Turning Lemons into Lemonade

Success does not happen without enduring some anxious or embarrassing situations — and learning from them. It’s often not pleasant revisiting those uncomfortable times, but perhaps you can do so and smile a bit. After all, you are alive and well now, so you clearly survived, likely a wiser person than you were. It’s all about turning lemons into lemonade.

I reached out to three very successful executives whom I admire and asked them to share their stories. Let’s have some fun and hear from them.

Katie Harvey, CEO of KGBTexas — “A pivotal point in my business journey began right after I started the company in 1994. I was approached by a large cheerleading supply company and national cheerleading event producer. I knew them through my previous employer. They were kind enough to give me a chance and asked me to fly out to meet with them. I will never forget how nervous I was in booking the trip and during my meeting with them. I knew that I had enough money in my checking account to get me there and back. But I also knew that if I didn’t come back with the business, it was the end of the line. I would be out of money. They believed in me and my company enough to give me a chance. And we had a long and fruitful relationship. I have never forgotten the impact they had on me, my company and my future. Fast forward 20 years. I received a call from my contact at the company. His son was interested in advertising and public relations and wanted to know if he could intern with us. There was nothing more gratifying than being able to open up our doors to him for an internship and then to be able to tell him the story that if it hadn’t been for his father, there might not have been a KGBTexas. Life is full circle. And being able to return the gifts makes the journey very sweet.”

Jeanie Wyatt, CEO and Chief Investment Officer of South Texas Money Management, LTD — “Lemons are my favorite. Forget lemonade, too sweet (fattening). Ha! Lemons are the real gems for business opportunities. Take them and squeeze them for the juicy outcomes. Perhaps a couple of examples would help. Everyone gets lemons. It’s a fact of life. It’s how you handle the lemons that sets you apart. A personal game that I play is finding the silver lining in each. Usually there is one. Recently we lost a prospective account to a competitor (I hate that). Taking the time to research the challenges of the situation provided some valuable insight to help in future competitive positioning. Lemons are great teachers. The toughest teachers were always the best. Remember? Seize the lemons that others are handed. When Hurricane Rita was headed to Houston, a reach out to a client there, offering temporary office sharing for their staff, was long remembered and appreciated. Lemons can range from tiny to huge: delayed flight or an unanticipated illness or death of a family member or friend. Think of them as the signposts that say stop, be grateful, and reach out to others. There is nothing like focusing on others to take the tart sting out of the lemons. Make calls during the delayed flight that you have put off due to busy schedules. Randomly call a sister, mother or friend. My advice.”

Trudy Madan, founder and CEO of Synergyst Research and Discovery Clinical Trials — I first met Trudy when she worked at Humana as a senior executive. She’s a person who knows what she wants and brings a sense of extreme optimism to all of her business endeavors. Trudy has learned what it takes to be successful. She’s also found that her dogmatic attention to details and her determination to get the job done “on time” can be a bit daunting to others. She tells it like it is, oftentimes with unabashed candor. Of course, that is what I appreciate most about her. It is always great fun to watch Trudy in action. She may have ruffled a few feathers along the way, but in the end, Trudy always seems to leave a positive indelible mark on all she touches. Her close friends see the generous and more comfortably confident side to Trudy. What they all admire most, however, is the feistiness and unbridled energy she brings to her relationships. Her perseverance and commitment to excellence have earned her many awards, but more importantly, they have earned her the respect of those who have partnered in building her business. As for future goals, I’m sure she’s already set her sights on ruffling some more feathers! When discussing lemons in our lives, she says, “Lemons are to be cherished. They provide us with wisdom, experience and, most importantly, garnish on a cocktail.”

And finally, a short tale on myself. A few months after moving to San Antonio, I was asked to speak at the annual installation banquet for Women in Mortgage Banking. I went, prepared to deliver my Gloria Steinem-ish “Women Climbing the Professional Ladder” speech. Naturally, I assumed I would be speaking to a roomful of women. Imagine my shock when I entered the room to find more men than women. My “male-bashing-women-rule” speech was totally inappropriate for this audience. Of course, I panicked and went into a state of apoplexy. There was no time to rewrite my speech. My brain literally ceased to function; I couldn’t think! Though to this day the evening still remains a bit of a blur, I do remember that I chose to just be honest, apologizing in advance to the fine men in the audience. I delivered my talk, receiving regaling laughter and applause. The experience was mortifying, but male/female relationships that began that night proved invaluable.

By Linda Elliott

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