A Conversation between Liz Reitman and Russell Markman, Founder & CEO of Collegiate Retail Consulting Group

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In the midst of “back to school” season, Liz sits down with Russell Markman, founder and CEO of Collegiate Retail Consulting Group, for our September Founders in Focus series. Russell is a friend and long-time colleague of Liz’s; they worked together at Barnes & Noble College and, most recently, REIT helped design and launch Russell’s newest business venture. Join Liz and Russell as they walk down memory lane, discuss what it’s like to work together today, and explore the many connections that return within one’s entrepreneurship journey. 

Liz Reitman: Hello, everyone. Welcome to our next Founders in Focus series where I have my good friend and colleague, Russell Markman, who I’ve known for geez, I want to say almost over 20 years! We met in our days at Barnes & Noble College when REIT was working with them, and I’ve recently had the pleasure of working with Russell on his new venture, Collegiate Retail Consulting Group. It felt appropriate to launch with him [for our September Founders in Focus Series], being that it’s school season and he is the higher ed expert. I’m really looking forward to connecting so thanks, Russell, welcome.

Russell Markman: Thanks, Liz. Appreciate it.

Natasha Cucullo: Thanks, Russell, for being here.

Before we dive into how the two of you know each other, we'd love to hear about your career and how you got to where you are today.

Russell: I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest version and only charge $1.50 for that. [laughs] So this is my 44th year in higher education retail. It is the only thing I’ve done since I was 18 years old. As a student at Cal State Northridge working in the bookstore, I eventually became the store director – and it was a wonderful experience, 14 years there. Then I worked for Follett for about seven years as a regional manager in the Carolinas; my last year was as the store director at UC Berkeley. [Then] 20 years with Barnes & Noble, the last 12 as Vice President of Strategic Partnerships, the new business side of Barnes & Noble College, which I thoroughly enjoyed. My territory covered Hawaii over to the Rocky Mountain states…and then took an early retirement in July of 2020.

And [I knew] that I was not going to retire; I can’t sit at home and eat bonbons and watch the soaps for the rest of my life! [laughs] But it did allow me to decompress and get into my next venture, which I knew was going to remain in higher ed retail but doing it myself and not being tethered to an organization. And listen, I love all my Follett people still and my Barnes & Noble people, but it is really cool when you’re myopically focused on the success of the campus client. So in August of 2021, I launched Collegiate Retail Consulting Group, affectionately known as Collegiate Retail. And you know, two weeks ago was year number two. I’ve had incredible clients and incredible projects as well. It’s been a blessing. So. I know that’s probably longer than the reader’s digest version…

Liz: You have a lot to say! That’s awesome.

Cool. Could you give a little overview of what Collegiate Retail does and how that differs from your work in a more traditional corporate setting?

Russell: Yeah. So there’s really two prongs that I’ve focused on: one is assessment and analysis and the other is project management. So I’ve had many campuses say, “We would love a third party entity to take a deep dive into all the aspects of the college store from a human resource standpoint, technology, marketing and communication, promotions, and the course material side”. We look at the assessment phase holistically; when you’re able to conduct focus groups with the existing store team and coupling that with a focus group of associated student government and then coupling that with a focus group of faculty, you’re really looking at the bookstore and their relationship to a variety of stakeholders – not just from the standpoint of, “Well, let me go look at your financials and tell you what you’re doing right or wrong”. That’s easy. Anyone can do that. So that’s part of what Collegiate Retail brings is that assessment and analysis piece.

The other side of what we’re doing is the project manager role. For campuses that are looking to either move from being self-operated to outsourced, I act as the liaison facilitator. I’m involved in the bookstore committee and the advisory committee, and I support selections, presentations, creating timelines, deliverables and seeing the process through not just from an RFP development, but also see it through operationally. Those are two very different pieces and campuses, but when you have a set of eyes [that] have been part of 44 years of looking at the totality of the business, it’s helpful and beneficial. At 30,000ft., that’s kind of the stuff that we’re doing.

Nice. Liz was on the vendor side of Barnes & Noble College at the time that you two met there. Liz, do you want to share how you met Russell and how you got into Barnes & Noble?

Liz: Yeah. So ironically Russell and I actually never worked together! REIT was hired in 2012 working for Lisa Malat, who’s been on here and who Russell knows very well, as do I. She had a staff of two when I met her, and she was looking for another marketing company – they were using somebody based in Boston; they really wanted somebody from New York. And we had worked with a company called textbooks.com, so they made the introduction and we really hit it off. We started helping her with a number of different marketing initiatives, communications…and then we started helping out with their annual sales conference, the annual meeting. And that, I believe, is where we met.

Russell has this great personality and he’d be interacting with people, and I was moving people through the space, and I don’t even remember the moment we met, but we just clicked. We became friends. And every year at the annual meeting, I would see Russell, right? And we would interact throughout the week. And we maintained that yearly friendship for almost 20 years.

Russell: Natasha, maybe you’re going to ask this question – 

Liz: Go for it. He’s taking over! [laughs]

Russell: Well, yes, and I’m prone to do that. [laughs] So here’s what was so fantastic for me. I’m getting ready to leave Barnes & Noble and I knew in my head what I wanted to do, but the one thing that was [that] I never owned my own business. It was about: What’s my voice? How am I going to position myself? How am I going to do things differently? I knew in my head, but how do I get that on paper? So what happens if I was able to work with an organization that worked in higher ed retail that I knew, but that was able to transform all this stuff in my head to voice and to messaging? So I reached out to Liz.

And that one hour conversation led to us spending so many hours with Liz’s team, [working on] everything from narrative to design. But I could not have done it and I could not have done it as quickly, if I had to spend hours and hours and hours telling REIT design, “Well, this is what the college store industry is”. So [that’s] how we started and that’s what made this incredible relationship. And I have used Liz and her team probably four other times…but it’s great bouncing off ideas. She was such a great help. And her team.

Liz: Thank you, Russell. For me it was so fun to flip it, right? It was so much fun to work with you on this in this capacity because again, you did have all the ideas and your energy is effusive –  it was so much fun for our team because it was not only that you liked [the design], but you were appreciative, you were able to articulate what you were looking for – the whole process was beautiful. And then the win was he was already getting clients and building momentum even before [the website launch]. And what I love about Russell is he’s always thinking about, Okay, what can we tweak? How can I change it? Now I have more case studies, more clients…let’s add this, let’s edit this...

Russell: And it’s been fun for me, too. I mean, I thought there would have been heavier lifting [had I not worked with Liz], so to have this person, this team on my shoulder at times saying, “Have you thought about that?” We just launched our website 2.0 and we’ll probably [update it with] a couple other [case studies] after the fall. It’s been really great and really engaging. We challenged each other a lot – and I would hope that there were things that came out of our engagement and continuing that made Liz’s organization better.

Liz: Yeah. I mean, it was so fun to have the creative freedom…when we presented his first branding options, we had one very safe, traditional [option] – very collegiate – and then we offered a couple others. I love that he picked the really fresh and unique one.

And also for me, it’s been fun just to offer insights on just being a business owner and an entrepreneur because this is a new landscape for you. And there have been many conversations [between us about entrepreneurship] –  I mean, I’ll never tell somebody what to do, but I’ll share my experience. So that added to the layers of fun for me.

Russell: I always appreciated that conversation and information.

Liz: Great.

It's amazing. I know Liz talks a lot about relationships, too, and credits that to a large part of REIT being here today, 26 years later. Now it is –

Russell: Well, I don’t want to be around for 26 years because that makes me 90 and mean. [laughs]

Natasha: Well, it sounds like in addition to both of you having very energetic and lively personalities, that your values for your businesses are also somewhat similar.

Is the relationship component something that you learned throughout your professional experience? Something that you inherently knew? A combination of both? Something else?

Russell: I’ll go first. Well, that’s why I reached out to Liz. It’s not just because, you know, Liz and her team had worked on elements of higher ed. I knew her as a person, so I knew that if Liz had the opportunity to work in this new venture of mine, that it would be successful because our personalities are so similar.

Liz: You know, it’s so funny because I don’t even really think about like the personality aspect of it – I definitely think about the relationship aspect, but I think that at the end of the day Russell and I are so similar – I think we just generally really like people – so it’s easy, it’s authentic, right? And so I’m not surprised that you’re talking about relationships in your world, too.

Russell: No, I completely agree. And the relationship piece and the presenting piece [is something] that I’ve always enjoyed. To me it was always about the show. But I think it goes back to what you just said, Liz, when you like people that you’re working with, the rest is really easy. That’s true because –

Liz: That’s what we do best, right? Then we get to tap into our expertise.

Russell: Yeah, it makes it fun. And we’re good at it. I mean, it’s important. Today is based upon all the learnings I’ve had, and I have incredible mentors that I’ve worked with – there’s no way I would have gotten to this point if I didn’t have this great house that was built with all these stones so well.

That's a beautiful metaphor and a wonderful segue to our last question. For people that are coming into the workforce now, or are still relatively early on in their careers, do you have any advice or takeaways to create and sustain connections like the two of you have with each other?

Russell: Well, first of all, it has to be important to you to do that. And it takes work to do that. So whether someone is starting out or someone is on the opposite side starting out – there’s a difference between me when I started at 18 and me when I started [Collegiate Retail] at 63 – but they’re both starts. And they both revolve around people and interactions and being in the present [that leads to] continued conversation and dialogue.

Natasha: Love that.

Liz: Yeah, I meet with a lot of young women figuring out their careers. And I’ll have coffee [with them], which is such a good idea. And I will say for myself, I purposely have made Mondays my day to meet people – I try to make it a priority on my schedule because I know how important it is. So I think for a young person, don’t be afraid to ask somebody to meet up. And then being very accommodating to that person, in terms of location or time or whatever. And to Russell’s point, just being present.

Prioritizing relationships is a great place to end.

Liz: I agree. Russell, thank you so much for being on. You know, for me, it’s like no surprise that he’s successful out of the gate – there’s just this beautiful energy and aura about you. And honestly, it’s been a joy working with you and rekindling our friendship.

Russell: It’s always fun. I’ve enjoyed it and look forward to the next 26 years. [laughs] 

Liz: Boom.

Collegiate Retail

Collegiate Retail is a strategic partner to college and university leaders seeking to reimagine retail on campus. Working closely with campus leaders, we uncover audience, brand and business needs for self-operated and contract-managed college stores.

With 44 years in the field, our team combines assessments, strategic planning, and implementation to build relevance, profitability and synergy across retail channels — from the college store to online and event sales. We are a passionate team powered by partnership, integrity and the shared purpose of reimagining the college store as the retailer for all of campus. Our data-driven approaches focus on today’s shopping experience and marketplace realities to increase market share, reduce operating expenses, and ensure relevance in ways that drive sustainable growth.


A Conversation between Liz Reitman and Sel (Sue-Ellen) Watts, Founder and Global CEO of  The HR Linc

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For our August Founders in Focus series, Liz gets up close and personal with Sel (Sue-Ellen) Watts, serial entrepreneur — simultaneously operating several businesses including The HR Linc, wattsnext Group, and zzoota — and current Entrepreneurs’ Organization of New York (EONY) President. We literally mean up close because Liz and Sel are together on the west coast for this conversation! Liz and Sel cover several topics under the sun including leadership, entrepreneurship, and lifestyle.

Liz Reitman: Hi everyone, Liz here. Today we have our latest edition of Founders in Focus with my good friend and Aussie mate, Sel (Sue-Ellen) Watts, who is this incredible serial entrepreneur that is going to talk to us about her latest venture, as well as her role as our new president of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization of New York (EONY).

Sel, thanks for being here. Let's start with your latest venture, The HR Linc. Could you tell us about your path here?

Sel Watts: So I started my first business, wattsnext, 16 years ago. In fact, the 16th birthday is next week! And that was a consulting firm that I started in Australia – and it still runs today. We work specifically with small to medium businesses and fast growth startups on management consulting, predominantly around people – so performance, engagement, and culture of people.

I always wanted to come to New York City because I think it’s the center of the universe and an entrepreneur’s playground. And so about four years ago, I came and commuted between Australia and New York to see how I could make that transition, which was an incredible and challenging experience – but we ended up, myself and my three sons, settling in at the beginning of 2020 in New York City.

And since then I have been working on my startup, which just launched called The HR Linc, a membership community specifically for HR departments of one. We provide the community, the support, education, and development for those people because that’s a very lonely role and they need support and development, especially because our workplaces have changed more than anything in the last three years. And the thing is, they’re continuing to change. We’re continually getting questions about how to manage people and how to create great workplaces with this changing environment…plus the generational changes. So it’s a really challenging space – and most companies look to their HR person for the answer, so this is a great community for those people.

Liz: You know, what’s fun is the fact that I’ve launched another business, Other Parents Like Me, which is the same idea, right? It’s just interesting how much community has become this [central] topic — and I think really it’s becoming so clear that talking to other people that understand your experience…the value is tremendous. So it’s cool to see you doing this as well in your space, in your expertise.

The thread of community for both of you seems really apparent in both your businesses and in your personal lives. I would love to know how you created community outside of that professional space especially, Sel, when you were bouncing between New York and Australia? That is one hell of a commute!

Sel: Yeah, it was. Door-to-door I think it was like 36 hours and I did it every six weeks. It was an exhausting two years. When I came to New York, I didn’t know anyone. And so where do you start? It’s incredibly challenging.

I’ve always been part of membership groups because you need to be part of your tribe. So EO (Entrepreneurs’ Organization) and other membership organizations I’ve been part of have been critical in my development and [in] building community. When I came to New York, I did not know one person and it was EO that made it possible for me to build a network. It’s similar to Other Parents Like Me; you’ve got to be around people that are going through the same thing.

So to be able to be part of a global organization, I immediately had people that spoke the same language. And so all of my close friends are…I think, nearly 99% of my close friends are entrepreneurs because that also is a really lonely journey and it’s filled with highs and lows and risks and opportunities. I do believe that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. And so I want to be around people that are where I want to be or who I want to grow into being like them in some capacity. And so that’s how I like to surround myself — with people like you, Liz.

Liz: Oh yes [laughs], that’s me.

I believe it. Speaking of, where are you two right now? What are you up to?

Liz: So I do a house swap using a website called HomeExchange, which is a community of people that are looking to swap homes. Again community, a thread here…and it’s amazing. Last year I decided to try it out because I had heard EO people did this as well, that they would swap homes with people that they knew. I was really lucky eto connect with this woman that owns this LA home, who loves New York. And, you know, I wasn’t necessarily picking LA or seeking that location out, but her home was so lovely. And I’ve gotten to meet the EO community out here.

Sel, is there anything about LA or the states in general that remind you of Australia? Or is it very different?

Sel: Oh, my gosh. I mean what was so challenging was the everyday things that you grow up learning that are so different from home. And then the business world…it’s very different; definitely the language, but also one of the biggest things that I’ve had to adapt to is that Australian culture is a very chilled, sort of laid back culture. But we also have this terrible trait called the Tall Poppy Syndrome, when you cut down people that are doing well, so we have this tendency to never brag, never boast. We’re not very good self-promoters. And Americans are amazing at self-promotion. I noticed it and I’ve had good friends and mentors say that I need to work on that – and so that’s my commitment.

Now you're the President of Entrepreneurs’ Organization of New York (EONY). As a leader of an American-based chapter, how do you balance your Australian values with the business values of America?

Sel: It is a very large, challenging leadership role. I mean, I don’t think there’s any harder people to lead than other entrepreneurs, you know? I’ve spoken to Liz and my other key mentor and best friend, Chris Wilkerson, about the benefits of my leadership style, but how I need to adapt to be able to manage this chapter. And so I’m trying to bring my Australian culture into New York and use that together, which I think can be done. But it’s challenging; every day I’m really having to intentionally think about my leadership: how did I handle that meeting? Or how do I deal with this? And course correct.

But the thing is, I am so passionate about New York City and entrepreneurship. So to me, New York should be the best EO chapter in the world. And I think it’s the right time for me to be in this role because my goal is to get people remembering how incredible it is to be an entrepreneur in New York City and to be part of this organization and have each other — I get goosebumps when I talk about it because I really believe that. So that’s what I’m hoping to ignite in the chapter.

I mean, personally, it’s a huge challenge because a lot of people say, “You can’t sit on the board or be the president of any voluntary organization because your business needs you or your family needs you”. What about, Well, if I do this, how can it help my business grow? How can it help me be better at home or for my family? That’s my personal experiment.

Liz: Yeah. Looking at you Sel, you just are constantly one-upping your challenges. So to me, there’s no doubt. I mean, it’s pretty audacious to come into a chapter from another country and be like, “Yeah, I’m going to join this, I’m going to run this, I’m going to launch a startup, and oh, I have three boys that require a lot”. It’s impressive how much you push yourself.

Sel: Thank you.

I also really appreciate your perspective on: how can the things that I'm adding to my plate benefit me instead of taking away? I think that's a really expansive perspective.

Sel: I’ve always looked at what my role is in relation to the boys? And if I could only teach them one thing their whole life, what would it be? I spent a lot of time thinking about this and I thought I would say to them, “No matter how unlikely it is your dream, your goal that you want, no matter how unlikely it is, you should go for it no matter what”. So my view is, if you want something, you’ve got to commit 100% and go for it and back yourself and know that if it doesn’t work out, you’re going to end up on some interesting journey. And also at the end of the day, you’ll be fine. You can just pull yourself up and you do whatever comes next.

And I think too many people are too safe and they don’t back themselves. Ultimately I have no right to tell the boys, “Go and chase your dreams, do all those things that I can’t. Can you do it? Because I was too scared to do it”. No, I’m going to give them a front row seat in dream chasing and they will see the ride. So rather than trying to be the best at everything, I’ll hone in on what I’m really good at and we all just laugh a bit about how weak mum is at those other things. [laughs]

Liz: And we do laugh at her cooking. [laughs]

And they're already getting that through your move to New York.

Sel: Yeah, I mean, it’s great for them to see that it’s more hard and bad than good. [laughs] In the first five years of building wattsnext, I had many times that I would lie on the bathroom floor in the fetal position going, “I can’t do this”. And the thing that always got me up was, what if I did? And what would that look like? That’s where the grit comes in. And honestly, [the key to] successful entrepreneurs is the ability to keep getting up when it looks like this is just not going to happen. I’m a big believer that the biggest asset that I have is me. So anything can be taken, but you can’t give up.

Amazing. I would love to end on a more personal note and hear what fills each of your cups? What do you do in your downtime when you're not in a fetal position? [laughs]

Liz: This is the opposite of Sel, but I love to cook. For me, that has filled my cup so much because, first of all, I really didn’t know how to cook. My husband at the time did all the cooking for the family, so for me, it involves learning and it gives me time to think. I also know that it’s really helped my relationship with my son. Cooking in the kitchen was the change in our relationship; it was an opportunity for us to have conversation. And then we were making something [together] and it hits all the senses.

