Susan Rocco: The CEO Whisperer

Sue RoccoDrawn to journalism and the stories behind the stories, Susan Rocco has always been curious about other people – where they came from, what led them to where they are now –  so it should come as no surprise that today she hosts a live weekly radio show and podcast that spotlights female CEOs, founders, leaders, and entrepreneurs from around the world. What is surprising, however, is Rocco’s own story; how she struggled with low self-esteem until the day she finally decided to believe in herself, pitch her idea for Women to Watch, and chase down the guests and advertisers needed to make her dream a reality.

“I was not an honor student. I had a tape playing in my head that I wasn’t smart enough. Although I had a wide network of family and friends, there wasn’t that one person who believed in me and my abilities. If you don’t have a mentor or someone who sees the gift in you, you get lost and struggle. I had no awareness of who I was and what I was good at so it took me some time to find my way. Later I learned to appreciate that our emotional quotient is equally as important as our IQ. That’s my strength. My ability to connect with people, to be a good listener and have empathy.”

Raised outside of Philly, Rocco was the middle child of three. An Irish Catholic, she attended 16 years of Catholic Sue Roccoschool, including Villanova University where she studied communications. When she graduated, she bounced around a bit from advertising to PR before ending up in sales. “I had grand illusions of making it in media but if you’re not in a C-Suite position there’s not a lot of money to be made, so I looked for other opportunities. I didn’t give sales a lot of thought. It wasn’t something I was really interested in, but I was good at it and it paid the bills.”

After taking some time off to raise a family, Rocco did a lot of part-time work before returning to sales full-time, but it wasn’t fulfilling. Her greatest joy had always been her family, so when she became an empty nester in her late 40s, her search for personal growth hit new heights. Her “a-ha” moment came while being interviewed on the radio one day about her small direct-sales business, W by Worth.

“I was so fired up. It was such a great experience, but I’d really have preferred to have been on the other side of the mic. I said as much in the “thank you” letter I sent to the host, Kim Douglas,” she recalls. “In a joking way, I added if Kim ever needed someone to fill in for her, I’d love to do it.”

The response was immediate. Douglas encouraged Rocco to pitch her idea to the general manager.

Sue Rocco“I said yes but then panic immediately set in. I knew I wanted a show for women. The radio was flooded with political programming, real estate, and finance. And, as much as I love fashion and lifestyle, I didn’t want fluff. I wanted a program that would help women like me who struggle with low self-esteem. So I hit on the idea of interviewing women who are already successful and accomplished and get them to share their stories while sharing their adversities as this is where the greatest lessons are learned.”

Making a decision that day in August 2012 to believe in herself, Rocco set up a meeting with Sharon Pinkenson, who she had just read about in Philadelphia Magazine and thought would make a great guest. Pinkenson was the first Executive Director of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office, which brought the film industry to the City of Philadelphia and the four surrounding counties.

“I finally stopped focusing on what others were doing and decided to be myself. I told Sharon my idea for the show. I confessed I didn’t yet know the name of the show but if she said yes, I’d come up with something. She said yes,” Rocco laughs.

“We women are harder on ourselves. We are often ashamed of our personal challenges. We don’t look at these struggles as something that has shaped us and actually contributed to our success. By sharing these stories, I am trying to break through these barriers. Personally, I went from being very, very afraid to launching a show that’s booked six months out.”

It turned out booking the interview was the easy part. Rocco got the station on board with her idea and was flying high that she was going to have her own show until she learned they weren’t going to pay her, but rather she would be paying them production fees.

“I guess I was a little naive,” she explains. “I realized I quickly had to secure advertisers. I reached out to my network and got some advertisers that would sustain me for the first few months! But there is a lot of ‘behind the scenes’, a ton of prep work involved.

“I knew I could secure guests. I had a mission to help women to build self-esteem and find their own purpose but my vision is to get women to pursue leadership. When I started to share that with other women, it resonated with them.”

It didn’t hurt that three months after Rocco launched her show, Sheryl Sandberg came out with Lean In.The Truth Group Women’s groups were popping up and gender diversity in senior management was a compelling topic. Women to Watch entered the fray with a twist … getting women to open up and share the challenges they face on the road to success.

“We women are harder on ourselves. We are often ashamed of our personal challenges.. We don’t look at these struggles as something that has shaped us and actually contributed to our success. By sharing these stories, I am trying to break through these barriers. Personally, I went from being very, very afraid to launching a show that’s booked six months out. I moderate panel events, I give speeches. I really believe in myself now. Some days we do it well, and some days we don’t. I’ll never turn the tape off completely. I’ll continue to second guess, but every time you accomplish something, it allows you more quickly to turn that old voice off.”

