Monday, 27th March 2017

Shaza Andersen is the CEO and founder of WashingtonFirst Bank

Posted on 06. Aug, 2015 by in LEADERSHIP

Shaza Andersen is the CEO and founder of WashingtonFirst Bank

A Life in Balance

Shaza Andersen is the CEO and founder of WashingtonFirst Bank, which she started in 2004. Her bank recently opened its 17th branch, located in McLean, Virginia. Andersen has been named one of the Top 25 Women to Watch by American Banker and a Top Banker by SmartCEO. She has made several Washington Business Insider lists, including their Power 100, Women Who Mean Business and Most Admired CEOs. Andersen lives with her husband of almost 24 years, Marc, and their two children, Katie, 18, and Danny, 14.

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NV: YOU STUDIED EUROPEAN AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES AT GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY. HOW DID YOU GET INTO BANKING?
SA: I’d always known that I wanted to learn management and be in some sort of management-training program. Companies came to interview students at George Mason and most that had formal management training programs were banks. I applied to four banks, and I got four offers, and I picked one—Crestar Bank. They’re now SunTrust.

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NV: HOW DID YOU WORK YOUR WAY UP?
SA: I decided to learn how to manage branches. I worked my way up the ladder at Crestar. I was with them for about six years and then got recruited to Century National Bank, a one-branch bank in DC. I was there nine years and I became the Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President. I helped take them from one branch to eleven branches, and from $80 million in assets to about $420 million in assets. We sold that bank to United Bank. That’s when I started thinking about starting WashingtonFirst.

NV: WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO START YOUR OWN BANK RATHER THAN GO TO WORK FOR SOMEONE ELSE?shaza_andersen3

SA: I had a lot of energy to continue all the great stuff we had started at Century National Bank. It was basically a continuation of the work we had already started. We knew the customers. We knew how to build the new bank. We knew how to service our customers. We opened our doors in April 2004 as WashingtonFirst Bank and really hit the ground running. As the founder and CEO, I’ve taken it from $0 to $1.4 billion in assets.

NV: IS THERE A SECRET TO YOUR SUCCESS?
SA: I’m a big planner. Any idea is a great idea, but without a plan, how do you take it from an idea to implementing it? You have to have a plan of how to get from A to B to C. Without it, you might get there, but it’s going to be a lot harder. So, it’s hiring the right people. It’s getting the right board organized. It’s getting the right advisory board. It’s getting people in the community to be your ambassadors and do business with you.

NV: HOW DID YOUR BANK WEATHER THE RECESSION?
SA: We didn’t do anything very risky. Part of it has also been that we’re in a good market. But from a banking standpoint, we didn’t do the 110% mortgages and the riskier loans. I think that ended up paying off for us, because as the market crashed, our portfolio stayed solid.

NV: TELL US ABOUT THE WASHINGTONFIRST YOUTH FOUNDATION.
SA: We started it in 2010. We’ve been able to raise money and help a lot of children’s organizations like Youth for Tomorrow and Children’s Hospital. We’re getting ready to have an event for the cancer ward at Inova Children’s Hospital. Being part of a community means giving back. I believe that if we can help one child, it’s better than helping none.

NV: YOU HAVE TWO CHILDREN OF YOUR OWN: KATIE, 18, AND DANNY, 14. HOW DO YOU BALANCE WORK AND FAMILY LIFE?
SA: It’s not a balance. My family always comes first. I think that planning and organization is the key to life. Not just in business but in your personal life as well. You end up being able to multitask. My kids grew up with parents who work. And they have learned what it takes to work, achieve, and be able to finish what you start. I think that there are lots of things you can give your kids, and one of them is to be a good role model.

NV: AS THE CEO OF A BANK, DO YOU EVER FEEL LIKE YOU ARE A WOMAN LIVING IN A MAN’S WORLD?
SA: Banking is definitely a man’s world. There are fewer women in senior roles. I think I’m used to it. When I sit in a room and I’m the only woman, I think I can hold my own. Part of it is the experience and part of it is in knowing what I’m talking about. Having been in banking for so long, I can sit down and discuss any subject with knowledge.

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NV: WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO OUTSIDE OF WORK?
SA: I like to travel and I like to travel to warm places. We have a place in Palm Beach that we try to get to a lot. And we definitely like to experience new places. I like to read, to shop.

I feel really blessed and lucky to have a job that I love, a team that’s really been great here at the bank and to have a great and supportive husband and great kids.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY TRACI BROOKS

Making Good Managers Great Managers: How can you manage an employee with a victim mentality?

Posted on 12. Sep, 2013 by in Blogs, LEADERSHIP

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Managing people is difficult. Period. There are personalities, moral codes, needs, and then their personal lives to be dealt with. What makes a good manager a great one? One who can find the hidden talents in each of their people and help them grow as individuals and team players.

The consummate victim has its unique challenges. They tend to blame others and not take responsibility. They will whine and moan behind people’s backs. They can have acerbic and inappropriate humor. They are your tortoises – they do things slowly. Slow can lead to procrastination and they will wait until the last minute to get things done. They can seem so much like Eeyore, it’s difficult not to grin and say: “Where’s my tail?” (in his sing/song, deep, whiney tone). However, these “victims” have hidden talents that are just waiting to be brought out and valued.

Strength
They seem weak because people can bowl through their boundaries. They need to learn how to say “no” in a healthy way – but don’t we all? Spending some time with them on boundaries and their compassionate “no” will pay off in a big way for your future projects because these people will become your strongest assets. Be careful here, because when they start using their “no” they will be using it with you as well.

Wisdom
They are wise. Listen to their words. They have creative ideas and wisdom to share with you and the others on your team if you allow them to speak. Let them stumble. Don’t finish their sentences. Give them the time to find their words. They may seem like the class clown at times, but when they are focused and on task, they have richness to add to any meeting.

Team Players
They want to please and like working with teams. They avoid confrontation like the plague. They can “go with the flow” and are more Type B personalities. Use these qualities, but don’t let them get lost and used by the team itself or get bullied by other people.

Keep in mind that the heart of these team players is a generous one. They want to make everyone happy. They will give and give. Rewarding and acknowledging their generosity is the positive motivation they need to continue on this path.

Space
They are your thinkers and need their time and space to properly work things out in their head. Give them this time and they will find a creative solution to most any problem. If deadlines are involved in your profession, they might procrastinate until the last minute. This can be frustrating. Try to give them some leeway, but don’t allow them to sabotage the team by supplying their part too late.

Personal Responsibility & Choices
When they come to you with their “woe is me” attitude help them see what part they play in the situation. Always give them lots of choices and remind them of the choices they make. Once they start taking responsibility and can see that they have lots of choices, their world will open up and your business will reap the benefits.

Working with all personality types is a challenge for any manager. At times it can be difficult to see the hidden talents in any individual. Setting your intention to find and nurture these latent character traits of your staff will take you from goodness to greatness as a manager.

Nick Funnell

Posted on 01. May, 2012 by in LEADERSHIP

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Photography by Ali Vonal

Everyone loves a good beer. An ice cold pilsner after a long day toiling under the summer sun, or a hearty stout paired with a juicy steak, or a Belgian wheat beer topped with an orange wedge are all things of exceeding beauty and delight. Beer is the every-man’s drink, but is also highly refined and as sophisticated as the brewer wants it to be. Enter Nick Funnell. Nick is Great American Restaurant’s master brewer and the creator of some truly magnificent beers, some of which have garnered him professional plaudits and won him award after award. Nick took some time off his busy schedule to speak with us about our favorite drink.

