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Women Of The C-Suite: Author Amy Herrig On The Five Things You Need To Succeed As A Senior Executive

I wish someone had told me how hard it would be to be the “bad guy” at times — as an employer and leader of a company I have to often make the decisions that involve an employee losing their job or some other negative situation. It weighs heavy on my heart, and then people get angry with me, which I understand, but it’s the very unfortunate part of my job

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, we had the pleasure of interviewing Amy Herrig.

Amy Herrig is an entrepreneur, businesswomen and author that currently resides in Dallas, Texas with her family. Amy always new that eventually she would follow in her fathers entrepreneurial footsteps and has done just that for many years. Along with her father, she ran a multi-million dollar business, lived in a $2 million dollar Spanish Colonial home, raveled and owned vacation homes.

In addition, she just recently decided to add author to her resume and released new her book called “No More Dodging Bullets: A Memoir about Faith, Love, Lessons, and Growth.” Which dives deep into Amy’s personal life and tells the traumatic story about how with one bad business decision Amy found her life turned upside down. But was also able to turn things around and become a better person and businesswomen because of it.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

My father has always been an entrepreneur, and after I graduated from college, I had various jobs, but I think I always knew in the back of my head I would eventually join my father in in his entrepreneurial endeavors. I became an author as a result of my family’s interesting story and history in business and decided it was a story I wanted to share with the world.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began down this path?

The last 7 years of my life have been the most interesting and even traumatic. Due to a business decision we made that in hindsight was a very poor decision, we found our businesses in a huge legal mess and we had to fight very hard to save them from being completely lost forever. It’s been a huge learning experience and has made me a better person, employer and businesswoman, and it’s been “interesting” to say the least.

Can you share a story about a mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’ve made so many mistakes over the years that it’s hard to think of just one story or a specific example. I think in general though I’ve learned to pause and think before I speak and not make rash decisions or emotional decisions. I think learning to separate my emotions from business has been an ongoing lesson and challenge, however, sometimes it’s good to bring emotions into business (to a certain extent) because it brings the human aspect into decisions and even in business we need to remember we are still dealing with human beings and there is a right and wrong way to treat people.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

As a result of our legal troubles, we needed a lot of help and support in many ways, and we were very fortunate to have several people who showed us grace and did things that made it possible for us to continue in business, such as extending terms on debts, making introductions and helping us network with banks and other entities that could greatly help us. I’ve really learned a great deal about how important it is to connect with the right people for the right reasons and how we are all in this world together and we really need to help one another.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

I try to begin every day with at least 15 to 20 minutes of yoga and meditation and exercise (running, walking, etc.). It really makes a huge difference in my mindset for the day. Also, I am adamant about making my bed every day. This starts my day off organized and I feel like I’ve already accomplished something for the day, no matter what else happens that day. It may sound trivial, but it really helps. The way we start our day sets the tone for the entire day, so I think it’s very important. Immediately before I have to do something stressful at work (like have a meeting that could be negative or volatile), I take a couple of minutes to breathe and focus on something positive and what I hope to accomplish from the interaction.

As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality, and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

We have always been very diversified in our companies, and I think that is so crucial to overall success. Having diversification helps to bring a thorough yet also unique perspective to situations and decisions, and it’s important that all cultures and lifestyles are considered when companies are making high-level decisions that affect many different people. The only way to be able to properly consider people from different backgrounds and cultures is to have them all represented in the decision-making process.

As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.

Years ago I would have said that we should not see color when we look at someone. I was raised to believe we are all the same, regardless of race or culture. I truly believed that, and I still want to believe that we are all the same, but really what we should all believe and hope for is that we are equal, which is different than being the same. We aren’t all the same. We have different life experiences and backgrounds, and those are often tied to our race. Many years ago (in my early twenties) I was visiting with a coworker over lunch, and she was black. I was very proud to tell her that I wasn’t racist at all, I was raised to believe we are all the same, regardless of the color of our skin. She promptly corrected me and told her that while she appreciated my acceptance of all it was naïve of me to think we are all the same. Her life experiences were very different than mine and they had greatly impacted her life. That was my first realization that to truly have equality and inclusiveness we can’t just say “hey we are all the same and I don’t look at someone’s race as a factor.” It is very much a factor and recognizing that and respecting and trying to understand how someone’s race has affected and impacted their life is crucial to finding equality. You can’t truly accept someone until you understand where they’ve come from.

Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO/Executive/Entrepreneur does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

The most important thing I think I do is employ people. That is a huge responsibility because it means many people depend on me and the decisions I make. It’s not just our employees who depend on their jobs — it’s their family members too, so it becomes a very large circle. I have always appreciated our employees and the environment we foster that has been in place for years — we are like a big family and we are fortunate to have many employees who have been with us for 10+ years. But when we had our legal problems it became very apparent (and scary) how many people had their entire lives and livelihood put at risk because of our poor decisions. I realized the true enormity of the responsibility I had to countless people and what a privilege it is to have that responsibility but it also requires being very mindful and diligent when making decisions because the net is cast very wide for how many people my decisions can affect, good or bad.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive? Can you explain what you mean?

