Talia Kovacs

CEO

Litlife

EA Creative’s Women in Leadership conversation series recently connected Chief members Talia Kovacs with Sandhya Jain-Patel and artwork by Eunjoo Byeon, an NYC-based graphic designer and frequent collaborator. Through interviews and artwork we are committed to showcasing women in leadership positions who are making history today. Please send us a message on Linkedin, e-mail us, and share socially to nominate someone in your network.


Sandhya Jain-Patel: Where do you work and what is your current role there?

Talia Kovacs: I am the CEO at LitLife, an international literacy consulting firm specializing in social-emotional literacy instruction. We partner with school districts in 11 countries to make sure teachers are empowered to teach joyful, purposeful, reading and writing lessons.

Sandhya: What was a defining moment in your career which has led to your current role?  


Talia: LitLife was at a crossroads, we had to figure out how to continue to serve our students while ensuring that the company remained stable and healthy. I began our internal systems organizing as the EVP of operations. I continued running the team and systems as COO, then the owners were looking to step away and asked me to step up and run the company.

I became LitLife’s CEO at 29 years old with a background as a teacher and a COO. I quickly learned that the role difference between CEO and COO is very different. COO you have to ensure the ship is running, but you’re not as responsible for strategy decisions and long term vision. As CEO, I had to make sure that all of the systems I implemented as COO continued, and also steer LitLife in a very uncertain time in education with budget cuts and the many competing priorities of school districts.

Sandhya: When was a time in your career where it was clear that being a woman made your job more difficult? Are there any times it was easier?  


Talia: As the CEO of LitLife, I went to this meeting with two very seasoned sales people. I could tell when they walked in that I wasn’t being taken seriously. They gave me a ludicrous offer that no one with even a day of experience would consider. I told them I needed to reschedule, and at the next meeting I brought in a board member who is a former education salesperson.

This board member also happens to be an older man. Once he sat down, all of a sudden everyone had much more reasonable offers to make and the tone completely shifted. I was really disappointed that that’s what it took but also knew to use all the tools at my disposal for the betterment of the company.

Sandhya: Have you had a mentor or sponsor who has helped you in your career, and how did they do that? How have you been able to do the same for someone else?  


Talia: Yes, I have been working with Pam Allyn, LitLife’s founder and owner, for over 10 years. I met her after I came back from working for half a year in West Africa learning more about their education system. She had recently started a non-profit called LitWorld, focused on international after-school programs. Together, we created profiles of the schools I worked with in Ghana and Togo to better serve their needs. From then on I was inspired to work alongside her, building a story-driven, empowered world for kids.

After my time teaching and as a curriculum writer, I came to work for her at LitLife and have been with this company ever since. Pam is a visionary leader who is always pushing me to think bigger, be bold, (that is her favorite piece of advice!) and never accept anything less than the most magical curriculum and imaginative lessons to be put in front of kids.

Sandhya: Who is a historic or living woman that has inspired you?


Talia: I have two - Zora Neale Hurston and Gloria Steinem. I often think of these ground-breaking, rule-bending, forward-moving women together because they are both storytellers and have exemplified the importance of not only telling their own stories but amplifying the voices of those around them as well.

Sandhya: Is there something you would say to your younger self?


Talia: Your career is a series of pivots. You’ll be able to keep focus on the kids no matter what.

Sandhya: What haven’t we asked you that we should and what would your answer be?


Talia: As a former teacher running a business, I make it my mission to speak about the importance of running a values-driven business. I want other mission-oriented people to know that you can run a values-driven, profitable business. Many people who work hard to improve the lives of those around them often think of themselves as “not a business leader” - but I always want to push that narrative and emphasize that if there were more value-driven, social-good-focused business leaders, the world would be a better place!


Sandhya Patel: How is the pandemic affecting your work and daily routine? 


Talia: My entire sector is drastically affected, with schools shutting down and work going to virtual. Many districts are no longer continuing with their important professional development and curricular development, and this means we have had to pivot many times already within our business model.

Sandhya Patel: As difficult as it is, has the isolation and social distancing had any unexpected benefits?


Talia: My daily routine has become a lot simpler, and that’s something I’d like to keep with me. I’ve been going on morning walks and spending more time with family - whether over Facetime or quarantined with my sweet nephews - and I have loved this newfound closeness.


Sandhya Patel: Are there specific ways you have focused on staying positive throughout this temporary new reality?


Talia: Absolutely - I am always working to continue my meditation practice, see the water a few times a week, and make sure I’m not consuming too much news at any given time. It’s kept keep me more or less on an even keel.


To learn more about Talia and keep up with her work at Litlife PD, follow the links below.

www.linkedin.com/in/taliakovacs

www.litlifepd.com






Jinal Shah

Vice President - Marketing

Feather

EA Creative’s Women in Leadership conversation series recently connected Chief members Jinal Shah with Sandhya Jain-Patel and artwork by Eunjoo Byeon, an NYC-based graphic designer and frequent collaborator. Through interviews and artwork we are committed to showcasing women in leadership positions who are making history today. Please send us a message on Linkedin, e-mail us, and share socially to nominate someone in your network.


