Let their words of wisdom guide you as you set out to build your own successful business.

By Jillian Kramer
March 03, 2020
Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

These CEOs climbed the corporate ladder with a lot of hard work—and a little good advice. Here, five CEOs across different industries share the advice they took to heart as they built their successful businesses. It's advice you can use, too, as you start, build, and manage your own company.

Related: Martha Shares Her Best Advice for Future Entrepreneurs

"Pros don't panic."

Kim Jordan, former CEO and cofounder of New Belgium Brewing, says it was in a moment that seemed like a crisis—an important retailer had just told her they'd no longer carry New Belgium beer—that "the president of our distributor said to me, 'Pros don't panic.'" Since then, she's come back to that advice again and again, "in moments when it feels like the wheels are coming off the bus and I'm unsure about the decisions I need to make," she says. "It allows me to steady myself and remember that my job is to be a pro, to get it together, and focus on what I can do and can affect." No matter your business or idea, "it's easy to let crises or obstacles knock you off your game," Jordan commiserates. "But I've learned that by not panicking in those situations, I can take the time to focus on thinking through the best approach and working through it. Later, you look back at those moments that felt so big and you see that you handled it and the world didn't fall apart."

"Failure and difficulty are feedback."

The best career advice Anne Hogarty, CEO of Extend Fertility, says she has ever received came from an unlikely source: It was the mantra of a charter school on which Hogarty sat on the board. The mantra—based on psychologist Carol Dweck's growth mindset—was "failure and difficulty are feedback." And Hogarty says, "kids in fifth through twelfth grade are taught to embrace failure and setbacks by learning from them—so I started applying that thinking to my career." That advice has helped Hogarty immensely: "Treating failure as feedback and an opportunity for growth is key for me because every business leader—particularly, those trying to disrupt long-held beliefs about something as deeply rooted as the timeline for building a family—will face roadblocks," she says. "Start-up life can be a rollercoaster of highs and lows. If you can't bounce back and learn from the lows, you'll have trouble leading a company to its full potential."

"Always give 110 percent in everything you do."

Melany Robinson, CEO and founder of Sprouthouse, says her father—also an entrepreneur—had a plaque on his desk that read, "Always give 110 percent in everything you do," and that's advice that Robinson has taken to heart. "Never do something half-way," she says. "Always give it 110 percent for your team and your clients." In fact, the advice now translates into a motto Robinson holds for her own business, a media relations firm: "Undersell and overdeliver," Robinson says.

"You need to justify your seat at the management table."

As a new member of a management team, Rony Patishi-Chillim, now the CEO of Lycored, says she was told, "you need to justify your seat at the management table," and that became the best career advice she ever heard. "My boss at the time—the CEO of the company—gave me this advice," she says. "He reminded me that I earned a senior managerial role thanks to my capabilities and insights, but I need to voice my ideas to be truly valuable for the organization." The advice came because Patishi-Chillim was struggling to share her opinions and ideas. "I later read about female managers and realized I wasn't the only one who had these types of hesitations to speak up," she adds. "This advice provided me confidence in my potential contribution, but it also reminded me about the rules of the game: As a leader, you have to interact with others and contribute your views. And speaking up is a critical element in extending your influence."

"Go after the clients that interest you the most."

S'well CEO and founder Sarah Kauss says, "The best career advice I ever received came from my first boss while I was an [accountant] at Ernst & Young. She taught me to own my career and always encouraged me to select the clients and projects to work on that interested me the most." Years later, when Kauss started S'well, she remembered that advice: "This approach allowed me to trust my gut and land key retailers that I knew aligned well with the brand," she explains. "We have a great partnership with Bloomingdale's today, but they actually said 'no' for two years." As Kauss explains, "They kept telling me that they didn't carry water bottles, and I kept saying that I was offering hydration accessories. They eventually came around, and I'd like to think that the confidence push early-on in my career helped me keep going and not take no for an answer."

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