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EPISODE 4

Executive Education

Did you know that the average tenure of a board member is longer than the average tenure of a marriage in the United States? In this episode, Coco Brown discusses the benefits and drawbacks of the long tenures of corporate boards, their current structure, the impact of recent legislation, and the importance of executive education to guide you through all of this.

Coco Brown headshot
Coco Brown
Coco Brown is founder, CEO, and board member of Athena Alliance. Athena Alliance is a game-changing executive firm helping to position top executive women for advancement and board opportunities, transforming the board room towards a modern composition model. Since founding Athena in the Spring of 2016, she has led the organization to a network of over 1000 C-Level women, VCs, and CEOs from over 150 companies including Accenture, Cisco, Microsoft, Intuit, Autodesk, and Alphabet / Google. Previously, Coco has held leadership roles including CEO, COO, President, board member, and advisor, partnering with F1000 companies, start-ups, and nonprofits.

Video Transcript

The Beans, Pre-Brewing

Denny Lee (00:06):
Welcome to Data Brew by Databricks with Denny and Brooke. The series allows us to explore various topics in the data and AI community. Whether we’re talking about data engineering or data science, we will interview subject matter experts to dive deeper into these topics. In this season, we’ll continue our conversations on data leadership. And while we’re at it, we’ll be enjoying our morning brew. My name is Denny Lee. I’m a developer advocate here at Databricks. I’m one half of Data Brew.

Brooke Wenig (00:32):
And hello. My name is Brooke Wenig, machine learning practice lead, and the other half of Data Brew. For today’s episode, I am thrilled to introduce Coco Brown, founder and CEO of Athena Alliance. Welcome Coco.

Coco Brown (00:43):
Thank you. It’s great to be here.

Brooke Wenig (00:45):
So to kick it off, could you explain what is Athena Alliance and what inspired you to found it?

Coco Brown (00:50):
Absolutely. So Athena Alliance is executive education as a service. In other words, we are a technology platform that is a combination of community learning and access to opportunity for today’s top leaders. And we actually only serve women today, but that’s not because women uniquely need learning that men don’t need. In fact, that’s not true at all. It’s actually that what we want to do is offer a competitive advantage to executive women so that they can advance faster. We have been behind our peers, if you will, in advancement and leadership.

Brooke Wenig (01:32):
Fantastic. And just as a quick shout out, all VP and above women at Databricks are members of Athena Alliance.

Coco Brown (01:38):
Yes.

Brooke Wenig (01:38):
And so could you talk about some of the benefits of executive leadership and building out executive presence?

Coco Brown (01:44):
Yeah, absolutely. So if you think about the way that the world works today, everything is moving so quickly. Things that exist today did not exist just a few years ago. From roles like the chief customer officer or chief sustainability officer, to business models. SaaS, as an example, is relatively new, still in the larger context of business, to entire categories of industry, right? So everything is just moving tremendously quickly and it’s not just technology that’s moving us so fast. It’s the fact that because of technology, we’re so incredibly connected that everything can innovate so much more quickly. And so we are.

Coco Brown (02:28):
So if you think about sort of the traditional way that we would learn and advance in business, we would have relied on books of ages and wisdom of ages. And the executive MBA program that would pull on these kinds of learnings that would stand the test of time and case studies, et cetera.

Coco Brown (02:49):
But those are increasingly less relevant. A, we can’t take time out to learn in those sorts of ways while we’re running our busy businesses. But also beyond that, most case studies are old the moment they hit print. And so the way that we think about it is that we need the equivalent of Netflix for business. And I mean that in a very literal sense. In the same way that you’re experiencing Netflix for entertainment, we need a version of that that is for business learning. Not just the stack of books that we want to read, but also so an on-demand library of content that is anything from funding, to founding, to governing, to operating the business across all realms of the business. And so that dynamic sort of learning where it’s on demand, it’s also live. It’s also the right conversation at the right time because you’re tied into an incredible ecosystem of other leaders. That’s what Athena is all about. And that’s what the modern leader needs in order to govern at the top ranks of leadership.

