Sandra Lee Talks Entrepreneurship, Cooking With Birmingham Students

By Tara Massouleh
Alabama Media Group, Birmingham

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Great Q&A with TV host and entrepreneur Sandra Lee. Lee has been working with BBVA Compass and its’ #BrightFutures campaign to inspire entrepreneurship, especially among young people.

Alabama Media Group, Birmingham

You may know Food Network star Sandra Lee for teaching us how to make dinner on a dime, but the television host and lifestyle expert has more than just cooking tips up her sleeve. As part of her brand ambassadorship with BBVA Compass and their #BrightFutures campaign, Lee made a stop in the Magic City to share her inspirational story of success, along with advice on how to build better businesses.

Before her talks with students from Wenonah High School and Innovation Depot resident entrepreneurs, we sat down to talk all things business and Birmingham. And of course, we couldn’t resist getting her opinion on our favorite topics– football, fashion, and food!

Birmingham Magazine: Tell us a little about your brand ambassadorship with BBVA and how you got involved with it.

Sandra Lee: I’ve partnered a couple times with the new chief marketing officer of BBVA. Last year I went through a bit of a rough time and had to spend a lot of time at home. Meanwhile, Jennifer Dominiquini, the CMO of BBVA Compass, and I were talking about what the next steps in life are that I have to offer and share. I’ve done four television shows and 27 books. I have a magazine. I have product lines. So what is my job now in the world to be doing? I have a lot of experience running a company, starting it from nothing, and just have that entrepreneurial spirit. I feel like what I need to be communicating at this stage in my life is how other people can do that, as well, and what would make a difference and an impact in their worlds.

Because there are so many start-ups and people who are independent contractors working for themselves or at these fantastic small businesses and the entire staff has entrepreneurial spirit. So how do you embrace that and amplify that, and how do you really make that work for a company? I would love to have a whole team of just entrepreneurs because they think out of the box, and that’s what my career has always been about. You know “Semi-Homemade” is literally out of the box. So with BBVA Compass we outlined what are the 10 bright things you can do to have a brighter life, a brighter business, a brighter future.

BM: Why did you decide to stop in Birmingham specifically?

SL: Birmingham is a very important market for BBVA Compass. In fact, a lot of people don’t know this, but the Compass part of BBVA started in Birmingham. So, Birmingham is such an important market, plus I have spent a lot of time here. My magazine was born here, and I came back here a lot– I used to do all my photo shoots here. So, I’m very familiar with Birmingham, and I love it.

BM: What do you think about the entrepreneurial spirit and innovation in Birmingham?

SL: First of all, I think it’s absolutely that this is like the land of millennials. Everybody is looking for the land of millennials and you know where it is? I’m telling you, it’s in Birmingham. I was shocked to learn that. It is so young and so dynamic and so hip and cool. It’s a great place to live, and I think it’s one of the best-kept secrets in the United States.

BM: That’s awesome to hear you say, because we certainly think so. But it’s great to hear other people say it too.

SL: Even the fashion sense here is amazing. All the girls here are beautiful. They carry themselves so well. They’re hip. They’re chic. You don’t have to be in California or New York to be cool. It’s cool here.

BM: Do you have any favorite places in Birmingham?

SL: I’ve been to a lot of beautiful homes, I have to say. I’m into décor and gardens, so I go to a lot of friends’ homes and private places. Because if I’m out and about a lot, I don’t get a lot of downtime.

BM: Is there anywhere in Birmingham that you still want to go?

SL: I went there yesterday actually–the zoo. I did notice the zoo has this temperature thermometer as the build up to when they can afford to create the new zoo. I’d be happy to come back and we should throw that down.

BM: What advice would you give to your younger self now that you’ve seen and experienced so much in your career?

SL: Let the little stuff go. Rise above it. When you’re young, you have the tendency to engage in places where you don’t need to or take on issues you don’t need to take on within your business. Let it go, let other people do it. Delegate more. That’s about it. I wouldn’t have changed my journey because my journey taught me everything I need to know to be where I am, and I really feel like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.

BM: So now for the fun stuff. Being that we’re in the South, we have to ask, are you a football fan?

SL: I’m a HUGE football fan. I’m already planning for the Super Bowl. I shoot all the Super Bowl stuff for Food Network Magazine and a bunch of Houston magazines on October 14 and 15, so we’re planning that today and the season hasn’t even started.

BM: Auburn or Alabama?

SL: I’m not going there. I love everybody the same.

BM: OK we’ll go neutral. Do you have a favorite tailgating dish you like to make?

SL: Anything in a slow cooker. I love brats with sauerkraut and mustard on a wheat bun. I like chili. Oh my gosh, I love chili. And anything in a bar form. Think about lemon bars or raspberry bars, those kinds of things. Cheesecake bars–anything bars. I love that stuff.

BM: Do you have a favorite Southern food?

SL: I love biscuits. Biscuits need to be turned into scones. They need to do scone biscuits and do it at the state fair.

BM: What are you currently reading or watching?

SL: I’m a huge “Outlander” fan — huge. I love “The Originals,” which is my only vampire go-to, which is kind of shocking because it’s such a trend. I like “Reign.” I’m really a fan of The CW. I kind of like to know what the millennials are watching, so I watch them, too. I’m part of the GMA family so Good Morning America is my go-to in the morning. I just like the energy and the vibe there. Michael Strahan is just awesome. Robin Roberts is the most amazing woman that you could ever meet. Everyone thinks it’s Dianne Sawyer or Oprah, and those women are amazing, but Robin is the bomb.

BM: Lastly, since Labor Day just ended, we need your opinion–can you wear white after Labor Day?

SL: I do. Absolutely. I think you can wear white after Labor Day easily and without judgement above the waist. I think it’s the pants and the skirt and the shoes that really is the problem. This year’s the 90th anniversary of the Macy’s Day Parade and I’m always on the lead float, and I wear cream and winter white every single year.

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