7 Questions with Margaret Launzel-Pennes
Name: Margaret Launzel-Pennes
Current title: CEO
Current organisation: Total Brand Experience
Creative and perceptive event executive with a knack for understanding and interpreting diverse objectives and building flawless experiences to match.
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader of a small or medium enterprise?
My family and friends networks have been encouraging me to go out on my own for years and only until Covid hit did I get the kick in the butt I needed to do just that. Now, while not answering specifically "to" anyone and being at the helm of the company, my decisions can't be attributed to (nor the outcome blamed on) anyone -- I own them. Thus, I work hard to balance autonomy with collaboration so the decisions I make are decisive, yet empathetic. It's not always an easy balance to achieve.
2. How did you become a leader of an SME? Can you please briefly tell the story?
On March 20, the live event agency I was managing closed due to Covid's impact on the industry. I took a step back for about a minute and decided to view it as an opportunity. With two other like minded women, I formed TBX: Total Brand Experience and by April 1, just a couple of short weeks later, we had a new company, new website, and three digital projects on the books. People called us both crazy and bold; we like both descriptions.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I am very disciplined; no sweat pants and bare feet for me. I wake up at 6am, put on my Bowers and Wilkens headphones, strap on head and feet weights and head out the door for a 4-mile walk to my Pandora ``Rave and Regard" artist station. I dance and sing along the way unapologetically, boogie-ing down my neighborhood streets. A quick cup of coffee, shower, full makeup, neat outfit, and a regular pair of shoes follows...then by 8:15am, I head into my very tricked out but comfy home office on the other side of the house. The company is (gratefully) busy so I don't take many breaks during the day (unless the grandbabies come by) and emerge at around 6:30. Typically, (no shame here), I pour a glass of wine and catch up with my husband's remote workday and we'll cook dinner together (we're big HelloFresh fans). Lately, our evenings have been spent wistfully planning our next (post-pandemic) vacation.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
Treat others as you want to be treated. I had a very difficult experience at a job a few years ago where people who weren't in the "club" were outwardly treated disrespectfully, disregarded, and unappreciated - with no internal support mechanisms. I loved the job but the environment was toxic. I want people who work with me to love the job and feel honored, respected, and appreciated.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
My favorite author is Ayn Rand and my favorite book by her (or anyone) else is The Fountainhead. The protagonist, Howard Roark (named my cat Roark in 1972 after reading the book for the first of 8 times), refused to compromise his integrity or to give up on his vision just to conform. It actually didn't work well for him in many ways but he was so strong and true in his conviction. He believed in himself and was willing to fight for this belief. He lost a lot along the way -- money, fame, relationships -- but I think you have to be willing to lose in order for your heart and soul to be strong. You have to believe in yourself to have impact.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in an SME?
There are many definitions of leadership capacity. I ascribe to it in simple terms and in simple ways. I challenge myself to learn things that are hard to learn and if I ask something of my team, I make sure I am able to do it too. I embrace uncertainty as a way to learn and apply new ideas and concepts and hone in on the essence of a challenge and opportunity so that the uncertainty is not overwhelming. I balance long and short term goals using the short term goals as a ladder or blueprint to the longer term ones. And above all, I trust my gut.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader of an SME so far?
I was in a conversation with a younger colleague recently and he said something to which I replied, "Ditto!". In that second, it occurred to me that while it is a word I use regularly in written and oral communication and the meaning of which is clear for me (for those of us over 50, you may remember the school "ditto machine" which copied papers for tests and school communication and had the most addictive scent). Looking at this young man, no older than 30, I asked him, "Do you know what the word ditto means?". He looked at me and said, "Sure! It means 'the same'; it's what Demi Moore said to Patrick Swayze in the movie, Ghost." I literally laughed out loud and shared its definition for me. What is meaningful to me here is that while we were speaking from different generations and our origins of understanding were vastly different, we were completely on the same page. What it underscored to me were two things -- there doesn't have to be a chasm between generations and that we could learn from each other -- and that there is so much to gain if we just listen to something with another's point of view in mind.