Denny Lee (03:51):
It’s super interesting to hear this context about education as a service and the Netflix of business education. But one thing I’m curious about is from an Athena Alliance perspective, is there also perhaps guidance that allows folks to have a guided path for all this online collateral, right? Because some people may not recognize that they actually need to understand marketing better or funding better or other aspects? I’m just curious, how does Athena Alliance work from that aspect?

Coco Brown (04:20):
Absolutely. Okay. So every person that’s on the platform has access to everything there. So you can just be curious in the same way that you would be curious with Netflix, but you could also be directed. So we ask all of our members questions around, I am, I want, I need, I’m blocked by. And the answers to those questions help us understand what they uniquely might be benefit from, whether it’s bundles within that content or its particular content that we know others like them enjoy. So that’s part of the experience. The other thing is, is that some people come to Athena as seekers.

Coco Brown (04:57):
And the way I think about seekers is when you think about your senior leadership, you’re getting closer to what we would call vocational freedom. You’ve spent a career building up to this place where you’re now a senior director or VP, a senior VP, a C-suite executive, a board member. You’re in that upper echelon of leadership and you’re starting to think about your vocational freedom and what that means then about the portfolio you can build at the top.

Coco Brown (05:29):
So we’re no longer thinking, just, okay, what’s my next promotional layer? We’re also thinking, okay, I could be the VP of X, Y, and Z, and join a board and potentially start a company down the road and be an investor in that particular fund I’m interested in. So there’s many different things we can become as senior leaders. A lot of them we can do at the same time. And so that kind of thinking is part of what drives us saying, if you want to be a full leader, you need to understand the breadth of that domain, but you might’ve come to us with a particular goal in mind at a particular time. So let’s say on that front, you’re seeking a board seat. So within that context, we have a tried and true and tested model that we’ve built over the course of five years.

Coco Brown (06:21):
That was our origin story. Get more women on boards, right? So we’ve expanded into this broader experience of Athena. But if you want to join a board, what we have come to understand is you need to follow a path and that path is, and this again is not gender specific. This is just the right path to make your goal happen faster. And in your timeframe and with the kind of outcome you’re looking for, which is you’re going to need support in translating your incredible career into the right story of you as an overarching steward of business. So if you think about your career, there’s so much to say. What’s going to sit on the cutting room floor when you have one page to tell the story, right? So you need support in figuring that out because most of us cannot distill ourselves down to one page and one page that’s relevant in this broad frame, right?

Coco Brown (07:16):
So that’s where coaching comes in. So we have expert coaches that work with our members who are those kinds of seekers around that translation. Then we have expert writers who take that incredible story and turn it into the right brand package, we call it, which is your bio, your CV, and the essential LinkedIn. You know, you’ve got to have those nailed because people expect them. And then there’s practice. Practicing your storytelling. Everything’s about storytelling today. Practicing your storytelling, practicing your pitch, practicing your pitch in different scenarios and setting.

Coco Brown (07:51):
Practicing being in high stakes settings where you may be interviewing or you may be subtly interviewing. So all of that is something we’ve packaged up in a program we call The Accelerator, which is eight hours of coaching, your brand package, concierge service. We’re making right time connections to the right people in warm ways. So that’s where I think to get to the answer to your question, Danny, is there’s the general exploration, executive education on demand as I need it. And then there’s the targeted way to approach that if you’re seeking a specific goal.

Brooke Wenig (08:27):
I really liked that program because it’s applicable to everybody, not just those seeking board seats, but being able to tell a story about what you’re trying to do with your business or what you’ve done with your previous experience. And then practicing your pitch. This is something that we actually do internally with any new instructor, new person we have in the field. It’s what is your self introduction? Can you give me the 20 second version, the two minute version? And so that’s definitely a very valuable skill for everybody, not just those seeking board seats.

Coco Brown (08:52):
Exactly. You may be seeking funding. You may be trying to stand on a bigger stage for your own brand or for your companies and all of these sorts of places where you’re building yourself up as the brand, for in the interest of a bigger opportunity require that.

