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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Embrace the Change: Love What You Do Every Day

Maddie SciulloChanges in life aren’t easy. They give you that anxious, stomach-sinking feeling and fill your mind with worrisome scenarios. But life is full of changes, good and bad, that you must embrace.

When it comes to your career, you hope the changes that come are always positive ones that help you grow and prosper. Some changes in your professional career will be influenced by outside forces, while others are completely driven by you. However, the changes you need to make to continue to move ahead professionally are not always clear.

The perfect path for you will never magically appear. It will not materialize in a puff of smoke at the optimal time. It will not have signs; it will not come with a map. To find the path that will lead you to what you want to do – to what you were meant to do – you have to discover it and be bold enough to take the first step.

It won’t happen overnight, but step-by-step, inch-by-inch, you can find a career path that energizes and excites you.

How you know it’s time for a career change

Making a huge change in your professional life can be at once exciting and terrifying. Exciting because of the possibilities, and terrifying because of the other possibilities. Still, as frightening as it may be, sometimes not making the change is even worse.

So how do you know when a career change is in your best interests?

Boredom is getting the best of you

Your work isn’t exciting anymore, so you’re just going through the motions. When you wake up in the morning, it’s hard to imagine getting out of bed and into your work chair. And by the end of the day, you’re completely drained.

You’re feeling indifferent

You’ve already checked out. You find yourself doing the bare minimum and having little concern about your performance.

Your patience is dwindling

Tasks that you used to enjoy doing aren’t fulfilling anymore – in fact, they just seem to annoy you. You can’t even bear the thought of coming back tomorrow and doing it all again.

Restlessness keeps you awake at night

When you’re at work, you find it hard to sit still and focus. When you’re not, you get this itching feeling that there’s something else you should be doing. You feel like your talents are being wasted and that annoys you. There’s something else that you want to do and you can’t wait to get started.

It’s going to be a long, difficult ride. But, it’s a worthwhile one, so don’t get discouraged by the bumps in the road.

Don’t look at these feelings as a bad thing.

As disheartened as you must feel, try to view your feelings as an opportunity. This is your chance to find what you love to do. It takes courage to recognize when you need a change and to act on it.

Top of the WorldMake the change

Now that you know it’s time to make a career change, take the dive. Jumping into something new – something that you’re passionate about – will feel refreshing and rewarding.

What do you want to do?

First, think long and hard about what it is you want to be doing every day for the rest of your working life. What are your values? What excites you? Why do you enjoy those things?

Also, who already does what you want to do? They’ll be able to provide you with sage advice and insight.

Expand your horizons

You know what you want to do, but what do you need to do to get there? Beef up your skill set, take coursework, get certified. Whatever it takes.

Look within your company

If you like the company you work for, look within the company for other opportunities that encompass the things you’re looking for in a career. It’s much easier to make an internal transition, so if your current company offers your dream job, take it.

Maybe it’s time for a bigger career change

If the opportunity you’re looking for doesn’t exist within your current place of work, it’s time to move on. Don’t waste any more time doing something that isn’t making you happy. Maybe you’ll need to pack up your bags and move to where the work is. Maybe it’s time to be your own boss. Whatever the case, know that one day you’ll look back and be happy – not to mention proud – that you had the strength to make the change.

Network, network, network

Get out there. Talk to the people who do what you want to do, the people who can help you. Find a mentor. Ask questions, find answers. Be open and honest. You can’t have too many friends, and you certainly can’t have too many of the right friends.

It’s going to take work

It’s going to be a long, difficult ride. But, it’s a worthwhile one, so don’t get discouraged by the bumps in the road.

Remember why you’re making this career change and what’s at the finish line waiting for you. Remember to ask for help on the hard days. Remember to celebrate on the great ones.

You’ll get there, eventually.

Maddie Sciullo is the Social Media Manager/Content Manager at C-leveled, a special amalgam of incubator, accelerator, technology and business advisor plus a full-service, in-house marketing department, based in Pittsburgh, PA.

Melanie Werner: See a Gap and Fill It!

Melanie WernerAlways on the lookout for new opportunities, be it moving overseas, opening an art gallery or two, or importing fine art from Europe, Pennsylvania native Melanie Werner is no stranger to adventure and risk. But when her 25-year marriage ended and Werner found herself without a financial safety net, her decision to launch an innovative product design firm from scratch was truly gutsy.

