Read this post or download the pdf of the Born Leader Podcast: Episode 3 transcript.
Welcome to the Born Leader podcast, where we believe everyone is born to lead. The show explores leadership in its many forms through interviews with, and profiles of, leaders in our communities—people who demonstrate that we are all born leaders and there are many paths to discovering that potential. I’m your host Gaea Honeycutt, Founder and CEO of the Hypatian Institute, Inc., a leadership development organization that creates innovative vehicles to cultivate competitive advantage for emerging and established leaders.
In this third episode, we welcome Tara Palacios, whose high energy and business acumen are the foundation for Arlington Economic Development’s unique BizLaunch program — the City’s small business and entrepreneurial assistance network and one-stop-shop for information on starting or growing a business. We’ll talk about the sometimes unusual career that prepared her to build and run BizLaunch, the importance of paying it forward, and transitioning – whether between jobs or into a new business.
We began the conversation on a topic that resonates with many young professionals today, the job market she found upon graduating back in the early 90s.
Gaea: What did you think when you were getting out of college — when you were graduating, what were sort of your hopes and dreams for what you were going to be doing?
Tara: Oh, goodness. It’s, it’s not what I’m doing now. I got out of school and I was wanting to be the next Oprah Winfrey.
Tara: Can you believe it? I had combined political science and journalism. But, I wanted to like be a tough newsbeat reporter, so I’d done journalism — written, print, online media, all kinds of stuff. And, that ain’t what I’ve ended up doing.
Gaea: Now, are you glad that that’s not what you ended up doing?
Tara: Um, it’s interesting because it’s like that trajectory that you have in life and… it’s really what I had passion around. But then once I started . . . once I graduated from college and we were in a recession . . . it was the early 90s and it was like, I need a job. I’m gonna have bills. You have college where you’re nurtured and your professors and everybody works with you, and you’re like, “I’m going to change the world!” And then, you graduate and it’s like, “I need a job!”
And so, once I got out there and it was tough getting a job, and I didn’t want to move — you know, in media you kind of have to move to a smaller community to get your start — and I didn’t want to leave my family, so I entered into public relations, which was completely different, but I loved it. I still got to write and I got to, you know, be able to work with people in the community. And, it was very interesting. And so, from there I really fell in love with PR and marketing. And so it’s not what I anticipated, but I’ve actually relied on those skills to kind of get me to where I am today.
I was in the private sector. I worked for an HMO [health maintenance organization]. I worked for a hardware developer that was working with architects doing estimating, so we marketed that. And then, I actually worked for a uranium enricher. And then I took like a . . . a kind of weird turn, but I learned…
Gaea: Wait, wait, wait . . .
Tara: . . . I was a loan officer . . .
Gaea: . . . you took a weird turn after the uranium enricher?
Gaea: Because it seems like uranium . . .
Tara: Before I glowed, I actually was in banking, and I was doing funds and I was doing loans. But, the cool thing about that was that it helped me to understand what bankers think and how bankers feel, and loans and processes and working with businesses. So, it actually set me up for my current job that I understand, as we’re working with entrepreneurs, what their needs are and what the banks are looking for.
Tara: So, I can rely on that background. But then I was in uranium, and I was actually doing PR and marketing for only . . . we had 60 customers around the world, and we actually processed uranium for utility companies. So, we worked closely with the Japanese market, the European market, the Russians . . . as well as the Americans.
Tara: And I got so many glow jokes . . .
Tara: …that I think I know each and every one of those.
Gaea: All those glow jokes. Yeah, that’s . . . You know, most people do not say, “I used to work in uranium.”
Tara: Yeah, and that was really cool! But you know, what was interesting about PR and marketing was that, you know, we spent a lot of money. And so, when their downsizing occurred, we were always the first ones to go. So, I’d been laid off, and I think I came to the part of my career where I was like, “I’m tired of being laid off. Where can I go in marketing?” And at the time, when I was in uranium, we worked really closely with Economic Development. And I thought, “Where else could I go, where . . . marketing community . . . I love Arlington?” And they had a position open and available when I was laid off from that job.
Gaea: Woo-hoo! Woo-hoo!
Tara: And, it was just . . . it was just the timing was precipitous . . . I was able to land here. And I have not left. I’ve been here for 14 years in Arlington County doing economic development, doing PR and marketing for a community that I absolutely love.
Gaea: Now, would you say that most of your career has been serendipity or . . .
Gaea: . . . or something that you’ve planned?