Brooke Wenig (09:13):
Definitely. And so now I want to dig a little bit more into the corporate board structure. And so to start off, what is a corporate board? How does it differ from, let’s say, an advisory board or a nonprofit board?

Coco Brown (09:22):
Yeah. So corporate board, meaning it’s a commercial entity. So it’s a private company, a public company. It could come in sort of more flavors along that line. Is it private equity backed? Is it venture capital backed? Is it an ESOC, employee stock owned company? So if you think about that landscape of the commercial board, it’s about 30,000 companies, meaning there’s about 6,000 public companies, 6,000 ESOCs, 10,000 venture backed companies, and around 8,000 private equity backed companies. That’s kind of the landscape in the US.

Coco Brown (10:03):
And so what that excludes really is non-profits, or in some cases, family run businesses. So the corporate board is the governing structure of the company. At the most basic level, the role of the corporate board is to hire and fire the CEO. Now that’s a super basic level, right. And as we know, that’s not what … Boards don’t necessarily do that, particularly in strong founder situations. But the idea is that even the CEO needs a boss, right? And so, in my case, I’m the CEO of Athena. I have a board, I report to that board and I’m accountable to the board, which is accountable to our shareholders and our stakeholders, and the accountability they have is to ensure duty of loyalty and duty of care that the business is cared for, and that the interests of the stakeholders are cared for.

Coco Brown (11:05):
And some of that comes from a view to governance, regulatory compliance, not cooking the books, financial health, those kinds of things, right. And some of it is tied more to longevity, sustainability. Will the business survive? Will it be healthy? Are we doing the things to ensure that, so that sort of speaks to succession planning. It speaks to understanding the market, understanding the trajectory of the industry and being able to get out ahead of that and make sure that the business is doing the right thing strategically to stay viable.

Brooke Wenig (11:49):
And I know some companies also have advisory boards. How do those differ from the general board of directors?

Coco Brown (11:55):
Yeah. Advisory boards are not fiduciary boards. In other words, the fiduciary board is responsible for that duty of loyalty, duty of care, and is on the hook for wrongdoing in that regard or for not having their finger on the pulse and their eye in the game. And so in a fiduciary board, you’re going to see things like directors and officers, insurance to cover for those kinds of things, but also a very detailed structure around the responsibilities and the record-keeping and the decision-making. So the fiduciary board is a true governing body. The advisory board is really just for advice. They may … Advisory boards are fantastic in that they can come along with stock, equity as an incentive. They can come along with cash as an incentive. They can come along with notoriety as an incentive, and there’s a variety of different kinds of advisory boards.

Coco Brown (13:03):
So for example, you might have a customer advisory board. In that case, kind of the notoriety is these are our top X customers of this unicorn company Databricks, and you five people are our top customers on this advisory board. That’s a really cool kind of thing to put on your LinkedIn, so that’s great press. There’s other kinds of advisory boards too, that might be extensions of the fiduciary board. So for example, you could have advisors to the fiduciary board around aspects of the business that they want more input to, but they don’t have. That’s a great way of kind of getting yourself into key networks with venture capital or with board members. So advisory boards are great. They just, they come in a lot of different flavors.

Brooke Wenig (13:58):
Awesome. And so I know that there’s a lot of regulations around the fiduciary boards, particularly the recent California laws. And I want to get into that in a second, but to take a step back because we’re Data Brew, we love talking about data. What does the data tell us about boards that are more diverse?

Coco Brown (14:15):
Yeah. So, there’s been a lot of debate on data, right? I mean, the big problem with data is correlation or causation. And the more you’re at the very top of the organization, the harder it is to make the argument that what’s going on there is driving all the way down to the bottom line, right? And that’s the big debate in this realm of diversity makes a difference, right? You have the naysayers and the it’s obvious people, right? But the studies are saying that if you look at companies that are diverse in a variety of different ways, those companies make better decisions, they take better risks, they are more sustainable, they’re more innovative, they do get more profitable. So there’s all these studies out there. There’s tons and tons of studies out there. And these studies have been being created for at least seven years by EY or the different universities, or so on, and they’re all saying the same thing, diversity matters.