When asked who her favorite guest has been, Rocco politely responds that the ones she enjoys the most are the women who are incredibly bright with big jobs but at the same time, funny, self-deprecating, and gracious.

“I love the ones with no ego, doing what they do because they love it and want to help other people. We really are all the same; human beings are human beings.”

You can listen to Women to Watch™live every Monday at 3 pm EST on WWDB Talk 860 for the Philadelphia Tri-State area, or anytime at women2watch.net.  Available shortly on iTunes.

Mary Lou Bradley: Painting the Picture-Perfect Life

Mary Lou Bradley

Mary Lou Bradley worked for the man who created Three’s Company, a TV show those of us of a certain age will remember. She also worked for Bill DeBlasio before he was the mayor of New York City. She went to culinary school and learned to make pastries. And then, at age 55, she became an entrepreneur.
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Sumeera Rasul: For the Love of Handmade

unnamed (4)Sumeera Rasul was raised with an appreciation for all things handmade. In her native Pakistan, her father made his living exporting handmade furniture and clothing, and her grandmother taught sewing, knitting, and embroidery to underprivileged girls.

“We grew up around that; it was part of our culture,” Rasul says. “We were always watching my grandmother and learning from her. We had respect for people who work with their hands, as well as for the quality of the things they made. I remember my grandmother looking at certain textiles and saying ‘No, I don’t want that, it’s machine-made.’ To her that meant it wasn’t of good quality. Something made by hand, even with imperfections, feels so much more valuable.”

Throughout the years, Rasul never lost that appreciation for handmade items or the people who make them. (more…)

Cindy Callaghan: There’s No Business Like Show Business

Cindy Callaghan

Here’s how Cindy Callaghan describes her story: “a bizarre and fascinating tale with lots of twists and turns and things that come full circle.” Here’s how we describe it – yet another person, who after a long and successful (and rewarding, but not passion-filled) career returned to a first love.

Callaghan grew up in New Jersey but wanted to get far away as soon as it was possible. As a kid she dreamt of being in movies – in front of the screen, behind the screen, it didn’t matter. She just wanted to be part of “the business.” (more…)

Ellen Reich: The Square Peg Who Found Her Hole

Ellen ReichEllen Reich has always struggled with trying to find just the right profession, something that would enable her to mesh her aesthetic side with her political leanings. It took her some time to figure it out, but today Reich is the proud owner of Three Stone Steps, a small import business specializing in “ethically-sourced” products.

“I never took a linear path, I meandered a bit, but that’s sort of what I do. And in the end, it all worked out. I like to think I’ve had an impact on making people more conscious about what they buy, where things come from and if they are fairly made. I don’t hit them over the head with it, but I find it really satisfying when it happens.” (more…)

Robin Siegel Lakin: Back to the Stage – Just What the Doctor Ordered!

Robin LakinWhen your heart’s not into something, it doesn’t matter how lucrative or practical a path it may be, you’ll never succeed if something else is tugging at you. Robin Siegel Lakin has twice tried to lean into a conventional career when all along she knew she belonged on stage.

As a young teen, the Brooklyn native spent her weekends trekking into New York City to study acting at the Strasberg Theatre. When she wasn’t in class she was auditioning. She landed parts for AT&T, Maxwell House, Hardees, and more. “I had a great agent early on and so I got steady work. I even did a couple of spots on soap operas. I loved it.”

It was a bit surprising, then, that at 18 she decided she should go to college and major in accounting. Guess how long that lasted?

“I stayed in college for one year. What can I say? I was very good at math and science, and so I thought it would be good to have a practical skill to fall back on. But I missed acting.” (more…)

Michele Glaze: Taking the Plunge, For Better or Worse

MicheleGlaze-headshotFor as long as she can remember, Michele Glaze has wanted to move to California. Not because the Saskatchewan native had visions of being a Hollywood starlet but because she wanted to work behind the scenes where the drama was real. While she hasn’t (yet) made it to California, Glaze did leave behind a well-paid, secure corporate position for a career in the non-profit world of performance arts where she got to fulfill her dream of working in music and staging live events.

Unfortunately, things just didn’t work out and today the 48-year-old Glaze is seeking new opportunities.

But be warned: This is not a cautionary tale about the perils of taking a risk, leaving your comfort zone and following your passion. While the job may not have been a good fit, Glaze is adamant she made the right decision in taking the plunge and is confident she will find something in the field which she really loves.

