julie England Art and set up Facebook and Instagram accounts – for those new to social media, Instagram is very much about pictures and images, so is ideal for any creative.

Julie says the key way she built her new brand was to enter local, regional and national art competitions to get her work out there. The national competitions are particularly important because work tends to be juried by well known names – an example would be Jed Perl, the New York art critic.

And Julie’s final tip to get your new brand known? “Make sure you tell everyone! I have just been to a Dallas business networking event, and I tell everyone my new office is my studio in the Dallas Design District – come and have a coffee and see my work. You have to use all these opportunities to promote your work.”

Perhaps the best bit about starting a new career later in life is we now have the confidence to know who we are, who we want to work with and how to make this work. Julie says she was a great fan of the artist Mary Vernon  and approached her for private art lessons, “She was very firm – I don’t teach privately – but you can join my classes at Southern Methodist University. So I did and it was a wonderful experience. If you admire someone, approach them – you never know what they might say.”

If you are still trying to shape your second act, can we help you? Prime Women is launching an online program – five 90-minute sessions over several weeks, with a small group of your peers. You will cover how to create a plan for a life on your terms and gain skills in personal branding, strategic networking, LinkedIn and more to make your plan happen. Click here for information and to book your place – this is limited to just ten women. You will hear more insights from Julie and other women who made stunning transitions – to become board directors, social entrepreneurs, a wine writer and even having a TV show!

We’ll show you how to use your skills and fulfil your dreams!

Written by Victoria Tomlinson, Next Up 

Jan Babiak

Board Member of Walgreens Boots Alliance, Euromoney Institutional Investor and Bank of Montreal; Former Managing Partner EY

 

Insights on becoming a non-executive director

I recently interviewed Jan Babiak for a program that Prime Women will be running, to hear Jan’s insights into becoming a non-executive director. We are both fellow alumni of EY and she has achieved what is the holy grail for so many – a portfolio non-executive director career.  But as you will see, she worked extremely hard to make this happen – planning ahead for years. And that is one of the tips she will be sharing on Prime Women’s program they will be launching October 23, 2018.

So first, a bit about Jan and then to cover how she created her second act so successfully.

Jan’s LinkedIn profile explains her former executive career – a global business leader with over 30 years in P&L management, technology, cybersecurity, regulatory, finance, and more, with Ernst & Young (now EY).  Twenty of these years were spent in London where she became Managing Partner, leaving the firm in 2009.

Jan now holds non-executive director roles with Walgreens Boots Alliance, Euromoney Institutional Investor, Bank of Montreal, the GHD Group and GlobalLogic – and previous roles with Royal Mail and Logica PLC.

Tip 1 – plan ahead

Jan’s biggest tip is you can’t expect the phone to ring off the wall – you have to make your career happen. She says you would think, from the media perspective, the only reason there aren’t more women on boards is there aren’t enough women, “And that is really wrong,” she says.  “There are a lot of AMAZING women out there – and a lot of AMAZING men too.” Her point is that it is extremely competitive and you will need to put yourself forward if you want one of these coveted roles.

How did Jan plan ahead? Well, she is probably one of a kind, as she started creating life plans when she was eight years old and always has a solid ten year plan ahead. When she reached her late 30s she started thinking seriously about the experience she would need for long term board roles, “I played a long game, for example, taking on P&L roles when I could have gone for better paid roles but not built the experience I would need.”

Jan also thought about the downsides – a portfolio career does not give certainty of income and many roles are not paid, but offer equity which may not achieve a return for a decade or so.

Tip 2 – take advice from non-executives

When Jan was ready to leave her ‘single career’ and move into her plural, she interviewed 40 men and women who had made this transition. The 35 women she interviewed were both generous with their time and she felt would have the most relevant experience for her – but the five men represented those on the nominating committees who would make appointment decisions.

The thing most people were worried about was how Jan would adjust from running operations with tens of thousands of people to a portfolio, advisory career, but she did not see this as a problem, “For me, it was not dissimilar to managing multiple clients and stakeholders.”

Tip 3 – what do you really want from your second act?

Apart from taking on non-executive roles, Jan has coached and helped dozens of women and started Project Starfish. This video on EY’s alumni site explains more about how Jan built a database of female candidates she could recommend to headhunters.

Jan coaches a lot of women and points out this is a wonderful time of life to fulfil dreams and ambitions, “For some women it is a time to give back, some want to start a business and for others it is the first time they can really choose who they want to work with.”

Her advice is to reflect on what you want to invest your time in.

To hear more of Jan’s tips and to get practical help in shaping your second act, join Prime Women’s online program. This is five 90-minute sessions over several weeks, with a small group of your peers. You will cover how to create a plan for a life on your terms and gain skills in personal branding, strategic networking, LinkedIn and more to make your plan happen. Click here for information and to book your place – this is limited to just ten women. You will hear more insights from Jan and other women who made stunning transitions – to become board directors, social entrepreneurs, a wine writer and even having a TV show!

Written by Victoria Tomlinson, Next Up