9 Female CEOs Share the Best Career Advice They’ve Ever Received
Ready to bust through that proverbial glass ceiling so your daughters or nieces won’t have to? Get inspired by the key career advice given to these trailblazing female CEOs, and learn why it made all the difference.
Do it—and do your best
More often than not, it’s the effort that’s put into anything—a project, a presentation, an interview—that goes the extra mile. That’s why Niki Cheng, the founder and co-owner of BoConcept, a leader in contemporary furniture, says putting in the time has been what’s helped her be so successful. In fact, it was fashion designing powerhouse Max Azria who gave her this advice, saying, “Do it and do your best. You have nothing to lose. Worse comes to worst, you are where you are now, which is not bad. You are a smart woman—you will always have a job. Someone will hire you. The last thing you want is years from now that you regret you didn’t do it.”
This advice turned out to be the kick in the pants Cheng needed. “I was very afraid of failing and very concerned about whether I ever going to make it,” she explains. “After Max gave me this advice, I realized that he was 100 per cent right on point. There were times that the workload was so much and so difficult that I just wanted to quit and walk away from the whole business, but I always remembered that I needed to continue to do my best. Today,” she adds, “I am grateful that everyone around me is working hard to build a great team together while we continue to expand. I hope I can also have a great impact on the people who have been with me the entire time.”
Lead with integrity and kindness
Though her grandfather passed away when she was just five-years-old, Amaya Jones, an artist and jewelry designer and the founder of her own line, says the man’s subtle but strong demeanor has impacted her life in many ways, including her business sense. “Khalifa Algosaibi, or Baba Khalifa, as I called him, was a man with honesty and benevolent vision,” Jones recalls. “He brought refrigeration to the desert, and his divers ventured to the depths of the Arabian Sea in search of pearls. What my grandfather taught me was his guiding principle of serving one’s community. He had a heart of gold and took his entire extended family under his wing,” she says. “Even though fate didn’t allow him to advise me in my career, I follow his example and am reminded of his integrity every day when I look at his pictures in my home. Baba Khalifa was an extremely generous and humble man, and believed in strength of community and philanthropy. His life was blessed due to his extraordinary vision and kindness.”
Find people who balance your skill set
A big mistake that many entrepreneurs make is not finding a healthy, successful way to delegate. In the beginning stages of your company, you learn to be a Jane of All Trades, doing everything from accounting and marketing to customer service. But as your business grows, so does your staff, and you need people who are pros at the tasks at which you’re not as competent.
Marissa Alden, co-founder and CEO of Sawyer, says her friend (and fellow CEO of Amino) David Vivero told her to ‘find people who will fill in the gaps in your resume. “He told me to build my startup with people who complement my own skill sets, to build out my teams with those with expertise and background different from mine—get diversity of thought,” she says. “That concept has stuck with me as I have started two companies.” This advice really helped Alden rethink how she viewed her own strengths, and how she appreciated and valued those of her teammates. “Get the right people together and the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts,” she says.
Be stronger than the stigma
Though women receive the same education as men, they don’t earn the same money as their male classmates straight out of college. Even with that unfair disadvantage, Orit Hashay, the CEO and founder of Brayola, a bra company, says she’s always kept her father’s advice close to her heart. “He told me to be stronger than the stigma,” she says. “If you’re a woman, a minority, or simply a young entrepreneur, someone or something will always be rooting against you. You have to be stronger than your oppressors. Using intelligence and being persistent will go a long way.”
Hashay’s father also instilled in her the need to pay your dues. “You need to kiss a lot of frogs to get your prince,’ he said. I applied that same piece of advice to my business practices by using patience and persistence to scour LinkedIn for potential new hires and listening to feedback from various investors,” Hashay says. “It can be challenging, but it’s always good to maintain a good attitude and an open mind.”