Tara: A little bit of both. And it’s interesting because when I look back, at the time I knew what I liked. I knew what I wanted. But, it just seemed to happen and to fall in place. So, it was a bit of serendipity. But I was very thoughtful about what . . . when I was laid off two or three times . . . I was very thoughtful about what I wanted in my next job, because I realized strength and weaknesses in organizations and it got me really more deliberate.
Gaea: Would you say that you’ve been able to identify sort of the characteristics of your best decisions and the characteristics of your worst decisions?
Gaea: Tell me both.
Tara: It’s interesting. ‘Cause when I worked at the bank, I realized I am not a banker.
‘Cause I don’t like saying no to people. You know you have somebody who says, “Can I have this loan?”, and you really want to say yes, but they don’t have the financial wherewithal to do it. So, I said, “I can’t work in banking. I love people. Where can I go?”
I realized that working in the private sector is tough because it’s very intense, but you’re working to build the business for somebody else and you may not agree with their opinions. Working in the public sector, you’re working for the community. And it’s like you’re working for many versus just an individual particular target market. How best can I help? And if you enjoy helping, I think it’s the best place to be.
No day is the same in public sector. You wake up, you go in with a thought, and then something happens and it’s not quite what you expected, but it always keeps you on your toes. Policy, being able to have a difference with policy that affects many it’s like you’re being in the forefront of changing people’s lives. And it’s long-term change. It’s not, you know, the decisions that we make… so it’s very thoughtful, it’s very methodical. You know, and I have had the blessing of being able to be in the private sector for so long to understand how they think, it helps me in the public sector to design things that are based in, on private sector. And, how can we best have rules and regulations that make it seamless for people to be able to grow and build sustainability for their own company?
Gaea: Everything sort of came together, all at the right place and built up upon one another, all these experiences . . .
Tara: Yes, yes.
Gaea: . . . to really prepare you for what you’re doing now, what you’ve been doing for twelve or thirteen years now.
Gaea: Fourteen years, oh wow!
Tara: I know I’m only 25.
Tara: So, it’s like, okay.
Gaea: You were a prodigy! You were a young prodigy!
Tara: I was a child prodigy!
Gaea: There you go!
Tara: I was the Mozart in my community!
Gaea: So, what do you most admire about Arlington?
Tara: Oh, my gosh. People. Lived in Arlington, worked in Arlington . . . From Baltimore. And I love my Baltimore roots. In our community, we’re very people-focused, we’re very blue-collar, we’re very transparent.
Tara: Moving to the DC Metro it’s a little different.
Tara: But, what I really like about Arlington most is that the government really cares about the people and they have this process where they engage the community on the decisions that they make. So, in other communities I’ve lived in, things just happen. You look up and you wake up one morning and there’s a road. “Well, where did that road come from?” But in Arlington, it really is a transparent, participatory government process. And, we really want to make sure that the things that we do really benefit the community that lives here.
It’s interesting, I…I . . . sometimes go outside of my sphere — where we had one of our partners that we worked with, new to the community, and had a challenge with her housing. And, I was able to call up the folks in Housing and Code Inspections and very nicely help her to resolve the issue that she had. Now, is that creating entrepreneurship? No. But is it developing a sense of place and being able to help someone in their time of need? Yes. And being able to pick up the phone and talk to people that aren’t within my agency to have things happen—it’s priceless. And, that’s what I really, really like.
Gaea: They are very interconnected here in Arlington.
Gaea: And each community, each neighborhood has a distinct personality.
Gaea: They’re very active in politics . . .
Gaea: . . . they’re very active in their community service . . . and sort of leadership here in Arlington. It’s a . . . it’s a very different animal than you see a lot of places.
Tara: And it’s, and it’s interesting because it has an urban feel, but it’s a very suburban lifestyle. You’ve got walkability, you’ve got bikeability, you’ve got a sense of place, a community . . . and it’s very small. It’s got the hometowny feel. So, it has some urban elements — you’ve got 11 metro stations, and we’ve got the urban villages. There’s density. But, there’s also, you know, several people that I know, several of my colleagues, don’t have cars. They bike and they take mass transit, and, and you really — and so, it’s like an urban lifestyle with some of the suburban things. And it’s very green, lots of green space. Here in our office where you’re at now we have a great image down to the Capitol. And, along the corridor, there’s the density. But, if you look to the right and left of it, it’s all green — it’s all green space, all parks. And so, we really try to have a sense of place.
Gaea: What do you think was probably your first transformative experience after you graduated college that really helped form who you are and helped contribute to what you are now?
