By Justine Griffin
Tampa Bay Times, St. Petersburg, Fla.
Managing a multibillion dollar corporation is no walk in the park. Take it from Bloomin’ Brands CEO Liz Smith and HSN CEO Mindy Grossman.
It takes vision, assertion and teamwork. But most of all, it takes confidence and communication skills, the CEOs agreed. Smith and Grossman led a discussion about what it takes to be a top entrepreneur to build and grow a successful company during a speaker series held by the Sykes College of Business program at the University of Tampa on Thursday night.
Students, faculty, wannabe entrepreneurs and up-and-coming Tampa Bay business owners listened to the hour-long program with two of Tampa Bay’s leading chief executives at the David Falk Theater.
Here’s a recap of the advice Smith and Grossman shared.
1. Learn from those around you.
Education is a life-long endeavor, Grossman said. Take it from her — after graduating from college with a bachelor’s degree, she called off a wedding engagement and decided not to go to law school like she had planned, and instead moved to New York City to try to make it in the fashion industry. She did, and ended up working for companies like Nike, Polo Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger before joining HSN. “There are few things scarier than that,” she said. But the lessons she learned from the experience were worth it. Even as a CEO, she said she surrounds herself with people who are smarter than her so she’s always learning.
2. Communication is key.
Both Smith and Grossman graduated with bachelor’s degrees in English before pursuing more business-related master’s degrees and training programs. They agreed that having that liberal arts background helped lay the groundwork to be better communicators, an essential tool when you’re trying to lead any kind of company or group of people. “There’s no one path that’s going to lock you into being a CEO,” Grossman said. “Technology is a detriment in some ways because of how it’s changed the way we communicate. Those skills are so important.”
3. Be self aware.
People like to tell Smith that she is naturally assertive, that it’s a character trait she was born with. She disagrees. “I’ve learned to be self aware. I can communicate my point of view and am not afraid to share my own opinion,” she said. “But I also know what my derailers are, and rely on others to help me work on them so I can improve my leadership skills.” Welcoming feedback and ideas for improvement is important for personal growth and a way to be transparent in front of your team. “Women are less comfortable feeling uncomfortable,” she said. But it’s really a key part of the job.
4. Finda mentor. Or two
Being willing to ask for help when you need it is something Grossman learned during her time at Nike. She considers the retailer’s co-founder, Phil Knight, to be one of her mentors. When she was taking on a new job in a new part of the company, Grossman went to Nike’s human resources department and asked for support to help her hone her leadership skills. The company agreed. And mentorship goes both ways, said Smith. “My No. 1 responsibility as a leader is to make myself replaceable,” she said. “It’s important to mentor those under me. Leaders who don’t aren’t being transparent.”
5. Network like hell.
Networking is key for your career no matter your age. “The qualities of great leaders are genderless,” Grossman said, and a lot of those skills are developed through the people you meet in your career. For Smith, that means meeting new leaders in the tech industry when she’s speaking at Stanford, her alma mater. She may not work in tech, but you never know how those relationships could blossom one day. “There are always going to be unexpected turns you take during your career,” she said.