Coco Brown (15:25):
The naysayers will say, “Well, really good companies can afford to get sort of diverse and become more what the communities want. And so that’s actually what you’re seeing. It’s correlation, not causation.” So there’s been this big debate that goes on forever and ever and ever about this. But the bottom line is I prefer to use logic, which is it’s just plain logical that if you think about who your buyers are, and you think about how the world is evolving, right, we’re more and more of a global society. We don’t have one generation transitioning to a new generation. We have five generations working together now, right. Because of how we can work and the longevity that we’re living lives and whatnot. And then you have huge wealth transfers, Baby Boomer wealth transfer is going largely to women. So you just think about some of the facts of the way that people of color are increasing in the population, in the United States, new census data about that, and wealth transfer and things like that. You have to step back and go, “Okay. If our constituents are diverse, then the decision-making should be diverse so that it can think like our constituents.” That’s sort of a bottom line, right, and the way I see it.

Denny Lee (16:52):
That’s really interesting. And so I guess what I’m curious about though, especially when people, naysayers, do that correlation versus causation debate, right. What are other countries or states, what are they doing to also help out? Because often our focus is very …. especially, honestly, with all of us who are talking are from the west coast of the United States, it’s very California or West Coast centric. So I’m just curious, what have you seen how it’s effective outside of like the West Coast or left coast bias. Let’s just put it that way.

Coco Brown (17:26):
Yeah. Okay. I’m going to circle and then I’ll land. So, if you think about, it’s very hard for humans to make change that isn’t in our personal interest, right? So boards are entrenched. A lot of boards have been together for eight plus years. Actually the average tenure of a board member is actually longer than the average tenure of a marriage in the United States. So, these are sticky, right? These relationships are super sticky and they’re lucrative. So being on a board can be 40 to 140k in cash. Plus you add the equity, that’s pretty comparable to that. And you only get together once a quarter how hard can that be? And really, it’s really great. So there’s this sort of entrenched system, right, that is self-supporting.

Coco Brown (18:26):
So what’s happened is that it has taken an institutional requirement to change in order to force change. That’s unfortunate. And those of us who are the beneficiaries of that, do not like it. Nobody wants to be told that you’re on a board because of some mandate, right? No one wants that, but that is actually what started to happen. And it didn’t happen because states have mandated it. That’s not the starting point. What happened was the change of control shifted from company to consumer. And so the court of public opinion has become extremely powerful. And that court of public opinion is taking down CEOs and taking down companies for not behaving properly. That’s a big change, right?

Coco Brown (19:23):
And so what you see is then, you have these large institutional investors like State Street and BlackRock coming out and saying, “Our power,” because the American investor or the global investor invest differently today than they used to people don’t buy individual stocks. They buy portfolios. And in that “Our best way,” State Street, BlackRock, et cetera, to exercise our vote, we can’t just pull out of that particular company if we don’t like the way they operate, is to vote against the board of directors.

Coco Brown (20:01):
We have a vote against board directors, and we’re going to start doing it if you don’t start operating the way we think you need to operate to illustrate that the people at the top can run this business. And so that started with large pension funds like the California Teachers Union and the New York State Pension Fund… Are the big limited partners, LPs, investors behind these big investment firms. And they’re influencing them, saying, “Hey, we want these companies to be representative of us.” So that sort of started there, and then it started taking hold bigger and bigger and bigger, where you started seeing states, not just California, but Colorado and New Jersey and others, thinking about… How do we mandate change? And now you have NASDAQ that just came out with an SEC approval to also sort of mandate change, if you will, which is to say that they’re demanding that companies that are listed on NASDAQ have diverse boards or report as to why they don’t. So this is forcing behavioral change.

Brooke Wenig (21:09):
Yeah. And I mean, in California, I know that there was a law passed in 2018 which requires publicly-traded companies to have at least one, two, or three women on the board based off of their size by the end of 2021. We’re pretty close to the end of 2021. What transformations have you seen take place since this law was signed into effect? And what do you think about the future of these California-based companies?

