Happy American Business Women’s Day! Today marks the 71st anniversary of the founding of the American Business Women’s Association
In honor of today, we sat down with the CEO of BCC Research, Ann Jacoby, who reflects on her own career and offers advice to women on how they can succeed in the workplace. Specifically, she explains how to: follow what makes you happy, prioritize company culture and adapt as needed.
Name: Ann Jacoby
Job Title: CEO of BCC Research
Hometown: Ann Arbor. Best deli in the world sits on Detroit street—Zingerman’s!
Desired superpower: I wish I lived in the Jetsons world and could fly anywhere at any time!
Favorite food: No question—Mexican!
Favorite season: Autumn—Everything has a new face, crisp change abounds --and new beginnings are born in the fall! I always feel like it’s a time to try new things!
What do you think is the biggest issue today facing women who are at your point in your career?
Ann: Probably knowing your value, even if you took some time away from the corporate world. That, and confidently pivoting! I guess starting with knowing your value because this is something I hear often from friends who are at my point in their life/career. Many women I know have made decisions to work part time, have various contract positions or have not re-entered the corporate world since prior to beginning their families. That decision is a family decision and should come with pride! During these women's’ tenures raising their children, many have held positions on boards, senior roles in volunteering and leadership positions on parent committees.
All of these experiences add major value in the corporate world and bragging about the lessons learned, how you see their application in any corporate setting—that’s essential. So not only knowing your value—I guess more appropriately put—communicating your ability to apply that value is powerful.
Pivoting is the other piece. Many of my friends are looking for a career that speaks to them at this point in their life. Several have different interests or values—or even passions—that simply didn’t exist when they began their career some 25 years ago. The women I’ve known who are happiest are exploring those passions now—and many if not most have found ways to apply the 25 years of experience elsewhere to allow for this pivot to not equate to financial sacrifice. I always want to say to friends who are considering this: YES! DO IT! The whole “do what makes you happy” idea gets easier as you age. You sort of have a better idea of what really makes you happy—and just as importantly, what doesn’t!
Have you encountered any challenges in your career along the way to becoming a CEO?
Ann: Maybe questioning the human piece of my career path. I’m not sure if it matters if you are on a path to being a chef, a principal, a doctor, a line manager or a CEO, or even if your path is unknown. The biggest challenges are often the ones that we create ourselves. For me, I always felt that compassion, I called it here a ‘human piece,’ must be a weakness the higher up you go in a company. I’m not sure why I felt that, but I did.
This became a complete misconception as I moved throughout companies in my career. In fact, I’ve grown to believe compassion the landmark of a great leader—if boundaries exist. Knowing the people you work with, the challenges they have both personally and professionally—it's a great way to build true trust and create an honest culture within the company. I’ve found that you also create far more respect within your organization if you lead directly and with purpose, but also with that compassion.
What achievements in your career make you the proudest?
Ann: Defining BCC’s company culture and hiring the right people based on skill and values to fit it. And being ready to fire for it.
I’ve learned that hiring for the position, the skills-based part of any interview, its important. But that can come second in any interview process. If they aren’t a culture fit, there is no need to waste their time or ours. Determining if they have grit, ambition and leadership potential has been key. When sticking to this rule, I’ve found employee retention skyrockets, conversations with clients begin to result in stronger engagement overall and the tempo of the office improves.
Leading with the culture is another great way to create true diversity on the team. When what trumps the hiring scorecard is who they are as a person, diversity, transparency and a thriving culture seem to happen with little work!
My favorite mentor and boss has successfully engrained this in my mind: Make sure you care enough about your company culture that you are willing to fire based upon it. If you live by that, your job becomes exponentially easier. I’ve found that to be so very true—and I guess I’d say I’m most proud of this because it’s not an easy one to follow. But when you do, you create a true team.
What are some of your favorite women-run companies?
Ann: LOVE this question! Number one would definitely be FEED. Lauren Bush Lauren founded this company after watching firsthand, the impacts of childhood hunger. She took some of her own passions and created a missive that provided for meals attached to every purchase. The bags are cool, the mission is incredible, and I think they’ve already provided over 100 million meals so far. You’ll often see some icons in Hollywood now carrying her bags—the marketing surrounding her business is brilliant—and the impact on childhood hunger is simply awesome.
I guess my other one would be Pepperidge Farms. It sounds corny, but I loved goldfish crackers as a kid (I still buy them often for my kids). When I was in law school, I had a class surrounding legal transactions/M&A, etc. and I will never forget reading about the founder of Pepperidge Farms, Margaret Rudkin. She started this in her kitchen because her son had some allergies. She had a mission, a passion and drive. She then started selling them at her local market, then regional markets and the story continues.
She sold to the Campbell Soup company many years later, yet stayed on with the company and played a major role on their Board of Directors (first female on their board!). I just love the story because she followed her heart and had such confidence at a time when very few women had a voice. I still love the Campbell Soup company –and they still have a woman leading the way there! And—I still love goldfish too 😊
On American Business Women's Day, what is the most important message you want to send out to women who are aspiring CEOs?
Ann: Wow. Well, first off, if you aren’t finding the perfect job posting-create one! My favorite reads are often surrounding entrepreneurs. I have three teenagers—two sons and a daughter, so I like to read about entrepreneurs in general and share those stories with them. Regarding women entrepreneurs, I’d say jot down what makes you tick. Not one thing, not two things but dozens of things. That list can and will change. Many women are master jugglers and have had the opportunity to wear many hats. Which hat did you love and why? Find out what you are good at and just go for it! Moving up within your current company or forging a new path to becoming your own boss, whichever you do, if you lead with what makes you happy and gives you energy (as opposed to taking it away!) is a rule of thumb I've come to live by.
I guess I’d also say to be flexible and never forget to adapt and iterate. The people I look up to the most—men and women alike—do this so well. It’s like, “Okay, I totally got that wrong. Let’s fix it so we can do it right.” This saves a lot of time for everyone, shows your vulnerability and honesty, and ultimately allows for true teamwork to happen. It also allows for the person next to you to comfortably and readily admit an error early on so that valuable time and money is saved by adapting your plan quickly—and doing it right.
Basically, be honest with yourself and others—you don’t know all the answers, so hire the people who do and help them to succeed! I look up to so many of the people who work for me as I watch them excel at the nuances of their job-letting them go and create new things has proven to me that this recipe works.
What do you do to relax and have fun?
Ann: Let’s see...I try to have fun during the day in my job! If I wait to find time to have fun, I would probably be not that fun. So I’m lucky in that way, I guess. I think it might come from enjoying my alone time. I can find ways to relax and have fun without large gatherings of people. If my family is home (with three teens that’s hard to come by these days), a fire is roaring and a football game is on, I’m usually pretty relaxed. I also love to read, I love a good restaurant experience and I also enjoy crafting. I guess I might be a bit boring in the “have fun” area, but it works for me 😊