Sel: And that’s only happened in the last couple of years. That’s amazing.

Liz: And I’m not going to say I’m great, but I’m getting better! And to circle it all back, I feel like cooking encompasses community at its core.

Sel: For me, I love the exploration of people and deep conversations; I love to have those intense conversations and get people’s philosophical ideas on things. That time for me really does fill my cup. I finding the boys really fun and interesting. As frustrating and annoying they can be, there’s so much joy in watching them go through those teenage years and the challenge it gives me on how to parent them. And put me by the pool with a friend, and I’m happy.

Liz: That is a perfect segue to end on. [laughs]

Sel: Yes, to the pool!

Well Sel it's been a joy to talk to you and Liz, always a dream.

Sel: [laughs] Thank you.

A membership community designed to elevate HR professionals. In the face of the great resignation, and moving to hybrid and remote workforces, we’ve reached an inflection point where investing in HR staff has become mission-critical to ensure a high performing and engaged workforce. This is why we have created the leading development membership for HR Professionals that CEO’s want to invest in.

A Conversation between Liz Reitman and Rowena Scherer, Founder, President and Chef at eat2exploreTM

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We’re back with another conversation for REIT’s Founders in Focus series, featuring Rowena Scherer, fellow Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) member and founder, president, and chef at eat2exploreTM. eat2exploreTM is the only award-winning experiential cooking kit designed to bring cultural education alive through the exploration of world cuisines. Liz and Rowena sit down to chat about entrepreneurship, mentorship, and navigating life as business owners, parents, and women.

Liz Reitman: Hello everyone. I’m Liz Reitman and I’m super excited to have Rowena Sherer here, the founder of eat2exploreTM, on REIT’s latest Founders in Focus series. I love always love having female entrepreneurs here, learning their stories, and understanding about the balance, as we all know, is a constant struggle. Rowena and I have talked a lot about our children many times, [and today, we’ll] hear some [of her] best practices and the cool things she’s doing with her business. So thanks for being here; I really appreciate it.

Rowena Scherer: Thanks, Liz, for having me. I’m super excited.

Natasha Cucullo: Rowena, thank you for being here. We’re really excited to have you.

Let's start off by asking you to share what eat2explore offers?

Rowena: So eat2exploreTM is an award-winning food and culture experience in a box. We want to inspire families and kids to learn about different cultures, different world history, music, and art while making a meal together. It’s sort of a family connection and a family activity, but it’s a lot more than just the experience of it; you’re really immersed into a country in the comfort of your own kitchen.

So it sounds like eat2explore centers food, culture and family time, all while encouraging applicable skill building for children and families. Could you talk a little bit more about how you weave your values into your business?

Rowena: Sure. So I grew up in Malaysia and one of the things my mom made us do growing up was every Sunday we cleaned our room and then we made a meal together. And I never thought about it much until I had my own children. And of course, living in New York, you’re busy, you’re working, you’re a mom. You’re trying to balance it all, to say the least.

What brought me to the States was my work on Wall Street for many, many years; and I built a career out of it. It was great. But you know, it didn’t feed my soul, right? So I’m like, “Okay, what do I want to do next? What do I love?”

So what started eat2exploreTM was a cooking class in Thailand with my kids; they were younger then – like 9 or 12 – and they were looking at me like, “Mom, what do you want me to do with this onion?” And I was so disappointed with myself because when I was their age, I was making a meal for my family and for myself! But because I had not given them the opportunity to try to make mistakes, to get lost in the kitchen…they had no idea what to do, right?

So I felt like because of eat2exploreTM, I ended up teaching [and learning with my kids]. We went through all the recipes; before we launched, I tested every [meal] Sunday with them and they [helped] build it. Now [at] Thanksgiving, we cook together. So I assign them. I say, “You’re doing the starter, you’re doing the dessert”. So everyone has a role. And then we pop champagne and we just love it. It’s so fun.

Liz: I love that. You know, one thing I can say is, I’ve really pushed myself to cook more frequently [over] the past couple of years.  I’ve found it’s such a bonding experience with my son – he’s 21. I mean, he’s an eating machine, he’s always hungry. [laughs] And what I discovered was that when I would cook with him, and we prepared a meal together, we would have the best conversations! So I completely see the value in what you’ve created…and then adding a layer of learning about another culture? It’s just brilliant. I wish you would have been around when my kids were young.

Rowena: I have two kids and I know you only have a tender ten years to bond with them; and then ten years where you’re going to lose them and then you’re going to have them back again. Right? So you want to make the most of that time with them. I know life is busy and life is tough, right? But if you push yourself and say, this is what I want to do with my family once a weekend, right? Put the music on. Everyone has a role. It is such food for your soul. Like it’s so much fun and connection. You’re really getting your hands dirty. My mission is really I want to educate the next generation about the world and be global citizens through food.

Beautiful. So what I'm hearing is that family has really influenced your business. Has it come up for you in other ways that aren't so direct?

Liz: — Like impacting how you build a business, or your time, or decision making, or when you chose to launch.

Rowena: You know, I really think I wouldn’t have been able to launch eat2exploreTM 20 years ago. There are multiple facets, right? My kids, when I started, they were about to go to high school…so when I started getting busy, they [were] really at the time where they don’t need me. Right? And frankly, as my husband said, they’re better off. Because at some point you’ve got to let them grow up and you don’t want to do that while they’re in college, right?

Liz: You know, it’s funny Rowena, I’m kind of the opposite in terms of, I started reitdesign when I was 24. Craziness, right? So for my kids, this is all they’ve ever known; they’ve always known mom as the worker. But what I found with my children is I made it a point to always be home for dinner. And I know for myself, I think that I made reitdesign more of a lifestyle business because it was really important for me to be able to be home for my family and not travel a ton. And I made [certain] decisions because I knew that I wanted to be there for them.

What aspects of your career, business life, whatever you want to share, make you feel proud?

Rowena: You know, I think my philosophy in life is you never know ‘til you ask, and you should always push yourself. I never settle. I’m always asking, “What’s next? How to do this? What to try?” And I think that keeps me on my toes, keeps me young, keeps me wanting to learn. One thing I always say, I’ve been married for 28 years, and we were married right after college, but what keeps us going is we both are hungry to learn. We’re always growing in the same direction and we’re not stagnant. I think that’s important. Life is never to stop learning.

Liz: I love that. I think for me, it’s been about relationships. I’ve been really proud that majority of my clients have been with me on average of 10 years. I think I took that for granted. When I’ve talked to people in sales, they’ll exclaim, “Do you know how crazy that is? That’s a long time to stay with the same client”. And it’s always been important to me, but it’s not just my clients. It’s also been my team. I’ve been really proud of where my designers have gone on for their next jobs. I’ve always sort of cultivated young talent and to watch them go onto huge jobs, [make] really big leaps…that’s made me really proud. So I just feel like the relationships that I’ve established have really made me proud.

I feel like that's full circle! We have relationships, we have learning, and we have food. And those, I think, are the secret sauces of life.

Liz: Agree. Love it. Thank you, Rowena.

Rowena: Thank you, Liz. Thank you, Natasha. Awesome.


eat2exploreTM is the only award-winning experiential cooking kit designed to bring cultural education alive through the exploration of world cuisines. Founder, Rowena Scherer, decided to take the things she treasures the most – family, food, travel, and education – and create an opportunity for all children to discover cuisines from around the world. Following her time at the French Culinary Institute, she began to source hard-to-find and nonperishable ingredients to highlight locally cherished foods. She also built a team of trusted educators around eat2exploreTM to transform the cooking experience into an educational journey. The result is an explorer box filled with authentic recipes, activities, and collectibles that offer a one-of-a-kind, award-winning cultural education through food exploration. eat2exploreTM is not just about putting another meal on the table; it’s about carving out time for family, learning tangible cooking skills, exploring world cuisine & cultures, and cultivating sustainable consumption habits at an early age. 

A Conversation between Liz Reitman and Jeffrey Bowman, Co-Founder and CEO Reframe

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For our latest Founders in Focus series, Liz connected with Jeffrey Bowman, co-founder and CEO of Reframe. Reframe, the first tech enabled change management platform helping to build inclusive experiences at scale, is Bowman’s solution to a decades old problem that nearly every organization faces. Liz had the opportunity to talk with Jeffrey about his professional journey, his passion to modernize inclusive experience design from the inside-out and outside-in, and his path to entrepreneurship. Take a listen and check out some of Bowman’s thoughts on DEI, cross-cultural and multicultural marketing below! 

Liz Reitman: Hello, everyone. I’m Liz Reitman here with Jeffrey Bowman today, our latest co-founder in our Founders in Focus series. I’m very excited to introduce his company, Reframe, and what they’re doing to tackle an industry old problem in terms of DEI and multicultural marketing. We’re excited to have him here today.

 Jeffrey Bowman: Awesome. Thank you for having me. Really excited to dive in and answer any questions that you or your audience may have about Reframe.

Natasha: Amazing. Thank you, Jeffrey, for being here.

Before we dive deep into Reframe and what you're doing there, could you share with us some of the touch points and background of your career?

Jeffrey: I spent about 15 plus years on the client side. I started my professional career in the Southeast at Pepsi – literally on the back of a Pepsi truck. It really gave me a good context and background in terms of: what are the issues that people face on a day to day basis? How do you convince them to buy stuff that they don’t want? And then, how do you introduce new products and services? So by the time I’d spent time doing that, someone said, “Hey, you should go back to business school”.

I was first generation in terms of college – I had to go secure the bag a little bit and then come back and figure out how to change the world. And for me and my generation, you had the dawn of a new age; obviously, with the Internet, but also for people of color and women that were entering the workforce. A lot of the tactics [corporations] used to acquire us were pretty reflective of what was happening post-Civil Rights. And so you begin to kind of take a look at the old and say, “Is there a new?”

Because no one had really written the playbook of the new thing, right? But the way that companies were targeting, attracting, onboarding and engaging people of color, it’s like: “Hey, here’s our general pop customer, here’s our general pop employees, and then here’s the ‘other group’”. So that was pretty consistent. For me, I was right at the intersection; like, I’m going to follow this marketing track, but I think there’s a bigger problem. And so as I began to get more in the new, the old kept drawing me, pulling me back in terms of like, how do you solve this other issue?

So I ended up with Ogilvy Consulting. The smart people were coming in the room with the creatives and helping them develop more effective creative — not just creating creative for the sake of creative, but merging the two around this idea of planning, strategy, and then deploying those assets, measuring how effective they are, and then optimizing them so that you get a better outcome from a business standpoint, not just from a creative standpoint.

So it sounds like change management, at least the inkling of it, was there for you from the start. How did you balance that, knowing the way the world operated when you started out?

Jeffrey: Yeah, I think a couple of things. I was really at that pivot moment where [I was thinking], who’s going to hire me to be a CMO? So I was a non-traditional hire [that] came into Ogilvy, but because they had Ogilvy Consulting, that meant that I had an entry point. So when I got there, my mentors that were assigned to me were the CEOs. And as a result of that sponsorship, I was afforded the opportunity to say, “Hey, agencies, here’s what you need to improve on. Here’s the things that you need to fix”. Why did that work? I’ve been the client, and so as a result of that, they said, “Hey, we think we’ve got another problem we’d like for you to tackle Mr. Smarty Pants”. And that was the question from my book, Reframe The Marketplace: if David Ogilvy were here, what would the agency look like?

So how do you solve for the inequities associated with something that was created pre-1970? But unfortunately, and fortunately, you know, America had to mature. No one had really begun to solve for it using a change operating system. And that began my journey in terms of building a change operating system for inclusive customer experience design, which modernizes multicultural marketing and inclusive employee experience design, which modernizes the practice of DEI. And no one had ever done that up until then.

In 2040 minorities will become the majority. And so when you think about my journey now, you’re trying to now impact systems and structures for the next 100 years. But my original thesis is that you can’t use the old approach because we’re moving from segregated to integrated to now [an] inclusive [approach].

We’re the first to innovate around a problem that everyone has, right? And so where we’re headed requires a new approach to change organizations so that they become more inclusive at scale. And that’s what we’ve done: develop a change operating system for the workplace that reflects this new majority population. That’s my mission for Reframe.

We live in a world that can be very bound by structures and systems. How do you work within that? Where does your creativity bloom despite being in a world that was created without you in it?

Jeffrey: Change Management is a practice. The first thing that people have when you go in to change an organization is you have to assess them. So we developed the first cultural maturity assessment tool: The Reframe Cultural Maturity AssessmentTM

So when you think about Reframe, we’re service first software, second company; meaning Cultural Maturity AssessmentTM, and then we have a six step change approach from an enterprise perspective. But that’s inclusive experience design.

Now, once we’re able to figure out the ambition of the organization, then we have to go back and redesign the entire experience of the customer, redesign the entire experience of the employee, because every system, every structure that exists today was not designed with people of color at the center. None. You then enable it through a piece of technology that allows you to provide continuous assessment, continuous improvement through content so that you then become a vessel, meaning the technology platform for accountability, continuous measurement, and positive outcomes as it relates to building inclusive experiences at scale.

Reframe goes beyond race and identity. That simply means we’re going from three data points, race, gender, ethnicity, to 1500 data points right through a platform, through a medium. Based on a system of change that builds inclusive experiences that are scalable and sustainable.

DEI is not scalable nor sustainable time has proven. Multicultural marketing is not scalable. What’s different is this: I’m advocating to move away from a blueprint that was written in the 1960s – I’m advocating for modernizing it. Right now, we do a better job of including people that you’ve excluded by putting them at the center.

What are you really excited about for Reframe?

Jeffrey: When I first started Reframe, it was all centered around services, but also in the back of my mind, I knew that I wanted to scale the business and the thing that I had to keep fighting for myself was scaling it through creative services. We’re like Noah building this big old ship. Because, with no flood, we knew 2% of Fortune 1000 companies were digital end-to-end. When we started going into these companies and designing these new experiences, they couldn’t implement them. Then when COVID happened, the whole world changed, right? Everyone had to become digital, and we were like, “The great flood is here”.

And so you ask me what I’m really excited about. First, we’re bootstrap, right? No outside investors – but we’re open, so [we’re] excited about that. We’ve been able to make [Reframe] from this idea to full-on 44 engagements later based on customers. I’m really excited [to] figure out how to sell the Cultural Maturity AssessmentTM that [helps clients] know where they are at before we can upsell you on the other services. And so now we’re comfortable asking for growth capital because I think what we’ve built as a system, both on the service and software side, truly solves this decades old problem. And so what I’m most excited about on the go forward basis is building out a team, a growth team, to go sell what we built now. And so that’s where we’re at.

Liz: I know that it’s so hard when you’re in your business to be able to look out and realize, wait a minute [there is more out there]. Obviously as an entrepreneur, you’re always pivoting and learning, but [when] you’ve been doing this for so long [you can get stuck]. So I like the fact that you haD this “aha moment” and how you pivoted.

I kind of equate it in some ways to what happened to me with Reit where people started to rebrand us – they hated that we had design in our name and said, You should just be Reit; you do so much more [than just design]. And they simplified our brand, unbeknownst to me! So I always find it so interesting when you’re in something for so long and you’re able to have these discoveries about simplification and looking at something differently.

Jeffrey: Absolutely. Listen to your customers, you know?

Liz: Yeah, exactly.

Jeffrey: Yeah, That’s a takeaway.

Thank you, Jeffrey. I'm glad that we're able to get your voice out there and let more people know what your organization is doing because it's so needed, it's impressive and it's valuable. And I'm excited to be able to share this.

Jeffrey: Thank you so much.

For HR and Marketing professionals, Reframe is the first tech enabled change management platform that helps build inclusive employee and customer experiences at scale. Reframe’s founders pioneered an award-winning Future of Work thesis and a proprietary change operating system that helps People Leaders build the most culturally inclusive employee and customer experiences at scale. Learn more: https://getreframe.com/ 

Jeffrey L. Bowman is the co-founder and CEO of Reframe. He pioneered a change management and inclusive experience design approach with software in response to C-suite executives using dated practices for building inclusive experiences that reflect the New America. Bowman is also a two-time award-winning Wiley published author. He is a former senior partner and managing director at Ogilvy & Mather in New York City, one of the world’s largest advertising and communications agencies. It was there that Bowman pioneered the industry’s first cross-cultural practice that modernized the marketing and communications industry

His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Economist, Fast Company, NBC (Today Show), and he speaks frequently at industry and trade events across the United States, Europe, and South America.

A Conversation between Liz Reitman and Alan Steel, CEO Javits Center

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Reit has worked with the Javits Center for over nine years. From social media and community-based projects to our latest work with the Javits Center on their sustainability efforts, our work with the NYC staple goes way back. Liz Reitman had the pleasure of sitting down with Alan Steel, CEO of the Javits Center to discuss the sustainability initiatives and conservation efforts of the center. This was an inspiring conversation that centered community care and dove deep into how a business prioritizes the needs of the world today. Take a listen and check out some of the highlights below! 

Liz Reitman: Hi, everyone. I’m so excited to have Alan Steel, the CEO of the Javits Center, here with me today. Being that it was April and Earth Day kicked off, I felt like it was a great time to continue the conversation. Reit has been helping Alan and his team with marketing for the past nine years, and it’s been so cool to watch the transformation of all these sustainable initiatives that, from my understanding, really were led by Alan. So this is an amazing opportunity to have you here, Alan. Thank you.

Alan Steel: Well, thanks for having us. It’s always nice to talk about what we’ve been doing and the successes we’ve had doing it.

Natasha Cucullo: Alan, thanks for being here.

Let’s talk sustainability: The Javits Center's conservation efforts are far and wide, with a roof that boasts nearly seven acres of greenery, a one acre rooftop farm, a rooftop orchard and greenhouse, and an oasis for wildlife.

Alan: In addition to what you’ve already described, we now have the largest solar roof in Manhattan. We will be generating about 10% of our electrical consumption through solar panels on the roof. And we’re about to do some testing of small wind turbines to see if we can, in addition to solar, have wind generated power. I don’t think we’re going to get a lot of energy from the wind turbines, but what I think I’m most proud of is that we’ve actually become a bit of an experimental station for many different organizations. If someone says that they have a new product that’s going to help with our sustainable goals, we’re willing to look at how and whether we can use it.

Could you share how sustainability became a focus for the Javits Center under your leadership?

Alan: Well, I guess there are two phases to my life at Javits. The first began in 1986, when the building first opened, and I came here in the month of April of 1986 to hold what was, I believe, the second event to be ever held in the building.

My second part then began in 2012 when I took over as then president and CEO and came in primarily with a goal of changing the culture within the organization in regards to its customer focus. But when I walked into the building, almost immediately I saw another opportunity; and that was because the building was at that point going through a renovation and had just begun to install a green roof on the existing building. And when I went up on the roof, I kind of looked around and saw all of this green stuff and birds and things and I thought, you know, this is an opportunity.

