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.

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