5 things I wish someone told me before I became a CEO

with Brenda Christensen

As a part of our series about strong female leaders, I reached out to women CEO’s and had the pleasure of interviewing Brenda Christensen, CEO of Stellar Public Relations, a world leader in public relations, investor relations, branding, funding and corporate guidance for startups, Inc. 500 and Fortune 500 companies, with direct attributable growth worth over millions of dollars. She currently serves as an adviser on private boards in North America, and previously served as a corporate officer for a leading publicly held technology company, across multiple continents.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is it about the position of CEO the most attracted you to it?

“Interestingly enough, I never pursued the role of CEO, it actually pursued me. All through my life, I have been literally thrust into leadership roles. I believe some people have a natural ability to lead and inspire, and it has always been something I’ve been comfortable doing. I’ve had the great fortune to be offered not only CEO positions but also corporate officer and board member positions as an advisor to multinational companies, as well as startups.”

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

“I started this company just after the 9/11 attacks on Manhattan. I had been a partner in another Manhattan agency, but the event made me think about the future and starting a company of my own. Now, we have proudly been serving clients from large Fortune 500 companies like Apple to small startups and everything in between for more than 15 years.”

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

“I’m an extremely focused individual who puts client results first, and rarely do I consider the agency’s bottom line or profitability. However, by creating so many satisfied clients, they started referring business to us, and I had to learn the hard way how to manage exploding growth while still delivering a personalized service-oriented experience. At the end of my first fiscal year, I hadn’t been reporting revenue quarterly to my accountant, and as a result, had to make some modifications to the way the agency was structured financially — quickly and last minute. In other words, it was a good problem to have!”

Specifically, what is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

“I am my own worst boss! I rarely take a vacation, because I love what I do so much. I had no idea how satisfying being my own CEO would be outside of the classic corporate structure — which I had experienced for a good part of my career. I have had to learn to pace myself and learn how to say no to all but the best and brightest companies. Another good problem to have.”

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive? The key is to communicate frequently and often — always have an open door policy and be receptive to any and all ideas. Encourage collaboration and instill a sense of satisfaction and passion that will permeate throughout the company culture.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team? ‘m a big believer in managing from the bottom up and not top-down. I have always positioned myself as a resource for others and encouraged entrepreneurship in everyone. Large team or small, everyone wants to feel that they are making a difference and being acknowledged for their accomplishments.

Who inspired/inspires you and why? My father inspires me — he was part of the NASA Apollo missions, including the moon landing, and that pretty much tops it all. He taught me to never, ever give up and to always be reaching for the stars. Literally. :) My firm is named Stellar Public Relations in his honor. It’s a bold name, but we strive to live up to its name each and every day.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that? There are so many to thank — everyone from my teachers, to my own father and the many I met along my career who helped me up the ladder. At the age of 23, I had the confidence of my first client who fired their agency of record — the top PR agency in the world — and hired me instead. At the time, their CEO was the wealthiest person in America. It was an incredible opportunity which I built upon that has led me to where I am today.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place? I continue to pay it forward and have developed internship and mentorship programs which have produced executives like the head of Disney PR and many other talented individuals. Nothing has given me more satisfaction than guiding and developing talent in others and seeing them soar and succeed.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. How much fun it is — truly a lot of ups and downs, but nothing has been more rewarding as being the head of a corporation.
  2. The challenging environment — you are truly testing yourself every day to do better, accomplish more and deliver amazing results.
  3. Go for it — although the role of CEO isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, you will never know unless you try. Once you’re here, it will be the most exhilarating and exhausting experience of your life.
  4. Your passion is your path — not once did I think a writing career would lead to my role as CEO or as a corporate officer and board member. But here I am.
  5. Lead by example — being a successful CEO is more than driving revenue and profitability — it’s an amazing way to guide and lead others by example into finding their passion, and ultimately, their careers.”

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them: I have had the incredible fortune of collaborating with greats in tech such as Bill Gates, VC funding like Mark Cuban, athletics such as Muhammad Ali and top entertainment execs and actors like Brad Pitt — the list goes on and on. So, I would leave them alone for lunch, because I know they are just as busy as I am.

About the author:

Phil La Duke is a popular speaker & writer with more than 350 works in print. His most recent book is Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention. Follow Phil on Twitter @philladuke

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Author of “I Know My Shoes Are Untied. Mind Your Own Business” and “Lone Gunman. Rewriting the Handbook on Workplace Violence Prevention” and “Blood on my hands

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