Liz: I didn’t realize that — I thought that was something that you started.

Alan: No, I wasn’t involved in starting. I came and that was already in place. You know, Bruce Fowle is an interesting character. He’s an architect and his wife, Marcia, was on the board of the Audubon Society. And she actually led a conversation with him about another element of our renovation, which was the implementation of the bird friendly glass, because Javits used to be the biggest killer of birds in New York City, as you probably heard me say before. And by putting in bird friendly glass, we were able to reduce bird deaths by 90%.

So the combination of green roof and bird friendly glass had a big significant impact upon the bird population in the neighborhood. And now all these years later, we have 56 species of birds that use the roof. And we see different changes as global warming has had an impact on bird populations and migratory patterns.

So it sounds like sustainability was a critical focus for Bruce, but it sounds like you were really interested in it as well.

Alan: Well, I think there were several elements to it. I think I’ve always been interested in birds. Living on the northeast coast of England, the Farne Islands were a place I used to regularly visit on vacation and the bird populations up there are pretty impressive.

I think the sustainable part of it came about through a couple of different things. One was the introduction of a Clean Air Act in England back in the 1960s, which really changed my perspective — I became much more aware of the value of government legislation in that respect.

And what I found was that as we talked about the birds and as we talked about this bird friendly glass [at the Javits Center], we talked about a sustainable approach, and people said, “That’s great. What are you doing next?”. So it became a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy because every time we talked about something that we’d done [at the Javits Center], we then had to find something else that we’d done or we had to talk about something else that we planned to do.

So I think that we were again fortunate in terms of timing, but I think we saw the opportunity — I saw the opportunity to move the building’s image and reputation from what it had been, which wasn’t always great, to something that was much more of an asset to the community. So we had the green roof and that led us to talk about what else we can do to help the community, which led us to discussions about one of our big programs called Javits Cares, where we recycle goods left by exhibitors at shows to local charities. Then we looked at catering and decided we could recirculate food that we had been serving to people for lunches, dinners and other things where we weren’t using excess food.

We try to do as much as we can, but culturally it’s always a challenge to change people’s behavior. I will say that having things like the beehives — when we put beehives up and we started to collect honey — that actually helped some of the cultural change because it made our employees more aware of what we were doing. And it was kind of fun for them to talk about having not just the Javits Convention Center, but a Javits Beehive and Javits Honey. And we did some things associated with that, like having the staff join us to do bottling of the honey and labeling of the honey and those kinds of things. And we gave those honey jars away to our customers. So each of those people, whether they’re an employee or a customer, gets a message that is reinforced by the honey, and it helps to kind of make their attitude towards sustainable items a little better — and, you know, hopefully stimulates them into thinking what can they do to make a difference in their [own] locations.

Liz: I was actually there at one of the bottlings — when the New York Times was doing a feature article [on your work with the bees]. It was fun because Reit did the packaging — and to try to find the right size jar and the box and make it match the Javits brand, but still make it fun — I loved being a part of that. And I learned so much about the honey making process.

Alan: And because it was an employee activity that they hadn’t been able to do before, you know, people are leaving their desks to go and do this. It’s a fun, little change. And they’re interacting with other members of the office that they’re not normally interacting with [on a daily basis]. So it’s a good activity for the organization.

Getting people connected back to nature -- whether that be with bees or with the food pickling or just even being in those spaces with the birds -- is a really special opportunity for reconnection. So it's huge that the Javits Center is doing that in the heart of New York City, where nature isn’t always readily accessible.

Alan: Yeah. And I think the interaction of employees in particular with some of the elements of the programs have helped them make much more of a connection with that. You know, we occasionally get bird collisions even now. And our staff will now call the bird rescue lines and they’ll take injured birds up there [to the roof]. And we encourage them to do it — and it again helps make a connection for them, but it [also] helps us from a cultural perspective within the organization to show that we care for birds, we care for each other. You know, it’s a little fuzzy at times, but it’s very beneficial.

Liz: Now, I believe it. One of our core values at Reit is that we care for each other and we use that internally as well as externally. So I completely get that. It’s that core message. But it’s not just for your team, it’s how you’re treating your customers, your vendors. I love that.

Alan: Yeah, I think it’s a way of reinforcing messages. I mean, you know, we can all have marketing messages, we can all have mission statements, but if you can show with little things that you are actually doing that, then, you know, people do follow in their own behavior what they see others doing.

Natasha: So well said: Community care in action.

The Javits Center embodies the core values of the center: world class technological innovation, resourcefulness, an unrivaled commitment to excellence, and I'll add from our conversation, community care. What aspects of this work are you most proud of?

Alan: So I think that the programs themselves, they’re small pieces that many different people have had a hand in. But overall the thing I’m most proud of is that the organization has become culturally more more inclined to support these community based activities — including sustainability as a community based activity — because the what we do from waste management, what we do from solar power, what we do from noise, what we do from truck traffic on the streets, you know, all of those things impact the community in a positive way.

Natasha: That thread of community care is everywhere.

At the Javits Center, sustainability has become a critical focus in an effort to improve the quality of life for their employees, visitors, surrounding neighborhood and ecosystem. Ultimately, the Javits Center strives to be a model of sustainable practices for the exhibition industry, buildings across New York City and the surrounding community. The Javits Center works with several institutions to study the impact of their conservation efforts while introducing new elements that they believe will have a maximum impact on the environment. As a part of the Javits Center’s recent expansion, the team has installed a one-acre rooftop farm, as well as a rooftop orchard and greenhouse, along with a host of other sustainable upgrades. All of this builds on their efforts to transform the convention center into a wildlife sanctuary and a leader in energy conservation.

A Conversation between Other Parents Like Me (OPLM) Co-Founders Liz Reitman and Casie Fariello 

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Liz Reitman and Casie Fariello get together in the midst of a whirlwind few years since co-founding Other Parents Like Me (OPLM). From meeting during their kids’ recovery from substance use and becoming friends to birthing a business and taking on crowdfunding, these women have accomplished many firsts in just a short amount of time! Take a read (or listen/watch the convo for our audio/visual lovers out there) to learn more about their journey as co-parents, their experience as first-time co-founders, and much, much more.

Liz Reitman: Hi everyone, this is Liz Reitman, and we’re kicking off our Founders in Focus series for the month of March. I’m extremely excited to have my co-founder and partner in crime, Casie Fariello, here with us. And it’s even more appropriate, aside from the fact that she’s a founder of a business, that it’s Women’s History Month; so I’m particularly excited to have Casie here with me. I’m going to kick it off to Natasha, who is our expert in asking the best questions ever.

Natasha Cucullo: Thank you, Liz. It’s really great to have you, Casie; we’re excited for you to be here.

Let's get started with the basics. What's your origin story? How did you two meet and what were you up to at that point in your life?

Casie Fariello: Okay. Should I start? You got it. So, I have a son who was struggling back in 2018 with substances, and we had a lot of chaos in our house — running away, holes in the walls, suicide ideation, multiple various inpatient/outpatient programs that insurance would pay for. It ultimately led to a significant overdose in December of 2018. And we sent him to something called a wilderness program. So I did a GoFundMe in order to afford it and did quite well. So that’s why I think that, you know, I’m a dog with a bone. I raised $70,000 to be able to do it. And while I was there, I was learning and changing and growing.

And then my son went off to a therapeutic boarding school. So he went off to something in Arizona. And while I was there, the wilderness program said to me, Hey, would you mentor somebody else from this program? And I said, Sure. And they’re like, ‘She’s in New York City and you’re in New Jersey. She’s not very far and this might be great’. Okay, so I get Liz’s phone number and we start texting.

And long story short, what’s really funny is we didn’t even know that her son would end up at the same program again. So she’s like several months behind us. And when her son comes to the therapeutic boarding school now and they’re like, “Hey, would you mentor this woman? She’s out by you in New York City’. I was like, ‘Oh, do you mean Liz?’ And they said, ‘Oh, how do you know?’ I said, well, because I was her mentor in the wilderness, too’. And that’s when I think Liz and I really knew that this was this kismet; there was a reason. There was a meaning because we kept getting thrown together and we both were listening to the same podcast person that we loved. And she even invited me out to come and see him — his name is Brad Reedy — in New York City, but it’s just been kind of since then here and there, text conversations.

And until I started doing support groups and since I was so connected to her, I forced her to come in with me. She did it kicking and screaming! But yes, that was in 2020. And now here we are, oh my gosh, a little over three years later. Over three years later. That’s insane. I just knew when I wanted to take the support groups that I had started and take it global that Liz was going to come with me.

Liz: Dog to a bone? Yes. What’s so interesting about that story and how we connected was that we only had texted, we had never talked on the phone when Gabe and her son were in wilderness. And I always say, like, Casie always texted me exactly at the right moment when I was at my lowest, because it was really a very hard time to have your son sent away. There was no communication, except by a letter writing, and it was hard. And she would send me these texts and it was literally a random stranger. And, you know, I just felt connected to this person without ever really having talked to them. So, you know, when we discovered our boys were in the same therapeutic boarding school, it was so fun to actually see what she looked like, hear her voice. Like I was like, oh! And as she says, it was kismet. And it was, you know, we just went from there. 

Natasha: That’s really beautiful. It sounds like, based on your story, that these people that were connecting you with Liz knew that there were some connecting points.

Natasha: I'd be curious to hear, once you two actually spoke and met with each other in real life, what did you think the connecting points were?

Natasha: Casie, why don’t you start?

Casie: Well, I think that in this zoom world of COVID, the funniest part is, and everybody always says, oh, you’re shorter than I thought! Liz and my oldest are the same size — they’re both on the shorter side. And so that was kind of funny to have that moment where I’m like, “Oh my gosh, you and Grace are the same size!”

What I would say is, I already felt heard around Liz and that’s something that I didn’t always feel like with the people who, I’m going to say this, I thought were my friends here. And that really meant a lot to me. And that’s why I knew we were going to work well together. The other part is that we’re both comfortable talking to each other and sharing, “Hey, this, you know, this is bothering me.” Or, “Hey, you know, maybe you could do this differently.” And I’ve never had a friend, and now co-founder, who we can say those things to each other. And yeah, some days we will be like, okay, I need to take a day away from you. But we both have done that and accept each other wholly and mean it. I think it’s a special thing to be friends and co-founders of such a special organization.

Liz: Yeah, I got the chills. I mean, it’s so interesting for me because I’ve had Reit design now 26 years and I never had a partner. So the thought of having a partner was scary to me. I couldn’t understand…I’m very independent. I like to be collaborative and work with people, but I’ve never had a partner. It’s very different. And, you know, I’ve listened to a lot of my colleagues that are business owners and the challenges that they have because it really is almost like a marriage. And, you know to Casie’s point, there were definitely bumps; we had to figure things out. But we both came from such a pure place.

And what’s interesting is, you know, Casie had never run a business, she had been a flight attendant. But I knew when she came to me to talk about launching this business that she was the right person because I had never seen somebody who could give back and was so passionate, who learned. Her learning level just blew me away…just constantly reading, looking into things. And then the drive, the ambition was incredible. And that was very appealing to me. I felt like I wanted to be a part of…I wanted to be with somebody that had that because I felt like that would push me forward as well. I would kind of feed off of her energy.

 Natasha: I love that. I also love how you referred to it as a marriage. When I was writing up the questions, I was talking about co-parenting a business. And I think a lot of words can get thrown around with businesses being like children or families, but I think there’s something to be said about the relationship aspect and how you both are incredibly comfortable talking about the hard things. 

It sounds like you both are incredibly comfortable talking about the hard things. I'm wondering if this is a learned experience based on what you experienced within your families? Or if you feel that you've been like this and certain people bring that out in you?

Natasha: Liz, do you want to go for that? 

Liz: Well, I mean, we’ve both been in therapy like crazy and doing the support group…so I would say it’s all that learning, right? Like, if we would have partnered up ten years ago, I’d say we probably would have broken up — I would have never been able to handle constructive feedback. I mean, we both came to a place of, you know, really understanding boundaries and communication.

And there are many times where we’ll say, “Okay, Casie definitely does this.” She’ll say, because I can be very business-y, she’ll say, ‘”Put your friend hat on for a minute. I need to talk to you about something.” And I’ll be like, “Okay, hold on a minute”. I have to change my my brain because I really do compartmentalize and I’m very much like: this is what I’m going to get done during the day. So that’s great.

I love that she pushes me and like pulls out that softer side or gets me out of the work mode. But I do think it’s everything we’ve learned from our business has helped us get to this point where we could really hear each other and, and you know, the other thing that I’ll make a note of is there’s absolutely no jealousy. We come from a really pure perspective; if we’re doing a pitch and I talk more than I should have, there’s no like, “You know, you didn’t let me get my words in,” there’s none of that. And I’ve been in those situations where I’ve pitched with other people. So when I can see she is having a hard day, I’ll say, “Let me jump in here.” You know, it’s a really nice balance that continues to surprise me.

Casie: I 100% agree. And I think that’s kind of a bit of magic for us. If both of us hadn’t been doing the work that we’ve been doing for the last five years or so. You know, Liz pushed me when I was starting to flounder. Like, how do I become the leader in this space? You know, and encouraged me. Like, “Okay, you’re good at learning and going and here, let’s lean you into a coach for a while.” And I leaned into having a business coach and she really then pushed me into a stronger stance on that. And I love that.

I work with someone who can say, “All right, you know, I think this might be helpful for you.” And I’m happy to lean into that. And there’s other times where I’ve said, “So Liz, can we just talk about that moment?” And she leans into it. And I think there’s something beautiful about being willing to lean in and go, okay, this is a growth moment and we’re willing to grow. And I think that’s got to be huge for two co-founders.

And I’ll tell you, you know, having a co-parent in my life who is only just starting to lean into it, and we’ve been doing this for 28 years, is different than already having someone who’s ready. Like, Liz has been ready to co-parent. I love that question. It’s not you’re in this and I’m in this or we are in it. And that’s what I think makes a big difference if the two co-founders are co-parenting well. I love that question.

Natasha: Yes. It’s beautiful to see your interplay. You know, I’ve heard many so many great things about you, Casie, but to see it in real life feels really natural and flowy and adaptable. So, along those lines, Casie, it sounds like you were starting support groups. 

Casie, could you talk about how your work with support groups translated into Other Parents Like Me? And how this work led you two to start a business together?

Casie: So I started the support groups for myself completely selfishly back in 2020 when everything shut down and I knew we weren’t going to be able to go to my son’s program anymore. And I had such amazing connections with the families there. Once I started it with those 14 people, I then said to the owners, “Hey, I’m going to invite other people from the program.” And they said, yes, which was amazing. And I started with just one. It was just like a little baby idea. And then all those people pushed me into, I want a men’s, I want a solo mom. I want, you know, a divorce parent [group] at that time. I want this, I want that. And I was like, okay, I need something in the morning. And I leaned into it and then I just started soaking it up. And I was going to other places with support groups and other things that I could learn from. And just knew, wow, this is something within what, six months?

That’s I think that’s how long I took before I turned to Liz and said, “Look at this. What we have when we’re all in this group with 30 people, the whole world should have this.”

And I can’t do the beautiful part, which is the website and the marketing. That’s not my jam, I mean, I was PTA president for ten years, so I can build and I can do and I can try and I’m willing to pivot and, you know, continue to create. And Liz, sometimes she’s like, “Okay, enough vision.” Liz takes my vision and makes it into what we want. And I think that’s amazing — the number of things that she has been able to put into words on the website, put into how things are for us and how we speak on social media. I mean, it’s just like a perfect marriage because of where our wheelhouses are and we’re both willing to stay in our wheelhouse. I think that’s another bit that’s good. I don’t know if that makes sense.

Liz: You know, it’s funny that you say that because my ex, Jim, and I were partners in a bar on the Upper West Side that’s still around called Prohibition…so it’s been 26 years. When they first started, it was five guys and they each had their specific area. So somebody dealt with staff, somebody dealt with food, Jim did the music. And I remember thinking, this is never going to work. There is no way. And they literally — if you had an issue with the dinner that night — you had to just tell the person, but you couldn’t get involved. And they really stayed in their lane. And to this day, I think I truly believe that was why they were successful. Nobody overstepped their boundaries and it was fascinating for me to watch. So yeah, I agree with you. Like that is something that I think we’re very good at. 

Natasha: I like the theme of this where you both are building upon the strengths that you have and what you’ve taken from your previous experiences. 

So Liz, your experience running your own business for 26 years, as well as Prohibition and other ventures, how has that informed [your work with] Other Parents Like Me? How you run Other Parents Like Me?

Liz: Yeah, it’s interesting because you’d think, oh, that would just translate, but it’s actually really hard. I think my biggest takeaway, and I said this on the last podcast, is how difficult it is to build a business. And I think because I was sitting back after 26 years of having built these things when I was in my 20s and had a lot of energy, didn’t have children, didn’t have expenses, and they’re still going, that the assumption was, oh, this will be really easy.

The other part that has been a huge transition for me is just being on Zoom. I’m such a people person; I had an office, I’m very much used to the collaboration, hanging things up, talking with people. So, you know, I’ve never met our employees in person from Other Parents Like Me. That is so weird to me. And I am a dinosaur in this world! Like I’ve had to really try to figure out how do you build a business remotely early?

And then it’s also for the consumer. I’ve always been rooted mostly in the B2B world. So there’s been so much learning, but I think to my core, I’m a business person in the sense that I know how to like, “Okay, when we’re making a decision, let’s deal with facts. Get the numbers in front of me. Casie, let’s not go with what our gut is saying…what’s the data saying? How can we make this more concise? How can we visually represent this?”

So at the core, you know, [it] is the same fundamentals of running a business, having really thick skin, knowing that some days are really tough — you’re going to have just some bad days. And then tomorrow is probably going to be pretty darn good. That there are ebbs and flows, ebbs and flows. And I think a lot of that is what I try to talk to Casie about, like, “Okay, this was not a good meeting or yes, we messed up, but trust me, it’s going to be better.” Or, “Let’s figure out what did we learn from this?” So I try to pull those type of lessons. And at the core of what my marketing is about…how can I use that for this? Very different to build a business purely remotely, that’s membership based. Your clients are membership based, so that’s been very hard.

Casie: And I would say, Natasha, one of the best parts is that Liz is still learning. And there’s many times, especially in the beginning, where she would have to remind me like, no, I am [also] learning with you right now. And that was good because then it was okay. So the two of us are learning this part. But then there’s the advantage of when, you know, we have a bad meeting or we have something that we’ve done together and I just go, “Oh my gosh” You know? And she’s like, “[It’s] okay”. And she she can talk me off the ledge.