Tara: Oh, wow. I would say it’s when I got my first job. When I left college, I was very much about being a leader and making change, and change at all costs. And, a university is a very nurturing environment, and when I left there I thought, “Oh, when I get my first job, it’s going to be the same thing. And, I got to a place where I saw things. I saw socioeconomic, as well as racial, disparities in upper management and the way things were happening, and, ah... “Let’s just talk about it!”
And little did I know, I would be known as the rabble-rouser and someone that didn’t know their place. And so, as opportunities came they passed me by, and I had to come to terms with, or understand, really how corporate America works. And, it was very transformative because learning from books and seeing things is very different from working in a corporate environment and knowing . . . knowing when to fight the battle, when to fight the war, and figuring that piece of it out. And what battles you can win, what battles aren’t worth it, and being able to play within the system.
I never lost that, like, engine. I feel I still have it, but I now know—I look at things now when I want to change policy — It’s about a chess game. If I move my pawns in any direction, am I leaving my flanks vulnerable by what I do? And being four or five steps ahead, and understanding completely how government works in order to institute change. And one thing is we have a new director here within Economic Development who’s very passionate, and what I like about him is he breaks through the ceiling of some of the things that we get mired in government. “Oh, you have that rule. Why do you have that rule?” You know, and rules are meant to be broken if they’re not working.
Tara: And so being open to that, working within the system, but also working so that you can institute change. Understanding that, it took me a little while. And then, once I got it, I got it. Because I also want to be effective so that I can best help my constituency whom I work for. I don’t want to take away the power that I have to be able to make change because people don’t trust what I’m doing.
Gaea: And when you have someone come from the outside, that always can help, sort of, spring a new perspective on everything.
Tara: “Well, why are you still doing it that way? Well, why haven’t you—why aren’t you questioning these things?”
One of the things he did that I really admire, recently, is with budgets—anytime, whether you’re in the private or public sector, the budget is what it is. But you always need more, you never have enough to do the goals and the things that you want to do. And so he came on board, and our budget had already been . . . gone through the system, had gone through the process. But he knows, given what he’s empowered to do, he needs more money. And we’re like, “Well you’re not getting it because we’re at this stage.” And every year, you know, once you get to this stage, that’s it.
Tara: And, he came in and did presentations and was like, “I need more.” And he got what he asked for just by asking. So, it keeps you kind of fresh when you say okay, this is how things are done . . . however, you know, make things uncomfortable. Because the only time that change can happen is if you’re not comfortable. ‘Cause if you’re satisfied and things are going the way they are, you know, life is good . . . nothing’s gonna change. But in order for change to happen, you have to . . . and he’s inspired me with that cause and that’s why I’m still here . . .
. . . low all these many years, because I can still get things done. And you know when you’re not effective, well, talking about transformative things. When you’re not effective and you’re unhappy with wherever you are — whether it’s in business or whether it’s in a position that you hold, time to move on — make that change. And, don’t be negative about it. Don’t get mired in, “Oh, I’m here where I’m at and it’s never going to change.”
You know, just be happy! “I got opportunities.” Life is about opportunity and seizing — carpe diem — seizing that moment.
We’ll be back after this break to speak more with Tara Palacios about leadership, escaping a toxic work environment, and starting a business.
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Welcome back. You’re listening to Born Leader from the Hypatian Institute. I’m your host Gaea Honeycutt and joining us today is Tara Palacios, Director of the Arlington Economic Development BizLaunch program.
In the second part of this episode, we dive into how Tara strives to be the mentor she never had, learn a strategic approach to leaving a toxic workplace, discuss the responsibilities of leadership, and get some pointers on how to assess whether you should start a business.
Gaea: Tell me more about the lessons you’ve . . . We’ve talked now about your new director . . .
Gaea: And he’s taught you some things.
Gaea: Or refreshed you in a way.
Tara: Got me rejuvenated!
Gaea: What other lessons have you learned from leaders along the . . . you know, during your career, and even when you were a kid that have really stuck with you? Have some of them been mentors? How important has mentoring been to you?
Tara: And that’s interesting, ‘cause I’ve talked about mentorship in the past. I . . . I . . . maybe about a year ago I did — I was on a panel that talked about . . . It was for women — women leaders and mentorship. And I…never… it was always, throughout my career, I didn’t have the mentors that I wanted after I left college. You know, in college and then graduate school I had some awesome mentors and people that helped me. And my parents are huge mentors because they started and built my foundation as to who I am, and told me, “You always have to work twice as hard. Always work hard.” And there’s nothing wrong with working hard because with that you can accomplish and dream. You know, so I’ve had that mentorship, but insofar as…a leader? I haven’t had it. And that, in many ways it hurt.