Coco Brown (21:34):
The biggest thing that that law did was made this a topic that our family members know. I had family members calling. “Hey, Coco, the work you’re doing is mainstream news.” It was no longer like a few people care about it. It was all of a sudden national news at every level. So that’s the biggest thing that it really accomplished. Because on the grand scheme of things, it’s like 773 companies, let’s call it 800 companies, that this affects. It’s not that many companies that are directly affected by it. It’s really the message that is being sent. And largely, that message is being sent to the private companies that want to go public. And also, what happened was because it became mainstream as a conversation, you now have employees looking around and saying, “Well, what’s my company look like? And why isn’t my company looking like what people think is important? And why do they think it’s important? Does diversity matter? Gosh, it really must matter if it’s being mandated at this level.”

Coco Brown (22:46):
It’s influencing the way we think about the problem and the conviction that we have, and the energy that companies are putting on that problem earlier. So that’s, I think, the bigger thing, because for the most part, these California companies are compliant. They’re complying with the ruling. There’s a few holdouts, and I’ve talked to some of them that have said, “I will sooner take my company private than have a state tell me how I have to make up my board.” I’m like, “Okay.” They’re not doing very well as a company, and one can ask why, but there’s very few of those holdouts, and for the most part, companies are complying. And they may be kicking, screaming a little bit, but the more that this is mainstream, the less that that’s true.

Denny Lee (23:36):
Right. And so then related to that, there’s also another California law signed by Governor Newsom, SB 979, which required California-based public companies to increase diversity, which is a phasing approach by 2023. Just to provide the context for everybody listening, under the law, companies are required to increase diversity for underrepresented groups, including Blacks, African Americans, Hispanics, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, and members of the LGBT community. Right now, approximately 35% of the California company boards consist of all-White members, and so what do you think is the reception of these policies? You sort of implied it already, but I’d just like to understand a little better. Are they from that perspective also still kicking and screaming, or are you seeing the change, basically?

Coco Brown (24:26):
No, we’re seeing the change. And to put that in context for women, if we’re super underrepresented in boards, which we are, for women of color, they’re practically non-existent. So I think it’s completely reasonable that… I think as human nature, we’re tribal. So first it was the tribe of men, but it was the tribe of White men. And then it’s the tribe of women, but it’s the tribe of White women. And we tend to think within our own tribe. Women are trying to get board seats, and suddenly it’s White women getting board seats, and we’re not questioning ourselves, where our women of color are. So it takes kind of that prompting, somebody saying to you… For example, you sit down at a prominent restaurant, in a club, and somebody nudges you and says, “Have you ever noticed that everybody sitting around in these tables at the restaurant are White, and the servers are all Latinx? Has that ever occurred to you?”

Coco Brown (25:35):
So just having somebody open your eyes is really valuable, and then people respond. They go, “Wow, that seems wrong. That doesn’t seem right, but I never thought about it. I just thought that I’m eating lunch here.” We think of things as being normal until somebody says, “Does this really feel normal to you?” And then you’re like, “No, why is this normal,” and I think that that’s human nature. And the weird thing about where we are as a society historically today is that what you now have is boards saying, “Okay, well, I want a Black woman for our board.” Whereas my kids, who are teenagers, are like, “How do you decide that? Because this friend over here is a quarter Black and a quarter…” And they’re sort of looking at us the way National Geographics envisioned 2050, which is [inaudible 00:26:33] and Blackenese.

Coco Brown (26:37):
Why are we so definitive? Why are we so “One Black, one Latinx?” And also, those communities are like, “I don’t want to be a statistic, 17% this 14% that.” But the reality is we have to start there in order to get to a place where we’re just blended, where we just are diverse and blended in our diversity. So what’s happening right now are people are just taking down the numbers. I need to have one woman, one man, one LGBTQ, one Black person. That’s what’s happening. And it’s a weird starting point, but it’s kind of necessary, and I’m happy for it.