What I would say is interesting is that we don’t have the bad days together. Like Liz will walk away from a meeting saying, “Oh…” And I’ll go, “No, no, no, it’s okay!” And then I’ll walk away from it. And so I think that’s a kind of an advantage; that we’re able to prop each other up. And sometimes, you know, when you check in with your therapist and you go, “Hey, was this like a normal thing that someone said to me?” Like a normal [experience] for our kids? Like, “Is that a normal teenage thing or is that someone on substances thing?” And so that’s what I get to lean on Liz for: was that a normal business event or was that insane? And she’ll say, “No, that was insane. You’re not crazy.” Or she’ll say, “No, that’s normal. Okay?” And that’s good to have a barometer of Liz’s 26 years.

And then for me as a flight attendant, I come in with dealing with all different kinds of people, and having to pivot, you know, a lot in customer service. And that has been good in my stead with, you know, the the people that we have. I’m very comfortable talking people and helping take people to people off a ledge. So I think that’s a good combo for us.

Liz: Yeah, I would totally agree. There’s sort of the softer [side]. Like, Casie will walk into a meeting with some people that we’ve met and go in and hug them. And I would never! I would be the handshake. And it’s just really funny. I appreciate it because for me, I, I’ve not seen that. And it’s received, which is really cool. So we, personality wise, I think we just have a different approach, but it’s a really good balance.

Natasha: It sounds like it. I like how you both bring in the human aspect in different ways. So, Casie, your experience with managing people in stressful situations, which more power to you! And then Liz, same thing. You have dealt with people in stressful situations too, just a different context. So it does sound like both of you bring in your strengths again and are able to yin and yang each other in ways that enhance and elevate your experiences together.

Casie: Yeah.

What are some of the ways that you co-parent Other Parents Like Me specifically? How did you navigate creating these roles? And have these roles shifted or changed?

Casie: Okay, so we have 35 people who we work with. I may be a little off. Many of those are peer parents and I navigate through supporting them, training them, hand-holding when they need it. That’s a part definitely of that co-parenting and there are times where I field, you know, mom to mom phone calls versus, you know, CEO to peer parent phone calls. And being able to take one hat off and put on the other. Because being in this business of our peer parents, who are the core of our business, our peer parents are in a lot of tough situations that they’re supporting during their meetings. They need someone else to lean on and to be there for them. And that is important for me.

And the other part that I have found really eye opening and helpful is that I’ve had to lean on Liz a bunch of times as well as my business coach. We have a very small team and I’ve never really led a team, so learning how to set goals when there are issues? How do you talk it through? How do you say all the things? And I would say that it’s been eye opening and also just so impactful for me to learn.

And I do lean on Liz a lot. Like, ‘Okay, you know, I need help with this and this is what I’m saying’. That’s where her [business side comes into play]. She will say, ‘Let’s talk about the bullet points. Let’s talk. You’re saying all your feelings. Tell me exactly [what you mean]’. And so then I can write it down. Then it’s a very impactful, strong meaningful [conversation] that I have with the person where I say, ‘Hey, let’s work on this or this is what you’re doing well’. And that is, I think, important and I didn’t always have that [type of communication] with my family, my husband, my co-parent. So having someone who we  can really sit down and we can really navigate through so that we’re using our team appropriately is huge.

Liz: I think what’s been interesting in terms of this concept of co-parenting is we have our team kickoff meetings and we’ve actually swapped and I run them now. It used to be Casie, but we’ve learned what worked.

Parenting really is an interesting metaphor because it’s the same, I know, with raising my kids. I would know when to lean on Jim, when he should take something on or if that was more in my wheelhouse. Or if somebody didn’t have the bandwidth to handle something or was getting too heated, we would flip it and keep each other [in the loop]. I think we’ve kind of managed that right. So because Casie works with a lot more of the team on a more day to day basis, it felt better for me to run the meetings because people needed a connection with me. I have a very different manner, a different way, and I keep the meeting running differently. I’m very straightforward, ‘Okay, we’ve got 15 minutes, Where are we?’ That kind of thing. So I feel like that has been a way I’ve approached co-parenting in terms of how we flip and who’s running and leading what based on our strengths.

That's huge. It sounds like you're successfully co-parenting, which is lovely. Are there any hiccups with co-parenting or dual management?

Casie: Well, we may sound like we always agree, but we definitely don’t always agree. I would say sometimes, yeah, there have been hurt feelings for Liz or for me. And what I think is amazing is that it’s sort of evolved over the last couple years where we will actually say, ‘Hey, I’m out for this day’ so that we take the time, the day, to process and then we can both come back and go, ‘This is what was going on for me’. And Liz will say, ‘This is what was going on for me’. And we come fully prepared. And there’s no judgment that we need a day. Where you don’t get to do that if we were in an office. So that may be an advantage of us being remote.

Liz: Yeah, I think the word evolution is key. I will say it’s really [been] three years that we’ve been working together and you’re seeing us at our healthiest. The first year was a cluster and it was a lot of tears…a lot of really intense emotions. You know, many moments of not being able to speak. If I get real here, trying to understand each other, us going to our therapist individually to talk about our situation and coming back and giving feedback on what our therapist said to try to help us navigate [our own relationship]. And we made so many mistakes as well, which was really helpful.

And we got, shockingly, a lot of bad advice. We initially brought on a lot of different advisors. And, you know, in hindsight now we could see money that could have been spent differently. So this third year is a culmination. I feel we are at our healthiest. We have figured it out. I honestly do. You know, you can’t say you figured out a person, but we really have. We figured out how to work together, how to give each other space, how to speak to one another. When Casie starts to give me feedback, it’s never, ‘You know, you did this or you did that…’ She presents it in such a way that I’m not immediately guarded. I can hear her because she’s framed it in such a way that she knows I’m not going to get defensive. And that’s huge for me. I know this because I just had an argument with my son and I was triggered and I didn’t handle it well because it wasn’t presented in a way that I could handle it well.

So, you know, it makes me value our relationship more because I realize it isn’t easy and it’s constantly evolving. But I do think we have, in some weird way, figured out how to talk to one another and because of our learning, I think now we’re starting to see success. I don’t feel like it’s a surprise. It makes sense. We needed that time to make all those mistakes, to work with the wrong people, to realize who was right, to not get along or to fight, and now appreciate that we do get along. I feel all of that needed to happen for us to be where we are today.

Natasha: Totally. I feel like the evolution of a relationship is a really great way to put it, Liz. Speaking to each other and approaching each other in a way that will allow the information to land is half the battle. And as all of us know from being in therapy, our family systems are some of the hardest ones to actually put this work into practice [laughs]. But it sounds like you’re really making it work here. And that’s where the practice starts. So thank you for sharing that. I think it’s really important to talk about some of the suckier parts of being with and around people and in relationships with people alongside the great parts.

Do you feel like any of the challenges you've mentioned are specific to the mental health industry? Could you talk about some of the challenges related to starting a business within this space?

Liz: I think one of the challenges [we faced] is [that] we went in with the assumption that everybody needs help, right? Every parent is in crisis at some level with their child. This will be easy! And we didn’t realize, and have learned, that parents will spend a ton of money on their child, but not necessarily on themselves. That has been a tremendous amount of learning for us…so we have pivoted in terms of our payment structure, in terms of how long we allow people to be on the platform for free. We’ve learned that it takes time for somebody to feel comfortable, that it has to do with their child’s journey [and their own]. If their kid is good, then they may not be coming to meetings, right? It’s usually when you’re in crisis…and I think that’s therapy in general. I hear my therapist talk about that she hasn’t seen so-and-so because they’re good right now; but they’ll be back, you know? So I’ve noticed, and I believe, that a lot of what our challenges are are very specific to the mental health space.

Casie: I would agree with that. I think that our being willing to feel and be a part of the mental health space, even though it’s a challenge, it’s also a benefit for us; that we have leaned into ourselves to take care of ourselves, to do work with our kids, to do work with our families. And so when there’s challenges with our team or each other or, this is Women’s Day, sometimes some of the people we are speaking to of a different persuasion, we can intellectually be present in that and not allow it to take away anything from us. And I think that’s kind of huge. I mean, just reading other founders’ stories where the marriage breaks up and I think to myself, oh thank goodness! Because of some of that stuff, Liz and I have leaned into trying to navigate with each other difficult times and some difficult people that we’ve met along the way. And I think because of our work and because of what we’re doing, we’re willing and able, I guess, to stay to do it. And I think that’s big. That’s a positive for us.

Liz: Yeah, we walk the talk. Is that the phrase? I mean, really the values that we’re instilling in the business and promoting within our mission are ones that we are living ourselves. Yes. 

Natasha: Yeah. You walk the walk. You talk the talk. And you walk the talk. And you talk the walk! Why not? I love it. It sounds like what you were saying, Casie, too, is that you have worked in a way to be intellectually present, but also keep compassion fatigue at an arm’s distance. 

You mentioned earlier that you both take time off when you need to or take time off from each other when you need to, but what are some other practices that you do to stay well and be well? Especially in this space where you're hearing a lot of heavy things?

Liz: I’ll say, I have a hard time going to the meetings. I’m an empath and it really impacts me. I absorb, and I’m not saying Casie doesn’t, I’m just saying for me it’s really hard. So I try to limit the amount that I go to, which I struggle with because I want to make sure everything is running well, but I saw that it was overwhelming me. I learned that I really couldn’t do it.

What I know for myself is I need to be around other people and get away from the business. I’m a people person, so it’s important for me. Like, tonight I have dinner plans. I need to get away from my computer, I need to get out of my house, I need to be around others and hearing what’s going on in their life, so I’m not sucked into this world because we put in a lot of hours. A lot. And it is draining and exhausting and sad and overwhelming.

I also really make an effort to try to work out in the morning. My sleep is definitely not where I’d like it to be, but I know when I work out, I tend to get a better night’s sleep. So I do work on that.

And I really try to stay involved with other communities where I’m around other people, that it’s not just about this business all the time. Like for me, especially being creative, and I’ve said this to Casie, I need to get away. I need to breathe. There are many times I can’t work on something that night; I need the day to think about it or the night to think about it and hit it the next morning. I’ve learned for myself how to navigate and know I can’t push through. I definitely can’t as a creative person; it doesn’t work for me. That will not happen. I need to walk away, take a break and then look at something the next day. I am definitely more of a morning person. I’ve taught myself that’s when I’m at my best. So those are some of my skills and tools.

Casie: So for me, one of the things — there’s several things — I do. I avoid [laughs] like the plague these days, reading self-help books. When we have speakers come on who have written books, I make sure that I’ve read their book, but I really try to have something joyful that I’m reading. And I am also the same with podcasts. You can get really embroiled in podcasts in the mental health world. And so I have a podcast called Smartless with, I call them three boys, and that’s fun and joyful and nothing to do with what we do at all. So those are some of my ways to keep my head out of the space because you literally could be reading about it, you could be listening when you’re driving, you could be watching shows. I mean, it’s so everywhere that you have to consciously choose to not give. Having said that, I also love the Calm App and I have a favorite person who does a meditation, a movement, and stuff like that. Those are my kind of things.

Casie: I also do date nights with my husband — once a week we try to do something. I’m really trying to find and lean into taking care of myself. I was actually talking to one of my peer parents the other day; I love being in the meetings I run, the speaker talks. I love that. I love being there. But yes, there is a lot going on. So what I actually shared was — and I got this from my therapist — I have a box…I don’t think Liz knows this. So I have a vision of a box. It’s a very pretty painted box. And at the end of it [our support groups], all the things that have come up for other people, things that I call ‘holding space’, I take everything that I’ve held and I put it into the box, I close the box, I lock the box and it goes into ‘my closet’. And when it’s really, really tough, I go to my happy place and I actually envision myself in Cape Cod on the beach and the box. I get a new box and the box goes into the water and I watch it float away so that it’s not something I’m holding onto.

Having that vision has really helped me because I am also an empath and that’s how I protect myself. I even do that for my kids because they’re older now, they’re young adults, so I don’t need to hold onto their things. Whereas I used to when they were younger, I held on to it. So now I have a way and a vision, a visual to help me. And it’s really helped a lot. I don’t know if Liz has noticed, but it’s helped me a lot these last couple of months of being able to be in a difficult place and hear difficult things, but then still be able to walk away. I mean, it may sound callous, but I really can walk away and say that’s their thing…now, I don’t know if that sounds okay. 

Liz: I love that. And I did not know that story.

Casie: Yeah, it makes a big difference.

Natasha: That is really powerful and I think that speaks to your self-preservation. It’s not your responsibility to hold onto other people’s things, even though you are holding space for them. And I love, love, love the visualizations that you have and that you’re able to transport yourself there. I think, Liz, you have a similar but different mechanism to do that; movement and community sound really, really vital to you. And the fact that you both make space and time to do these things, is not only a model for the people that you are serving and supporting, but also so important for your own capacity to endure. We love it when we take care of ourselves!

Liz: I talk to so many business owners and their identity is wrapped up in their business. I am trying to avoid that. I am so passionate about this. This will succeed. I manifest every day, but I am Liz Reitman and there are many layers to me and I don’t want it to just be about Other Parents Like Me. I think that’s why it is so important to be able to have those self care tools and also have the mindset to know that there’s other parts to life because you can really go down the rabbit hole in this. When I listen to some of these stories, it’s incredible how much pain and how many people are just really desperate.

Natasha: Yes, it’s important to remember that we are a sum of our parts, but at the end of the day, there are different parts. You’re a business owner, but you are also Liz Reitman. And those are all aspects that make each of you, you; one is not more or less than the other.

Let's keep going! Other Parents Like Me is still relatively in its infancy. Before we jump into questions on OPLM, could you share an overview of what it is for people who have not yet heard?

Liz: Other Parents Like Me (OPLM) is a membership based community for parents and caregivers of young adults, teenagers, young people that are struggling with mental health issues. That can be learning differences, eating disorders, substance use, anxiety, depression, we really cover a wide range. At our core, our support groups are led by two peer parents who have been in it or [are] in it, and are trained by Casie and understand this space. So their level of empathy is through the roof. We offer 17 of those meetings throughout the day so that we can offer these support groups to people on either coast. And we are really trying to create more identity based [groups]; We have a solo moms, a men’s group, a trauma-informed group, and a newcomers group. And ultimately our goal is to be able to offer something for the LGBTQ community, BIPOC community, adoptive parents…the list could go on. But we must have parents that can lead those groups. So, you know, being in our infancy, we can only start where we can start.

But that is our mission, right? To offer these meetings 24/7. And every Thursday, we have a speaker talk at 8:00pm EST with industry experts, people well renowned in this space of mental health that have published books, have podcasts…and what makes this [series] unique is that parents get to ask these expert questions. This isn’t listening to a podcast. It’s not reading a book, and it’s free. It’s for anybody at any point. Every Thursday and we record them. So if you are a paying member, you can go back to the recordings, which we see get a lot of traction on our website.

And the third part of what we offer is a resource hub. I know when I was trying to find help, I was stunned at how difficult it was. I would Google and talk to places and they’d say, ‘Oh, your son has to check himself in’. And I would say, ‘Wait a minute, he’s 16 years old. What do you mean? I’m his mom!’ The laws are different from state to state. There’s a lot of acronyms. It’s very confusing.

So what we’ve done is we’ve created a list of words, a dictionary to help people navigate those acronyms, those new things that are coming up. And we also have a directory of individuals and organizations — if you need a coach, if you need a place for your child to go — that’s been vetted by Casie and the team. And then finally, a resource hub that’s searchable. So if you want to type in eating disorders and you’re looking specifically for articles on that, it can drill down as deep as that.

 Casie: I’m just having a moment here. Liz is doing so well. I could hear so many of my words in her talk! 

Liz: Well…

Casie: She listens well! The cool part about the support groups is with the two facilitators, the two peer parents are actually sneakily getting parents to start to do a little self care. So we start off with a meditation and then we have a topic. And we have a big library with lots of different things — everything from Yung Pueblo, who is a poet who writes about trauma. You’re nodding your head, do you know Yung Pueblo? I love him. Liz is like, you always talk about young Pueblo [laughs]. Or [the peer parents] talk about acceptance, or read about acceptance, or something from Brené Brown, or a brief video on vulnerability that Brené Brown has done…or something like that. And then the peer parents reflect on it from their own perspective. And that creates a situation where the parents start to reflect on it.

You have 55 minutes where you [as the parent] actually start to take note that, even though you’re there because of your kid, you’re there for you and you’re taking what you’re hearing and what you’re listening and what you’re sharing and starting to turn away from the outside and into yourself. And that’s what I love; it’s beautiful. And then usually there’s time at the end when you have someone who’s had a really big struggling kid moment that they just want to share, and then everybody can reflect on it or say, ‘Hey, we’re holding space’. Or, you know, that kind of thing. But we have two in the room, two peer parents, because sometimes there’s crisis, sometimes there’s suicidal ideation of the parent or the child. And so by having two, they can go out into a breakout room. We have tools that we’ve given the peer parents to help with so they can go and give that person the space that they need and the meeting still runs on. So it’s another learning thing for even the person in crisis if it’s okay for me to be in crisis and that there are things moving on in life.

So I think there’s a lot of power in the way we’ve organized the meetings. And that came from me attending and being a part of a lot of other organizations such as the Partnership to End Addiction and Tempest and the Luckiest Club; seeing how they’ve done it and how they create a space where people can talk about themselves but not. And so they end up learning. And then the hope is that [we’ve created] just a little window [for an] aha moment that when someone hears this they will go, ‘Oh, wait…Oh, I do that. Oh, that connects to me’. And you start to [build] a little bit change. Just a little bitty turn and then you get stronger and then you feel more whole and you gain more understanding about yourself.

Thus your change removes [yourself] and allows the person who’s struggling, the child who’s struggling, to not be the identified patient in the home anymore, or outside if they’re outside of the home. And that’s powerful for them because they don’t feel that they’re going to break their parents anymore. And that’s huge because there’s a lot of shame for the child to see their parents collapse. And the whole unit starts to improve. And that’s the beauty of what we’re doing.

Liz: I also think that we’ve created a safe space that can be anonymous. So a lot of people that are new are afraid to share, right? They don’t have to turn on their video screen. They don’t have to type their name in. It’s accessible. You can join a meeting from your phone. And what we’ve learned is it doesn’t matter where you are in your journey. I know for myself, when I first joined, a lot of tears, a lot [time] wrapped up in like what my son was going through. And then months later, you know, I could handle those situations. And I was really speaking more about myself.

But when I would hear somebody new come in, I realized, holy cow, look how far I’ve come. That person is me. And so there’s value in being in the room because you’re learning and seeing. It’s an opportunity to see how far you’ve come. And I think for the new people, they see the people that have been in the rooms for a bit and see the difference in them and want that as well.

Natasha: That’s beautiful. It’s a really great reminder about humanity; that we see ourselves in one another. But it sounds like Other Parents Like Me creates the container, creates the space for that to happen for parents, in particular, in these circumstances.