Sandhya Jain-Patel: Where do you work and what is your current role there?

Jinal Shah: I am VP of Marketing at Feather, the furniture rental service that provides access to stylish, built-to-last furniture without the commitment or upfront costs of ownership. Feather’s mission is to transform humanity’s relationship with material goods to create a healthier and happier planet. Feather is backed by Kleiner Perkins, Cobalt, NEA, Bain Capital, SV Angel and others. In my role, I’m accountable for growth, brand, creative, and communications. We are a young brand, so as a member of our senior leadership, I also share the responsibility of overall business strategy and developing company culture.  

Sandhya: What was a defining moment in your career which has led to your current role?  


Jinal: I’ve made a few strategic pivots in my career that have helped me expand my skill-set, interests, and leadership experience. These pivots are what prepared me and led me to my current role. It wasn’t just one moment - I started my career as a journalist and pivoted to digital marketing inside an agency. After spending the majority of my agency years at world-renowned J. Walter Thompson, I pivoted into a role in e-commerce that required me to develop a GM type mindset. All these pivots have helped me build the necessary leadership experience and both brand and performance marketing experience that led me to this role.

Sandhya: When was a time in your career where it was clear that being a woman made your job more difficult? Are there any times it was easier?  


Jinal: Yes, there were several times that I’ve faced this in my career. Here’s what I learned from it. In the workplace, like most of us, I grapple with multiple identities: a woman, an immigrant, an Indian – all of those identities have shaped who I am and what I bring to the table. I’m damn proud of it and I see this diversity as an asset. Every time I am in a situation where being any of those identities makes my job more difficult, I choose to stay focused on my strengths and remember to assert my voice and knowledge to ensure I am heard and respected.  

Sandhya: Have you had a mentor or sponsor who has helped you in your career, and how did they do that? How have you been able to do the same for someone else?  


Jinal: I have been fortunate to have incredible mentors and also a team of peers who I’ve been able to confide in and get advice from on a regular basis, especially through some of the challenging times in my career such as career pivots, narcissist bosses, etc. It has been very helpful for me to know that the challenges I faced are not unique to me, and that my peers have experienced or, are experiencing them simultaneously as well. We have an informal forum—usually text or SOS phone calls!—and my peers focus on listening to me, they ask thoughtful questions, and help me arrive at a different perspective to the situation. I am also part of a beautiful organization called Future Women X – it is a global tribe of senior leaders across all disciplines led by a group of killer executive coaches.

I’m very grateful for the mentors, peers, friends and resources I have been able to cultivate and invest in. I try to do the same for others. I am affiliated with mentor programs through the CFDA and Parsons. I have also been very active for the last 6-7 years through the ANA’s Advertising Education (AEF) program which connects marketing executives to university students. Lastly, I make it a point to be available for peers and acquaintances who need a thought partner to talk through how to navigate careers. I learn as much from giving back as I do from asking for help.


Sandhya: Who is a historic or living woman that has inspired you?


Jinal: I’m inspired by Padma Lakshmi and Rose Marcario. As an Indian immigrant, Padma has been a tremendous role model for me from afar. I admire that she isn’t afraid to use her voice and her platform. As a woman in business, I’m inspired by the integrity and passion with which Rose Marcario leads Patagonia. Rose is a values-driven leader and she’s set a brilliant example of how social good and capitalism can thrive together

Sandhya: Is there something you would say to your younger self?


Jinal: And kill the suspense? I wouldn’t be where I am had I not made the mistakes or decisions I did. 

Sandhya: What haven’t we asked you that we should and what would your answer be?


Jinal: You mentioned that you’re inspired by Rose Marcario’s leadership at Patagonia. What similar values do you try to instill in your role at Feather?

At Feather we are constantly inspired by Patagonia’s commitment to sustainability, and we have made significant steps towards sustainability within our own business operations. In addition to our model, which allows us to keep furniture in homes and out of landfills, we’ve also recently made a commitment to offering carbon neutral deliveries to our customers. We did the work to evaluate our carbon footprint across our domestic operations which include our HQ and our deliveries. We are offsetting these carbon emissions (about 2500 tons of CO2) by investing in reforestation projects in areas that focus on FSC-certified wood which is what we use in a lot of our products.

We believe that our customer cares about the environmental impact of their everyday decisions, and we want to give them not only a great service, but an opportunity to have a positive impact, as well.


Sandhya: How is the pandemic affecting your work and daily routine? 


Jinal: It has changed, like everyone else, but also infused me with more gratitude than ever before. My team has demonstrated tremendous grit and perseverance in face of daily ambiguity and business challenges which the pandemic has presented. I’m very privileged to lead the team I have and also my colleagues—Feather has created a very collegiate culture—especially the last few weeks, taken extra care to focus on the mental-wellbeing of the team. My favorite part of the routine is the weekly ‘All Paws’ where we sit together on Zoom with our pets and catch-up on non-work stuff. It is the most serene hour in the work week!  

Sandhya: As difficult as it is, has the isolation and social distancing had any unexpected benefits?