Brooke Wenig (27:23):
Yeah. And I know that everybody’s focused on the statistics, but a really important thing is that diverse boards financially perform better. And the way that these diverse boards work, it’s not that you have one woman, one man, et cetera, it’s that they have diverse mindsets. And so we’re using all these various things as proxies for socioeconomic status, et cetera, but really, it’s about what is their diverse experience that they bring that makes them a unique contributor. Because if everybody has the same experience, you’re not going to increase the diversity of the board.

Coco Brown (27:54):
Yeah. One thing I find really interesting, kind of circling back to what I was talking about at the beginning about needing to under understand the full breadth of the business, if you think about what’s happened for boards, historically, the responsibility of boards was pretty narrow in the practicality of how people judged a board. Boards were very closed off. They didn’t engage with the company. They only engaged with the CEO. They didn’t engage with investors. That happened through investor relations. Their skillset was more financially-oriented, and CEO skillset-oriented. But today’s board has to have culture and purpose and sustainability, ESG matters, succession planning further down into the organization as COVID sort of pointed out. What happens if your whole C-suite is wiped out? There’s a lot more that boards are responsible for than they ever were, and cyber and technology, which is actually what’s opening the door more than anything else to diversity.

Coco Brown (29:06):
Because by the numbers, most CEOs are White men. Like 95% of CEOs are White men. And if you think about that from a private company perspective of scale, 98% of all venture funding goes to men, largely White men, and 89% of investors are men, largely White men. So if you think about the CEOs are all White men, the investors are all White men. The funding goes to all White men. That story is just stacked with the only people who will be in the boardroom are White men. That’s the stacking of that story. But as soon as boards are now responsible for cyber risk, and innovation, and strategy, and customer connection, and go-to-market, and moving up…

Coco Brown (30:03):
That like all these things that actually are embedded in different kinds of skill sets, then you start to see boards asking for really talented CHRO for the board, a great go-to-market person for the board, which 35% of chief customer officers are women, and 32% of chief marketing officers are women. So, if you’re looking for diversity, you can find it in the new roles that are being welcomed into the boardroom.

Denny Lee (30:31):
This really naturally segues to the question is like, well, what does the process look like for recruiting new board members now? Because you’ve called out the fact is that there’s now opportunities that now exist, but then how does one get themselves in position to actually be recruited for the board then?

Coco Brown (30:48):
Yeah. Well, and this is an interesting dilemma that I’ve been thinking about since day one of Athena, which is that board seats are obtained through your network. And that is a system that works really, really well and has forever. It’s like maybe most of us got our first job through our resume, but a lot of times over the course of our success, our jobs are obtained through our network and that’s kind of a usual process. And increasingly so when you think about the domain of the boardroom being such a tight family, if you will, right? So, how do you combat that? Well, if you’re in the network and there’s five criteria for this board seat, you meet two, and then you argue your way out of the other three, right?

Coco Brown (31:48):
If you’re out of the network, you have to meet all five criteria to be considered. There’s no way you can break through that problem, right? So in fact, actually, what you have to do is allow the network to come to you. So, I fundamentally believe that systems that are looking for… That kind of say, “Here’s a repository of people. If you’re looking for a board member, come search our repository of people and you’ll find them.” That just perpetuates the problem because you’re looking for the perfect match to those five criteria and you will overlook and overlook and overlook and overlook. The people who don’t quite match have obscure titles, aren’t easy to find which it works great if you’re a chief marketing officer of a unicorn company that went public and you were part of it and grew to a billion, it’s really easy if you fit all of those five markers that are usually pretty hard.

Coco Brown (32:49):
So, the best way is the way that we do it, which is the outside world comes to Athena and says, “Hey, we have open board seats.” And we say, “That’s fantastic. Tell us about that seat. We’ll post it to our community anonymously if you like, and our community will tell you if they’re interested.” It’s like the Bumble experience, if you will. So, we tell our members, their likely percent match, “Hey, Coco, you look like a 67% match to this opportunity.” And Coco says, “No, I’m a bigger match than that. I’ve got these things too that you’re overlooking.” Or Coco says, “You know what, you’re right. I am a 67% match to that opportunity, but I’m exactly what they should be looking for and here’s why.” And we help that argument take place by being the buffer between the two entities.