Tell us a bit about your past. Where are you from originally? What made you come to the United States? To Virginia?
Originally I am from York, in the north of England. I worked at a summer camp in New York State after university and, subsequently, traveled from coast to coast and spent several vacations in the U.S. I was very taken with the country and people and decided to look in to working here for an extended period. I got a job in Philadelphia as Head Brewer with Dock Street Brewing Company and then moved to the D.C. area to open a second location. I heard about Great American Restaurants’ plans to open some breweries in Virginia. I applied and was lucky enough to be hired as the Head Brewer for the company in 1996. I’m still here. When did you decide to become a brewer? Was it always your calling? I fell into brewing by pure good luck. I studied chemistry in college, with a minor in economics and, after returning from the States, I was looking for a career where I could use my degree. I stumbled upon an advertisement for an assistant brewer and as I read the description and required qualifications, I realized it matched me pretty closely. Having been a student, I was pretty familiar with the product − if not the production of beer − but once I started as a brewer I found I enjoyed it and was fairly good at it. I worked my way from assistant brewer to running a chain of brewpubs in South East England and then got itchy feet about moving to the U.S. for a fresh challenge.

Do you remember the first instance when you really enjoyed a beer?
I have many distinct memories of beer enjoyment, but it’s hard to say the first. I do remember a couple of standouts, though. When I was in Germany, I went into a bar and asked the bartender what he drank, and he gave me my first wheat beer. That was a revelation for someone who had spent his formative years with English ales and yellow lagers. I also clearly remember the first time I had a great beer in the States. I was in California in a restaurant overlooking the Pacific Ocean and ordered an Anchor Steam Beer. That was an eye opener as it was the first time I realized that American beer wasn’t all the fizzy yellow stuff that I assumed it was.

GREAT BEERS AREN’T NECESSARILY BORN THAT WAY, BUT THEY TEND TO EVOLVE AND IMPROVE OVER TIME

Where do you get your recipes? Do you come up with every beer served at Sweetwater Tavern? How often do you get a chance to experiment?
Most of the recipes started out as mine, but all of our brewers have, over the years, had a hand in improving our beers and developing new ones. Great beers aren’t necessarily born that way, but they tend to evolve and improve over time as they are refined by people who care.

Where do you get your supplies? Do some countries produce better hops than others?
We get our malts from Germany and England and hops from Germany, England, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and the U.S. Th e ingredients we use are all from farms, and the growing conditions and dedication of the producers determine the quality.

Nick Funnell

Nick Funnell

What separates a good beer brewer from the mediocre one?
Hard to say about brewers themselves, but I always think you can tell from the product if the brewer is passionate about what they do. What do you think about the regional and national beer industries? Th e national brewers have quality control that is second to none and make some excellent beers. All of them make some beers I really like, but they are generally not my first choice when I drink as I am often looking for something new. They got big by giving lots of people exactly what they wanted, and we shouldn’t begrudge them their success. Regional breweries similarly have gotten to their size by satisfying large numbers of drinkers. However, they tend to take fewer risks as the cost of failure on that scale can be very high. Each of our breweries makes around 1,000 barrels a year, and some of the big breweries make that much in one batch.

It seems that locally produced craft beers and brewpubs are growing in popularity. Why do you think that is?

Local products have a close connection to the people consuming them. We are able to talk with many of the drinkers of our beers directly and find out what they think without running focus groups. We can respond quickly to the needs of our customers, and they can have a direct involvement with what we are doing.

What’s you favorite beer? Which one do you find yourself going back to year after year?
I have many favorite beers. I want a completely different beer on a hot day than I do on a cold day, or when it is raining. It is hard to pick out just one or two, but I often enjoy a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale as it always brings back fond memories of the first time I had such a great fresh, hoppy beer, and I always enjoy a glass of our Crazy Jackass Ale, a complex and slightly spicy rye beer. I could go on, but then it becomes unfair to the many great beers I love but would have to leave out.

There’s a movement within the beer industry to treat beer as a more refined culinary product. Do you believe that beer has the potential to be taken as seriously as wine?
Beer is too good a value to be treated like wine. There are people willing to spend thousands on fine wines, which don’t cost much more to make than the average plonk, but we have been selling the best beers for low prices for so long that it will take a while to change the mind set.

What are the major differences between American craft-brew culture and the more traditional beer brewing cultures of places like Germany, the Czech Republic and Belgium?
Some of the older beer cultures are now catching up with U.S. craft brewing. There was a tendency for many years to rely on tradition and stifle innovation, but as brewers are exposed to other ways of doing things, there has been a great acceptance of new ideas.

MindShare: Class of 2012

Posted on 01. May, 2012 by in Entrepreneur, LEADERSHIP

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MindShare is D.C.’s premier invitation only program for CEOs of the most promising companies in the region. Founded in 1997, the program provides CEOs unparalleled access to well established and respected mentors and unrivaled business opportunities. To date there have been more than 550 CEOs who have graduated from MindShare, who have in turn gone on to create a unique and valuable alumni network. Past alums include Tim O’Shaughnessy of LivingSocial; Rick Rudman of Vocus; Hemant Kanakia of Torrent Networking Technologies; and Philip Merrick of webMethods.

MindShare Class of 2012

The MindShare Organizing Board provides a forum exclusively for CEOs to share success stories, as well as some of the biggest challenges that they have faced during their rise to the top. Each session focuses on a differing aspect of nurturing and growing an emerging business.

Two rising stars from this year’s graduating class are Blake Hall of TroopSwap and Hulya Aksu of CriticMania.

HULYA AKSU OF CRITICMANIA
What is CriticMania?
CriticMania is a few things to few groups. CriticMania Expert is a platform where small businesses must qualify and meet criteria set forth by the experts on our staff to have their business information published in a narrative. Most small business owners need support, education and online partners to improve and expand their online identity. That is what we do. CriticMania is a strong ally to the small business community, not another extortionist made to look like a social media platform such as Yelp and the others. This year we will also launch CriticMania Social where users will be able to use a mobile app to check in and post their own reviews with people that matter to them.

Where do you envision CriticMania in five years?
I can’t speculate as technology is constantly shifting and I don’t have a crystal ball. I can only tell you that we will be quick to adapt, adopt the necessary advancements, and improve as quickly as the marketplace demands us to.

From where do you draw your inspiration?

Ive been publishing in print successfully for the last six years. We have won national acclaim, plenty of awards and have met some of the country’s most talented people. Although it’s flattering to be where we are in the community, nothing inspired me the way the small business owners have. Their needs, their passions and their problems have driven me to come up with solutions that are effective and affordable. Our success is measured in the success stories of every single one of my customers.

BLAKE HALL OF TROOPSWAP
What is TroopSwap?
TroopSwap is the first e-commerce platform exclusively for the military and veteran community. Over 23 million living Americans have served in uniform, yet, prior to TroopSwap, there was no efficient way for brands to reach this demographic online because the government doesn’t provide a digital ID for service members and veterans. We are solving this problem by building a fully integrated marketplace where merchants can retail to verified military users via fl ash sales, permanent military discounts and virtual stores. We also plan to give our military members the ability to create their own stores so they can interact with one another inside of a trusted environment. If you can imagine a military marketplace along the lines of an “eBay meets Amazon” then you can see where we are headed.

Where do you envision TroopSwap in five years?
The best brands build an ecosystem that creates value for everyone who interacts with that brand. I love the story of how Vans became a national brand by organizing a world championship for skateboarders. They had no idea that by crowning a champion they were creating an aspirational brand that would position Tony Hawk at the top of the pyramid and young teenagers who wanted to be like him at the bottom. They just decided that the community needed a world championship and that it was the right thing to do. The coolest part of being an entrepreneur is that I have no idea what TroopSwap will be in five years. We simply want to focus on building great products and services that will create tangible value for our community – if those products and services happen to spur massive externalities then so much the better. Ultimately, Matt and I want to create a vibrant community and a platform that will enable the free market to serve the military in ways that the government simply cannot.