I actually went to people and asked, “Hey, would you mentor me?”
“No, you need to go to someone else. I don’t have the same experiences that you do, so you might want to check over there.”
And it’s like, hmm, you know? And so for me what that has provided is that anyone that I’ve interned or had an intern here with my program or anyone that has come to me, I will help them. No matter . . . no matter what, you know if you come to me and you say “I need X, Y, and Z,” if I have it within my power to help, I will. Because many times in trying to fight glass, you know, being a minority and being a woman, there are glass ceilings. It . . . it exists, people! It is there! It is not something that we make up in our minds! You know? And you see it and you feel it and you get frustrated. “How can I work through this, how can I…?” You know—and you don’t want to be that angry woman, you know what I’m saying? The only person that can control your happiness and where you’re at, you look at in the mirror each morning.
And so, to have a mentor is a blessing. To have somebody that can guide you is a blessing. And so, I pay it back. Even though I didn’t quite have it in my life when I really needed it, I pay it forward. Because I think it is important to have somebody that you can go to that you can talk about if you’re facing glass ceilings or if you’re facing a frustration. Then, whether it’s work or family or whatever, that you can just . . . you can talk to to help you, in a professional way, work through an issue that’s not in your sphere, but somewhat removed so they can give you that.
One thing I have done, and I’ve said to myself in my life, is that I only want to surround myself with positive people. And I’ve realized, from that bright-eyed college student to where I’m at today, is we have few friends. If you have a friend, that’s a blessing. Somebody that you can turn to, at any given moment, and they know you, know you inside out, and can help you to achieve goals, that’s a blessing. You know, to have that in your life. And I really cherish those people that are within my circle. I really cherish it. There are a lot of people that you know in your life. And, I try to . . . no matter who it is . . . I try to make them as if . . . I treat them as I want to be treated — as a friend, as a mentor. Um, ah, one of my . . . back to the original job I had. It was…I had just started. I was constantly told . . . I was told that my voice was too high, that I was not a leader, and I was actually put in a position and then it was taken away.
Gaea: Oh, wow.
Tara: Yeah, it was . . . and it was really . . . I thought, “Oh, my God. I must be horrible.” You know the mentor that I had left because the organization . . . it was a toxic organization . . .
Tara: . . . that’s since closed. And, I think because of the way they were treating their employees, it just wasn’t a healthy place. And so, I look back on that now, and I said, “I’m never going to say that to anyone,” because I know how I was treated when I first started. And, you need to empower . . . because if you’re in a leadership role — no matter where you are in life, and we all are . . . no matter where you work, you know, you’re in a leadership position. It’s up to you to empower your people because they make you look good. Even if you’re not doing anything but paperwork and HR stuff, it’s to empower them so that they can go off and make you look good. Do you know what I mean? And it’s a, it’s a win-win all the way around. So, that transformative experience that I had really lives within me. I don’t take the negative aspects of it. I take the positive and know how I interact and interface with other people.
Gaea: Take it as a lesson learned.
Tara: Yeah, yeah.
Gaea: So, what would you say to people who right now are feeling trapped in a toxic situation? ‘Cause there’s so many organizations . . .
Gaea: . . . where there are, um, unhealthy behaviors. And, it reminds me of that Washington Post commercial . . .
Gaea: . . . every January when they’re coming out with their jobs section. “Not another day!”
Tara: Not another day!” And then the parrot’s saying it too, “Not another day!”
Gaea: [nodding] Saying it too . . .
Tara: It’s true, it’s true. Um, one of the things that I would say is, “Be true . . .to thine own self be true.” And to know your strengths and weaknesses, and to not take things personally. Um, I had . . . I went to a talk a few years ago, and it was a brigadier-general that was at Fort Belvoir and she was speaking. She was amazing, amazing presenter, and she said, you know, “I don’t take anything personally.” She said, “I used to,” she said, “but if you’re talking to somebody or working with somebody and that somebody is rude to you, put somebody else in that seat and they’re going to be rude with that person too.” That’s that person, that’s not you, so you don’t internalize and take negative energy from somebody else. So, if you’re in a—and my interpretation of that is if you’re existing in a toxic situation, you have to realize that it’s not you, it’s them. And so, you have a strategy and a game plan as to how you’re going to get the heck out of there! But while you’re there, to thine own self be true. You be positive, you be happy, you come to work. You’ve got a job, you’ve got a paycheck. Look at it like that. Be the best you can be, and when you leave that job — whether it’s 5 o’clock, midnight, 11 o’clock — you leave that job there, and then you make a plan to get the heck out of dodge.