But I think at the end of the day, what you’re doing is really building a community, where there are small morsels or nuggets of awareness that are being popped in, that can be the catalyst for change — for their themselves, their family systems, and for the support they can provide for their children. I love it.

Casie: Yes.

Natasha: Y’all sign everyone up! [laughs]

Casie: Yes, please. Yes, y’all! [laughs]

You have only been moving and grooving for a few years now, any accomplishments you want to highlight here?

Casie: One of the things Liz and I have been learning about is media and how to use it best. We recently sponsored a podcast. Liz actually spoke on the podcast and shared her story, which I know was uncomfortable for her, but she did it! And my husband and son were on the podcast, as was I. And then other parents have gone on, as well as some of our speakers.

Prior to that, we felt a bit stagnant in how we were growing in the number of people who were on our platform. After the podcast, an in just these three months, we doubled our numbers.

I know it’s kind of crazy. And that’s a big accomplishment. That’s where I’m learning from Liz, because, you know, that’s her thing: branding, marketing, is this worth it? What do you call it, paid media? Liz I can’t remember. I think that’s right. [laughs]. What is speaking to the masses and what will get them to know you, because this is so personal…mental health, they need to get to know you. And we leaned into this and it’s been an accomplishment.

The podcast has had 14,000 downloads. He just shared that with us. Over these nine episodes. And that’s just, what, from December 22nd, I think? Liz, that’s huge. That’s a big accomplishment. 

Liz: I also think that we’re actually starting to get real traction with investors, angel investors that are focused on impact, which is exciting. It was really hard to find the right people. A VC is not going to be right…we’re not at that stage. And so we’re very excited about that and understanding partnerships with pre-existing online mental health organizations that are very interested in what we’re doing. They’re running their own groups, but they’re clinician-led, and they see the value of peer to peer support groups. That is a huge shift for us. It takes time, but we realize that will be a quicker way to grow in terms of membership. And there are the right partnerships because we all have the same mission. It’s all about helping the family.

Natasha: That’s huge.

Casie: I think those are our most recent [accomplishments]. And I would say that’s one of the things that I think is also [great] about how Liz and I co-parent, as you said, is we’re very open to pivoting. Even though Liz mentioned how we’ve made some mistakes — and I’m not saying that we’re not going to continue to make mistakes because we are — but we hear, we talk together, and we both know what’s the right thing.

And we trust each other. If I say, “Hey, I want to lean in this way,” Liz will go, “Okay, let’s give it a try”. And if it doesn’t work out, it’s not an “Oh, I can’t believe you did that”. Liz says, “Hey, I want to do this. I want it”. And I go, “Okay, let’s try”. And then if she’s like, “Yeah, it didn’t work out,” I go, “Okay”. And there’s no judgment. Like our meetings. There’s no judgment, no shame. Just, Okay, we learned. Great. And we pivot together. I mean, I think that’s a good part of what our partnership is about.

Liz: An example of where it was challenging was when we did a lot of marketing online, pay per click ads that really did not yield what we thought it would yield. So it’s interesting that this one podcast with a nominal amount of money has doubled our membership. We’ve gotten smarter at how to use very little money in the right way. Niche, niche, niche, focus on that right now and steadily build.

Casie: Yeah.

Natasha: A different metaphor, but it’s like you’re in your toddler era and you’re learning how to walk and [there is] no shame in falling down. That’s how we learn to move forward. And it sounds like you’re moving into areas that are clicking more. I love the referral network that you’re starting to make and [how] that’s one of the things you listed as an accomplishment. That is an accomplishment!

More of this, “We did that, we tried this, and it didn’t work,” or “We tried this and we’re getting 14,000 downloads” energy. That’s awesome. And I appreciate you sharing that because part of owning a business are those “smaller” wins.

Natasha: Yeah. I feel like what you are both saying is that it’s really important to not look at women or Black people as a monolith; everyone has a different experience and everyone has value. And there are different spaces where it might make sense to have an affinity group and then have another group where there is more of a mix. But at the end of the day you both are living in your identities — you’re born like this — and so you move through the world like this and this is how you’ve operated. To Richard’s point, it is what it is, and there is a lot of work to be done to make spaces and places more inclusive. But what does that look like and how does that look and who is supporting that and leading the charge with that? A lot in here for sure. 

Liz: And another thing that’s interesting is, we’re just kind of used to it. Like, he said, that’s the way it’s always been, being the [only] Black man in the room. And I think I’ve taken it for granted too; I’m used to it. So I think what I love is that this is a conversation now — that people are actually acknowledging that something’s not right. I just went my way and got used to guys making men’s jokes in meetings that were inappropriate. But I find it so interesting that the next generation – the whole #MeToo movement blew me away — is speaking up. This is what my generation took for granted, it was what it was. And same with the diversity aspect. People are now saying, take a look at the numbers, and who is in your groups and organizations. I don’t know, I feel very positive about the way things are moving potentially forward. 

Could you talk more about bootstrapping OPLM? You've done your own crowdfunding and it sounds like you're speaking to investors. What are the realities of owning your own business and trying to get it off the ground from a monetary standpoint?

Liz: We’ve been blessed to have incredible friends and family that kicked us off. We are where we are solely because of that, as well as Casie and I putting in our own money. Right? That’s how much we believe in this. And it’s not like we’re rich [laughs]. So, you know, the learning has been incredible to go to investors. Incredible. I know for me, I’ve never done anything like this. And we’ve been very blessed in terms of meeting the right people. 

We have met with — shockingly cold emails going out to individuals — large, well-known investors that are taking our calls. And they may not invest with us because we’re not the right fit, however, they are all about helping us because they said we are very coachable and they love that. We receive what they say. We listen. They talk to us about our story arc, how we’re presenting . And we go back, we edit, edit, edit. It’s really hard to put a pitch deck together that has only the most important words, you know, word-smithing, everything. How much is on a page? And we’ll go back to that investor and he’ll say, Bravo! Much better. And it’s, great, because they’re really rooting for us or pointing us in the right direction. That has been very exciting.

You also realize that you can’t listen to everybody. Everyone has an opinion. We went down that rabbit hole for a while. We were changing our deck on a daily basis, and then we would say, ‘Wait, didn’t we have that before?’ So we had to really be very mindful and think through why did that person give us that feedback and is that really valid to go in the core 10/15 pages we have? Or does that go in the appendix? Or is that just that one person’s feedback at that moment?

We also learned to talk to other owners that have sold their businesses, ideally in the wellness space. And I think we’ve been so blessed to get incredible insight from those types of individuals where they’ve taught us very high level information. For example, investors will talk to you, but get to a yes or no as quick as you can.

I would also say it’s very interesting to try to present with somebody else as well, to figure out that balance, who jumps in, who speaks to what, who has that answer? And our answers are constantly evolving as we learn more, get more data. And then our deck changes as new things are happening. It’s very exciting.

I think from my perspective, I’ve loved the learning. I’ve been shocked at how a cold email leads to incredible people getting on board to help us, meet with us. The generosity in the entrepreneurial world has been astounding to me and more so from, I think, VCs. I think I knew entrepreneurs are about helping each other, but I’ve been really surprised, especially because a lot of these individuals are not going to give us money. We’re not the right fit, but these VCs and Angels are really rooting for us and know that this has such potential. And I think as a result, we’re now starting to meet with the right people. 

Casie: I would 100% agree as we started actually pitching back in October, November and here we are in March. We’re finally getting to the right people. That, to me, says a lot about our coachability and our grit because, you know, we were able to get that next bit of money to allow us to continue forward with friends and family. And still lean into the bootstrapping.

Liz and I are not making any money. I’m using my retirement as a flight attendant of 26 years. That’s how passionate about this we are and how much we believe in Other Parents Like Me and parent support. We try not to stay in scarcity mode, which can happen, as we’ve talked to other people who’ve bootstrapped. That’s the advantage of talking to other entrepreneurs. BUT those entrepreneurs who’ve bootstrapped really have said those become the strongest businesses. Because you are tooth and nail and are going to make it work.

Liz: And you spend every dollar so wisely. You know, when people talk about our burn rate, we’re like, ‘We got that down, man!’ Every dollar you are so mindful of. And that’s what makes that podcast that we sponsored so exciting because that $3,000 took us so far. It was such a good use of our money, but we struggled [to decide]. We debated $3,000. Do we do it? Do we not

Casie: And that’s where our gut instincts have come in to play, when people have asked us to make changes. Two weeks ago, someone asked for a major edit that required a lot of research on our end. We went back and forth, ‘Do we do it? Do we not? Do we?’ And so I learned, found the time, and did the research. And then one of our new investors today said, ‘Hey, could you provide me data on XYX.?’ And when she asked the question, we were completely prepared as that was the research we had just done! And so that’s what I think is good about our gut, do we need to lean into that because we don’t have the answer. And then lo and behold, three days later we have someone ask us the same question. I think that is a big part of being coachable, like Liz said, and that we’re fully in it. 

Natasha: It sounds like coachability is something you two are strong at; and understanding that everybody has opinions, like Liz said, then discerning which ones to pay attention to or contextualize with what you’re doing. Also the gut checks, like you said, Casie, where you’re checking in with what feels right for you, too. Great takeaways. 

What are some goals on the horizon for Other Parents Like Me? What can people look forward to?

Casie: I’ll take this one because I have big goals. We’ve been asked this a lot lately. Liz already said it once: we’re going to be 24/7. We are definitely leaning into all different socioeconomic and diverse backgrounds. That’s very, very important to us. If we can have 150 different languages for different meetings, we will. We want to do them. We want to do it smart. We want to have the correct people leading the meetings. We want to have the correct people to support those who are leading the meetings. And so we’re not trying to do it fast. We’re trying to make sure that we have exactly what we need and the correct people that keep our product and our spaces safe, comfortable, and healthy. And people know they’re going to be anonymous and suddenly not, somehow it’s shared out there. So, you know, you have to do that wisely. So that’s that…and I’ve lost my track there [laughs] I’m starting to go off on another track. Liz, take it from there!

Liz: I think the goal would be to raise the money to be able to be fully staffed. We recently talked with a guidance counselor in downtown Manhattan that I knew from my son’s middle school. I don’t even know how many years ago, I guess he was 14. So it’s [been] a while. And, you know, it was astounding because he had heard about us, reached out because he felt really hopeless. Those were his words. He felt really hopeless. And when we explained what we were doing, the look on his face..his energy changed. And he was feeling, for the first time, that we were giving him hope and we are exactly what he needed to bring to his community.

But he didn’t want us to just talk to this one middle school. First of all, he wanted us to talk to his principal, but he wanted us to talk to the entire downtown community of schools. And so what my hope is that it’s so beyond, you know, going to therapeutic boarding schools and wilderness programs. And yes, that is where people are in crisis who can afford certain solutions. But wouldn’t it be grand, wouldn’t it be incredible if we could be in all schools as a resource for all different parents?

And that just blew my mind away when I heard him feeling hopeless in this situation. And I remember when Gabe was in middle school, it was just starting. He was trying to help parents here and there. He says it’s now blown out of the water. Now everybody is lost and they do not know what to do. And I’m sure especially with pot being legal, things have changed since then. But my hope is that, we are the largest parent community. Period.

Casie: And we’re going to go into school systems, partnering with someone who talks about suicide. He had a son who died by suicide, so he also has that intent to get kids to start talking about suicide and to get parents start talking about it. And now we’re coming in as the other part of getting parents to get support around having a kid who has suicidal ideation. And it’s amazing how many parents in middle school will say, ‘Oh, it’s a phase. Oh, it’s not going to last’. Let me tell you. Listen, I was there, you know, eighth grade and my daughter was six when we knew she was really struggling. So you think it’s a phase and yes, some things are a phase, but not everything’s a phase.

And by us being present in that time frame for the parents, instead of being like Liz and I, where we were told to just go to Al-Anon — now there’s value for 12 steps, 100%. We both agree on that — however, it didn’t feel parent focused for me. And even in the parent meetings, they’re like 30 year old, 40 year old, 50 year old kids. And I had a 17 year old and Liz had a 16 year old. So, you know, that was so, ‘Oh, my gosh, how are we going to do this for that long?’ You can’t even fathom that.

But if you’ve heard about it and you know about us and then the crisis is building… the crisis is building… the crisis is building, you can say, I actually have a place I can turn to. And they can turn to us, and they can get a mentor because we have mentors, and they can attend the newcomers meeting, and they’re going to start to say, ‘Okay. I’m not alone. Okay, maybe this is more of a marathon than I thought. I can survive this marathon and I can get healthier. And this won’t be as bad as I thought. I’m not alone’. 

Natasha Cucullo: [01:14:46] Wow. Yeah, I really like what Liz said about the accessibility standpoint. Even therapy is not accessible to a lot of people price point wise or health insurance wise — if you don’t have health insurance and even if you do. And Casie, so agree with what you’re saying about being with people before a crisis really hits. There is so much value in some of the places that you both have mentioned. But there’s also so much value in being a really nimble and remote-first place that people can go to right out the gates…or even before they hit the gate. So that is really, really special.

We could talk until the cows come home about OPLM, but we have been chatting for a long time! Let's end with where can people find Other Parents like me?

Liz: So you can go to our website: OPLM.com And it’s free for the first three months, which gives you that opportunity to try everything.

You have the option, if you would like, to do our basic program, which is $10 a month where you can have access to the videos. Or for $49 a month, you get all our support meetings and everything.

But at the end of the day, it’s always free for the first three months and you always can join a Thursday speaker talk and you always have access to our resources.

Natasha: And where can people find the speaker talks? 

Liz: On OPLM.com there is the calendar of events and you can see who’s speaking on that Thursday.

We also have a good social media presence as well. Follow @other.parents.like.me and you’ll be able to see who’s speaking and who’s coming up. Or you can join our newsletter, which has a great following as well. There we promote who’s speaking that week, what meetings are coming up, and we also present a lot of tools and mindful moments to help people throughout the week.

Natasha: Great. Amazing. We will definitely link those out. 

And any last words before we go?

Casie: My favorite saying is our mantra here at Other Parents Like Me: As we get stronger, our family gets stronger.

Liz: Natasha, I love how you summarize what we said. I feel like you’ve given us our talking points!

Casie: Yeah, I love it.

Liz: This was lovely and it was really fun. And I really appreciate both of you. So thank you so much.

Casie: Thank you. Natasha, this was great. I loved your questions.

Natasha: I loved speaking with you, too. I’m sure we’ll have another round at some point!


Other Parents Like Me Hearing the stories of other parents — and sharing yours — gives you the chance to explore feelings, ask questions and create connections with other parents who understand what you’re going through. Together we find hope, help, and healing. is an online parent to parent support community designed for parents of teens struggling with mental health issues.

If your child is struggling with anxiety, depression, substance use, or an eating disorder, remember that you are not alone.

Our memberships, peer-led Zoom support groups, and resources support parents like us as we share our stories and create connections as the antidote to the trauma we experience when a child struggles.

Hearing the stories of other parents — and sharing yours — gives you the chance to explore feelings, ask questions and create connections with other parents who understand what you’re going through. Together we find hope, help, and healing.

Join for free today.

A Conversation between Liz Reitman (Reit Founder) and Richard Levychin, CPA (Galleros Robinson, Certified Public Accountants and Advisors)

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Reit’s founder Liz Reitman sits down with Richard Levychin, CPA, a Partner with Galleros Robinson, Certified Public Accountants and Advisors and fellow EO member to discuss entrepreneurship and our experience in the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO)  in our latest Founders in Focus series. Join us to learn about their founding stories, their experience creating community as entrepreneurs, and navigating the business world as minority owners.

Liz: Okay, hello everyone! My name is Liz Reitman from Reit and I have the honor and privilege to have Richard Levychin, a friend and fellow entrepreneur, with us here today to continue our Founders in Focus series. We’re going to be talking about entrepreneurship as well as some of our unique experiences belonging to the same organization, Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO). So I’m going to let Natasha take over and lead our questions. 

Natasha: Thank you Liz. And thank you Richard for being here. 

Richard: My pleasure.

What do you do and for how long have you owned your businesses?

Natasha: So, let’s get started with the basics. Who are you, what do you do, and how long have you been doing what you’ve been doing?

Richard: Yes. Hi, my name is Richard Levychin. I am a CPA and I am a partner with the accounting firm Galleros Robinson. Galleros Robinson is about 60-odd people with offices in New York, New Jersey, Florida, and the Philippines. I run the New York office with my partner Stewart Robinson. And I’ve been doing this for over 30-odd years. My first accounting job was actually as an 18-year-old sophomore in college where I had the opportunity to work for an accounting firm. So it’s been over 40-something years that I have been actually working in the accounting profession. 

Liz: Wow, I’m actually learning already [laughs]. So hopefully most people know, my name is Liz Reitman. I am the founder and principal of Reit. We’ve changed our name — it used to be reitdesign — because we do so much more than design, but our core is branding and marketing. We’ve been around for 26 years (this is our 26th year). And our range of services cover quite a lot because we are certified as a WBE (a Woman Business Enterprise) so we work a lot with the city and the state. But we’re also heavily involved with smaller businesses and the B2B market.

Richard, you started young in accounting; was this what you had always envisioned yourself pursuing professional?

Natasha: Awesome. So it sounds like both of you started when you were relatively young. Richard, I would love to hear if when you started at 18, if accounting was what you wanted to do?

Richard: Well, I went to college with no idea of what I wanted to do. So I ended up enrolling in Baruch College, which was one of the better business colleges in the country. And with my infinite 17-year-old wisdom, I decided to major in journalism [laughs]. So somewhere in the middle of the semester, I came to realize — I grew up in a solid middle-class upbringing, with food in the refrigerator, a car parked in the driveway, a lawnmower and a lovely house — that a writer’s salary was not necessarily going to pay for that. So I decided to make a shift over from liberal arts into business. And I went to look at all the business courses and I couldn’t imagine anyone paying an 18-year-old to do management, or marketing, or finance. But the whole concept of accounting actually appealed to me, so I decided to take an accounting class. And it worked out. Then I took another one. And then the next thing you know I had a couple under my belt and I decided to go find a part-time job. I interviewed with an accounting firm and got the job, which surprised the hell out of me. And I ended up working there for three years. It was probably one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. 

Liz: That’s cool. 

How do you find that creativity within accounting?

Natasha: Richard, writing and journalism are outwardly creative. How do you find that creativity within accounting? 

Richard: Well, we do a lot of advisory work with companies, in particular with what we call emerging companies, to help them get to the next level. So, in essence, the biggest concern these companies have is growing themselves out of business. They need someone to let them know what they don’t know; or what they don’t know that they don’t know. And to anticipate what’s coming down the pipe. So we get involved with a lot of complicated deal structures, complicated tax structures, that require us to have a certain level of creativity in terms of how we go about things. The thing about accounting — depending on what type of accounting that you do — that’s kind of where the creativity comes in; structuring deal transactions properly, identifying tax mitigation strategies, and maybe putting a little extra twist on them. Also, when you’re dealing with individuals, you’re dealing with different personalities. The majority of my clients are CEOs or multi-million dollar companies. And there is a particular mindset here. 