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Phillip Gough

Posted on 02. Feb, 2012 by in Entrepreneur, LEADERSHIP

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Photogaphy By Michael Vonal

Philip Gough is a Counselor for Trade Promotion and Investment Affairs with the Brazilian Embassy. As head of the Trade Promotion Offi ce, Mr. Gough oversees a team working in the areas of trade and investment. Mr. Gough is a career diplomat, and has a background in Trade Policy. He has worked in the Trade Policy Division of the Ministry of External Aff airs in Brasilia, where he specialized in Intellectual Property rights. During his assignment with the Permanent Mission of Brazil to the International Organizations in Geneva he was responsible for antidumping, subsidies and safeguards negotiations. He has also served as Chairman of the Working Group on Trading Rights as well as the Working Group on China’s Accession into the World Trade Organization. We were happy to catch up with Mr. Gough and talk about trade with Brazil.

What should we know about doing business in Brazil?
Brazil is a consolidated democracy based on solid institutions, with a stable political environment that guarantees individual rights. It is a country with a high degree of institutional, political and economic maturity, with immense potential for growth and investment. Today, the country is a major player in global affairs. With a population of 192,3 million inhabitants and a US$ 2,1 trillion GDP, Brazil is the seventh largest economy in the world. The Brazilian economy rests on strong macroeconomic fundamentals: inflation under control coupled with a high level of foreign reserves and a sustainable average economic growth.

The consumer market has expanded, attracting new entrepreneurs and expanding business. Roughly 40 million Brazilians have joined the ranks of the middle class in recent years. The size of such middle class is estimated at more than 100 million people, or about 50% of the country’s population.

Due to the size of its population and its high consumer potential, Brazil is a naturally attractive market for any international company and it is comparable to some major world markets. At the same time, the Brazilian market is complex and diversified. Brazil is a country of continental dimensions, which still presents great contrasts between different regions. However, far from being a problem for foreign companies looking to do business in Brazil, the country’s economic, social and cultural diversity mean an almost unlimited number of business opportunities. Before going to Brazil, the American executive needs to get a business visa at a Brazilian Consulate. Washington, DC area executives should apply for a visa at the Brazilian Consulate General, which is located at 1030 15th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005. Details about the documentation required and how to apply are available online at www.consbrasdc.org.

Companies interested in importing from or investing in Brazil will find useful information at the Brazilian Government’s trade promotion portal BrasilGlobalNet (www.brasilglobalnet.gov.br). In addition, they can contact the Trade and Investment Offce team of the Embassy of Brazil in Washington by telephone at (202) 238-2788 or by e-mail at trade@brasilemb.org.

Most of the direct investment that we see has been in the banking industries in the U.S. What other American industries are well positioned to attract Brazilian capital?
Brazilian investment in the U.S. has increased substantially in the past years, in a wide variety of segments. One American sector that has attracted significant Brazilian capital is the meat processing industry. In fact, the Brazilian company JBS purchased Swift to become the largest single Brazilian investor in the United States. Another major investor, with factories throughout the country, is Gerdau Ameristeel, who acquired a string of previously American-owned rebar facilities. A third major investor has been Embraer, Brazil’s largest aircraft manufacturing company; a substantial portion of the parts in Embraer’s aircrafts is actually made in the United States, in an interesting example of integration of supply chains. Thus, a variety of American industries have attracted significant capital from Brazil, and we expect the variety and magnitude of such investments to increase in the coming years.

BRAZIL IS A NATURALLY
ATTRACTIVE MARKET FOR ANY
INTERNATIONAL COMPANY

How are Brazilian-American business ties under the Obama administration? We know that the two countries have had some disagreements in the recent past, have some of the trade issues been resolved? Brazil and the United States are going through a very positive phase in their bilateral relations.
President Obama’s visit to Brazil last March, and President Dilma Rousseff’s upcoming visit to the United States exemplify the intensification of our relations. We have now more than 20 mechanisms of bilateral dialogue, covering a vast array of topics. One of them is the “CEO Forum”, which brings together representatives of both governments and CEOs of both private sectors in a frank exchange of views. Many of the ideas advanced in the Forum translated into concrete measures to facilitate business. Naturally, as the relationship becomes more mature and diversified, some points of disagreement can arise. In any case, the positive aspects of the relationship between the two countries surpass, by far, localized points of friction. The message to retain is that this is a good moment for the business communities of both countries to take advantage

When you look at the headlines about Brazil, four major themes are readily apparent: staggering economic growth, The Olympics, The World Cup and the amount of crime in the cities. Out of these four, the level and severity of the crimes seem to be the biggest deterrent to attracting American businesses. How would you advise businesspeople traveling there?
Public safety policies are considered one of the priorities of the Dilma Rousseff Administration and they aim to reduce crime in the country. Many programs are part of the activities of the Brazilian Ministry of Justice and are executed in an integrated manner between the Union, the States and cities.

Studies published by the Ministry of Justice demonstrate the index of the reduction of violence due to many public actions. The Ministry of Justice of Brazil developed the National Public Security with Citizenship (Pronasci), which marks a new initiative in tackling crime in the country. Launched in August of 2007, the project articulates public safety policies with social actions, prioritizes prevention and seeks to eliminate the causes that lead to violence.

There are also important measures being adopted on a local basis. Take, for instance, the actions of the State of Rio de Janeiro, which have been under the spotlight recently. According to numbers informed by the state’s Instituto de Segurança Pública (Institute of Public Safety), levels of violent crimes have fallen signifi cantly. As a result, the established targets for crime reduction in the state for this year have been met.

The state government is developing an important program of pacifi cation of some poor communities that were dominated by drug traffickers. Th e state is regaining control of these communities, one by one.

What are some of the things Americans should never say or do in a business environment?

Perhaps, one of the most important things regarding doing business in Brazil is the fact that Brazilian businesspeople are more relationshipdriven than in some other countries. By cultivating close personal relationships and building trust, entrepreneurs will have a greater chance of successfully doing business in Brazil. Knowing Portuguese gives foreign businesspeople an important edge. Brazilian executives normally have a reasonable command of English, but in some cases it might not be the case. Meetings usually take place in offi ces and are seldom scheduled to take place in a hotel or at the business person’s residence, as sometimes happens in other countries. Keep in mind that most of the decisions are made by top level managers. It is expected that before the meeting starts, some light conversation will take place, usually involving news in the media or even some teasing about the soccer team of those present. To Brazilians, these are ways of “breaking the ice”.

What are the top three exports to Brazil from the U.S.? Exports from the United States to Brazil are very diversifi ed. Th e United States exported US$35.4 billion in goods to Brazil last year.
Of this large sum, 23%, or US$8.1 billion was chemicals. In second place, computers and electronic products accounted for almost 19% of total exports, amounting to US$6.6 billion. Th e third largest export category was transportation equipment, which accounted for nearly 16%, or US$5.6 billion. Close behind is machinery, except electrical, whose exports from the U.S. to Brazil were about 14% of the total, or US$4.9 billion. Th e other sectors, which include petroleum and oil products, minerals and ores, fabricated metal products and others, made up the rest of the exports, at US$10.2 billion or nearly 30%.