And be very strategic. Give yourself a . . . if it’s three weeks, two weeks, one week — give yourself a plan as to what you’re going to do each day to get out of there. Learn what are the strengths and weaknesses about an organization and make that a priority. Wherever you go to that next job, you want to see certain key qualities, you want to talk to staff. Not only do you want to talk to your manager, but you want to talk to the people who are working there. You want to talk to HR. And if there’s no transparency that’s there within the organization, then you need to find another. You need to keep looking until you find it. And so, you develop that list and you stick by it. You stay where you’re at . . . because I’m not saying leave no job because you’re unhappy.
Tara: That’s called pride.
‘Cause that’s a paycheck that’s going to take you to where you need to go. Now, sometimes people will . . . and I don’t judge people . . . if you want to just leave and close up and walk out the door, do so. But then give yourself . . . if you get a package or something . . . give yourself a time frame. Don’t let time slip by.
Tara: Because the longer that you’re not at a job, it’s harder to get a new job — especially in the competitive world that we live in. And, one thing that I have to suggest, too, is consider, because at some point in your career you were a subject matter expert, you might decide to start your own business. And to heck with working for the man, you work for yourself.
Gaea: Or multiple men.
Tara: Or multiple, exactly.
And you consult, you do contracts, but you . . . you, when you empower yourself to be an entrepreneur, you can decide exactly what your business — and I know you’re very familiar with this, Gaea, what your business looks like. And when your day begins. And, who you work with. It’s, it’s very empowering. One of the things when I started…when I left college, it was to work for the man or the men. But now, I think people need to thinking about working for yourself. You know, getting an MBA, understanding business, going into business to figure out what business that you want to start. Get the experience on someone else’s dime, and then launch your own thing. The average age of an entrepreneur, somebody that starts a business, is 40.
Tara: It’s not a Millennial. Everybody says, “Oh, these young people,” you know…
Gaea: Well, it’s those IT guys that everyone’s thinking of.
Tara: Right. But, it’s also . . . the experience goes… years of experience goes a long way because you can rely on that experience in order to know what the pitfalls are. You’ve learned it somewhere else. So, what we see, the most successful businesses that are started are by people that are in their 40s.
Gaea: Interesting. So, that’s a shout-out to everybody who thinks they’re too old . . .
Tara: Yes! You’re never too old . . .
Gaea: . . . to take that leap and to take the risk.
Tara: Nope, nope, nope. Not at all, not at all. My father . . .
Tara: I wrote his business plan for him. He retired at 50 and, at 65, he started his own company.
Gaea: What’s he do?
Tara: Well, he did retail. He opened up his own retail, very successful retail business. Um, he’s no longer with us, but he loved it! He ran it for almost 10 years and it just gave him a lease on life. At 65 he started, and was a success. So, you can never be too old, never be too old.
Gaea: And if you’re bored and retired…
Gaea: . . . that might be what you want to do.
Tara: And then you can choose your own hours. You know, I want to do this and that. I want to work two days a week and I want to have an online store. I want to have a hospitality business where I go off and I talk and deal with hotels, you can create it and it can be done.
We’ll be back after this break to learn how Tara uses collaboration and partnerships to find success.
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In the third part of this Born Leader episode, Tara Palacios outlines how Arlington Economic Development planned and laid the groundwork for the BizLaunch program and its partnerships. And, how preparation has served her well as the program has taken hold and grown. She also shares some advice on keeping your business nimble and ready for inevitable change.
Tara: Since 2002, I’ve seen over 33,000 entrepreneurs. Whether through counseling sessions or workshops or networking events . . . We’ve done things in the past together. If you have a passion around something, you can start a business. And here’s the thing: I say that I don’t just work with people from Arlington. If you knock on our door . . . we’ve had people from California, Boston, Baltimore — we may not know the legal laws in those cities or those communities, however we know enough to help you to find those right people and we won’t turn you away. If you get in our web we’ll try our best to help you succeed. You know, we had . . . we run also a program that’s in Spanish called BizLaunch en Español, and with that program we’ve had people calling us from California, Texas and Oregon saying, “Hey, we are trying to get information. We have no idea, but we want to start. We have the ability to start and the cash.” And so, it’s validating that they were able to Google and find us.
Gaea: Collaboration sounds important . . .
Gaea: . . . because I know the Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has a satellite office here in Arlington.
Tara: Yes, this is theirs — the BizLaunch en Español program.
Gaea: Okay, so you collaborate with them, you’ve worked with other organizations . . .
