Women Of The C-Suite: “Just Keep Swimming” With Shandee Chernow
Just Keep Swimming — Perhaps this is more entrepreneur than leadership, but in the words of Dory the fish, you have to keep going and there isn’t anyone you’re reporting to that’s going to push you to do it. All of that desire and motivation has to come from within. Often times I draw from the fact that my team is here because they believe in our mission and they believe in me.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Shandee Chernow. Shandee studied Computer Science and Mathematics at Vanderbilt University where she graduated Magna Cum Laude. After joining MicroStrategy, she was instrumental in the design of several key products in the business intelligence product line. She worked at MicroStrategy in sales both on the technical and account management sides, being awarded President’s Club status eight consecutive years. Continuing her career in data, business intelligence and data science, she went on to assist Hortonworks and Tableau in building out their Desert region territories before founding CertiStar™. A mom of two boys, Shandee suffers from food allergies and saw a problem in the marketplace that wasn’t being solved well or being addressed properly by the industry. She created CertiStar™, a user-friendly technology platform that provides enjoyable dining out experiences for men, women and children vulnerable to food allergens. Shandee’s passion, besides keeping food allergy sufferers’ safe in restaurants and in schools (for now), is flexing her creativity further through her love of painting. Her work is represented in several art galleries throughout her current hometown of Phoenix, Arizona, where Shandee runs CertiStar™.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Thanks so much for having me! The story behind why we started CertiStar has to do with my own food allergies. I was in software industry selling business intelligence and data science software. Part of my daily life at that point was going out to eat all the time with customers. With my food allergies, it was super challenging to be in that situation consistently and I found that there’s a problem in the food service industry that wasn’t being solved. With my background in data solutions, I decided that this is a problem I could solve.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The most interesting thing to me is how many people have allergies that they don’t ever reveal until I start talking about the company and what we do. All of a sudden everyone around the table is sharing their unusual food allergies and intolerances. It makes you think that it’s a significantly larger problem than people are really talking about.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The funniest mistake is that I thought I was starting an education and training company. When I went to one of our first ‘beta’ sites to try out the allergy assessment and training, I had built a little software prototype in the days leading up to the site visit. The prototype was a bit of a whim on my part, to see if I could make it work. The owner of that particular restaurant basically said that the training and assessment were great, but that we should really focus on the software. That day we changed into a software company.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We really focus on all food allergies. There’s over 170 different foods that cause allergic reactions, and we don’t limit the patrons we’re looking out for to just the top 8 or 10. Our focus is on making sure that all people who are avoiding some food feel safe and welcome in every establishment they’re trying to eat in.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We just released our Schools product to focus on school provided lunch and breakfast for the students. The way schools use us is a little bit different to how other pieces of food service industry uses us. The next few pieces of that are coming soon — focuses on healthcare use cases as well as hospitality.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
I try to manage everyone where they are. One of the things I struggled with in the past is having management treat everyone the same way. The truth is that the more you can dial in how you’re responding to people to how they thrive, the more successful that person will be in your organization.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Delegate, delegate, delegate. The thing I have to constantly remind myself of is that I don’t have to be the one who is solely responsible for getting all of the things done. I can ask for help and I’ve hired these people because they’re amazing and I trust them. So if there’s anything that you can get off of your plate on to someone on your team, do it!
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?
When I worked at MicroStrategy, the CTO was a guy named Jeff Bedell. I was on his team and I was struggling with the direction to take a particular product in my portfolio. This is 2001 or 2002. I went into his office to ask his advice on what I should do and how I should proceed. His answer, which has always stuck with me, was “Shandee, I hired you for a reason. I’m happy to tell you what I think, or what I would do, but I trust you.” I still don’t know what he would have done, and I went my own way, feeling super empowered, and I’ve told myself that story countless times over the years.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We do a lot of speaking at schools — everything from elementary schools to culinary schools — and try to spread as much empathy and kindness for people with food allergies as we can. We’re starting to get involved with some non-profits that have anti-bullying charters as well, to expand the anti-bully to anti-food-allergy-bullying. One in three kids with food allergies report being bullied by kids at their school about their food allergies, and we would love for them not to have those experiences.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Trust Your People — As I mentioned above, one of the most influential things a leader ever did for me was to empower me.
- Delegate — Also from above. I do find myself with more than is reasonable on my own plate and I have to intentionally go through the exercise of choosing to pass some of those things along to the right people.
- Just Keep Swimming — Perhaps this is more entrepreneur than leadership, but in the words of Dory the fish, you have to keep going and there isn’t anyone you’re reporting to that’s going to push you to do it. All of that desire and motivation has to come from within. Often times I draw from the fact that my team is here because they believe in our mission and they believe in me.
- Remember the Whys — One of the things that I’ve learned over time is that when you ask someone else to take care of something for you, to explain why we’re doing it rather than just passing on the task. With the explanation of where it’s coming from or why it’s important, the person is more likely to apply their own passion and effort.
- Your People Are People Too — I have a tendency to get all excited or passionate about something work-wise, which is great, except I forget to ask about how the teammate is doing, or what’s going on with them. The more you understand about what’s going on in their lives or what drives them or inspires them, the better you can channel that in the best direction for the business.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I believe it would be around appreciating the shoes other people walk in. Our impressions of and reactions to other people are so colored by our own experiences that we have a hard time appreciating how that person’s day/week/year/life is going, and how that might affect their actions or reactions. Specifically for food allergies in food service, we see it a lot. Oh someone lied last week about having an allergy, therefore this person in front of me must be lying also.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“A ship in the harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for” — John A Shedd.
I like this quote because it reminds me that we can’t always do the safe thing, we have to get out and do the things we were intended to do. I’ve used it before for food service — you can avoid serving people with food allergies, but you’re intended to create, cook, serve. So do it as well as you can.
Some of the biggest 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 with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
Michelle Obama. One of her daughters has a food allergy and she has such a passion for healthy living and eating, especially for kids. Food allergies are certainly a part of that, albeit in a bit of a different way. I’d love to have a breakfast with her to hear her experiences in general, but specifically to parenting a child with allergies and navigating that. It’s really challenging, but in the public eye it must be nearly impossible.