What are some interesting opportunities in emerging industries in Brazil?
Some of the most talked-about investment opportunities in Brazil arose from the country’s role as host of the 2014 Soccer World Cup in 12 major cities throughout Brazil and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Brazil is planning to expand the capacity of its major international and domestic airports, extend various terrestrial transportation routes, and modernize several sea ports. The sporting events have also created opportunities for companies specializing in the hospitality and tourism sectors, as Brazil plans to build more hotels around the country and retrain staff to interact with the tourists expected to visit the country. Th e announcement of Brazil’s enormous presalt reserves off the coasts of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo also presents a promising opportunity for international investors.

Steven Bipes : BRAZIL-U.S. COUNCIL

Posted on 01. Feb, 2012 by in Blogs, LEADERSHIP

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Steven Bipes is the Executive Director of the Brazil-U.S. Business Council. Mr. Bipes is responsible for developing, promoting, and executing programs and policy that seeks to advance trade and investment between the United States and Brazil. Established in 1976, the Brazil-U.S. Business Council’s goal was to create understanding and advance the major business priorities between the United States and Brazil. We spoke to Mr. Bipes about some of the opportunities and challenges faced by Steven both nations.

Can you tell us a bit about what the Brazil–U.S. Business Council is and what they aim to do?
The Brazil-U.S. Business Council is the premier business advocacy organization dedicated to strengthening the economic and commercial relationship between the two countries. The U.S. section of the Council represents the majority of top 100 U.S. companies with investment or business in Brazil. The Council was created to foster understanding between the two countries and advance the priorities of the bilateral business sector.

Why should we be excited about Brazil?
Brazil’s burgeoning market, fast economic growth and opportunities for U.S. companies are the main reasons to be excited about Brazil. In one decade, about 20 million Brazilians have been raised from poverty and 36 million entered the middle class, now comprised of around 60% of the country’s population. Moreover, the country is growing fast – Brazil’s economy expanded by 7.5% in 2010 – and offers an incredible number of opportunities for U.S. companies, from the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics to the “pre-salt” oil discoveries.

We read a lot about Americans investing in emerging markets such as Brazil, but we don’t hear enough about how much money businesses in emerging markets are investing in the United States. Firstly, how much capital is making its way into the American markets from Brazil, and what can be done to increase that investment?
The relationship between the two countries has undergone a significant transformation in the past two decades. Around 20 years ago, the United States helped Brazil restructure its sovereign debt through schemes such as the Brady Plan. 15 years ago, even after Brazil’s currency stabilization in 1994 with the Real Plan, the United States still played a significant role in protecting Brazil from contagion of external shocks, such as the 1997 Asian Crisis and the 1998 Russian Crisis. During this time, U.S. investment in Brazil far outweighed Brazilian capital in the United States. In less than a decade, however, this situation has in fact disappeared. Although the U.S. is still a major investor in the South American giant, Brazil is today among the top five financers of U.S. debt, and Brazilian companies are investing billions throughout the 50 U.S. states – from banks and aircraft manufacturing in Florida, to textiles and apparel in the Carolinas, to chemicals in New England and beef in Colorado. Few Americans know that Budweiser and Burger King are actually controlled by Brazilians!

IN ONE DECADE, ABOUT 20
MILLION BRAZILIANS HAVE
BEEN RAISED FROM POVERTY…

With the World Cup arguably being the most important sporting event in the world just over the horizon, what are some of the opportunities that American businesses might have there?
There is a wealth of opportunities for U.S. companies in Brazil. However, these opportunities can only be tapped with a thorough understanding of the Brazilian economic model and culture. Brazil’s model differs greatly from the U.S. In Brazil, state intervention in the economy is higher and the government has a more pronounced role. As Sergio Lazzarini, a renowned Brazilian scholar and feature of the Council’s November Brazil Forum, defined it, Brazil has a “capitalism of ties,” or high cross ownership ties between domestic owners and groups with participation of central owners associated with the government. For U.S. companies to fully seize the opportunities in the Brazilian market, they need to understand this model and adapt accordingly. The Council strongly believes that an understanding of the Brazilian economic and business model is imperative to furthering the economic and commercial relationship between both countries. Partnerships with Brazilian companies are a key way of taking advantage of the opportunities available in the country and in other regions with Brazilian companies.

We have seen a significant appreciation of the Brazilian Real against the dollar, which should make American exports cheaper in Brazil. What industries in the U.S. are well positioned to benefit from this fact?
Actually, the Real has slightly depreciated in the past few weeks, thus removing some pressure from Brazilian manufacturing but also making U.S. exports more expensive. In theory, all U.S. sectors are positioned to benefit from an appreciated Real but, in practice, many will face tariff and non-tariff barriers in the country, particularly in the regulatory space. Some barriers are disguised protectionism, but a significant amount is the consequence of a different economic model. Some barriers can be removed and the Brazil-U.S. Business Council helps U.S. companies do so, while others are less flexible, and companies must adapt to the domestic environment. Those that have managed to do so are thriving.

There have been some recent hiccups in the U.S.- Brazil commercial relationship. The sanctions placed on the U.S. by Brazil for what they see as illegal subsidies paid to U.S. cotton growers has some far reaching effects. What is being done to iron out the differences, and should Americans vying to break into the Brazilian market be worried?
First of all, to set the record straight, no sanction was ever implemented. In 2009, the World Trade Organization (WTO) authorized Brazil to impose nearly $1 billion in trade retaliation against U.S. goods and intellectual property rights due to the United States’ non-compliance with international trade rules regulating cottonrelated agricultural subsidies. Fortunately, this retaliation was not implemented because the two governments crafted a temporary agreement in 2010 that created a framework for them to deal with the U.S. compliance with WTO rules process, which is extremely complex as it involves both the U.S. Administration and Congress. Th e Brazil-U.S. Business Council assisted both governments to achieve this agreement and has been actively working through the Brazil Trade Action Coalition (BRAZTAC) to avoid the dismantlement of the agreement and the implementation of sanctions. In the medium term, Congress will have two opportunities to address this issue by either removing or substantially changing the subsidies programs: through the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction action and, more importantly, in the context of the 2012 Farm Bill. Nevertheless, the WTO case is definitely not an impediment for further business with Brazil.

BRAZIL HAS AN EXTREMELY
WARM CULTURE THAT PRAISES
HOSPITALITY AND INCLUSIVITY.

What are some of the immediate benefits and pitfalls of doing business in Brazil? What are some of the things that American business people may enjoy or find frustrating in Brazil?
On the one hand, the main challenges to doing business in Brazil involve understanding the business environment and culture. For instance, it is normally assumed that Brazilians speak Spanish; however, Portuguese is Brazil’s official language. Although this is an innocent mistake, it can seriously hamper business ties in such a relationship-oriented country like Brazil. Additionally, Brazil has a business association-centric model that privileges top-down structures instead of the U.S. grassroots model. Brazil is also a process-driven country with a corresponding level of red tape and complexity of tax and regulatory systems. On the other hand, there is much to be gained by working in or with Brazil. Brazil has an extremely warm culture that praises hospitality and inclusivity. It also has probably one of the most creative classes of entrepreneurs in the world.

In essence, the first tip to a U.S. company going to Brazil would be “change gears!” There, meetings and processes take time and business might seem more complicated at first, but once connected to local networks and understanding the local customs and model, business opportunities abound.

Security is also an issue that keeps coming up in conversations about Brazil. What are some steps that Americans need to take before embarking on business travels in Brazil?
Brazil is a rich, although still very unequal, country. As in many parts of the emerging world, it suffers from violence. U.S. business travelers and tourists generally go to the large urban conglomerates, such as Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia, Salvador and Recife, which are not extremely different from major U.S. cities, such as New York or Los Angeles. Violence in Brazil is, however, more apparent because of the developing nature of the country. Th e main advice for Americans in Brazil is “be reasonable and ask locals.” Local knowledge on do’s and don’ts is certainly much more effective than anything else.