Plus, the process of being an entrepreneur is, in my opinion, a creative process; you express your creativity through the creation of your firm as opposed to being a W-2 employee. So when you’re surrounded by entrepreneurial, creative people, in essence, you are with a bunch of creatives all the time. It’s just that we’re creative in a business sense. 

Liz: I like that.

Natasha: I love that. That’s really great to hear, too, because there are so many other ways to be creative in other avenues and definitely through entrepreneurship.

Liz, you started pretty young too; what did that look like?

Liz: Yes and I’ve talked about this. I started my firm when I was 24, which was, you know in hindsight, so silly [laughs] — I had no mentors, I had no idea what I was doing…I was just this rebellious individual that was frustrated with corporate America. I was a designer at Harper & Row and they were merging with Collins Publishers and becoming HarperCollins. And I saw them outsource the branding of the company for over a million dollars. This was in the very early 90s. And I was stunned because, you know when you’re that young you’re like, “Holy cow, that’s a lot of money!” — actually, I would say that now for a brand  [laughs]! At the time, there were 30 designers on staff..and I wondered why wouldn’t they go to the internal team?

Then I went on to John Wiley & Sons. I was pretty young when I was an Art Director there — I was 24 at the time — and the same thing happened there, where they outsourced their first website. And I actually went to the management team with other Art Directors at the time and said, “Let us do this!” and they said, “No, no. We’re going to outsource this”. They did that build for $500,000. So, I was like, what am I doing in-house?! Not making a lot of money and really not having great opportunities. 

So that’s why I started my own studio. And I really tried to set it up for what I always wanted. I was good with people listening to music and being able to talk, because we were creative. Coming from a corporate environment, they really didn’t like that, so I sort of made that my angle. And there was a lot of learning [throughout my business being open] and having to pivot, because so much has changed in the design world. You know, when I started, as embarrassing as this is, computers were just beginning. So I literally learned paste and mechanical. I have been really lucky to have great people on my team that pushed me and said, “No, no, we need to use this program” and “No, no, we need to learn this”. And that’s why I think we’ve been able to pivot enough over time to stay current with what’s happening in the industry.

Did you have any networks or mentors that supported your entrepreneurship journey? If so, what did these look like for you?

Natasha: You mentioned you didn’t have any mentors, but how did you build that support system as young as you were?

Liz: Well, I left on really good terms from the publishing house I worked at. And that was really key. So I immediately got them as a client. And because I had been working with other publishing houses and had friends in the publishing space, they immediately were not only supportive and guided me — because they were older and more experienced — but also helped me get work with them. So that combination really made a difference for me. 

And over the years, I think I met good people along the way that — you know, in some ways they became friends, even though they were clients — they rallied and wanted us to be successful. I think I was lucky with client-friendships, I had a lot of support along the way. 

Natasha: That’s great . Richard, did you have a similar experience? What did your path to entrepreneurship look like? 

Richard: Well, I did not grow up in an entrepreneurial family; my father worked for UPS. So the first job I got — my first real, significant accounting job — was working at this internship where the partner, Alan Kahn, took a liking to me and became a mentor. He had inherited his practice from his father. And I loved working there. I was doing everything and absorbing everything. And what would happen is that once or twice a month he would come over to my desk and lay out a plan for me. The plan was always the same: graduate college, pass the CPA exam, get some experience, then start my own practice. So I would hear this once or twice a month every month for three years. Over and over and over again. 

And then he would take me to social clubs, networking events, and client lunch meetings. And again, for me at 18 or 19 years old, I’m embarrassed to say it took a little while for me to realize these were networking opportunities. I was at a very young age and was being put in front of some very powerful people. And you know, if there was ever a time where we could have lunch with the client, Alan would take me out with the client. So those three years while I was working there, I got exposed to a lot of things, got pulled into a lot of meetings, and was given a lot of responsibility. And I loved it! I mean, it was to the point where I didn’t want to go to class anymore. I spent as little of my energy giving to school as humanly possible. 

And that’s kind of been my experience throughout my career. I’ve always had great mentors and I would always seek out people that looked like what I wanted to do next. That’s always been my secret: to find people. And my second secret is: how to then find a way to surpass those same people. Because I’m always very competitive! But that was kind of a quick and dirty way of explaining my journey. Mentorship has been pretty huge for me. 

Liz: That’s really cool.

Natasha: Yeah, that’s so cool that you had somebody at such a young age doing that and advocating for you. Can you talk about how you went about finding mentors after that first experience?

Richard: One of my college professors was a mentor, Diane Gold. She was not that much older than the rest of the class; she was about 26 years old, and had her Bachelors, Masters, CPA, and PhD all at the same time. She was the type of person that thought if she has to work hard, everyone has to work hard. And at the same time, we’d be in class cracking jokes because we were all around the same age. 

She was kind of tough on me because I was not one who liked to go to class. And she pretty much advised me that I had to go to class. Ultimately I ended up going to all the classes and aced all of her classes. But she was always very tough on me; if I got a 95% she would be focusing on the 5 points I’d missed. She would always push me. She was so tough that when I introduced her to the woman I was dating in college she said, “That’s not going to work out for you”. She was that tough! I mean, she was right, but that’s besides the point [laughs]. 

And after I graduated I come to find out that she lived in my neighborhood and I would run into her all the time! And she’d always ask what I was up to, and I’d tell her, “I did this and I did that,” and she would respond, “Oh okay, that’s good,” and would walk away. She was the kind of person that would have a party after the semester was over, bringing together former and current students. And going to a party with accountants was not my idea of a fun time. But one time, after I had graduated, I went to the party and I ran into one of her students, and she goes, “You’re Richard Levychin? Diane talks about you all the time, she is so proud of you. She always holds you up as an example of what we’re supposed to be doing”.  

And after that, another mentor I have by the name of Stewart Robinson worked at a firm where I was a manager and he was on partnership track. I remember I worked for the firm for a week, and this guy — Stewart Robinson — comes walking in after being out in the field wearing a double-breasted plaid suit with french cuffs on the bottom, pleated pants, white starched shirt, silk tie, two-toned watch, cufflinks, Gucci glasses, and his hair slicked back — I mean, this guy is like Gordon Gecko, CPA. And I looked at the way I was dressed, in a blue or gray suit, brown shoes, Timex watch, polyester tie. And within three months, I was wearing double-breasted suits with suspenders, wingtip shoes, and the whole thing. He showed me how to use clothes to convey an attitude to advance in the firm. 

And my most recent mentor is Charlie Weinstein, CEO of Eisner Ramper. Probably, in my opinion, one of the best managing partners in the country. My old firm had a joint venture with Eisner Amper called KBL Eisner. And he was just a great mentor in terms of always kind of keeping your cool and how to carry yourself — a certain level of professionalism, and never letting anything get to you…but at the same time being really smart. So I had some really great mentors throughout my career. 

Liz: You know what’s funny, Richard? Just hearing you speak, two things really resonate with me. One is related to that woman that was pretty tough on you. I worked while I was in college — on breaks, or anytime I was off — and I did an internship at HarperCollins. And my boss was really tough on me. I remember needing to take a day off because I had furniture being delivered and she was like, “No, I need you here”. And I was like, gosh, I’m just an intern! But she really taught me this sense of being the right type of employee, caring about time, and also advocating for myself. Even though at the time I thought she was so hard on me, it really set the tone for my work ethic. 

The other part I find interesting is when you were talking about clothing. That was really important to me because, at the time, I looked so young. So even though I was 24, I probably looked like I was 19. The only way to compensate for that was that I tried to really dress up. And I always — even if I didn’t have clients coming to my office — wore nice clothes. You can ask anyone who’s ever worked for me, I never wore jeans. Not once! Because I felt like people would take me more seriously if I was dressed more business-like. So it’s funny to hear you say that because those two things really resonated with me.

Natasha: I also love that fashion is part of your mentorship conversation right now. Clothes have a way of expressing what can’t necessarily be said. 

Are there any other mentors that really stick out to you from a young age? Or presently?

Richard: Liz, I’ll let you go first. 

Liz: I mean, honestly now, it’s so much about my EO (Entrepreneurs’ Organization) community. Literally, I have some younger people in my forum — this is a group of people I meet with once a month — and I am astounded at their capabilities being in their 30s. I have three people in my forum that have either sold their business or are in the process…I learn from each person, every time. So it kind of depends on how you view mentorship. The way I see it, a mentor is somebody that helps you, that you learn from, and that you can go to. And I feel like I have that. 

Being on the board for EO, I’ve learned so much watching the different presidents operate in their positions — how they lead other leaders, which I can’t imagine…what could be harder? [laughs] So I could list a ton of names, but I really look at it as that community on the whole has been a huge source of mentorship for me. 

Richard: I mean, for me, I’m kind of at that age where I am being asked to be more of a mentor, than actually having a mentor. But at the same time, you always want to have people that you can reach to; which is what is so great about EO. 

The other thing I’ve come to realize is the importance of mentors that you never ever meet. So, for me, Barack Obama is an example of how you handle yourself. And there were times where I would get into difficult situations and I would simply ask myself the following question, ‘What would Obama do?’ Watching him carry himself has made an astounding difference to me in how I chose to carry myself, particularly when in difficult situations. 

Liz: I love that. Hmm. I mean I can also add honestly — and this is a little deeper — that my therapist is a mentor. Because that person is constantly pointing out my blind spots and/or how I respond to things and why. She helps me look at things differently. So it’s not just about being a business person, it’s about being a better human. Which, in the end, makes you a better business person. So I know that has been tremendous in my life.

You are both members of Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO). What made you interested in joining EO?

Natasha: I have the chills, y’all! That’s pretty cool. There is a lot to be said about working on ourselves as both people and as business people…because in the end we’re all human. Since we’re on the EO path, could you talk about how you found Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO)? And what made you decide to join?

Richard: I’ll let Liz go first. 

Liz: Okay. So I had been doing an organization called BNI, Business Network International, and I served there for about 7 years. It was great because that made me think about my business differently. I had to go every week — the meetings started at 7am and you had to network for the other individuals [in the organization] as well; they were kind of like your sales team. And I realized that I wasn’t very good at presenting my business because, up until that point, any time I had pitched my business, people were familiar with me or reitdesign. And I always had visuals. So here, for the first time ever, I’m standing up with a group of people that may not understand branding — someone’s who is doing insurance or an attorney, and I have to try to explain it in a way where I don’t have visuals, that will make them interested, and will give them the ability to try to get me business. And it was great. 

But after seven years, I felt like I had outgrown it. There were a lot of solopreneurs and sales people there and I was really looking for larger projects [at that point]. And so New York offered an MBA bootcamp through NYU Stern School of Business and the Mayor’s office — which I signed up for — and there I met some other entrepreneurs and someone told me about EO. One of the cohorts said, “You know, you have to get invited, it’s really tough to get in, you have to have a minimum revenue of a million dollars…” So I was very intrigued. Then I went to what was called S-Drive at the time, which was an opportunity to meet the [EO] members. And immediately I was like, ‘Yeah, this is for me.’ 

Richard: And for me, I just kept getting these — I don’t know why! — these emails about this organization, Entrepreneurs’ Organization. So, finally I decided to go and I remember seeing this fabulous spread of food at my first meeting. I had a really good meal, so they had me at food [laughs], but ultimately once I had digested the food and actually had time to take a look at the organization away from the buffet table, I came to realize the value and potential of the organization. This year I celebrated my 20th year as an EO member. And it’s been a life-altering experience on the business level and on the personal level. 

Natasha: Wow, 20 years, Richard. That’s a long time. 

Richard: Yeah, it’s a long time. I mean, there are people that have been here 30 years, but it’s been a great experience overall. You know, it’s had its hiccups and its bumps, just like anything else, but on an overall basis it’s probably one of the main drivers in terms of me having the level of success that I have been able to have as an entrepreneur. 

Liz: Huh!

Richard: Can’t see me doing entrepreneurship without it. And not just because the community as a whole has great learning sessions, but the opportunity to be able to spend time with other entrepreneurs. You just never know where your next idea is coming from. It could be from a learning session or just BS’ing with a couple of guys…somebody floats an idea. And then you’re off to the next phase, you’re back in the office to institute it. The ROI on it has been phenomenal. Putting aside personal relationships, the financial ROI for me has been phenomenal. 

Liz: I can say that what’s been an interesting flip for me — you’re not supposed to solicit business — but because I have become so heavily involved, I think people have become familiar with me, so I’ve indirectly gotten a lot of business through EO. Which is very different for me because I never went in there thinking that would happen, but I think that’s the natural relationships, associations…everyone is always going to need some sort of marketing and design, that I’ve actually added quite a number of members to our roster of clients, which has been very interesting. 

Natasha: Wow. How long have you been a part of EO, Liz? 

Liz: I think it’s about seven years. And for me I think my experience really magnified when I joined the board, which I didn’t expect. I kind of went in begrudgingly [laughs], because I was very busy and I didn’t know when I would have the time; but it was really fun and interesting to meet new people that were not just in my forum. For the past couple of years there has been a coach for the board, and I really enjoy watching the coach manage our board because we were almost treated like our own business. So that gave me a lot of insights that I wasn’t expecting. 

And then really understanding the global reach of the organization; getting the opportunities to go to Global Leadership Training, which was in Macau, China. I’m going to Africa in April through the organization. Meeting people from all over the world that are so like-minded, just opened my eyes so much more than what New York is — though I get so much from my New York crew. 

Natasha: Richard, do you take part in some of the global opportunities? 

Richard: I tend to stay within New York. I’ve dabbled a bit on the international front, but Interesting enough, I have become friendly with a lot of people who have visited EO New York from other countries. So aside from going to the annual EO Dubai holiday party, I have not had that experience.

Entrepreneurship can be considered a solo experience and can, at times, be lonely. How have you created and/or connected with communities throughout your time as entrepreneurs? What do these support systems look like now?

Natasha: It seems like there is still great value in what EO New York has to offer and having a community for entrepreneurs sounds like a really unique experience. Did you find, prior to joining EO, it easy to connect with other entrepreneurs? 

Richard: I think prior to EO, well this was my experience, I would go to a networking event. And there would be a mix of people. And it was like being in a thrift shop trying to find your tribe. Where in EO, it’s like being at Barneys, where everybody is your tribe. 

Liz: [laughs]

Richard: So it was actually a refreshing experience being able to be part of EO. You know, I’ve brought a lot of entrepreneurs to EO events and it takes them about three minutes to get into the flow [laughs]. Once they get a drink and look around. Just last week I invited one of my clients to an event — it was an EO New York happy hour — a very casual event. When you invite a guest, you feel a sense of responsibility for them, but there were plenty of times when he was chatting away with three or four people having a good old time. So that’s kind of the culture of EO; it’s more like being with your tribe than when you go to other typical networking events, which feels literally like being in a thrift store and trying to find the nuggets. 

Liz: I can’t add anymore [laughs]! I agree with everything you’ve said. I mean, it really is so interesting…I hadn’t even really thought about being an entrepreneur, I kind of just put my head down and was trying to keep going, juggling family life and raising kids. Those were the main things that were on my mind at the time. So it wasn’t about finding my people, but once I did I honestly look back and wish I would have had that in my 30s, because I definitely think my business would have been in a different place. 

Could you talk about familial support (or lack thereof) for your entrepreneurial pursuits?

Natasha: There are a lot of moving parts with being a business owner. Could you talk about your family support of your entrepreneurial pursuits? What did that type of support or lack thereof look like? 

Richard: Well, the story that comes to mind is after I had gotten my practice to the point where I could afford to buy my first apartment, my dad comes over, looks at me and says, “So when are you going to stop this foolishness and get a real job?” 

Liz: [laughs]

Richard: Yeah [laughs]. This was my first apartment, a one-bedroom apartment. And I don’t think he really got it until I bought the second 3,000 square foot apartment…and that’s when I think he got it. The truth is, in all fairness to him, entrepreneurs are not the majority. We’re just not. So, it’s very difficult for people that are raised with a W-2, health insurance, benefits-type mentality to understand entrepreneurship. Which is perfectly acceptable — nothing wrong with that. So, it’s okay that the family didn’t understand it. And for me it was all about not taking it personally. Like okay, I did take it personally — my dad didn’t get it — but ultimately that didn’t stop me, I kind of just kept going. Maybe part of it was to prove him wrong, I don’t know. Yeah, there wasn’t a lot of support from the family because they don’t really understand that language or that lifestyle. 

Liz: I think for me it was the opposite because my dad was an entrepreneur; he owned his own recruiting company and my mom worked with him, so it was almost a no-brainer. Like having a job was weird! [laughs] And my father was a recruiter in the publishing space, which is basically why I started in that world. He had so many connections that I was able to get an internship. So, it made sense and it was all that I’ve ever known, really.

My husband at the time was an actor, so he in some ways was an entrepreneur too; he never really had that steady job. He was always going out there and trying to get that next gig. And together, we ended up buying into our bar called Prohibition on the Upper West Side that he was heavily involved in, we ended up investing in some burger chains, so we both kind of had that entrepreneurial spirit, which was great. And I think that really helped our relationship. But it was also hard because there were a lot of highs and lows. So there were many times when cash flow was tough. And because nobody had that steady job, we were always wondering if we were doing the right thing. But, you know, neither one of us wanted to change [laughs] so we stayed in that place and thank goodness it’s worked out [laughs]. 

Natasha: Yeah, I think that’s important to share; that there are highs and lows as an entrepreneur. And Richard, you were talking about that in relation to your dad that with a W-2 it’s pretty steady, all things considered, but in an entrepreneurial endeavor it can be high highs and low lows and everywhere in-between. 

Richard: No, I agree with you. I mean, as somebody that’s represented a lot of entrepreneurial clients within my practice you see that. We had this company in our portfolio called Sundial Fragrances and we started working with them when they had $5 million dollars in revenue and when we lost them as a client, they were doing $200 million dollars. And the only reason we lost them as a client was because they got bought out by a private equity firm. So we were with them in the beginning with their growing pains and then watching them blow up, that’s an exciting ride to be on, it really is. 

And in my experience, we’ve had a few clients that went the other way — it didn’t happen for them — and they had to go out and get jobs. And that’s part of it, you’re going to have some casualties. I don’t know what the numbers are, but I do know that less than 50% of entrepreneurial endeavors succeed. And part of the reason that some do not succeed, in my opinion, is that most entrepreneurs are very good at providing the service and making the product, but they don’t know anything about running a business because where would they have learned?

Liz: Right. 

Richard: That is the beauty of EO; a community of individuals where somebody within the group will have an answer to your problem. Somebody does. That’s kind of what we bring to the table. So, that could be the difference between making it as a business and not making it as a business. 