“For someone in her early 50s who needed to establish financial security, starting this venture was really risky. I had no safety net but I kept moving forward because of the market validation. Nobody wishes for divorce, but at the end of the day, it’s okay. I’m self-sufficient and building a business; there’s no better position for a women to be in.” (more…)

Julia Erickson: Pirouetting Her Way to a Better Barre

ericksonSo many little girls dream of becoming ballerinas, and Julia Erickson was no exception. But unlike most of us who eventually shed that dream, Erickson trained from the age of seven and worked her way up to become a principal dancer with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.

Unlike many of the stories we share at Career 2.0, this one is not about leaving a job to pursue a passion, because dancing is Erickson’s passion. “Ballet is the love of my life,” she explains. “I would not leave my dance career for anything at this point.” Unfortunately, a ballet career is a finite thing, and there will come a time when Erickson will have little choice but to hang up her pointe shoes. So when inspiration struck, she was not about to look the other way. (more…)

Dr Kelly McNelis: From Coal Miners to Crockpots, Finding Your Passion Early On

Kelly McNelisMany of us can remember the doubts we had early on in our careers – the feeling we might be pursuing the path of stability at the expense of following our passion. Dr Kelly McNelis was lucky. She decided to forgo the safe and well-worn path while she was still young enough to enjoy the rewards that come with doing something you love. After just a little more than a decade in her first career, the 32-year-old chose to ignore her inner fears and follow her gut — giving up a lucrative government research position to go out on her own as a wellness coach… and, to her own great surprise, also, something of an internet star.

The Pittsburgh native’s determination is a key asset in her road to success. “I was one of those kids who always knew what they wanted to do. I’ve wanted to be a psychologist for such a long time, at least from middle school when I really understood what a career was. I still have a paper about my career plans I wrote in 9th grade honors English,” McNelis recalls.

With a degree in Psychology from Penn State University, McNelis went to grad school at the University of Rochester, where she studied for free by committing to the PhD program up front. She graduated early with a PhD in social-personality psychology which studies the average functioning person and tries to understand why people do the things they do. “It fascinated me because I was learning about everyone I knew. I combined my studies with my passion for exercise and healthy living. I tried to understand what motivates people to exercise, why they make New Years’ resolutions about getting fit and what keeps them going past the end of January!”

Looking to return to Pittsburgh, she found a research job at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) working on a team with other social scientists. Much of the worked centered around the study of underground coal miners and how to keep them safe and healthy. McNelis did a lot of lab work and conducted on-site research.

McNelis worked at NIOSH for three years, but frankly it was a slog. “It was not my thing, despite loving psychology, I wasn’t doing work that I was passionate about. Basically, it was a trade-off. I stayed there because it was a really flexible job: I could work from home, it was stable, and paid well. But I kept asking myself, ‘Why did I devote nine years to studying in order to end up working in a career that I didn’t love?’ I realized I was too young to give up. I felt like a ‘sell out’.”

Having her second daughter cemented the decision to leave. “I was trading all these hours away from my children, spending them on something I didn’t like. I wanted to continue working but I needed to feel the passion.”

And so McNelis decided not to return to NIOSH after maternity leave. When she called to inform her manager about her decision, he shared one last bit of info that tempted her to stay. “I was originally hired as a Fellow. When I broke the news he offered me a long-term position and a promotion to permanent staff with a salary increase. My head said yes but my heart said no.”

Very nervous as she hung up the phone, McNelis thought she was making a huge mistake. But her family and friends stood by her decision. “My husband was McNelis Familygreat. He knew something would turn up, and we honestly believed it was a good time for a transition.”

While contemplating if teaching would be an option, McNelis found herself fascinated by an article her mother-in-law had sent with a note “thought of you”. It featured a woman who had started a business as a wellness coach. “I always I thought I would start my own business, but that it would be later in life when I had more experience and was older and wiser. But at that moment, I really felt ‘now is the time.’”

McNelis enrolled in 12-week certification with WellCoaches®, with the goal of opening her own coaching business for the average person desiring better habits. “Maybe they want to just eat better, exercise or lose weight, or even get the confidence to start a business like me. It would be an opportunity to combine my psych background with my passion for health and I immediately decided to target new moms who could use the advice of someone at the same stage in life but with a PhD in psychology!”

She started building New Leaf Wellness gradually. “My husband made a fabulous site for the business,” said McNelis (yes, she really appreciates her beau). She hired someone else to create a logo, and her uncle, a lawyer, helped her file as an LLC within a matter of months. She leaned heavily on social media to drive interest in her business and wrote a blog for new moms to drive traffic to her site. “The blog, advice and all the easy recipes I was offering were really a free way to support the women I wanted to coach.”