What is the government doing to crack down on intellectual property theft?
Intellectual property rights issues do affect the main sectors of the Brazilian economy, but the government is very active in ensuring these rights and stimulating innovation. Th e country has a fairly robust legal and regulatory framework and has been actively increasing its enforcement activities. Th ere is a widespread perception in the Brazilian private and public sectors that the weak protection of intellectual property rights hinders economic development, consumer safety, public health and innovation. Th e Brazil-U.S. Business Council is proud to work with its local partners in the manufacturing and service sectors to advance this agenda and reduce disagreement between the U.S. and Brazil in the intellectual property sphere.

Where do you see U.S.-Brazilian trade in the next decade?
Th e next decade holds a substantial increase in the depth and scope of the bilateral relationship, accompanied by a surge in the trade of goods, services, capital and knowledge. In addition, everything indicates that an increase in crossborder investment will occur as companies from both countries expand their supply chain in both directions. I also anticipate a larger energy trade relationship between both countries, whether in renewables such as biofuels and wind turbines, or in non-renewables such as oil, liquefied natural gas and coal. Finally, I believe there is a growing trend for trilateral cooperation between Brazil and the United States, especially in food and energy, where the efffthorts of both countries are complimentary. Together, they can better feed and supply reliable energy to the world.

Jonathan Whittle: Axeso Payment Solutions

Posted on 01. Feb, 2012 by in Entrepreneur, LEADERSHIP

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Photography by Michael Vonal

Jonathan Whittle is the cofounder and CEO of Axeso Payment Solutions, which offers its clients general purpose reloadable pre-paid cards in Brazil and other Latin American countries. Before leading Axeso Payment Solutions, Mr. Whittle was the Principal at Darby Overseas Investments, Ltd. as well as serving as Principal for Darby Technology Ventures where he was responsible for their investment strategies. Prior to his tenure at Darby, Mr. Whittle was the President at Optiglobe Argentina, as well as working in many capacities with Diveo Broadband Networks. We sat with Mr. Whittle to chat a bit about his experiences operating in Latin America.

Jonathan Whittle of Axeso Payment Solutions

You grew up in Spain and spent time in Argentina. How did growing up abroad shape your outlook?
Growing up in a bi-lingual and bi-cultural setting defi nitely shaped my outlook and interests. I’m not only comfortable in diff erent cultural environments, but I thrive in them… and as an entrepreneur, the cross-cultural challenges make the endeavor all the more exciting and rewarding. Th e same bug has aff ected my two brothers, both of whom work in international business and travel extensively. At the same time, growing up abroad has made me deeply appreciative of the U.S.. As much as I enjoy traveling, it is always a breath of fresh air to get home.

How did you end up doing business in Brazil?
I was first exposed to doing business in Brazil as part of the founding management team of three telecom start-ups in the 1990s that were based in Washington but focused on Latin America.

I then switched to the other side of the table, joining Darby Overseas Investments in 2002 as head of tech and telecom investments in Latin America. A majority of my investments were in Brazil, a country that I witnessed take off during the course of the past decade. When I decided to return to my entrepreneurial roots, Brazil was a natural choice for me given the relationships I’ve developed through my investment activity and given the vibrancy, excitement and opportunity in a country that is clearly on the move.

Tell us little about your newest venture, Axeso Payment Solutions.
Axeso is launching a general purpose reloadable prepaid card in Brazil, with a focus on the unbanked and under-banked segments of the population, which comprises over half of the Brazilian population. Our aim is to provide the means of fi nancial inclusion for people who today operate entirely in cash, with a value proposition of security, convenience, control and access to services, including online purchases, that they are excluded from today. I co-founded the company with Segio Kulikovsky, a brilliant entrepreneur who I backed as an investor in Certisign, one of his string of successful ventures in Brazil. So far, all of Axeso’s backing has come from Brazilian investors. I commute to Brazil every week, spending 3-4 days a week there…thank you, United, for a direct overnight flight!

What are some of the downsides of doing business in Brazil? Has security ever been an issue?
There definitely are downsides to doing business in Brazil, principally tied to costs. The current exchange rate has made Sao Paulo a very expensive place to do business. The exchange rate combined with onerously high labor taxes and high demand has driven salaries for mid and senior level executives higher than they are in the US. Though there has been some talk of tax and labor reform, I don’t see anything concrete on the horizon. Security is definitely an issue, as I recently experienced personally with an armed robbery on the street. You have to take extra precautions, just as you do in most of Latin America.

BRAZIL TODAY REALLY FEELS
LIKE A COUNTRY ON THE MOVE,
WITH A LOAD OF CONFIDENCE.

How does doing business in Brazil differ from the rest of Latin America?
Though the rest of Latin America can’t be painted in broad brush strokes, the biggest and most obvious difference is size. Brazil’s population is close to 200 million, and it is set to surpass the UK as the 6th largest economy in the world in the next year. If you can get it right in Brazil, the rest of Latin America is icing on the cake. Brazil is a stable and relatively easy place to do business, with rules of play that are predictable and institutions that are fairly mature. In most industries, competition is fierce and reasonably honest, and capital markets are increasingly sophisticated and open. Most important, though, is the pulse of Brazil’s business sector, which stands in marked contrast to what I’ve experienced in other Latin American countries. I certainly hope Brazil has broken with the old maxim that Brazil is the country of the future…and always will be. Brazil today really feels like a country on the move, with a load of confidence about the future.

You also worked as a VC, investing in tech firms in South America and Mexico. How does the venture capial landscape differ in Latin America from the United States?
In contrast to private equity, which is a fairly mature asset class in much of the region, venture capital in Latin America is in its infancy. Until recently, there were only a handful of firms with a commitment to investing in earlier stage companies and many of the early funds backed by governmental organizations were used as a springboard to developing a private equity business focused on more mature companies. That’s beginning to change, particularly in Brazil, where a number of dedicated venture capital funds have been raised entirely from private sources of capital. In the past 18 months, Brazil has seen a surge of interest from many of the leading names in Silicon Valley. Brazil is now home to a number of the fastest growing internet companies in the world, and the entrepreneurial ecosystem is changing at a rapid pace.

What tips do you have for American businessmen who are interested in Brazil?

The best advice is to dive in. You’ll find the business culture is familiar and easy to adapt to, and Brazilians are famously friendly and welcoming. The one specific tip I’d give is to concentrate on Sao Paulo…I know a number of Americans who have set up shop in Rio, only to spend most of their work week in Sao Paulo.

With the upcoming World Cup in 2014 and Olympics in 2016, Brazil will certainly be in the limelight like never before. What will this event mean for Americans looking for business opportunities? Huge investments are needed in infrastructure in the next years to get ready for the events, providing clear opportunities for companies in this sector. For the most part, however, what makes Brazil compelling has little to do with those events. Most business opportunities are driven by more basic and long term factors such as the overall strength of the economy, the rise of the middle class, and the development of the pre-salt oil fields, which should turn Brazil into one of the world’s greatest oil producers in the next decade.

The MBA: The Pros & Cons

Posted on 01. Feb, 2012 by in LEADERSHIP

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An MBA has always seemed, unequivocally, to be a practical degree among other degrees − one that has been traditionally perceived as allowing passage to possibility and promise. However, in recent years, as the abiding uncertainty of the economy has elicited a comprehensive investigation into possible causes of its decline from every angle, the presumably invulnerable value of the MBA has been challenged. What is in store for current MBA grads entering the world de novo? Does the MBA equip future businessmen and women with the means to rebuild our economy, or are they future targets of more furious future OWS moments and similar backlash? Are we at a time when on-the-job training would incur a more profitable return, a more durable personal investment?

