“We are a startup so we have to find the best way to get things done and be very clever in the way we access and use resources”.
Tess has served as Director in the Office of the Global CEO of PricewaterhouseCoopers, a strategic advisor to the Joint US China Collaboration on Clean Energy, and has launched a real estate group, technology company, and innovative specialty clothing line. Tess is also a member of the New York chapter of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women. At the United Nations historic Rio+20 meeting last year, Tess was a panelist at the Innovative Collaborations Driving Inclusive Sustainable Growth event and her company CXCatalysts and BPW International committed to empower 10,000 women in green economy businesses, by 2020
“I started CXCatalysts to connect the dots of an ecosystem that includes businesses, governments, multilateral institutions, investors, academia and NGOs to accelerate sustainable development. CXCatalysts is a collaboration accelerator that develops and manages innovative programs that help companies profitably reach underserved markets and governments and multilateral institutions achieve their environmental and development goals. Specifically, we work with multinational companies and governments to create public private partnerships in ‘green economy’ areas like clean water, clean energy, sustainable food, waste management infrastructure and health in a target dozen emerging markets.”
Who is your leadership role model?
I am thankful to have been mentored by a lot of people in my career, though most were men. They showed me how to navigate political situations, create opportunities and never lose focus on the bottom line. However women like Elizabeth Varet, (Chairman of American Securities) Irene Natividad, (founder of the Global Summit for Women) and Janet Hanson, (from Goldman Sachs & founder of 85 Broads) helped me understand more about the biases facing women. While I thought I was fortunate to have achieved success in male dominated businesses, they made me aware of biases that I and other women face that prohibit us from reaching our full potential compared to our male peers. These amazing female leaders taught me how to address these biases and, more importantly, gave me extremely helpful tips on how to find my own balance and be a good mother, daughter, sister and wife.
“These amazing female leaders taught me how to address these biases and, more importantly, gave me extremely helpful tips on how to find my own balance and be a good mother, daughter, sister and wife.”
I admire a lot of different leaders, especially those who continue to evolve, adjust and stay relevant. I learned from watching business leaders like Jack Welch and my former boss Sam DiPiazza that you need to be good at both numbers and people. Entertainment leaders like Madonna and Oprah are not afraid to break new ground and constantly reinvent themselves.
“You need to be good at both numbers and people.”
How would you describe your leadership style?
I am more of an enabling leader. I present people opportunities and see what they do with them. While most folks fail to recognise the opportunities I present, those who seize them or create new ones, I recruit. The people I attract to work with or for me are usually dynamic, change agent types. I like to be around people who I can learn from, with diverse skills and experience and who are willing to fight for their ideas. People describe me as catalytic, bringing together people, ideas and resources to pursue something great. I have learned that you often get more from people by giving them control… However, I do demand excellent quality work from the people who work with and for me. I reward the people who go beyond the call of duty, which is why I hire people who are passionate about what they are going to do for me.
“I create opportunities where other people can thrive. I learned that it is actually easier to achieve what you want when you don’t ‘hog the limelight’, I prefer sharing the stage because I think that the more people that I help climb onto the stage, the better the performance since we can achieve more together.”
I create opportunities where other people can thrive. I learned from Sam, that even if I may have ideas about where everybody should go and what they should do, to achieve the best results they all need to feel that they own the ideas. I learned that it is actually easier to achieve what you want when you don’t ‘hog the limelight’, I prefer sharing the stage because I think that the more people that I help climb onto the stage, the better the performance since we can achieve more together. It’s a different view of and path to success.
What are your key career highlights to date?