“I have absolutely no regrets. Even in my position of having to look for a new job, I would do it all over again. If I hadn’t left my secure job and taken the risk, I would always have wondered. I’ve never been comfortable with the what ifs in life.” (more…)

Kathy Lindert: The Mortgage Banker Who’ll Put You Under Her Spell

KathyLindert-head-shotKathy Lindert wants you to take her to bed. In fact, she has slept with thousands of men and women and swears it’s okay because her husband is good with it.

You see, Lindert is a hypnotist who helps people overcome any number of issues ranging from smoking to fear of flying. She records all her sessions and gives them to her clients on MP3 or CD.

“The last thing you hear, read, see, or do is what your mind works on, and so I want that to be you. I want you go to bed and listen to my voice. So tell your partner, I’m 52 and really cute, and I’m going to teach you a lot of things because I’ve got a lot of experience,” she says with a laugh. “But seriously, it really works because when a person is relaxed, they are able to change.” (more…)

LaShanna Alfred: Turning Adversity into a Strength

2014112795161105Often at Career 2.0, we write of women who have left one successful career to start a new one or perhaps launch a creative enterprise midway through a career.

This story is a little different.

LaShanna Alfred’s first “career” involved running and selling drugs and time spent in jail. She didn’t leave a successful career in order to find fulfillment, she left a life filled with tragedy and hardship, a life that many of us would have been unable to find a way out of. But Alfred did find a way.

Alfred was only two years old when her mother was murdered. Her mother was, as Alfred puts it, “basically in the wrong place with the wrong people.” About four years later, when she was in second grade, her father was in a fight and stabbed to death. An only child, Alfred went to live with her grandmother and uncles. When she was 12 or 13 her grandmother moved out, leaving Alfred with her uncles. “They turned the house into a drug house,” she recalls matter-of-factly. “They began selling drugs out of the house, having house parties. Even as a young girl I knew that I didn’t want to live like that. But most of the time I didn’t see anyone around me that I wanted to be like.” (more…)

Susan Lander: The Lawyer Who Channels the Famous and Infamous

1421227_219711334874164_531552474_o“Steve Jobs was really fascinating,” says Susan Lander of her tête-à-tête with the tech icon detailed in her book, Conversations with History: Inspiration, Reflections and Advice from Celebrities and History-Makers on the Other Side.

“He really blew my mind, crackling with brilliance and innovation,” she says, still in awe of the conversation.  “And Kurt Vonnegut, he was brilliant too, but believe it or not, Notorious B.I.G. was my favorite. I didn’t want to interview him at first, but he pushed for it, and he became one of my favorites. And of course, Betsy Ross came out as gay when I spoke to her, which was the big revelation in that interview.” (more…)

Barbara Werner: Music to Make your Mediocre Meatloaf Sing

BarbaraWerner-with-dogUpdate March 2014: Barbara Werner’s musical pairing app is now free to download from iTunes and GooglePlay.

Airlines offer music on planes to help panicky flyers relax. Music is piped through the metro or subway system to reduce crime. And supermarkets have been known to play loud music to push customers more quickly through the aisles without reducing sales. So why not play just the right mix of music to your dinner guests to make them feel they’re dining at a Michelin-star eatery?

Absurd? Well no, not really according to professionally-trained chef Barbara Werner, “With an open heart, an open mind, and a simple mathematical formula, you can elevate a good dish to great and a great dish to near perfection.”

Werner collects degrees and certifications like most of us collect lost socks from the laundry. On top of an associate’s degree in culinary art, she’s certified in reflexology, payroll and HR and is trained as a beverage specialist, bartender, and equissageur (dog and horse masseuse in case you’re wondering). In addition, she’s taken sommelier classes and is a licensed manicurist and tattoo artist.

“I am always studying something and telling myself, someday this will come in handy, I don’t know where or how but it usually does,” says Werner who prefers the moniker of Renaissance Woman. (more…)

Alice Shepherd: When the Need to Create Triumphs

Head Shot

“When the horse dies, get off.” Strange as it seems, those six words may have changed the course of Alice Shepherd’s life.

At the tender age of 19, Shepherd began her career in bookkeeping in Nashville, TN, where she was born and raised. It wasn’t long before she had worked her way up to a position in public accounting and also became a certified QuickBooks Pro advisor, leading classes and instructing others in the use of the accounting software. When asked why she chose accounting, Shepherd replies in her lilting Southern accent, “I was good at accounting, plain and simple. It didn’t have much to do with liking it or not liking it; it served me well.” (more…)