Gaea: I think Washington Network Group did some things…
Tara: Yes! WNG!
Gaea: And, how important is that to the success of BizLaunch and the work that you’re doing?
Tara: It’s very important. One of the things that I’ve done is . . . I am the only full-time person in the position and I know that I can’t reach as many people if I don’t have partnership. So, one of the first things we did was we reached out to all the resource providers on the federal, state and local levels, as well as NGOs that work with entrepreneurs and said, “Hey, we’re here. We want to create this program where we’re having entrepreneurs and building entrepreneurship and having business.” And so, I started doing . . . and this can be applicable, I think, in any sphere that you’re in — whether it’s an individual in your jobseeking or you want to start a business—we did all this before we actually launched. We put together some really good core pieces and partnerships, so that when we needed to call upon and needed resources, we could do so.
I’ve also partnered with all of the banks. And what I’ve said to the banks — large, small, community-based banks, microlenders — is if we get the person ready . . . You know, where they know how much they need. They know what they’re going to use the proceeds for. They know, will you lend to them. And so, they refer — we get a lot of referrals to banks. And that’s where I relied back on my banking background. I can talk their talk and then be able to educate our clients in a really efficient, effective way so that they can take home what they need in order to do it. Because I deem it a success, if at the end of the day, somebody does not invest in a business that’s not feasible and launchable. We found that if we can get to people in the very beginning, know their strengths and weaknesses . . . Don’t pretend you don’t know what your weaknesses are! This is the time when you look in the mirror and you say, “I don’t know nothing about accounting!”
Right? You say, “I don’t know it, but I’m going to hire me somebody, or I’m going to learn the key fundamentals so that I can run this business.” And so you have to be . . . you have to be self-actualized enough so that you don’t invest in something that doesn’t make sense. And here’s the thing—this is a big thing, everybody—if nobody else is doing it, do not do it!
People come to me and the first thing they say is, “Well, I’ve got this wonderful idea, no one else is doing it. And, they say this to me like this is a good thing. And in the back of my mind, I’m like, “Oh, no. This is not a good thing!”
Gaea: It’s a red flag for you.
Tara: It’s a red flag, because it means that if nobody else is doing it, you’ve got to put a ton of investment into the market. You have to have a lot of cash on hand to create the new market. Think Microsoft, you know, they started in the basement. It’s a great example. They started off very modestly. They didn’t rush right in. And over time they were able to build an empire. And that’s kind of how you have to think about your own investment, and to create a new market takes 30–50 years. And then there’s also a warning flag in that, well if nobody else is doing it, is there an audience? Is there a target market? When you start a business it’s all about the low-hanging fruit. What is the easiest thing that I can get into that’s going to give me the capital return on investment? Or else why do it? Because then we need to create a market, and to create a market is much tougher. You’ve gotta have deep pockets.
Gaea: What do you think are the signals that maybe you should restructure? Maybe you don’t need to shut down, but maybe you should restructure.
Tara: Right. That’s a great question. Um, usually there are warning signs. As part of your initial planning, always have the Plan A, Plan B, Plan C. Plan A is best, best case scenario. You’re kicking butt, you have to turn business away. Plan B, you’re making 20% return on everything that you’ve invested in the company. Plan C is you’re just getting by. So, it takes six months or so for you to see if there’s really a market there, right? And so, after the six months you want to revisit . . . throughout that time you want to have certain thresholds that you’re, you’re seeing if that return on investment is happening. If it’s still in that Plan C mode, you’ve got to really seriously consider, is it the target market? Is it the right audience? Are you offering what the community needs, your community needs, your target market needs? Because you don’t want to wait six months to a year and then change. Because time moves on and you want to be nimble on your feet.
One great example: I love Osiris Hoil with District Taco, because he’s been very methodical about his business development in the . . . from the very beginning. He had been laid off from his job. His wife was nine months pregnant. He had no prospects. His neighbor invested. I think he did an investment of $25,000 into him to get a small cart. And, he tells the story much better than I do . . . but, he got this little tiny cart and was moving around town. And then that one cart went to three carts. That went to five. And then, his ultimate goal . . . most people that have food trucks, their ultimate goal is to become brick and mortar. Then, he got his first location off of Lee Highway. Then he’s looking in DC. Then the carts.
So now, he’s kind of outgrown the carts and he’s got several brick and mortars between DC and Virginia. And, he's employing over 150 people, I believe, at this point. But, he started off with nothing but very modest amount of cash infusion. Built upon it, built upon it, built upon it. You know, grew, grew, grew. Hired the people when, you know, all the indicators were there. He was very methodical about the process. If something didn’t work, he moved on. He didn’t hold on to an idea if it wasn’t launchable.