I think some people think that I don’t have to answer to anyone because it’s my company. I can take time off whenever I want and I don’t have to be accountable to anyone. It is true that I can set my own schedule to a degree, but I never stop working. I’ve taken one vacation in 16 years where I didn’t have phone access (for 2 days). I’m always on call and always available, even if I’m thousands of miles away. Yes, I’ve almost always been able to attend my kids’ school events, we take trips when we want and I don’t have to get my vacation or time off “approved” by anyone, and those are nice perks, but I’m also never “unplugged.” Running your own company is like being a parent — you’re never fully relieved of your duties.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

Women are naturally more emotional than most men. I think we still live in a world where a woman who gets emotional is seen as weak or a “B” (I’ll leave off the rest of that word). If men get “emotional” they are often seen as strong or powerful. Women are seen as “emotional.” I also think that no matter how far we’ve come with the idea of “stay at home dads” or households where both parents work, the ultimate responsibility of the household and children still seems to fall on the woman, and that does mean juggling a lot more between family and career than men do.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

When I first went to work with my father, I was only going to work part-time and still be at home with my kids part-time (they were 18 months). I went to work with him because I wanted to be familiar with the family businesses and participate but didn’t think I would become as involved as I did. My father predicted I would end up diving in and doing more than I planned. He was right. As stressful as it is at times, my work and our companies also bring me so much joy and is such a part of my identity and who I am, and I don’t think I ever expected that.

In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive, and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?

You have to be multi-faceted and accepting that every day is different and there isn’t always structure or routine. We are considered a small business (just over 100 employees for all our companies combined), so I think I’m more hands on in some ways than an executive of a large company may be. That means that almost every day I’m presented with some task, problem, or challenge that has to be dealt with that nobody else can do or I’m at least asked to give advice on how to handle it. My job isn’t 9 to 5, and I don’t have a set list of tasks every day that I accomplish and then get to go home and not think about work until the next day. So, if someone wants to be an executive or have their own company, they must be willing to take on any task themselves but also lead and delegate when appropriate but also know that the work never really ends and rarely do you get to say “I’m not thinking about work again until tomorrow.”

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

Even though women can be viewed as too emotional (as I discussed in the question above), I think that is also an asset. There is nothing wrong with caring, and I think it helps employees feel valued when they know their employer genuinely cares. The biggest issue for me though with this is setting boundaries because there’s a fine line between caring as an employer and then caring too much from a personal standpoint, which can muddy the waters at times professionally. Also, women need to know that we can do anything we can set our minds to. I’m an only child so I was the only one that my father could leave the business to, and not once has he ever made me feel that I was limited in life because I’m a woman.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I now run a nonprofit called Hopeful Tuesdays that is a daytime outreach program providing food and services to the homeless in our neighborhood. We run it in the back of our corporate office/warehouse. We have been able to even hire some of our program attendees at our company and helped them transition off the streets. I didn’t always make business decisions that were good for my community, but I learned some very valuable lessons and realized that I have the blessings and opportunity to give back and live a life with kindness and that’s my biggest focus in life these days.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

I wish someone had told me how hard it would be to be the “bad guy” at times — as an employer and leader of a company I have to often make the decisions that involve an employee losing their job or some other negative situation. It weighs heavy on my heart, and then people get angry with me, which I understand, but it’s the very unfortunate part of my job

I wish someone had told me how all consuming running a company could be. I don’t think it would have changed my decision to begin working with my father, but I was definitely naïve about how much time is truly needed to properly manage businesses.

I wish someone had told me that it’s okay to not always know the answer. There was a time when I was new in my role (and probably kind of insecure) and I wanted to portray an image of knowing it all, and sometimes the wisest thing a person can say is “I don’t know but I’m going to find out.”

I wish someone had told me that if a business decision looks too good to be true (you’re going to make lots of money really quickly with minimal effort) then it probably is too good to be true, and not only is it too good to be true but it’s probably a bad decision that could get you in trouble. There’s a reason that “get rich quick schemes” are called “schemes.” I think deep down I already knew that lesson/philosophy but I let greed cloud my judgment.

I wish someone had told me that all I had to do to prove myself as a valuable leader was work hard, be a team player and make decisions that were good for everyone, not just decisions that resulted in making a bunch of money. Once again, I think I knew that deep down, but I got lost for a bit and thought that being a good leader meant making as much money as possible, and that actually has nothing to do with being a good leader. A good leader leads by example and makes decisions that are good for the overall welfare and longevity of the company and its employees, as well as the community.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I wish we could all just focus more on love and kindness and remember that we are all different, but we need to embrace those differences and remember we all really want the same things — to be happy and to be loved and appreciated. We spend so much time labeling and judging that we forget we are all human beings and we are all in this thing called life together and it’s a symbiotic relationship rather we recognize that or not. Every action has a reaction and every choice and decision we make affects someone else. So, I guess I wish there was a “movement” or at least more discussion about this type of mindset. I wish we could focus on what we can do by working together instead of constantly finding reasons to not work together. I wish we could focus on more positivity — negativity breeds negativity and positivity breeds positivity and we need to breed positivity.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“To know that one life has breathed easier because you have lived here, this is to have succeeded.” Ralph Waldo Emerson. I didn’t always think of life this way and I didn’t always think about how my actions could affect everyone around me and even the world at large, but I know now that the greatest success we can have comes from being kind and helping one another and that should be our ultimate goal in life. Kindness spreads, it’s like a spark that begins a fire and kindness is contagious and can be the spark that starts change in a group, the community, the country and the world.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them!

I’m sure any person who’s written a book or is hoping to spread their message always thinks of meeting Oprah, and she’s always been at the top of my list. She has been an inspiration to so many and her words and message have always been uplifting and thought provoking for me.

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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.