McNelis admits she was a bit naïve about the number of clients she expected to see coming through the door. But while the coaching side was slow to shift, other parts of the business started taking off in unexpected ways. “My blog gained traction and I started writing e-cookbooks. One article I wrote to promote my cookbook, 15-Minute Freezer Recipes went viral…it just blew up!” With 150K page views in one day and thousands of cookbook sales, this was all the reassurance McNelis needed to know she was headed in the right direction. “All my hard work was paying off. I had spent a year-and-a-half writing my blog and months paying my babysitter more than what I was making,” she laughs.

Where did the recipes come from? “I made them up! When I was pregnant, I would have loved some recipes to stock my freezer before the baby came. There’s a couple of breakfasts, lunches, cookies…I made them over and over again until I thought they were perfect.”

It’s been six months and another baby since McNelis’ post went viral. She has since published her third cookbook on crockpot recipes and continues to make a steady income blogging about recipes and wellness. And she couldn’t be happier, “I share my passions for food and healthy living with other moms.  I’m able to be home with my daughters and devote my time working to a career that I love. I am living my best life now. This is it. My best day is today.”

Tips from Dr Kelly McNelis

  • You cannot create demand. I might think every mom needs to work with a wellness coach, but it doesn’t matter what I think.  You can only try to identify the demand and then try to figure out how to fill it.
  • Don’t let your fears hold you back.  Think of fear as a signal that something is important to you. Embrace the fear that you feel about making a career change or building your business and know that your passion for it will help you to be successful in the long run.
  • Stop living your life for tomorrow.  Don’t spend all of your time thinking about the future or what you’re doing to do with it.  Start living for today.  Enjoy the here and now.  Celebrate how far you’ve come and finish each day happy and grateful for where you are.

Questions for Kelly? Write in the Comments section and we’ll be sure you get a reply.

Srirupa Dasgupta: Giving the Gift of Work, Food, and a Little Perspective

SrirupaDasguptaSrirupa Dasgupta admits she rarely listens to other people. Well, to be fair, she listens to what other people say and then makes her own decisions. The Bengali Indian is a doer, that much is clear. But her story is not what you expect. The force behind this tenacious woman who has sported many career hats is a desire to live her values and invest in her beliefs. For Dasgupta, working with and developing people is her life’s goal, and she is prepared to sacrifice more than most of us to make this a reality.

Born in Calcutta, India, Dasgupta first came to the United States to study at Smith College, with only an aunt to her name far away in California. She double-majored in computer science and studio art, two seemingly unrelated fields. “Being Indian, I was told I need to do something practical and majoring arts was not going to cut it so I did computer science, which was up and coming. But really it made sense, I was drawn to the problem solving and elegant algorithms.”

Fresh out of college she became a programmer analyst for a decision-support software provider for the healthcare industry. After four years and looking for something more interesting, she moved from application and systems development to a management role. For the next 15 years, Dasgupta held various management positions in the software industry, rotating from managing R&D teams and call centers, to developing strategic partnerships and consulting services for different blue-chip companies in Massachusetts and California.

In the lead up to the tech bubble burst, Dasgupta started thinking about changing careers. “I had worked the entire lifecycle of the software product, done the whole rotation. I wanted to do something new and fresh.” With much foresight, she launched into a 1-year Integral Coach® training and certification program while still working at Lucent Technologies. “In all of my management positions, what I loved best was working with people, setting a vision and creating opportunities for them to excel and advance in their career … coaching seemed like a good fit.”

In a-not-unwelcome turn-of-events, Dasgupta was laid off from her job in 2002. Well prepared when she got the news, she put all her energies into finishing the coaching certification program. “The training was really aligned with my interests. The methodology takes an integrated approach to the multi-dimensional individual, we looked at the whole person, cognitive, and physical, and the cultural, social and environmental context in which they find themselves. All of these are critical components of coaching, the end goal of which is not to solve the problem, but rather develop the person.”

She started her own coaching practice shortly thereafter. “Even though I had a lot of experience in business, being a small business owner was really different … the first year was a lot of learning-by-doing. I found it difficult to promote myself, attending events and generating leads was challenging.” But not one to shy away from a challenge and noticing she was not alone in her discomfort for business networking, she started a blog to coach herself and others, which led to a book on the subject entitled Effortless Networking.

