Tori Mancuso, Marketing Coordinator
When we think about leadership, our minds immediately go to our very own CEO and leader, Deb Murray Lemon. She's a team builder, a trailblazer, and a source of inspiration to us all. She exemplifies what it means to be an OBE-er and has attentively nurtured the strong culture we experience today.
In 2023, she’s taken the reigns and seamlessly transitioned from co-CEO to our CEO. We’re proud to be among the small (but growing!) percentage of companies that boast a female CEO.
We got the chance to sit down with Deb to go over the questions we all think about but rarely get a chance to ask. Her answers did not disappoint, offering us raw and real business advice, personal life lessons and insight into what made her the leader she is today.
Did you always know you wanted to be a leader? Have you always seen yourself as a leader?
As a daughter of a single mom, I always took responsibility for my brothers. I tended to be my mother's sidekick, which gave me lots of responsibilities that I just inherently accepted. If I could convince my brothers to listen to me, I could probably get other people to listen as well.
I also have a background in team sports – which always contributed to being a team player and natural leader.
Who inspires you? What impact have they had on you becoming a leader?
My inspiration comes from my friends and family — those closest to me—and being able to highlight my friends’ admirable qualities. I really admire women like Oprah and Sara Blakely for the business success they’ve accomplished.
Most of all, I admire my mother for all her hard work in raising our family.
What’s the biggest contributing factor to your success?
Cultivating relationships has been the most vital piece to my success. Picking up the phone, calling people to check-in, goes a long way. Building authentic relationships and keeping people in mind when there’s an opportunity for partnership, transition or growth moment feels right – I reach out to specific individuals in my network. I always continue to network, nurture client partnerships and relationships and grow my team of people.
Of course - I also try to bring some levity and humor. Work can be stressful, and we often work long hours, so bringing levity or some humor into the situation with our clients and teams — that works for me.
What’s the greatest risk you’ve taken as a professional?
Leaving my job at Nike as an employee and setting out to become an agency partner/owner. I didn't know anyone who had done that, so it seemed scary at the time.
Especially things like payroll, agency welfare, liability and employees are enormous responsibilities. It feels great knowing I was able to rise to the challenge and meet the needs of a growing agency. Now, I find running the agency's business side most rewarding because it means my team can hopefully enjoy the work collaboration with our clients and each other.
How have you built confidence and/or resiliency over the course of your career?
Hashing out all of OBE’s challenges and issues with Dan [Hirsch — OBE’s founder] over the years. If that doesn’t make you tough, I don’t know what will. But having debates, differing opinions and challenging each other leads to a better answer. Not just with Dan but with our executive and leadership teams, as well.
Lately, I’m also a fan of “procrastination" or trying to let problems work themselves out. Before, I thought a good manager was somebody who went in and proactively solved problems for people. Now, I like to take a step back and let the issues sort themselves out. I can step in when the time is right.
How do you deal with stress and maintain a healthy work-life balance?
I have a longer perspective now than I used to. I used to head home from work, and projects or problems would still take up most of my mental space. But, the more I could get my mind off these problems, the easier they were to solve. I needed to get my mind off time away from them to give my subconscious time to work through the issue.
You need to check out and engage in your personal life. Give yourself time to focus on things that reenergize you and then return to the problems. Often, the answers come while you're doing other things — whether it's working out, gardening, or being with family.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Appreciate and take care of yourself.
Being in the service industry, I had gotten into the habit of putting everyone else first. I had to go back to “putting my oxygen mask on first.” I had to reprioritize and take care of myself so I had the energy to care for others.
What advice do you have for women looking to grow their business?
I would tell them to understand how and where you make your money. Creating that financial upside gives you lots of freedom to grow your product, evolve your service, and build your team accordingly.
Interested in hearing more from Deb? You’re in luck! She'll be moderating the Agency Forum Panel at Event Marketer Summit 2023, discussing “The Future of the Agency” with top executives from other industry agencies.
Everything is on the table in this candid conversation where she will ask the big, hard questions that are on every agency leader’s mind: What will #experientialmarketing look like in the future and how will event agencies need to shape shift to survive? Where are the biggest opportunities and what are the biggest challenges for #eventagencies in the next five years? Where can #agencyleaders win and generate business in the future? And how can agency leaders create businesses and teams that can thrive in the midst of crisis and change?
Come join us! Register and check out the full Event Marketer Summit 2023 agenda.