And so, I think that’s really, really an important bit of advice, is knowing when the warning signs are there, and also having a plan to react to them. Because with some of the larger size companies that you see . . . I think HP, I think some of these big companies that were so big that they couldn’t change fast enough… and that’s how you get . . . you get to a part where the market has changed, and being able to see that, and being able to do something about it.
Gaea: What do you think it is that people forget about? What’s the lesson that you think we always forget about, you know, generally speaking, that we should remember?
Gaea: Hmm . . .
Tara: Planning. We . . . as Americans, we rush in.
Tara: We rush in. I’ve got this idea. Or I want this job. Let me do it. Let me, you know, because we’re a credit-based society. We buy things before we have the cash to do them. We need to kind of change our way of thinking. My biggest advice is if you have an idea, plan it out. Put it on paper. Write it down. Figure out timing, how much it’s going to cost you. Do it on the cheap. You know? Don’t be too cheap, but do it to the point where you’re not just throwing money away.
Gaea: Do it . . . inexpensively.
Tara: Exactly. I like that. Inexpensively. Do it, you now, very, very methodically, inexpensively, but in a way where you’re planning. And, when you plan . . . because, okay, you always hear that entrepreneurs are risk-takers, and you have to not be adverse to risk in order to be a risk-taker. But here’s the thing: they’re risk-takers, but they’re calculated risk-takers and they also have a whole bunch of luck, right? Right? There’s luck that part of it, as well. But they’re also . . . what they do is they take the idea and they air it and flesh it out to a degree and then they launch. But they don’t just jump off a cliff.
Tara: Nobody I know, nowadays, just jumps off a cliff. You know, it’s not, “Maybe I have a backpack on with a parachute, maybe not, but I’m jumping.” Nobody does that that’s successful in starting a business or being an entrepreneur.
In the fourth and final part of this episode, Tara Palacios of Arlington Economic Development talks about some of the leaders she admires, how she engages in continuous learning, and the Golden Rule for doing business.
Gaea: Who are the leaders that you most admire?
Tara: I really like José Andrés with ThinkFoodGroup.
Tara: Jaleo’s. He also does Oyamel, Zatinya. ThinkFoodGroup, they’ve expanded to California. He’s an immigrant, new to this country. And in 15–20 years, he’s done some amazing, amazing things. What’s interesting, recently in the news, he’s stuck by the Old Post Pavilion. They’re renovating and he was going to have a flagship restaurant there, and he said no based on his inner thoughts and philosophies about things, and I really admire that.
One thing that I do is I read all the time. I read international newspapers, national newspapers. I read different thoughts from different people because I want to keep fresh. I feel that . . . and I like to get out of my comfort zone because I feel if I understand where other people are coming from, I can—I know how to best talk to them. And, we don’t have to agree. Like, I don’t judge people. I’m not in judgment. You live your life, you have, you know, your own things. But I really love meeting people, and hearing their philosophy, and hearing what motivates them because it helps me expand. And I get out of my comfort zone of what I like to talk. About and I really enjoy talking to people from different backgrounds. You know somebody I’d really love to meet?
Tara: The Dalai Lama. Oh, my God. Oh, he is just . . . his philosophy . . . He was here in DC and I heard him speak with . . . I think Whoopi Goldberg interviewed him. It was on the Mall of all places.
Gaea: Whoopi Goldberg? I’ll have to look that up.
Tara: Yeah, yeah, and it was quite the thing. I think they do have a transcript of it. And it’s just his philosophy of life.
Gaea: Now, are there any women you would like to meet?
Tara: I would love to meet Michelle Obama. I just think that she is the most amazing woman. She has it all. She’s super smart, she’s got her convictions, she’s . . . I think she should be our next president.
She’s so well rounded and so well educated. She’s on the top of my list. And the one thing I noticed in doing this position is there’s not a lot of women . . .
Tara: . . . that I come across that are in entrepreneurship. They’re there, but I think we need more. There’s been an uptick since the Great Recession, and I think men and women’s roles within our society are evolving and changing. We’ve got stay at home husbands and, you know, women are out there. But, we still have a long way and a long opportunity. And, women just have this great ability to communicate. Not to disparage men out there, but the women entrepreneurs I work with are very self-actualized. And they’re very focused and very driven, and you give them something and they’re off and running. You know, sometimes when you work with men — not all men, but some men — look at you like, “What is this woman going to tell me to help me with my business?” You know? So, there’s still some of that . . . what I was alluding to . . . kind of the glass ceiling things that are out there. But women I admire, there are a number of women entrepreneurs that are breaking through the glass ceilings. I worked with an entrepreneur who just opened up a blow-dry business in Clarendon.