In fact these evolving career transitions have become a theme and pattern in Dasgupta’s life. As she explains: “Most of us set a goal and move towards it. It’s a linear task. But training as a coach introduced me to another option … it’s called improvisation. You have a map, you know how you will get there, but on route life throws you curveballs. I try to keep my goal in focus but adapt along the way. Coaching has taught me to look at the opportunities that arise and use them to propel me towards my objective rather than seeing them as a distraction.”

After the birth of her second child in 2006, she decided to put her practice on hold as the family relocated to Ohio and finally Pennsylvania for work. For about two years, Dasgupta didn’t actively seek out clients. When she began to think about working again, she found herself at a crossroads. “Should I restart my business? Do something different? Take a salaried position?” she wondered. While thinking about all the possible options, a digital communications and marketing position opened up at nearby Franklin & Marshall College. Although she has been working there for six years and it’s interesting work, Dasgupta admits, her passion lies in working with people.

And so comes the next transition or, more precisely, expression of who she is. Attending an event where Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank, was speaking, Dasgupta was intrigued by the idea that one can create a for-profit business with the intention of solving a social problem. As an entrepreneur, her interest was piqued and she started to look around for inspiration while doing her day job at F&M.

upohar2Dasgupta learned about the refugee population in Lancaster City and felt a connection. Her own family had been refugees from Bangladesh and she had grown up with stories about how difficult it was to start over in India. At the height of the economic crisis, it was tough for refugees to find work. For the women, it was close to impossible. Thinking about how she could create jobs for these Bhutanese, Iraqi and other female refugees, Dasgupta hit upon the idea of  starting a catering business. “These women may not be able to speak English but they can cook!” she realized.

She found a commercial kitchen that rented space on an hourly basis and worked with about four women, who – for practical, mostly language, reasons – cooked what they knew. The enterprising Dasgupta launched the ethnic catering business as a proof-of-concept to see whether she could use a for-profit business model to hire women who otherwise could not find a job, whether the women could do the work, and whether she could pay a living wage.

“All of this was hypothetical. On paper, everything looked great but usually the problems you anticipate are not the ones that show up,” she recalls. “During the first year, I learned all kinds of things and hurdles emerged where I never expected them.”

Apart from the language barrier, a key issue was that the refugees are on welfare. When they get a job, their benefits are cut. But as the catering upohar3business is erratic … one day they may get a gig, the next day not. So the irregularity of income wreaked havoc with the calculation of women’s welfare benefits. “Sometimes they had cash, sometimes they didn’t. It was almost easier not to work!” Dasgupta stopped hiring new employees and tried to stabilize the hours of those she already worked with but the problem persisted.

And so, making a decision that no one in their right mind facing a similar challenge would make, this past March, after three years of solely catering, she opened a restaurant. Entirely self-funded and managed all while still working a full-time job in F&M, this remarkable woman is determined to make a go of it. Upohar (which translates to gift in Bengali) opened its doors for lunch and takeout only and offers catering services. Dasgupta’s right-hand man, Stephen, does the deliveries, inventory, and shopping and her staff of five cook and run the show. Dasgupta breaks even but pays for the advertising and marketing campaigns out of her own pocket. She has yet to give herself a paycheck. She is hoping each month she will generate enough revenue to pay her staff and the rent for the following month. So far, so good!

Why all the risk and stress? “I was called to do it. It was the only way I could generate steady employment for these women. Upohar was conceived as a gift for employees, who get the opportunity to work, a gift to the community to try all these new different foods, and a gift to myself. Through working with these women who are starting over, working hard to rebuild their lives from scratch, I have been given the gift of perspective. My problems don’t seem that big anymore.”

And so Dasgupta takes it one day at a time. She now hires not just refugees but also disadvantaged women from shelters. She is hopeful that Upohar will become a place where people come not only come to enjoy the food but also to appreciate all that they have by meeting those who make the food and who have overcome great challenges.

If you are ever in Lancaster City, Pennsylvania, explore the world through food and visit Upohar.

Believe in Srirupa Dasgupta’s work and want to support her efforts? You can make a donation at http://www.upoharethniccuisines.com/contact-us/support-us/

Srirupa Dasgupta’s Tips for Success:

  • Ask for help. No one does anything alone. Acknowledge your strengths and find help in areas that are not part of your skillset.
  • Pay attention to your gut reactions and your behavior (what you actually do, versus what you think you do or want to do) – to different situations, events, and people – and use this information in your decision-making process.
  • Know your limits so you can set and maintain your boundaries. This can help you focus on what matters most and avoid over-extending yourself.

Discussion

Have you ever considered putting your career where your heart is by creating a social enterprise?