An article published last month in The Washington Post online Capital Business section entitled “A Harvard MBA is Helpful But Not Enough” off ered a brief account of a Northern Virginian chief executive’s MBA experience. Th ough the article’s author, Dave Ramos, lauded knowledge he received from his MBA program, owing to it the groundwork on which rested the remainder of his career–and though he encouraged those in business to pursue an MBA −he warned that the shortfalls of the program lie in skill involving personal interaction. For this, Ramos consulted spirituality. In 2009, the lowpoint in MBA hiring, an article in Th e New York Times adduced a similar claim, characterizing MBA grads as leaving their graduate programs with the requisite business skills, but not necessarily with sympathetic sensibilities,“…they graduate with a focus on maximizing shareholder value and only a limited understanding of ethical and social considerations essential to business leadership.”

Omar Scott, who received an MBA from George Washington University, deflects this assertion, “I don’t believe leaders in the past are any more ethical or socially responsible than recent MBA graduates. My program at George Washington University included discussions on ethics in every course. It was a big part of our education.”

Are MBA programs equipped to take on the more economic and socially complicated world, one that is only becoming more and more complex in financial structure and social composition?

Judith Stockmon, Executive Director of Marketing for the School of Business at George Washington University, upholds the idea that there is value in an MBA and that pursuing one can be advantageous for those looking to further their career. “Some criticism is around the value of the MBA, and there is no guarantee. The crucial question is whether it can be a tool in your toolkit, and the answer is yes. The network it provides individuals will be as valuable as the academic [benefits].” Stockmon extols the spectrum of connections and influences who “come from vast parts of life − business owners, nonprofits, Wall Street, Peace Corps” − those who are “all in one place, building a skill set.


You are able to enhance leadership skills in a dynamic environment. You can navigate the job market and learn to work with a diverse market.” Stockmon points out the inevitability of “how flat the world has become” and the “cultural literacy” that is required in order to maneuver the business field. These skills, she attests, are effectively provided in MBA programs.

In the current economic climate, one may wonder if the course of the MBA program has changed to address the ways in which current systems have been defeated. Stockman insures that MBA programs have changed to address the challenge that MBA programs have fallen short in areas concerning the social and ethical. Is there more concentrated focus in this area? Has the approach been altered? “The short answer is yes,” answers Stockman. “I received my MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and I can say that the focus and emphasis inside and outside [the degree programs] has shifted in really good ways—[there is a focus now on] responsible management and what it means to be an ethical leader. We bring in speakers—strong corporate citizens who are engaged in their community— who are embedded in the curriculum. Many business schools are fostering a sense of responsibility, [instilling the idea that students] have a commitment to the community. There are [changes] that didn’t exist five years ago. The programs are ethics incised, emphasizing management and social responsibility. [There is a] shift from a more capitalistic environment.”

Of course, an obvious examination of economic problems would lead one to look to the programs from where business leaders hail for deficiencies, but is it possible to infer that an economic decline could actually benefit MBA programs, make students more prepared and stronger candidates for recovering the economic landscape? Stockmon has found that there are advantages.

ARE MBA PROGRAMS EQUIPPED
TO TAKE ON THE MORE ECONOMIC AND
SOCIALLY COMPLICATED WORLD?

“The MBA is a bit of an incubator. We’re able to learn and grow from mistakes. It’s actually a great time. We can use situations that have happened [in the real business world] as examples in the classroom on ways to behave, what strategies to pursue, how we can learn, how we can move forward.”

Not only are the teaching opportunities in these programs more various and applicable, but the practical and immediate benefits to pursuing an MBA are on the upswing and abounding. According to Bloomburg Business Week, the job market—hit by a 2009 low-point—saw 2010 MBA grads surmounting the ebb and begin to gradually rebound from one of the harshest hiring spells in recent history. And the proliferation is expected to continue in 2011, with the class of 2011 “likely to face less job competition than their 2010 counterparts.” According to Bloomburg Business Week, “Evidence of a rebound is everywhere…”

And are these results realized in the lives of MBA grads? Stephen Alfandre, a graduate of Georgetown University Business School, confirms that this is the case. “My MBA has done wonders for my career. I doubled my salary and landed a highly competitive position with a company that fits me perfectly. I can’t be happier in my career than I am right now, and I know that without an MBA from a top school, I wouldn’t be in the position I am now.”

Alfandre claims that the benefits he received from his MBA have extended into other areas of his life as well. “Also, I have benefited from an MBA in ways beyond my career…[it] has helped me learn how to approach and solve problems that arise in my volunteer service. Additionally, communications lessons I learned for business situations during my MBA have helped me communicate better as a husband and father to my family.”

For the undergraduate who wonders whether or not a pursuit of the MBA will be beneficial, Stockmon advises, “It really depends on what path one wants to take professionally. The reasons to pursue an MBA would be career acceleration. If you want to reach a more senior world in business, then you want to pursue an MBA. [In terms of ] the networking aspect − personally, a number of times I reached out to the network and to the school itself as a research resource − these were tools to navigate an uncertain marketplace.”

In all, Stockmon lauds the MBA program as providing “a seat at the table − what we want is choices and access. The MBA provides this in a way that other degrees cannot.”

Patrick Kerins

Posted on 01. Feb, 2012 by in LEADERSHIP

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Photography By Michael Vonal

Patrick Kerins joined The New Enterprise Associates, Inc. in 2006 as a General Partner. The NEA is one of the leading venture capital firms in the Metro D.C. area that focuses on helping technology firms. Patrick’s main focus has been on a very wide range of information technology investments with a special emphasis on enterprise software, Software-as-a-Service, and exciting new Internet companies. Before joining NEA, Patrick was a General Partner at Grotech Capital Group, where he specialized in high tech firms. Patrick also served as an officer in the U.S. Navy at the Headquarters of the Navy’s Nuclear Propulsion Program. Patrick is Chairman Emeritus of the Mid-Atlantic Venture Association.

WE HAVE THE BEST PLATFORM
FOR PRACTICING VENTURE
CAPITAL IN THE WORLD

You have been heavily involved with Enterprise Software companies. When one picks up the paper or industry magazines, we generally hear about the latest and greatest consumer oriented software and programs. What are the challenges of being mainly in Enterprise Software? What are some of the benefits?
Let’s start with the challenges: Enterprise Software companies are much more expensive to build than most consumer software companies. Th e products have to be robust and feature-rich before introducing them to prospects, whereas consumer products often start simple, are inexpensive and allow the users to modify and improve them over time. Enterprise products need to pass muster with internal IT departments and fi t with existing software and computing platforms and security standards. Finally, enterprise software products need to be sold, usually by expensive and knowledgeable sales forces, whereas consumer products often take advantage of cheap, rapid, and viral adoption among users. All this adds to the cost to build the Enterprise company, and adds to the risks if things go wrong. On the positive side, Enterprise customers pay! And for valuable functionality, they will often pay dearly, because the payback to them is even greater in the form of higher effi ciency in their own operations. Enterprise customers often enter into long-term contracts which mitigate the risk of operating the software vendor. Successful companies can become very longsurviving, multi-billion dollar entities. So call it a higher risk, higher reward type of investing. Larry Ellison of Oracle famously mocked Salesforce.com, and claimed that Cloud Computing was a passing fad. In light of this, what do you make of Oracle’s recent foray into Cloud Computing? Several years ago, I doubt you would have heard Larry say anything nice about Sun Microsystems, which he now, of course, owns. So watch what he does, not what he says.

