“Recognition, encouragement and respect. Recognize individual talent and accomplishments. Always encourage them to swing for the fences, to take risks and be open to change. To treat everyone in your organization with respect because they are your greatest resource. And to always stay humble because you can learn from everyone on your team.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Gemma Toner, CEO of TONE Networks and Chart Media, a dynamic media and telecommunications executive driving innovation. She has a demonstrated ability to build and grow high performance businesses and champion holistic customer-centric solutions by identifying strategic insights, developing groundbreaking products, and delivering innovative marketing/communications programs. Gemma also is a member of the Board of Directors for Concern Worldwide, an international humanitarian organization partnering with local communities to transform the lives of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. She was previously SVP, Business Insights and Strategy at Cablevision Systems Corporation and Chairwoman of Cable and Telecommunications Association for Marketing.
Yitzi: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
Gemma: I spent many years in sales, product management and marketing as a cable television executive working on a broad range of products and services from programming to IP based telecommunications to data analytics. Throughout my career, I always felt like I was juggling my life. Honestly, I was breathless most of the time as I tried to be climb the corporate ladder; be a wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend. I was utterly exhausted too. I decided to get off the corporate “merry go round” after a close friend of mine passed away. It was an eye-opening moment — I knew there was something more. I left the company I loved and one which afforded amazing opportunities. I wasn’t sure what to do next, but I decided to take some time off; to think, observe and reconnect with my life. That’s when the idea for TONE Networks and ChartOne Media came to fruition. Taking a break and ensuring ample time for reflection sparked a more purpose-driven mission and path. TONE Networks is about women helping themselves and each other. It’s about helping women get access to expert information and knowledge, and providing a forum for women to share their experiences to help each other
TONE Networks and ChartOne Media is my second act. I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur and this new endeavor is offering an opportunity to pursue my passion and make a greater impact. I also believe we’re at place in history where women need to be investing in themselves, supporting each other and building strong alliances with men. I started TONE Networks to be a resource and an online community where women could grow professionally and personally in an extremely time-efficient and easy way. With our team of TONE Networks’ professionals, we offer credible and credentialed experts in a variety of sectors including finance, careers, health, relationships, and mind/body balance. Thus far, we’ve produced more than 500 short, informative videos women can access when they have time or the need for guidance and advice.
Yitzi: Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Gemma: I think the funniest or most surprising moment was my kids’ reaction when I told them I was retiring and would be around a lot more. I honestly thought they would come rushing to me with hugs and kisses and be so thrilled I would be home. That was not the case! I was greeted with total silence — crickets! It was quite freeing. I realized my kids are just fine with me pursuing other things. However, during this time we did have the chance to go on some cool and memorable trips. They are very understanding and supportive of what I’m trying to accomplish with TONE Networks.
Yitzi: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Gemma: TONE Networks is a unique product for women. We give them access to highly credentialed experts and professionals whom they may not have known existed, or don’t have the time in their schedules to meet, or frankly can’t afford because they are very expensive. TONE Networks brings all of this to women with the simple subscription price of $4.99 a month.
We are built by women for women. We look to serve the whole person by acknowledging women have multiple roles in their lives and those roles often require very diverse advice. TONE Networks provides “How To” guidance from our experts. We don’t give lofty ideas and platitudes. We give direct, condensed counsel with practical tips on how to make changes. At TONE Networks we want to grow our members professionally and personally, which is why we offer bit-sized videos of no more than 3–5 minutes that can be consumed and reviewed when they have time.
We also offer TONE Live, which is a one-hour streaming event where an expert will speak about their area of knowledge and our members can send questions in real time for our experts to answer. We’re giving women access to highly credentialed experts on a variety of subjects; something they likely do not have in their daily lives.
We also have a peer-to-peer event every Tuesday called TONE Talks in which we pick a hot topic and discuss it with one of our experts/moderators. Our members can also offer advice to each other and talk about topics they may not feel comfortable discussing with partners or friends.
All of this — access to experts, the ability to learn and grow, the member interaction, and the belief that we are helping other women become their best — is what makes TONE Networks stand out as a leader and a company.
Yitzi: Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
Gemma: Yes, we’ve just launched a redesigned and expanded site for both desktop and mobile. We are also currently designing an app, which will launch in July, and we are working with several companies committed to supporting gender diversity and employee growth.
Yitzi: What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Gemma: Recognition, encouragement and respect. Recognize individual talent and accomplishments. Always encourage them to swing for the fences, to take risks and be open to change. To treat everyone in your organization with respect because they are your greatest resource. And to always stay humble because you can learn from everyone on your team.
Yitzi: 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?
There a few people who have made a huge impact on my life. First would be my immigrant parents. I saw them live the American Dream and they taught me you can do anything in this country. The other person is Charles Dolan, the founder of Cablevision. His vision, courage and curiosity inspire me every day. In my life I have been around a lot of dreamers and risk takers and I really think that has rubbed off on me.
Yitzi: How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Women should value themselves enough to make time for themselves — it is how change and growth begins. We must make and find the time. It needs to be a priority. I want TONE Networks to provide a means for women to find the time and resources they need to create value and growth. I also think TONE Networks has an opportunity to bring awareness to specific national and global issues. It’s easy for us to get caught in our day-to-day and miss some of the issues that are impacting our world.
It was very important to me that a charitable aspect of “giving back” was built into a TONE Networks subscription. The more time subscribers spend on TONE Networks, the more we donate to the charity they pick when they joined. One of our worldwide charities is Concern Worldwide, an international humanitarian organization working in the areas of disaster response and long-term development with a focus on the poorest and most vulnerable. We also have a national charity, Share Our Strength, a national anti-hunger organization dedicated to ending childhood hunger in America. I’m very proud we’re associated with these two organizations and that our members can also be a part of our efforts to improve our world.
Yitzi: What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.
1. The highs and lows. Some days I marvel at what we’ve have accomplished and other days I’m not sure how we’re going to get it done. Now I focus on my goals and keep my eyes on what I want us to accomplish; trying not to get bogged down in the weeds.
2. Trusted advisors are mission critical. If you know you have a weakness in a certain area, find a strong, trusted advisor you trust to guide you in those areas and then do what they advise!
3. Even though I have a great team it gets lonely at times. As the leader of a company I know all eyes are on me. That can be a lot of pressure and stress.
4. There are network relationships and then there are authentic relationships — the latter is where the power lies and where I want to be with my relationships.
5. Get comfortable asking for help and advice. There is no way you can know everything, so seek out advice and help from people who are experts in the areas you need. You don’t have to be all and do all. Ask for help — it doesn’t make you weak — in fact I’ve often found asking for help can be extremely freeing and offers the opportunity for someone else to invest in my vision.
Yitzi: Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
You see things; and you say “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say “Why not? — From George Bernard Shaw, Back to Methuselah, Act I, Selected Plays with Prefaces, Vol. 2, P. 7 (1949).
Yitzi: 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 whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this…
Gemma: I would love to have lunch with Melinda Gates. She is a powerhouse, smart, empathic and intent on making an impact for the greater good.