I like to switch between big and small companies. I enjoy the thrill of startups, but I also like the broad exposure and systems training one gets in large multinational organisations. I learned very early on that life is great when you can get paid doing something you love. Regarding my career highlights, I have enjoyed all my jobs until I was ready to make a change. Every job provided me great opportunities to learn and develop long lasting relationships. Here are a few career highlights in more detail:
When I was a university student I partnered with a good friend to make and sell novelty boxer shorts, we were one of the first to sell logo’d boxer shorts in department stores. I was the only female college entrepreneur to be picked to represent young entrepreneurs from 32 countries at 10 Downing Street (the British Prime Minister’s office). They picked me over Michael Dell who was back just fixing computers in his dorm room. Going to Europe for the first time and in that capacity opened my eyes to international business and that young people no matter what country they live in want to make a real difference.
I worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers and its legacy firm Coopers & Lybrand Consulting two times. The first time as a client serving consultant and the second as a Director in the Office of the Global CEO. I loved being a consultant because you can work with and for a lot of different smart people across several industries, travel and really learn a lot in a relatively short period of time. I had the opportunity to restructure companies in over a dozen industries. However once I started having children (I have three) the rewards of restructuring and traveling were no longer attractive as being a present mom to my young kids and so I left consulting to become number two of a technology portfolio start up of one of my venture capitalist classmates. It may seem funny that I would go from a cushy consulting job to a start up to spend more time with my kids but what enticed me to work for a technology company was that I could work virtually from home during the hours I wanted to. Since I only need 5-6 hours of sleep, my new job gave me the freedom to be with my children as well as work on building a company doing exciting things.
Going from a 100,000 plus employee traditional professional services firm to co-lead a start-up that doubled in size every two months was a tremendous experience. My profit focused consulting background enabled me to transform the consumer focused 1-800 GIFT CERTIFICATE to a more profitable and stable business-to-business technology service provider IncentOne. When one of my mentors became Global CEO of PricewaterwaterhouseCoopers, Sam gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Returning to the very top of PricewaterwaterhouseCoopers provided me a unique view of managing a then $20 plua billion professional services organization with over 150,000 employees in 160 countries. Sam became CEO right after the Enron accounting fraud shook the US capital markets. While it was stressful then, looking back it was an incredible opportunity to be right in the middle of the biggest crisis to hit the accounting industry. Being in the thick of an industry restructuring is very different than advising a single company restructuring. I learned first hand how governments, businesses and non profit trade groups had to work together to address systematic flaws. Post Sarbanes Oxley, the resulting regulation from the Enron crisis, rebuilding public trust was a big focus.
After the sale of PwC’s consulting group to IBM, I was able to focus more of my time on Sam’s strategic global relationsips and had to represent him on many CEO forums around the world. That was also an excellent experience for me learning how things worked at such high levels of business and governments. During the global financial crisis it was interesting to see the 100 phone calls that really mattered to get things done.
How would you describe the differences between Women’s leadership style and Men’s Leadership styles?
There are thousands of studies on the differences between men and women’s leadership styles. However, no matter what the differences are, having a 50/50 balance and ample diversity always delivers better results. From my experience, I find that men tend to be more linear thinkers and are much more goal oriented than women. Women, including myself, are more holistic thinkers and take into account many more factors in making decisions. I dont think one orientation is better than the other, rather it’s good to have both perspectives so you can get to a better solution. I think because there is greater interest in collaboration across multiple stakeholders to address global challenges, women now have huge opportunities to move into more leadership roles supporting high growth high margin businesses
What kind of Corporate culture do you help create/support in your company?
It’s very entrepreneurial, collaborative and resourceful. We are a startup so we have to find the best way to get things done and be very clever in the way we access and use resources. For example, we help our clients achieve their commitments by bringing together companies and governments with complementary initiatives in target geographies cheaper and faster. We are a solution set to make things happen. We are Catalysts. When we connect the dots, there is a lot we can do to increase impact and reduce inefficiencies and costs.
“I create an environment where you have the space and encouragement to grow, where you feel needed and where you have the confidence and the courage to take risks and make mistakes.”
How do you help grow leaders in your company?