What is the future of SaaS and Cloud Computing?
SaaS, of course, is just one type of Cloud Computing, where software functionality that at one time had been licensed by independent software vendors into an enterprise is now hosted “in the cloud” and rented to the enterprise. For many types of functions, this method of deploying software is becoming increasingly popular, especially as the technology tools that underpin these deployments get better and better. We are big believers that these types of deployments will proliferate, as there are inherent advantages to both the software vendors (more predictable and manageable rental-based business models − one version of software with multiple customers) and the enterprises (flexibility and ease of implementation and lower capital outlays). We are also very bullish on the overall area of Cloud Computing, which will allow all sorts of computing and storage functionality that once was done onsite to be done at more effi cient, scaled locations “in the cloud.” We are investing in many of the improved technology tools that are making this transition happen, including advanced networking, storage, virtualization and security.

You have a background in investment banking. What made you step outside of that world and enter high tech?

All the investment banking I did was for high-tech companies. I worked for what was then called a “boutique” bank, Alex. Brown & Sons, which specialized in a few industries, including high-tech. I leveraged my electronics experience from the Navy and my MBA into a role where I could work financing some of the most exciting high-tech companies of the time, including Qualcomm and Ciena Corporation right here in Maryland. We worked directly with company management understanding their strategies, products and markets. I often also worked on the VCs who helped build these companies, so I got to understand the inside secrets of building these high-growth companies from the very start. So the transition from that type of investment banking to venture capital was quite natural. A lot of what goes on in today’s investment banking world is largely unrecognizable to me.

You were also an officer in the Navy and served in the Navy’s Nuclear Propulsion program. How did that experience shape your business outlook?

When designing and building nuclear reactors to propel submarine and ships, the driving focus was quality and durability, and our standards were extreme. I learned what it cost to design for these parameters and what the tradeoffs were. I took that into my business career, where the cost of failure is measured in dollars, not lives. I also learned the value of getting things right the first time.

Can you tell us a little about some of the boards that you serve on? How do you choose which companies to personally involve yourself in?

First off, in this business you have to have an investment thesis or two which you believe to your core − some long-term trends which you believe will persist over the period of time that it takes to build and successfully monetize a venture-backed company, often five to eight years or more. Then you have to find a company that is positioned to take advantage of that trend in a special and defensible way. And it has to be run by people you like and trust, who share your vision for how the market and company will evolve, and who like and trust you and want to be your partner. Finally, the financial deal has to work. If this sounds like needles in a large haystack, you are getting the right idea.

You’ve also invested in some Internet companies. How do these companies differ from the ones causing waves a decade ago?
All my Internet companies are generating more than $50 million in annual revenue, and have good margins to go along with their growth. So that is a big difference from what we used to see. Today’s generation of internet companies is actualizing on the dream of what the internet could be that we all had a decade ago − it is becoming real.

Where do you see computing in the next decade? What are some trends to watch out for?

For Enterprise computing, it is the move to Cloud Computing − the corporate CIOs we speak with say it will be a bigger trend than the migration to client-server computing 20 years ago. In general, for enterprises and consumers, I believe mobile will be the next user platform for computing, information and entertainment in a way that will disrupt many business models and create many new ones. This is one of the investment theses I am backing these days.

What is next for Patrick Kerins?
I hope what’s next is many more years at NEA. We have what I believe to be the best platform for practicing venture capital in the world. We are a diversified, global firm which embraces a wide variety of styles and practices (ten sectors of investment in Technology, Medical Science and Energy) in multiple geographies, all under a single collegial, performance-oriented culture. One specific area where I am spending time is Latin America, where the technology economy is booming and the need for our kind of capital is significant. I’d love to see us build a thriving practice there.

Kristi Hedges, The Power of Presence

Posted on 01. Feb, 2012 by in LEADERSHIP

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Photography by Kea Taylor

Kristi Hedges, local executive leadership coach and longtime D.C. executive, has just released her book, The Power of Presence. Kristi not only sheds light on what presence is, but gives actionable advice on how to improve your presence. Let’s face it, our presence has such an impact in our careers and lives because it’s how people perceive us. The Power of Presence is a mix of sound advice, actionable steps, and science, as well as personal stories, making the book an enjoyable read.

I caught up with Kristi and asked her a few questions about the book, her thoughts on presence, and being local here in D.C..

What was the inspiration for your book? I would say this book found me.
I have been acutely aware of presence and have had personal interest and passion in studying it and cultivating it. Throughout my career, which spans politics, public relations, and leadership coaching, I’ve seen the issue of presence continually surface as a personal success factor. Many leaders want to have a stronger or more inspirational presence, and I absolutely believe that with the right approach anyone can build leadership presence. I have seen it many times, even with people who consider themselves better behind-the-scenes or are serious introverts. I’ve spent two decades working around what I call the “secret lives of struggling communicators” and have developed approaches to common communication challenges that are more comfortable and natural. I figured it was the right time to put all these ideas together into the book.

I know you have been on a speaking circuit with Vistage and have clients all over the country. Do you think D.C. leaders are the same as leaders elsewhere? Or are we unique in some way?
There are similarities among leaders of all different companies and locations. It never ceases to amaze me that, for instance, someone running a construction company has many of the same issues as someone running a technology company. You’d think that they would be entirely different.

Leaders have the same issues they are tackling everywhere. How do you manage conflict? How do you get people motivated toward a common goal ? And the list goes on.

That being said, in D.C., we have a smart, well-informed, globally oriented group of leaders. Part of it is our proximity to government and the fact that many businesses have a government component to them. We’re in the know, and actively figuring current events into our business strategy. Plus, we can discuss any topic at a cocktail party. Don’t try to outtalk a Washingtonian.

I personally love the D.C. business community. It’s very open and accepting of new people and embraces them. When I decided to start my own technology PR firm, which later became SheaHedges Group, I was blown away by the help I received from prominent business leaders.

This was 1998, and the technology scene was just developing, with an influx of people coming in from other regions and different sectors within DC. Fast forward almost 15 years, and I find that it’s still the same vibe here. We appreciate and welcome new energy.

YOU CAN USE THE BEST PARTS
OF YOUR TRUE SELF TO BUILD
CONNECTION TO OTHERS

I found it interesting that your grandmother had such a strong influence on your work in presence. Can you tell me about this?
I start the book with a very personal story because I wanted readers to think about presence expansively, and to consider the range of role models who have inspired them. They are all over – coaches, teachers, family members, friends, or co-workers. For me, my first model of presence was my grandmother. She had tremendous stature, even though she was about five feet tall. She was able to confront any issue in front of her. She was the person you asked if you wanted to get something done. She somehow managed to be both assertive and compassionate. I watched from the wings how she moved through the world. She anchored my notion of presence, and her voice is still in my head every day.

Many people think of presence as being inspirational. But your book says there is more to it than that.
I developed a model that speaks to this called I-Presence, which I use in my work with executives. The three components of IPresence are being intentional, individually connected, and inspirational. It’s an insideout approach, which is far different than the typical communications training which focuses on external factors only, and frankly, produces limited, often fleeting, results.

When someone wants to develop more presence, they will usually start and stop at what I call the inspirational piece. That’s really the outward communication, or what people see. It’s how you speak, stand, nonverbal communication, message points, etc. But, there’s more to the presence story. We all have seen people with perfect speaking skills who still seem disconnected. That’s because there are two other equally important components of presence.

First, presence is being intentional. You need to understand what your thoughts are, what you want to communicate, and how you are perceived. Then you need to gain alignment between them. Many of us skip that step and it has ramifications for every bit of how we show up. To me, it’s the most seldom used, yet highly leverageable aspect of developing presence.

The other piece I discuss is how to be more individually connected, and mindful of what makes people drawn to you as a leader and as a person. It’s not just having the perfect words to say, it’s about fostering trust, empathy, and approachability. This does not require you to be someone you’re not. You can use the best parts of your true self to build connection to others.