Coco Brown (33:38):
So, the party that has the opportunity doesn’t get overwhelmed with everybody who’s interested. They only get passed through the people who are interested and meet their minimum match, but we can also argue for them. “You’re overlooking people you shouldn’t be overlooking. Here’s some people that you should really consider.” So that creates a much more fair system. It also, for the people who are seeking those board opportunities, shows them patterns. “I’m looking at all these patterns of what I match to and don’t match to. So I think that that goal is five years out for me, I’m getting to see an advance what I might need to work on and change and sort of evolve.”

Denny Lee (34:19):
So then this naturally leads me to the question that like, okay, outside of obviously joining Athena Alliance, do you have any advice for people on how they want to aspire to be part of executive leadership or to be part of the board? It seems to me that expanding the network becomes extremely vital for folks. But then how about for people who are relatively new and they don’t have the built-in networks because they haven’t worked in enough places enough or haven’t had enough experiences. I’m just curious from your perspective, what other advice do you think you can provide?

Coco Brown (34:59):
Yeah. I think that there’s a couple of things. One is you always have to make… There’s sort of this classic version to the term sales and to the term networking, right? Like nobody wants to consider themselves a salesperson and nobody wants to network, right? But the fact is that, if you turn the thinking. I am a networker. I’m known for this. This is like, “Oh, Coco knows everybody.” Right? But it’s not because I’m out networking and selling people. It’s because what I do is I am generally genuinely looking for connections. I’m curious, I’m trying to figure out… Brooke, I know Brooke pretty well. So I can tell you that this is Brooke, right? She’s off figuring out who should she talk to for what, and what value can she bring them?

Coco Brown (35:53):
I have a great friend, Betsy Atkins who I think the world of, and she said, “You can’t take money out of the bank if you haven’t made a deposit.” Right? So, one thing I will say is as early in your career as you possibly can, look for ways that you can add value to other people’s experiences, and don’t look for a return immediately, but know that it will come, right? Invest in other people, and they will turn around and invest back in you. And most of us think early days in our career that we don’t have anything to offer, because we’re like, “Well, I’m new.” But you do, you have a lot to offer. You have the perspective of your generation. You have the perspective of newer learning. You have people in your network from the circles that you run in, in your company or otherwise that you can offer. And you should do that because it’s in your interest as somebody who’s curious and developing. And it’s also in the interest of the people that you want to develop relationships with.

Coco Brown (36:57):
So, I think networking is essential from day one. And I’m a little bit opposed to the idea that you want to create your personal board of directors, or you’re looking for a sponsor. Everyone is your board of directors. Everyone is your sponsor. Everyone is like… You don’t know who’s going to be the most valuable person in your network, but you learn it over time as you figure out the kinds of ways that your relationships with people evolve, and then you invest in those people who you know are investing back, who you know really care about you. I think that’s the key.

Brooke Wenig (37:39):
I really love that advice. And one of the things I’ve always lived my life by the philosophy of is you can learn something from everybody. And so, you don’t enter a conversation of what knowledge can I glean from Coco today. But over time, you’ll learn every person has something new and unique that they offer and something new and unique that they can teach you whether or not you were anticipating it.

Coco Brown (37:59):
Yes, exactly. I think that’s absolutely true. And the people who do that and think that way, I think go much farther.

Brooke Wenig (38:10):
Awesome. So, thank you so much for joining us today, Coco. I do want to do a few shout-outs. One, if you’re interested in learning more about Athena Alliance, check out athenaalliance.com and also, Athena Alliance has their own podcast called, the Third Act, which is hosted by Liz Tinkham. So, also recommend that you check that out. Thank you again for joining us today, Coco. It was a fantastic session on executive education, boardroom, diversity, tenure of marriages. Overall really enjoyed the conversation.

Coco Brown (38:37):
Thank you both so much, really honored.