I grow leaders in my company by giving them more responsibilities. When you have an entrepreneurial environment, sometimes people are scared because they don’t have all the skills they need. I’m the one to help them access opportunities to develop those skills, in a space that I know they will thrive in, that my organisation needs. I create an environment where you have the space and encouragement to grow, where you feel needed and where you have the confidence and the courage to take risks and make mistakes. Whatever the discipline is, I don’t want people to be satisfied with what they have achieved in the past, rather be the best they can be going forward.
“I realised then that I, like most women, had underestimated my value…”
What is your greatest achievement to date?
Being a successful working mom handsomely paid to do things I love, with and for lots of interesting people! I’m glad to have been a role model, particularly at PwC. There are not many women in the top ranks of leading multinational corporations who can and will share their experiences of being a triple minority-as a woman, as a person of colour, and as a mom. When I came back to PwC to work for the global CEO, I came back on my own terms, because I was not going to sacrifice my family for my career. While I had never imagined before that time, that I could define my terms, I realised then that I, like most women, had underestimated my value. I believe you can have everything you want, you just have to ask and recognise you can’t have it all at the same time. That said, everyone’s journey will be different based on their circumstances. Another achievement I’d like to share is that I found a way to bring my children on many business trips. They have been to over 40 countries with me and I can tell you that with resourceful planning, those experiences and the learnings we share are all worth it.
“I would say to my younger self “Partner, earlier, sooner”. I was very ambitious and driven then. I did things more on my own. I would say to myself now, “Recognise your strengths and weaknesses and partner with people who have complementary skills sooner. Partner, Sooner, Faster” – that’s what I do now!”
What advice would you give to your younger self?
What happened to me, I think, was very funny. I have 3 undergraduate degrees and that was not by design! I finished my first degree in 18 months because I started the University of Michigan with over 80 credits and because my parents were immigrants and we didn’t know I could take less than 20 credits per term. I wanted to stay in college for four years but because I had such poor counsellors I ended up picking up additional undergraduate degrees in biology, psychology and international economics rather than pursuing graduate ones!
However looking back I don’t think I would have changed anything I did. That broad exposure to so many subjects has enabled me to see and connect dots and with so many friends doing different things, I am able to make things happen. Things happen for a reason.
Maybe I could have been focused earlier, but would that have changed my path in a different way? I think you just take advantage of everything that is presented to you. I would say to myself ‘Partner, earlier, sooner’. I was very ambitious and driven then and did things more on my own. I would say to myself now, recognise your strengths and weaknesses and partner with people with complementary skills sooner. Partner, Sooner, Faster – that’s what I do now!
Lessons my parents taught me that I teach my kids and mentees: always offer before you ask, and ask forgiveness not permission. Create the future you want.
“I have been giving and raising money for others since I was 12 years old!”
How do you give back to Society?
My work is completely directed towards that, it’s really in me. Since my parents came from a poor country but were helped along by others, I was raised from a very young age to also help others. My parents always taught me that goes around comes around and when one focuses more on giving, life will be so much more enjoyable, I have been giving and raising money for others since I was 12 years old! I have donated time, money and or skills and that combination changes depending on what organisations need and where you are in your life. Another way I give back is by sharing my story and experiences so others can learn from them to leapfrog my success. While I get invited to speak around the world about the ground breaking and innovative work CXCatalysts is doing, I enjoy talking to young people as well as other women so I can inspire them to reach for something bigger and greater. I hope all my mentees and children far surpass what I have achieved. Now my work is focused on creating sustainable growth, creating opportunities for women (young, poor, rich) in the Green Transformation that the world is moving to.
What would you like to achieve, as a leader, in the coming 5 years?
I want to move as many women into Green Economy businesses as possible, where there is high growth, high demand and high margins. This will help more women accumulate assets and only then when women own and control resources will we finally be on parity with men.
How would you describe yourself?
- Energetic, high energy
- Curious and eager to learn
- Extrovert and Connector
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