Can you give an example of an intention for presence?

There are two different types of intentions I discuss in the book. There’s an in-themoment situational intention and a personal presence brand, what you want to be known for overall.

Let’s take the situational intention which is the thought you’re carrying in your head as you head into an event or interaction. Believe me, whether you’re cognizant of it or not, it’s there and either constructive or destructive. Being more intentional is taking hold of that narrative to make it positive toward your goal. Otherwise the chatter in our heads can take over, which shows up in our body language, decisions and actions.

Here’s a common example. Let’s say you have a big presentation at work. Many people will go into the presentation with the thought in their heads of “Let’s just get this over with” or something similar. Not a positive thought! It is absolutely going to impact your body language, how you present yourself, the content you include, and how you handle questions.
It has an impact. So if you’re able to just lasso that thought, challenge your thinking, and set a helpful intention that aligns with your goal, you can transform the entire event.

Often the best way to think about what intention to set is to determine what reaction you want to get from the people in front of you. If you want them to get excited about your presentation, you need to be excited. So if you back out of that, what intention do you need to have in order to feel excitement? It might be around content you believe in. Perhaps: “I am so glad to be able to present this content to more people because it’s incredibly meaningful.”

I love all the neuroscience in your book. How does that help people achieve a stronger presence?
I think anyone who is involved in leadership should be paying attention to what’s going on in neuroscience. In fact, there is a whole fi eld called neuroleadership, which applies neuroscience to leadership. It’s changing the way we’re looking at how people adapt to change, how to inspire others, and certainly many aspects of presence. And what I like about neuroscience is it takes what was considered a personal fault or attribute and shows how it’s a universal, human reaction that can even be observed on a brain scan. It reframes many chronic management problems and sheds light on refreshed solutions.

For example, take a common complaint from managers that they can’t get employees to change their behavior. Perhaps the manager has counseled the person and still he or she seems intractable. Th rough neuroscience research, we know that there is deeper layer to it. First, our brain literally seeks out and parcels information to us that supports our existing beliefs, and resists information that counters them. You’ll have more success helping another person to see for themselves what needs to change rather than telling them. Second, we’re prone to triggers that put us in a reactive mode, and two of those are uncertainty or threats to status. Knowing this as a manager provides you some tools to address the issue with the employee by helping them feel secure enough to take risks, and to highlight a path for moving forward.

By the way, these same findings also help us manage ourselves. Ever feel intimidated or uncomfortable around someone and not sure why? If you look closer, you’ll usually fi nd a trigger behind it. Once you name it and rationalize it— i.e. that’s just triggering a status threat since she’s so successful—you may fi nd it easier to move past it.

Can you talk about the process of doing a presence audit?
First, I encourage everyone to do this at least once. It’s a gift to have this feedback.

The presence audit is fi nding a small number of people that you know and trust to give you some very honest feedback about your presence. Most of us only get feedback in a performance review, which focuses on things like your functional expertise. It’s far less likely to tell you how people actually perceive you.

For example, let’s say you’re in fi nance and your boss feels that your quarterly analyses should be more descriptive. But he also knows that when you talk in a meeting, people tend to tune out. You’re much more likely to get that fi rst piece of feedback than the second. And which one is more important to your career? Th oughts around presence are widely known but seldom shared. Th is feedback is considered too personal even though it holds great power for us.

In the book, I walk through how to get your own presence audit. With the right people, you simply have to ask them: What’s the general perception of me? And what could I do diff erently that would have the greatest impact on my success? Th e hardest part is to manage your reaction so you don’t defend or explain yourself, a very natural instinct. You’ll get feedback as good as your ability to receive it.

Do you find people are shy about asking these questions?
It’s kind of hard, right? It feels very personal to ask these questions. And let’s face it. We’re a little bit afraid of the feedback. Sometimes people will say that this seems so selfabsorbed to be asking these questions about myself, or I don’t want to be bothersome.

I tell people to put the shoe on the other foot. If someone came to you and said, “Hey, I’d really love to have this feedback. It would be incredible for my career. Would you just please honestly tell me what your perception is?” Most people would say, “Of course I will give you that information.”

So can you talk about approachability and why it’s not just touchy feely but good business sense?
Leaders need to be approachable so others invest in them, take risks, and freely share information. Th e alternative is you have a team who safely hugs the middle. You want your people feeling that they know where you’re coming from and if they have a problem they can put themselves out there a little bit. Even, God forbid, fail and still live to fi ght another day. And they will only do this, if they feel with some degree of certainty that things are going to be okay on the other side. Approachability is key for that.

Why is storytelling a business art form?
Storytelling is a hot topic in business, but it’s an ancient rhetorical infl uencing art. Th ankfully, you don’t have to study Aristotle to make it work for you. I challenge leaders to use storytelling to enable approachability. It helps people know you. Stories can help people understand what your values are, what challenges you have overcome and how much you share in common. Stories of how people come together and rally as a team can also be very inspirational.

Leaders have to find ways to keep important ideas top of mind in ever-busy workdays. Stories do this. Humans have evolved to retain stories much more efficiently than facts. Our brains light up differently from storytelling. If I’m in a seminar and I tell a story, people literally relax, put their pens down and look up.

We can hear facts all day long, but we process a single story much more efficiently than even the best chart or figure. It’s no wonder the expression death by PowerPoint exists!

The balance between the emotional and logical seems to be a theme in your book. Very compelling. Do executives accept this in your coaching and speaking?
Most do, but some resist it. It’s often predicated on the culture that they work in . Some people work in companies where they understand the whole person goes to work everyday. Other companies say, whoa, we don’t want the whole person here. The work person comes to work and the other person stays home. We all have to work within cultural boundaries. And, of course, there’s a balance.

We know that we are emotional beings. So, instead of fighting it, we can find a way to put this human facet to good use in business. When I started my first business, I was given advice to not take business too personally. And I thought, what could be more personal than my business? It’s intensely personal. Passion has a key role in great leadership. For entrepreneurs, there are times it’s all you have. It’s better to consider how to manage your emotions to support your goals, rather than trying to deny them.

So, what would you say to someone who had doubt that they could improve their presence?

I say, what you may consider your weakness can actually be your strength. For example, someone who is shy or introverted might not believe they can have presence. In actuality, that person might be acutely aware of the emotions of the other people around them and be a student of human behavior. They might be able to go into a room and incisively hit the exact point a group wants to hear. By using their personality to their benefit, they can build a presence that takes great strengths and puts them to use.

There are many paths to a stronger presence. It’s not a one-sized-fits-all endeavor. One of my themes in the book is don’t try to be perfect. Don’t feel you have to do everything. Take one or two ideas that feel most natural to you and start with those. A little presence goes a long way.

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Modern DC Business Magazine Presents

 

March 8th Lunch and Learn: The Power of Presence

Join us as we welcome Kristi Hedges, communications expert, leadership coach and author of the newly released The Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others.

Everyone recognizes leaders with “presence.” They stand out for their seemingly innate ability to command attention and inspire commitment. But what is this secret quality they exude, exactly?

 

Learn how to build trust as the foundation for leadership, eschew perfectionism for authenticity, banish limiting thoughts and behaviors, and galvanize your team through visionary, inspiring communications.

 

Come hear from the author how to build a powerful presence whether you’re a:

 

· Business owner or CEO
· Senior leader inspiring teams
· Mid-level executive looking to advance
– Professional transitioning between careers

 

Mar 8, 2012

11:30 AM – 2:00 PM

8000 Towers Crescent Drive
The Tower Club
Vienna, 22182

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