Natasha: That’s huge. Definitely having people around you who know what to do in situations that you haven’t yet experienced is invaluable. Y’all are making the case for EO over here! 

Liz: [laughs]

What has your experience been like as a Black man and as a white woman, respectively, in a white male-dominated space?

Natasha: What about the more tricky parts about EO? I know EO is a global organization and there are many different people, places, and things that make up EO, but EO New York is predominately white and male. Could you talk about your experiences as a Black man and white woman — as well as any invisible identities we have not mentioned? 

Richard: Liz, why don’t you go first. 

Liz: You know, it’s kind of been my mission since I’ve been in EO to bring diversity to the organization. I really go out of my way to do so. I guess I always knew that there were not as many women entrepreneurs, but once you’re in an organization and it’s right there in your face that becomes the reality. And definitely in terms of color, I’ll let Richard speak to that, there’s a lot of work to be done. 

But it’s hard to be a woman in EO. I just spoke at an EO event with a bunch of other female owners and it was interesting to hear other people share similar situations of what it’s like to juggle family versus being a business owner. And what the preconceived notions are — like one of our fellow entrepreneurs, her name is Sel, she would travel on business and people would say, “How could you not be with your kids?” There was so much judgment. And she would respond, “The dad’s home with them, it’s all good.” And I know from my experience as a female owner, many times when my ex-husband was working with me at the time, many people would only talk to him. When I went to open up my first bank account and said that I am the CEO, they would only talk to my husband at the time, Jim. So I’ve kind of dealt with that throughout my time in business. 

You know, the cool thing about EO is that a lot of the men have a high EQ (Emotional Intelligence Quotient). Because you’re really taught to delve deep into the emotions that you’re feeling when you’re bringing up issues that are coming up with your business or your personal life. So there is a different sensitivity that I think is helpful. But it’s still hard when you don’t see people like yourself. 

And there is just a difference between female and male [experiences]. So I know, when I share with them, they are funny because they’ve never had a woman before [in their forum] and they’re like, “Woah, that is such different feedback…you’re making me think differently, I’ve never talked about these types of things,” and I’m like, “Good! That’s great” [laughs]. 

And then I met someone at an EO event going through a divorce after 25 years of marriage. And he was glad there wasn’t a woman in his forum because he felt like he would not be able to share or be authentic. And that really made me scratch my head and I said, “That is such a weird thing to hear you say because if I was in your forum, I would have the best experience share for you because I had that same exact experience!” So you’re still sort of challenged with that thinking that ‘I can’t be as true to what I would be because there are females in the group’. And from what I understand, some women [feel similarly], they don’t want to be with men. In the Entrepreneurs’ Organization Accelerator (EOA) group, which is under $1 million revenue, it’s 50% women. And we’ve talked a lot about getting them into EO and why they don’t want to be there. And it can be intimidating. 

I have become very good friends with this woman, Debbie Kiederer, in EO New York. She and I were on the board and in our first year, we kept pretty quiet. We were taking it all in, we listened, we absorbed what was happening, and then we spoke up. We communicated about that between ourselves, and we agreed that that is how we usually approach a room; you don’t come out guns blazing because you get a reputation — and I know I’m generalizing, but this is our experience — where you like to be quiet, read the room, and then when you speak, people might be surprised because you were quiet, but we’re always going to add value, or at least try to. So, in some ways, being the female in the room we’ve had to learn how to work a little differently. 

Natasha: Thank you, Liz. There is a lot in there. 

Liz: I could have gone on [laughs]! 

Natasha: There is a lot in there and it’s important to share that your experience can be very different from many of the other people in the organization. There is so much value in that and there is a lot of work to do to make it so that is less-so the case — or different, so more people are more mindful of varying perspectives and experiences. 

Richard, would you be open to sharing your experiences?

Richard: Sure, I’ve just got a quick question for Liz. Top of your head, approximately how many women are in EO New York?

Liz: I think it’s less than 20% of the chapter.

Richard: So probably about 20 women? 

Liz: Maybe. Maybe more. 

Richard: Okay. So I’ve been an EO member, as I’ve said, for 20 years. And I would say fifteen out of those twenty years I have been the only Black member in EO New York. 

Liz: Which is insane. 

Richard: And the thing is, the way I would use to describe this from an organizational level is that this is typical. EO is no different from any other organization out there that is homogeneous in terms of what their membership looks like and the lack of diversity in their membership. So, Liz is saying there are approximately 20 women in EO. And I remember, having been a member of EO, how hard the women had to fight to get a seat at the table. It was a struggle, there was a lot of scratching and clawing. And the thing about EO is that, when you have an organization where the majority of the members come from other members, where the base is white and male and not particularly diverse, and these are the people leading the recruiting efforts, guess what you’re going to have? So, at the end of the day it is what it is. 

On a personal level, I have basically spent my entire career being the only Black guy in the room. So this is not the first time this has ever happened to me. By the time I came to EO I was well yoked in this experience, so you learn certain skills to navigate and accomplish what you need to accomplish when you’re in that situation. At the end of the day it is what it is. You know, I think right now we’re up to two members. There was one year we were up to four Black members. But that was one year. [laughs]

Liz: And I brought the second person in — 

Richard: Yeah, and Liz brought that second person in. It’s to the point that the only prospective members I bring to the organization are white members because Black folks are not going to join something where there is only one Black member. So out of respect for them, why would I waste their time bringing them to something like this? 

Liz: Wow. I didn’t know that. That actually makes me sad. 

Richard: Well, here’s the thing. If you want to have Black members join, then there is work that needs to be done top-down. One of the things you learn is that if you want to have any initiative work, it has to be top-down. It has to be driven by the CEO, supported by the board, and you have to be banging people over the head about it with any type of initiative that may happen to bring up discomfort. And it can’t just be one person; it can’t just be the CEO, or the president, it has to be the entire board that is passionate about this. And we haven’t really had that within the organization. We’ve had pieces of that — people that were passing a line about it — but it’s never something that, in my opinion, has been fully raised at the leadership [level]. And I’m not knocking EO New York. All EO New York is representative of all of the EO chapters. And Global is probably worse in terms of how they view diversity. So at the end of the day, for me, the organization provides a tremendous amount of value and it is what it is. You just keep it moving. And as a Black person, this is pretty much my career, being the only Black guy in the room. It’s old news for me, this is not my first rodeo.

Liz: Richard and I are both in EO One World, where the members are really trying to promote diversity and looking for safer spaces in addition to what you get in your chapter. And that’s been an interesting experience. We’re in a forum right now that has two Black men and one gentleman that is gay, and myself, and two cis-white men. 

Richard: There are actually two women in the forum. 

Liz: Oh right, yes! And that experience for me has been so different. There is a lot of — I don’t know, I think the sharing is at another level. And there is a safety. It’s not as driven about business as my other forum is, which is about growth and numbers, and this is more about humanness. And what they’re hearing — it’s a little about pointing out your blind spots, or things that they’ve presented for the week. So for me it’s a very different experience from a group of people that just come from such different backgrounds and identities, but all with a beautiful approach to the feedback that is kind and feels very authentic. 

Richard: And one thing that I like about the group is that when we were adding a seventh member, it was pretty unanimous that the seventh member should be a woman.

Liz: Yeah. 

Richard: You know, ideally we would want to have a woman of color join the group, which we did. Another thing that was crystal clear about the group was that we only had one woman in the group, and we needed another to balance the energy. 

Liz: Yeah and I think I took that for granted. There are forums in New York that don’t want women. And there are a lot of women talking about forming an all-female group. Like why is it okay for all of the men? So it’s interesting the different conversations that are happening. But from my limited experience, at the end of the day when you have a balance of the different sexes, it is such a [greater] range of feedback that’s provided.

Natasha: Yeah. I feel like what you are both saying is that it’s really important to not look at women or Black people as a monolith; everyone has a different experience and everyone has value. And there are different spaces where it might make sense to have an affinity group and then have another group where there is more of a mix. But at the end of the day you both are living in your identities — you’re born like this — and so you move through the world like this and this is how you’ve operated. To Richard’s point, it is what it is, and there is a lot of work to be done to make spaces and places more inclusive. But what does that look like and how does that look and who is supporting that and leading the charge with that? A lot in here for sure. 

Liz: And another thing that’s interesting is, we’re just kind of used to it. Like, he said, that’s the way it’s always been, being the [only] Black man in the room. And I think I’ve taken it for granted too; I’m used to it. So I think what I love is that this is a conversation now — that people are actually acknowledging that something’s not right. I just went my way and got used to guys making men’s jokes in meetings that were inappropriate. But I find it so interesting that the next generation – the whole #MeToo movement blew me away — is speaking up. This is what my generation took for granted, it was what it was. And same with the diversity aspect. People are now saying, take a look at the numbers, and who is in your groups and organizations. I don’t know, I feel very positive about the way things are moving potentially forward. 

Mm. How are you feeling Richard?

Richard: Not as positive. But like I said, it is what it is. [laughs]

Natasha: Yeah, it’s a long road ahead. 

Richard: You know, it’s like every time I point out to someone that I’m the only Black member, it’s like the lights came on in the room for the first time; it’s like they literally did not notice it. And I think the organization — the organization is going to do what it’s going to do, I’m not in a leadership position, I’m just a member in good standing — has to make a decision. Ultimately it’s a financial decision. The reality is there is a huge market of diverse entrepreneurs that can afford our dues. So it just makes good business sense. And then there are members that are white that are starting to want to become part of more diverse environments. So there is also that. So at some point in time, you know, hopefully there will be a board that comes together and wants to move this forward very seriously. 

Liz: Mmhmm.

Natasha: Yeah. Long road, but there is hope on the horizon.

What have you gleaned from your own experiences and how
have you shared that with others looking to start their own
businesses? Any parting words?

Natasha: We only have about one minute left, so I’d love to end with: what have you both gleaned from your entrepreneurial journeys? And what would you share with others looking to start their own businesses or for those that are early on? I know you’ve talked about this throughout our conversation, but any parting words?

Richard: To me, it’s about community. Being with your tribe is priceless. It’s literally priceless. You just have a bad day and you go hang with your tribe, it’s not so much that you feel better, but you come back with a different perspective of what’s not working for you. Either by sharing with others and having them contribute with you their experiences of handling situations like that, or just being able to step away from it for a while and then be in a place where this intellectual capital is going back and forth while in the subconscious your brain is working through the problem while you’re totally not conscious that it’s doing that. And then you wake up in the morning and you have your answer. That’s been a consistent experience for me. 

Liz: And I would say that it’s harder than people realize to build and run a business. Entrepreneurship has become this really big term, it’s now offered as a minor or even a major at some universities…but it’s hard. And you get the Kardashians that have a billion dollar business and you have this next generation that makes it look easy. Everyone thinks they’re going to have a TikTok or some social media explode…and I don’t think people realize how hard it is not only to build it, but to get it to the point where you’re not in it, that it’s growing, that it’s sellable…I think that people are just unaware. And the time that it takes to build a business. So that’s one of my takeaways. 

Natasha: Yeah, I feel like these are great notes to end on: awareness and community. 

LIz: Love it. Thank you Richard, you’re a rock star. 

Richard: Aw, thanks Liz, I appreciate you friend. 

Liz: I appreciate you too and I look forward to us getting together again soon in New York. 

Richard: Absolutely. Take care.


Get to know Richard

Richard Levychin, CPA, CGMA is a Partner with Galleros Robinson, Certified Public Accountants and Advisors, which has offices in New York, New Jersey, Florida, and the Phillippines. Richard has over 35 years of accounting, auditing, business advisory services, and tax experience working with both privately owned and public entities in various industries including media, entertainment, real estate, manufacturing, not-for-profit, technology, retail, technology, and professional services. His experience also includes expertise with SEC filings, initial public offerings, and compliance with regulatory bodies. As a business adviser, he counsels companies and organizations, helping them identify and define their business and financial objectives and then providing them with the ongoing personal attention necessary to help them achieve their established goals.

Richard has written articles on a wide range of topics, which have been featured in several periodicals including Dollars and Sense, New York Enterprise Report, Black Enterprise Magazine, Forbes, Business Insider, and The Network Journal. He has also conducted seminars on a wide range of business topics including SEC matters and taxation for several organizations including the Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Conference, the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (New York chapter), and the Learning Annex.

Richard is a member of several organizations including the New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants, the National Association of Tax Professionals, and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). Richard was a founding member of the AICPA’s National Diversity and Inclusion Commission. He has also served as a member of the Governing Council of the AICPA, which is the governing body that oversees and sets policies for the AICPA. Richard is a member and a former board member of the New York Chapter of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (“EO”), a dynamic, global network of more than 14,000 business owners in over 50 countries.

In 2018 Richard was a recipient of the 5 Chamber Alliance MWBE Award from the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce. In 2016 Richard was presented with the 2016 Arthur Ashe Leadership Award. In 2015 Richard was presented by his alma mater Baruch College with the Baruch College Alumni Association’s “Alumni Leadership Award for Business”. In 2013 Richard received the title of Best Accountant from The New York Enterprise Report. Richard is a past winner of The Network Journal’s prestigious “40 Under 40” award.

Richard is a graduate of Baruch College, where he received a Bachelor’s in Business Administration Degree (Accounting).

Part 2: A Conversation between Liz Reitman (reitdesign Founder, EONY Vice President & Mentorship Chair) and Lisa Malat (former President and Chief Operating Officer Barnes & Noble College)

Reit founder and EONY VP & Mentorship Chair, Liz Reitman, and Lisa Malat, former President and Chief Operating Officer of Barnes & Noble College  return for Part 2 of our Women Supporting Women conversation. We wrap up the discussion by diving into family – what that term means to a company culture, what it means as working mothers, and what support systems they leaned on to build their personal and professional lives.

Could you describe the dynamic and makeup of your teams at the time you were working together?

Lisa: I think it was actually a pretty equal mix. When I think about the other vendors we worked with, you know, I would say it was a balance of men and women.

Liz: Yeah, I would say on your side it was slanted to the female side your team in general? You had more females. But there was more of a balance when you look at the other outside parties you brought in. And a balance in age, too. It was a good range.

Lisa: If you step back and look at the company as a whole with the Barnes & Noble College managers our 800 store managers around 70% are women. But even if you look at the corporate structure, you’re going to see great representation of women at senior levels.

What was it like to work in an environment like that?

Lisa: It was empowering and it was humbling at the same time.  I felt an enormous sense of responsibility as a role model for the organization; for all the women in our company, our store leaders and home office leaders who are driving our business, leading their teams, juggling their personal and family lives. I considered it an honor, a privilege really, to be  able to represent, support, and model as a woman in leadership.

Did you feel that being a woman helped you see that side of other people? Do you feel there was something else that contributed to that perspective? A combination of things?

Lisa: That’s interesting. I would say that overall the company was very family-friendly. I think Liz would agree with that.

Liz: Yes, totally.

Lisa: You never had to hide the fact that you needed to take care of a sick child. It was very much family-first. Now, just because a company “has” that culture or says that, doesn’t mean it’s so easy to accept that kind of help, right? I think a lot of women still feel, ‘I can’t. I shouldn’t.’ Well, you know, maybe it’s okay if you’re not at work today! Because if you can’t [or] you’re not showing up for your family and doing what you need to do at home, you can’t show up in a good way in the office. So I think that we were lucky; we were blessed that our company was family-first. But that doesn’t mean it still isn’t a struggle or a challenge [to have both]. Right, Liz? For working parents?

Liz: This is where I feel you were such a model for me. You were the first senior level executive where we would be in a meeting and you’d say, ‘Oh, hold on a minute, this is my daughter’s school and I’ve got to take this!’ And we [the people in the meeting] would pause the meeting…meetings would actually stop. And what was amazing was that you’d come back to the meeting ready and get right back to where we left off. For me, this was fascinating to experience. And the second surprise for me was when you would bring your daughter to the office. I remember she didn’t have school so you’d bring her in! I had never seen this either. It was so clear you were a mom and amazing at your job.

Lisa: And listen, you’re not always going to be able to pick up the call from your kids. In this case, you know, there are cases when you know it’s a school call and you have to navigate that.

Liz: I was at the stage of daycare and kids getting sick, not necessarily talking to the school or having their kid come [to work]. So that’s why it was cool to see forward a couple years to where I could be. Because you were balancing or at least it looked like that to me.

Were your partners and/or families supportive of your work?

Lisa: They were. There wasn’t a lot of physical family help, if that’s what you’re asking, because my husband’s parents were in Florida. The way I was able to balance so well was that I had a live-in au pair. I worked long hours. When I had my first child I was at Macy’s in the city, so I wouldn’t get home until late. Glenn [my husband] was in the middle of a career change, so he was working or in school constantly, you know. So we needed that kind of presence. I mean, it makes a big difference. You know, not to jump around, but there are sacrifices with all of this. Like we never had family dinner, ever, during the week.

Liz: And we had dinner every night together. I think we made our life more challenging because we decided we were going to do this ourselves. Which was so naïve! To help with this decision, I moved my office walking distance from my house and from their public school. And Jim [my husband at the time] took on sort of the parent role he worked in the back office with me, but he would leave work early, go pick them up, make dinner. And then maybe one day a week I was home with the kids. It was a lot. It was hard. It was not a smart move in hindsight. It made our life much more difficult.

Did it feel like you were balancing?

Lisa: I think I felt like I was balancing…it really takes a community. And I think about how I balanced…it’s because of all of the people around me, whether it’s friends, peers, my bosses, the schools, you build that network because I can’t tell you how many times I got a call from my friend Sue who said, ‘Lisa, remember tomorrow Jaclyn has to wear a blue t-shirt for Spirit Day.’ Or, ‘Lisa, remember: you’re supposed to sign that note.’ Or whatever it is. You know, I didn’t know!

Liz: Same. I missed my daughter’s first day of school because her school was on a different schedule than my son’s! After that my friends all learned her school schedule so we wouldn’t forget.

Lisa: There were not a lot of working women…you had the same thing Liz, right? I found more connection at work, from working mothers. Or through my business partners like Liz.

Liz: I do remember having three very good friends down here in Tribeca – so there were four of us – and we all had jobs, kids the same age, and that became my core group. But it took me a while to figure that out.

Lisa: We had some good friends!

Liz: Yeah, thank god, right?! So hard.

The family aspect of Barnes & Noble feels very resonant and seems like it made a big impact on you two individually and collectively. Could you talk about that?

Lisa: Yeah, I mean, I just feel like the company and myself as a leader, we lead with kindness. Putting other people first and asking what their needs are, what their challenges are…and just making people feel heard and understood and safe. I mean it was the family environment that really encouraged us to have that feeling that everyone in the company – even the store manager sitting out in Idaho thousands of miles away – was part of the family. And cared for, really.