Jinal: Absolutely. I believe collectively, we are all experiencing a gentle pause on the chaos of our lives and our minds. Our homes have become so much more meaningful in the last few weeks. Personally, I feel more connected to my friends and family in India and here than I ever have before. From a work perspective, I’ve been intentional in the kind of leader I want to be - decisive, aware, empathetic, and ruthlessly focused. The time to reflect has been invaluable.


Sandhya: Are there specific ways you have focused on staying positive throughout this temporary new reality?


Jinal: I’ve always been a glass half-full kind of person. Channeling any gloom into creative projects has been very up-lifting. Taking my dog, Rey, on long, secluded walks in Central Park has been the highlight of my days – to watch nature unfolding itself around me in all its resplendent glory. But mostly, it is the daily engagement with colleagues and friends over Slack and Zoom that keeps me focused and reminds me that this too shall pass. 


To learn more about Jinal and keep up with her work at Feather, follow the links below.

www.linkedin.com/in/jinalshah

www.livefeather.com/






Lisa Friscia

Chief People Officer

Democracy Prep Public Schools

EA Creative’s Women in Leadership conversation series recently connected Chief members Lisa Friscia with Sandhya Jain-Patel and artwork by Eunjoo Byeon, an NYC-based graphic designer and frequent collaborator. Through interviews and artwork we are committed to showcasing women in leadership positions who are making history today. Please send us a message on Linkedin, e-mail us, and share socially to nominate someone in your network.


Sandhya Jain-Patel: Where do you work and what is your current role there?

Lisa Friscia: I work at Democracy Prep Public Schools, as our Chief People Officer.  

Sandhya: What was a defining moment in your career which has led to your current role?  


Lisa: My role has evolved over time, a result of so many smaller decisions and pivots along the way. One moment that changed how I approach my work was in my second year as a principal. We were working to turn the culture of the school around to be a more positive and warm space, centered in learning. Instead of planning the meetings the way I had in the past, I planned it the way I would plan a Socratic seminar lesson with my students—it was the best meeting we had that year! It was a reminder of two things: first, that leaders need to name the goal, and then step back to facilitate, and second, to remember your strengths as you approach any challenge.

Sandhya: When was a time in your career where it was clear that being a woman made your job more difficult? Are there any times it was easier?  


Lisa: This is a tricky question because I'm not sure it's always clear when gender plays a role. Early on, I found that I was being tone policed. This isn't to say that I didn't have real areas of growth. But I found the way that I was given this feedback—and that males seldom received similar feedback—clearly showed that feedback on tone was often a gendered thing. I learned to take the parts of the feedback that made sense, and worked with those on my "personal advisory board," to grow as a leader. 

Sandhya: Have you had a mentor or sponsor who has helped you in your career, and how did they do that? How have you been able to do the same for someone else?  


Lisa: I've had several, but the one most pivotal is an amazing woman, educator, and leader named Eileen. Eileen had similarly started a high school several years before me in Boston, and was then the Chief Academic Officer of a network of schools. She had literally been in my shoes years before, and offered so many valuable insights. Early in my leadership career, she was hired as my coach and helped me navigate one of the toughest years of my life. She honored the challenges that I was facing but was always honest in her feedback to me. Ten years later, I still call her for advice.  

Sandhya: Who is a historic or living woman that has inspired you?


Lisa: As a history nerd, this a very difficult question! I'm going to go with Ella Baker. She was a Civil Rights activist who led tremendous change through community empowerment. Her ability to empower others to lead themselves has always inspired me in my own leadership. I don't always get it right, but, to me she is the model. 

Sandhya: Is there something you would say to your younger self?


Lisa: Trust your gut on the what, but listen better to determine the how. 

Sandhya: What haven’t we asked you that we should and what would your answer be?


Lisa: I'm not sure what the question would be, but my best advice is to stay curious and embrace your inner nerd! 


Sandhya: How is the pandemic affecting your work and daily routine? 


Lisa: This is one of our busier periods at work, so that at least has stayed consistent!  I do find I am taking more calls, to help stay connected to our team. As for daily routine, I am trying to stay consistent with working out and seeing friends, but shutting off has been a real challenge. 

I've also found I'm spending more time working with several nonprofits. For example, I'm on the Associate Board for Gilda's Club NYC, an organization that provides free services to cancer patients and their families. With social distancing, all of our spring fundraisers have been cancelled, and we're trying to get creative on fundraising for Gilda's members, who are a highly vulnerable group during this pandemic. 

Sandhya: As difficult as it is, has the isolation and social distancing had any unexpected benefits?


Lisa: It has forced me to get creative- in how I do my work, to how I stay active. It's also reminded me to be very grateful- to my sister and brother-in-law, who have adopted me, to my teams who consistently impress me with their dedication and creativity.  


Sandhya: Are there specific ways you have focused on staying positive throughout this temporary new reality?


Lisa: It's easy to stay positive when I know the work that my team and I do will help our schools to be ready to serve and educate kids when they likely need us the most. 


To learn more about Lisa and keep up with her work at Democracy Prep Public Schools, follow the links below.

www.linkedin.com/in/lisafriscia/

www.gildasclubnyc.org/





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