Gaea: Blow-dry like hair?
Tara: Yeah, like you go in and you get styled.
Gaea: The Brazilian blow-out . . . thing?
Tara: Yup-yup, yup-yup, yup-yup, yup-yup!
Tara: So, she opened it. She was in IT for years and said, “I want to be my own person.” And, I admire her for that. And, it was interesting because she was in an event and was telling her story. When she went to get her loan, the bank wanted her husband to co-sign for her.
Gaea: Wait, this is recently?
Gaea: She started the business and the bank wanted. . .
Tara: Within the last year.
Gaea: . . . her husband to co-sign?
Tara: Yes. Even though she . . .
Gaea: I thought we left that back in the 70s or the 80s.
Tara: I thought we did too! And, I was quite shocked to hear that because she had the cash, she had the collateral, she had everything independent. And yet, they still wanted her husband to co-sign. You know, you think you’ve gone like two or three steps ahead, and then no, it’s like five or six steps back. So, collectively, I think there’s more we can do to empower and to get more women out there and at the forefront.
Gaea: I have to give it to her. She was in IT where everyone seemed to be running to IT.
Tara: Yes, and high up in IT. Yeah!
Gaea: And she’s like, I’m going to stop this and I’m going to go do Brazilian blow-out — one of the most classic kinds of businesses to have around beauty.
Gaea: And you know, everyone thinks innovation happens only if you’re in technology or STEM.
Tara: No, no.
Gaea: And they forget that, you know, there’s all kinds of other places to be innovative and to have great businesses.
Tara: That’s exactly it.
Gaea: Before we go, it’s been such a great conversation.
Tara: I’ve enjoyed it.
Gaea: We’ve touched on so many things.
Tara: Oh, wow.
Gaea: Is there one last thing you would like to say?
Tara: I was reflecting on this with all the things that are going on in the United States now. And, you know, you look at race relations, flags. You know, killings and things in our community, and we’re all humans. We’re humans first, we’re all human. And if you treat people with dignity, you will be treated with dignity. And to have compassion and to understand. I want to understand the shoes that you’re in. I might not . . . I want to have empathy and I want to understand, but that helps me as I as an individual grow. And, if we have empathy in our business life and our personal life, and we understand, we just don’t hear words. We like to latch onto words and say, “Well this is my experience.” Walk in someone else’s shoes and really get to know that person before you judge, and it will explain why they are and what they do. And, I think that helps you in business, it helps you in your personal life, it helps you to move far. Because when you have empathy and you’re empathetic to others, then you then know how to treat them accordingly. And, it’s only a win-win. And, that’s how I was able to build what I do. I try to treat everybody the same way, and that’s how I want to be treated. I love people and I treat people nicely. Now, we all have good and bad days, but I try to live my life in a way where I want to be treated well and I want to treat others well. And if we can just remember that, I think you look back, you have no regret.
Gaea: Thank you for leaving us with that note.
Gaea: And thank you for joining us here on Born Leader.
Tara: Thank you for having me!
Gaea: It’s been great.
Tara: I’ve loved it. We’ve got to do this more often!
Gaea: We’ll get you here with a couple of other women and we’ll do this special multi-track thing, it’ll be wild.
Tara: I’d like that. That’s a great idea.
I’m afraid it’s time to wrap up Born Leader today. I want to thank Tara Palacios, Director of BizLaunch at Arlington Economic Development in Virginia, for joining us and talking about being prepared for opportunity, planning a strategy for success, and the responsibilities of leaders.
In the next episode of Born Leader, we’ll speak with investor Babak Hafezi, CEO of Hafezi Capital, whose firm consults at the intersection of key operational functions such as finance, human capital and strategic development. He’ll discuss what U.S. businesses can learn from international markets, how to approach your work with social responsibility, and the importance of mentors in his career.
I’d like to thank Therese Arkenberg who prepares our Born Leader transcripts and provides assistance on the business side of this venture.
And, thank you, for listening. If you want to learn more about Tara Palacios or other guests on the Born Leader podcast, visit HypatianInstitute.com. That’s H-Y-P-A-T-I-A-N institute dot com. Or follow us on Twitter at Hypatian I-N-S-T. Talk to you next time on Born Leader podcast from the Hypatian Institute.