Don’t let things get to you
Especially if you’re a type-A personality who is harder on yourself than anyone else is on you, you may struggle with over-analyzing and ruminating when things start to go haywire. That’s when Debbie Soo, the founder of Feastive, a meal kit delivery service, says she hears her older sister’s advice reminding her to stay calm. “She once told me that I should never let things get to my head because there will always be somebody around the corner who will have more to offer. It may sound like tough love, but I’ve found that it’s been a great impetus to constantly work hard while continuing to be receptive to and appreciate the talents and ambitions of the people around me,” Soo says. “It’s taught me to strive to achieve the personal and professional goals that I’ve deemed a priority, since other people will always have different barometers of success and happiness. Rather than ascribing a dollar value to the trajectory of my career, I am more proud of creating a service that reflects my belief in honesty, hard work, and of course, delicious food.”
Dare to be different
For fashion designer Samantha Pleet, a complete stranger—whose name she still doesn’t know!—helped her be bold enough to go big when she started her label. “I had just graduated college and was assisting at a United Bamboo fashion show. It was so well-organized that the dressers were not even needed during the show, so we got to watch. I remember standing next to a man in a suit before the show started who said, ‘You look like you’re a fashion designer. I want to give you some advice: When you do your first show, do something that no one is doing yet, like send your models down the runway naked, or all in fur coats,'” Pleet says. “Of course I did not do anything like that, but I took his advice to mean ‘go for what really speaks to you and really say it.’ I sent my models down a cobblestone runway wearing tricorner hats being led by a cloaked man holding a candelabra back in 2006, when no one else was doing that yet.”
Love what you do
You’ve heard it before, but there’s a reason why those who are the happiest in their careers are the ones who jump out of bed every single day excited to do what fulfills them. Isn’t that the whole idea behind being an entrepreneur? For dermatologist Anne Chapas, MD, owner of Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City, it was her mom who reminded her to follow her most important organ—her heart. “My mother is a retired secretary who became a homemaker when I was born,” Dr. Chapas says. “She always lamented that her career choices were limited to teacher, nurse, or secretary, and she knew that my sister and I would have more options. Her advice was to love what you do every day for work because you will spend most of your day doing it.” Dr. Chapas is so grateful to have followed her passions and interests.
“Because I enjoy the challenges of running a practice, treating patients, and discovering new treatments, my work hours seem to fly by. My kids see that Mommy likes going to work, and I encourage them to find their own passions that they can develop into a career.” Dr. Chapas also realizes how true that old Ginger Rogers saying is, that “she had to do everything Fred Astaire did but backwards and in heels.” “As women in business we have to do everything our male counterparts do, but we can’t look stressed or angry or tired,” she says. “It’s not fair, but that’s the reality. People come into my office, asking for Xeomin (a neurotoxin) to reduce their frown lines because they’ve been told that their coworkers are scared to come into their office because they look angry or stressed, and after a visit to me they look cool, calm, and collected and ready to face any crisis.”
Perfect your poker face
Alyson Hogg, the CEO and owner of Vita Liberata, a brand of non-toxic luxury tanning products, says a big part of running a successful company is learning when you should speak, when you should let your ears do the work, and when you should fake it until you make it. “Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve but instead listen very carefully and never be afraid to ask a question,” Hogg says. “Sometimes the dumbest question is the one they’re hoping you won’t ask, so that the words are never spoken and everyone can plead ignorance later! I am always asking the ‘dumbest’ of questions,” she says.
Focus on who you are
There are a lot of hats to wear as a business owner, and all of them are important, from networking at luncheons to executing quarterly goals. But even though you’re often pulled in many directions, it’s critical to always stay present, according to Kristi Faulkner, founder of Womankind, a marketing strategy firm for female clients. Career coach Lolly Daskal gave her this advice. “I wasn’t a CEO at the time, but her insight resonated with me so deeply, I’ll never forget it. She said, ‘When it comes to having a fulfilling career, it’s not what you know, or how you do your job, or even why you do it. It’s about who you are being while you are succeeding that matters most,'” she says. “I realized that ultimately, success is about the relationship you have with yourself: How you speak to yourself, how you think about yourself, how you feel about yourself. If you are not satisfied with who you are, you can’t show up, you can’t do your best, and you will never feel successful, no matter how much you seem to achieve.”