And I think that is what trickled down in terms of being a parent at the company, it’s just…do whatever you’ve got to do. Take care of your family, take care of your kid, and don’t stress out about it. And because the relationships were so strong within the company, other people stepped up to help. Right, Liz? If you were on the team the other people would say, ‘Don’t worry about it, I’ll cover for you. I’ll take the conference call. I’ll meet with the client’. That was very prevalent in our company. And Liz, if you think about it, a little tangent here, not a lot of the female leaders at Barnes & Noble had children.

Liz: You know what is also interesting? I remember this one instance when I traveled for the Show and I forgot all of my makeup…my whole bag! I had mentioned it to somebody because I was freaking out and talking about how I needed to get to the store and what I was going to do. And next thing I know someone is knocking at my hotel door and it’s this little cute bag of makeup from Kim, a senior manager at the company, who overheard me talking about my situation. I didn’t even tell her! And she put together all the extra makeup she had.

Lisa: I never knew this story!

Liz: It was a perfect example of a person jumping in. And it really made you feel taken care of on a whole other level. Which means you want to work harder and do better because it was such a level of love and respect in a weird way for a business environment.

Lisa: In a weird, dysfunctional way! [Laughing]

Liz: [Laughing] We were like family!

Liz, did you experience that family culture with other clients that you had?

Liz: It was definitely special at Barnes & Noble, and I think that’s why I loved and gravitated towards work with the company.

Lisa: People were very, very passionate about the company. I mean they just were. People loved Barnes & Noble. Our 10 year celebration was unbelievable.

Liz: And when you’d go to the Annual Meeting, one of the nights they’d acknowledge how many years people had worked with the company. I remember my first Show and I  literally had chills. They would announce five years and you’d see people walking across the stage to get their pin…and all the regional managers would be on the stage literally hugging each person. And then they’d go through the 10 year and the 20 year and the 30 years…

Lisa: And then the 40 years! We had 40 year employees…


Liz: It was jaw dropping. It was such a special night. And then what we would do, per Lisa’s vision, was blow up these jumbo posters with people’s names featured throughout the halls of the hotel. You would see managers run up and take pictures pointing to their name or having a group of friends cheer for them. If you think about it, it was so special.

Lisa: Yeah, it was a labor of love for sure.

You had each other’s backs. And that makes me hopeful for work and the next generation.

Lisa: Yes, be hopeful!

Liz: There’s got to be other places like that.

Lisa: And you could create it too. Create it in your own space, in your own world, and then it can branch out.

Any last words?

Liz: I think you have enough to make it interesting!

Lisa: Yeah, right?! The kids are alright!

As we round out Mental Health Awareness Month, we’re taking a moment here at Reit to highlight some of the work we’ve done for Liz’s new venture: Other Parents Like Me (OPLM). OPLM’s digital community provides a support network for parents supporting parents of children struggling with mental health, and offers opportunities to connect with mental health professionals, industry leaders, and guest speakers. 

Reit had a hand in concepting and creating the branding for OPLM, and we’d like to walk you through the thinking behind the design! As with building a community, there is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes in crafting a brand. So we caught up with Liz Reitman (Reit’s founder) and Elizabeth Hajny (Reit’s Lead Designer) who have come together to share the design process for Other Parents Like Me:

Did the final design have any connection to the initial design?

Liz: The thought process for the OPLM logo was originally a Lotus Flower. The concept behind it was that a Lotus Flower grows in muck and blooms into a beautiful flower. And that’s kind of the journey, right? It’s painful, it’s mucky, it’s messy…but there can be beauty in that. 

There was a lot of other symbolism tied to the Lotus Flower that connected with us; plus when you’re on this journey with your child, a lot of kids go to Wilderness, which is steeped in nature, so that element also factored into our initial design concepts.

Elizabeth: It started out as very symbolic, very light and metaphorical.

Liz: And we did go down a really deep path with the Lotus Flower, but as we kept iterating on the design, it felt too feminine, in a way that just didn’t feel right.

When you were researching the support group space, what did you notice?

Liz: When we started looking into the therapy and support group space, we noticed a lot of lotus flowers, a lot of metaphorical imagery, and a lot of pictures that, to us, were kind of sad! So we decided to flip that and go with images emphasizing sunlight and brightness. And a really bright color palette. We decided that we could show the light of this. Yes, there is brevity in this, but we wanted to show the potential. As hard as this experience is, it can be a gift.

Where did you go next with the design ideation?

Liz: We wound up pivoting towards more community-focused imagery. We started concepting other avenues….

Elizabeth: Like Liz said, we then pivoted to more iconography — with hands, hearts, questions — 

Liz: I think the question iconography illustrated that OPLM was a place to ask questions, have conversations, and be heard. It morphed into these hearts because we wanted to illustrate that our community was helping each other:

Liz: We were then very focused on hands. So we looked to distilling them down to their most basic form and had this weaving and overlapping to represent helping one another:

Elizabeth: But it wasn’t resonating. So we connected with some other designers to give us a fresh perspective and this design is closer to the one we landed on:

Liz: We wanted to focus on the positivity of the experience, as opposed to the difficulties. And ultimately we landed on the initials of Other Parents Like Me “OPLM”. It felt right! You really have to go with what feels right.

What about the origin of the name, “Other Parents Like Me?”

Liz: One of our founders came up with it, and it was a no brainer! We heard it and, ‘Boom’. It just made sense. We did have to pay for the URLit was already ownedbut we knew it was critical to have oplm.com and otherparentslikeme.com

Awesome. So with OPLM as the backdrop, how did the branding evolve from there?

Elizabeth: We wanted to emphasize the community and connection Other Parents Like Me offers parents, so the next concepts layered and overlapped the initials. The logo was distilled down to the symbolism of togetherness, rather than something more figurative (like the flower). It was more about what OPLM represents. 

Liz: Then we really liked the idea of the “M” as two people holding hands. And that really seemed to resonate with us:

It’s so subtle, I didn’t notice the people until you just shared! But now I can’t unsee it.

Liz: You know, a lot of people don’t pick up on the people holding hands within the “M” initially. And to me, that’s what some of the greatest logos do! Like Fedex has an arrow in the letters, which you may not notice. So, for me, when you see something at face value and you like it. And then you see it again and you see something else, and then you see it again and see something else. And that’s what I love.

Could you talk about the colors and brightness within the branding?

Liz: We really played around with the lettering and the colors. Is the “O” filled in? Is it not? Are the letters squared off? Or rounded? 

Elizabeth: Yeah, our colors enhanced our theme of potential, community, and connection. In our brand guidelines, you can see the overlapping colors and their names: “Optimistic Yellow,” “Resilient Red,” “Strong Orange,” “Serene Green,” “Calm Blue,” and “Stable Grey.”

And then we played around with patterns and overlapping designs to further the bright and hopeful messaging.

Any other considerations you took into account when finalizing the design?

Liz: Yes! All of these other solutions could have worked, but it was really about what felt right and best represented our vision, mission, and what we are about. And we really wanted to stay away from being too feminine. That was a big component for us to consider within the design because, yes, we are a women-owned business, we are being led by women, more women actually come to the site, but we also need to help men! We have a men’s group facilitated by two amazing men and it’s doing quite well because men need this space. So we really wanted to make sure that we weren’t excluding anyone based on the overall look and vibe.

So from conception to final design, can you share where you’re at now with OPLM’s look and feel?

Liz: As we’ve evolved with our strategy, we’ve stayed true to the palette and overall look, but we’ve also brought in mindful moments, quotes, advice and lessons, all with a positive tilt. We also work with our community of parents to share their stories. And I think because the branding had a good foundation, it’s been really easy to take it further throughout all of our marketing, social media, and more. We use a lot of overlapping circles, which harkens back to the overlapping of the logo lettering…so many layers in here! 

Our website is really well received. And it’s easy to design stuff because we have so many great assets to work with. So we have a lot of flexibility in terms of design to tone it back or make it more playful.

How has OPLM grown since your launch in January?

Liz: Yes! There is so much success that it’s really exciting. We’ve hit over 200 members, onboarded our first school to our program, we are in talks with educational consultants that are eager to offer this program to the parents they work with, we have schools sharing our programs within their newsletters to parents…we have so much interest! We hit 800 Instagram followers since January, 900 followers on Facebook, and our directory has over 1,000 resources…it’s all continuously growing. 

In terms of programming, we are fully booked through the end of the 2022 year for our Thursday speaker serieswhich features authors, speakers, podcasters, you name itand we also completely booked out our Monthly Panel Series through the end of the year. We’re also attending conferences, such as the National Therapeutic Boarding School (NTBC), IECA (Educational Consultants Conference), where we will host meetings so attendees can experience what an OPLM meeting entails (think meditation, trauma-informed Yoga, discussions). We have 17 meetings per week with 35 peer parents trained and facilitating these meetings. It’s really cool to see. 

Elizabeth: It’s interesting to connect with parents in a small group meeting and then have the opportunity to hear from panelists in the space. What’s so great about our platform and programming is that parents can ask these field experts questions that pertain to their circumstances. It’s really a space to be heard and to hear other people. 

Liz: We’ve also opened the speaker talks (every Thursday at 8pm EST) and the panels (last Sunday of each month) to interested members. And we’ve noticed that many people who were unable to attend or want to reference the talk again will go back and listen to the recordings! OPLM is super symbiotic; the consultants and experts we have worked with are being connected with the parents within our community; we’re creating a mentorship program for community members; we also have a number of partnerships with several nonprofits including, the Partnership to End Addiction, All Kinds of Therapy…because at the end of the day it’s all about giving back. It really is all about helping people, and our community is incredibly dedicated to doing so.

What can we look forward to with OPLM in the future?

Liz: One of our goals is to add a chat feature, because we’ve noticed that parents are really eager to connect with one another. When you’re in it, you really don’t realize how many other people are going through that experience. And once you start talking to other people that are in a similar circumstance as you, there is an instant bond. No judgement, no shame…there is none of that. Oftentimes the hardest part is getting someone to attend a meeting. But once they’re in, I have no doubt they’ll stay! Because when you can talk and see everyone’s heads nodding, it’s a different level of support. 

The state of mental health and suicide rates among teens and young people is abysmal. And we’re working with the parentswhich not a lot of people are talking aboutand how the whole family system is impacted. From the financials, to work and personal life, marriage and divorce…and then add the shame and judgement onto that, it’s a lot! So OPLM sees that and we’re working to integrate the parent’s experience into the healing process. 

Elizabeth: Yes, the parents that have joined our community are realizing that in order to break the cycle, they also need to support themselves and their own personal work. While every story is different and nuanced in its own way, a lot of the healing and recovery process includes parents finding and getting the help and support they need. 

Liz: Yes! We want parents to be able to become aware of and access support earlier on in the process, so that they have tools and resources before they are in full-on crisisand believe OPLM fills that need. I mean, gosh, if I had a support group at the beginning of this journey, I think at least a year of our lives would have changed. 

OPLM is just getting started! Through Other Parents Like Me, you can meet a community of parents who are supporting one another through their parenting journeys, and expanding the scope of what we call “awareness”. If this speaks to you or you know someone who could benefit from a community of parents supporting one another, try OPLM’s free 7 day trial!

Part 1: A Conversation between Liz Reitman (reitdesign Founder, EONY Vice President & Mentorship Chair) and Lisa Malat (former President and Chief Operating Officer Barnes & Noble College)

Reit founder and Entrepreneurs’ Organization of New York (EONY) VP & Mentorship Chair, Liz Reitman, is no stranger to balancing life and work. When Liz first started her business, being a women-owned business was less common than it is today; what’s more, finding time to connect with other working women proved challenging.

Recently, Liz reconnected with Lisa Malat, former President and Chief Operating Officer of Barnes & Noble College and one of the strong, forward-thinking women Liz had the joy of working with for over 20 years!  Take a trip down memory lane with us as they reminisce on how they met, how their relationship supported their professional and personal journeys, and what a long-term relationship means to them. Want more? Stay tuned for Part 2!

How did you two meet?

Liz: Oh wow, this is a long time ago…do you remember?

Lisa: Yeah. Back in the days we were doing our own internal creative using a shop up in Boston. We needed to professionalize this place and get some real talent at the table.

Liz: We started in 2002 or maybe 2001.

Lisa: Is that really how far back we go?! Okay, so it was 15 plus years! It was more of the branding work when we first started…really when we [Barnes & Noble College] wanted to up our game in terms of external presence and communications to the colleges and universities we served. That’s really where Liz stepped in a big role.  And then it evolved to include more internal communications, which is what I would consider our Annual Meeting. Right?

Liz: But here’s the thing. I didn’t start doing your Show until after we started doing the Annual Review.

Lisa: Yeah, the Annual Review was our first project together. But the work on the Show was really when things evolved. Every year the company produced an Annual Meeting and Back to Campus Show (‘the Show’). This was really a way to bring together in one place our 800 store managers from across the country to celebrate everything they’ve accomplished; and then, of course, deliver the company message and initiatives and the right learning and development programs. It was a lot of celebration; a lot of hard work. Just a great way to keep the company aligned.

Liz: We also helped a lot with the learning and development tools presented at the Show, and that became a big component of our work as well. That was really a different sensibility. We designed and built a game, created a sliding DISC assessment tool, built a book — this pop-up book with flaps and pullout components — that was this big [gestures to human-sized book]…talk about being pushed from a design perspective. It was amazing!

Lisa: Which were works of art. I mean honestly Liz, they were really gorgeous. It was great. It’s always been a great partnership. I love working with women and I love working with women entrepreneurs. We did a lot of good work together.

How did the relationship build?

Liz: What was cool about our relationship was that it started with smaller projects and then grew into the Annual Shows. I was doing other things for the company and I remember the moment where Lisa was like, ‘Come in here for a second!’ She brought me to the conference room with all these posters that were HIDEOUS! You couldn’t even read the words, there were stars everywhere…and she was like, ‘Do you think you could help us with these graphics for our sales conference?’ And I was like, ‘Hell, yeah!’

Lisa: It was like clip art on signs, remember Liz?

Liz: Yeah! [Shakes head]

Lisa: That was exactly it. It was neat because Liz helped not just on, of course, the look and feel and the creative, but also helped to more effectively get our message out. How do we come up with the right imagery or branding that is really going to support the theme? And what do we want the managers to walk away with? It was a very integrated partnership.

Liz: And that’s kind of how Reit pivoted and we began to help you with the Show. When we first started branding the Shows, I didn’t physically go down to the venue. And then, this was really the game changer: one day a truck drove through a whole set of posters and you had to cut them down and try to round all the corners of the posters to save them. And after that you were like, ‘From now on, you’re coming down! I can’t do this!’ That was (probably) the beginning of us being on site together… I mean we really blew it out of the water in terms of size and scale of what we would do after that. It was way beyond posters…it also included rethinking the managers’ experiences for those 5 days.

Lisa: We did great work and had a ton of fun doing it.

What were the connecting points towards each other?

Lisa: I think we really respected each other. Like, Liz, you really helped me a lot with what we had to produce, what we had to deliver. I trusted you. So that was a big piece of it. I love working with external partners, I love to expand the team that way to bring in different points of view, different talents and perspectives. And you were such a solid, important partner to us.

Liz: And you know what was fun for me was that because I had Lisa’s trust, we took more risks. I mean, I had never done certain things, but I knew I had her trust and I loved the challenge, so I always said, ‘Yes, I can do that!’ And then I’d go back to my team and say, ‘Ok, huge challenge here…but I know we can do this.’

Lisa: I think that was an overall leadership lesson; that if you give people the room and space and let them know, ‘Yeah, I trust you, go figure it out’. It may not be the same steps you take. It may not be one, two, three, four, five, six…it doesn’t matter. But it’s very empowering and very motivating to people.

How did your relationship move through transitions? You’ve talked about trusting each other and growing into that trust...could you also talk about the hard parts?

Lisa: Yeah! We broke up for a year. I had new people on the team who wanted to go in a different direction. We had a bit of a falling out.

Liz: As she grew, not only in her position, her team grew too. So when I met you, I think you had four people on your team. And then cut to 10+ years later and it’s a team of 40. I think everyone’s trying to make their way. I personally think there was a little bit of jealousy with how well we got along. And I know I personally didn’t know how to navigate the politics. I was like, ‘Wait, I’m just trying to do good work!’ And it just got really messy.

Lisa: Yeah, new people came in and they had their partners they worked with at previous companies that they presented to me. As a leader in the company — as an executive in the company — I have to be open. I can’t say ‘No, we can only…’ obviously. So that’s how it evolved. And then we found our way back to each other.

Liz: Yeah. I mean it was such a long-term relationship and Lisa and I got along so well…

Could you share what coming back towards each other was like? What did you learn during your time apart?

Lisa: I’m trying to remember what it was…was I desperate and I called you?

Liz: You sent an email and I’ll never forget it! I called you right away and you said, ‘Liz, we messed up. We’re reusing everything you did last year…it’s a disaster! Next year is the 25th anniversary of the Annual Meeting and I need you to say yes you’ll work with us again.’

Lisa: [Laughing] That sounds like me. I mean, you know, you try, you make a mistake, you acknowledge you made a mistake, and you work it out. And Liz was gracious enough and open enough to say, ‘Yeah, it’s business and things happen and we’ll join forces again.’ Which was awesome.

Liz: It was also good for me to know that I needed to diversify my client base. I always knew you could not have one jumbo client, especially as a small business. So as painful as it was, I think I learned so much from it. As you do with any and all of your biggest challenges.

Lisa: You went on to get some really big clients, right? You work with the Javits Center, The New York International Auto Show, The NYC Buildings Dpt. You’ve done some great things.

Liz: It really made me pivot and focus on things like becoming a WBE, going after larger city and state contracts —

Lisa: That’s awesome.

Did the relationship feel different? Did you kick off right where you left off?

Liz: I feel like this is a therapy session! [Laughing]

Lisa: [Laughing] I think that we were — I don’t know — I think you were mad at me.

Liz: [Laughing] I think I was just guarded.

Lisa: Yeah, I think that’s what it was.

Liz: It’s very hard to get fired after, you know, 15 years. So then I didn’t know who to trust…

Lisa: There were also big structural changes at the company at that time. We went public, there were more eyes on everything, you know, we were now accountable to the street, accountable to a board of directors, new people were coming into the company…so as the structure changed, new people came in and the culture began to shift a bit. As a leader, I was challenged in different ways on how to look at my business. And so all of that factored into how we ran the company and how our relationship evolved.

Liz: It’s interesting to hear you say that. Because before it was all about the company family, and there was this blur of colleagues and friendships, right? Because we did a lot outside of work. So when I came back it was much more business. And I needed to get my head that way.

Lisa: And it wasn’t just you, it was the whole group.

Liz: Exactly. I think we all knew it. Everybody came back with a different mindset. It was a lot more serious because it needed to be. Based on everything you just said…about the changes in the company…we were all on our best behavior.

The conversation continues! Stay tuned for Part 2 coming soon.