Are you leading your sales team effectively? Our guest today is Michele Kajiwara, the SVP of Premium Seating at AEG/ Crytpo.com Arena. Michele’s story starts in retail where she learned that sales is a balance between hubris and humility. Throughout her story, you’ll hear advice like: “Follow your passion.” She’ll uncover the value in those years between jobs and reveal an alternate way to land that coveted position in your target company. She even asks the question that highlights why we do this series: “Who are the other leaders and what can I learn from them?” Prepare to take lots of notes. This fast-paced episode is filled with gems.
Listen to the podcast here:
Against the Sales Odds With Michele Kajiwara Uncover Humility in Leadership
I’m excited about this episode. This is a person I’ve done business with for a long time. I have Michele Kajiwara and she is the Senior Vice President of Premium Seating Sales at STAPLES Center at AEG. I’m excited. Thanks for being on the show.
Thanks. I had to step up my game here for you. I needed something better than a white wall or a blur. I’m in Hawaii, so it goes with part of the theme.
Give the audience an idea of what your role entails because it’s a big role.
It got bigger during the pandemic as well. I oversee all of our premium assets in the STAPLES center at Microsoft Theater. We have 154 private suites, over 2,500 premiere seats, 27 tables and lounges, and 12 theater boxes at Microsoft Theater, where we host a lot of award shows. We also have now the events suites, of which we’ve got sixteen in STAPLES Center in a hide lounge. All of that is rolling into our Premium business and I get to oversee all of that.
We’ve got a large membership base. We’ve got an amazing team of sales, service, BI, and support staff to make sure that this wheel keeps turning and we are doing upwards of 2020. We had an incredible year. We were tapping out at almost $120 million in revenue. This was before we had the events business, so we were in a good place. The pandemic had set us back a little bit, but we’re going to try and make a big comeback here.
For everybody reading and talk to this a little bit because we’ve got people that most of them are pro sports and our audience expands. Name some of the premier events that you manage that Premium experience too and some of the brands that are involved that you mentioned a little bit. Stab a little deeper into that.
We’re one of the only buildings that have two NBA teams in it. That in and of itself is pretty unique. We’ve got the Lakers and the Clippers, the LA Kings hockey team and the Sparks, the WNBA team. Four anchor tenants plus promoters come in with every artist you can imagine to play in the building, then we have the Grammys, which are in our space every year. If you watched 2021’s STAPLES Center, it was a prominent backdrop of the Grammy’s, which was incredible.
We have other award shows like BET, ESPYs, Emmys, People’s Choice, and AMAs. Those circulate more through the Microsoft Theater, but in terms of being at STAPLES Center, you’re looking at the epicenter of a lot of great and marquee moments. If you think back to what happened just before the pandemic, we were having the Grammys and the Kobe news also happened. We were a site for a lot of his fans to honor him, and what a unique way for our campus to celebrate one of the greatest basketball players that we’ve ever been able to see and play in STAPLES Center.
You get moments like that, the LeBrons, the banner hangings, Jersey retirements, and all of that stuff, which is inherent to having that much talent naturally in the building. You can book all these great shows. You got Garth Brooks and Taylor Swift run on top. We are continuing to outdo ourselves. Not just STAPLES Center, but AEG owns Coachella, Stagecoach and the O2. We have a global footprint that also amplifies the best talents, artists, and athletes that you can imagine.
You talked about the monster number that your team manages. Also, how many people do you have reporting up to you because you have a pretty good, critical mass of people that report and handle that, and that’s a big responsibility?
We do, but we don’t because we’re our own little premium island that operates outside of a professional team, which is also unique. We only had about 24 people.
You have some heavy hitters on your team. You need that catchy that you’re running.
I’ve got the best team I could possibly imagine. Right before the pandemic, we were fully staffed. We’re getting back to that as soon as we can. It takes an army to move those kinds of revenue numbers we are going to come back. After the pandemic, we’ll probably be 40 plus, with our combined departments and back-filling in making sure that we’re getting all the headcount back in to do the job.
No doubt. The premise of this, when we’re talking about the pregame, what’s it take to rise to the top of an international company like AEG and at the top of the org chart as it relates to that premium experience, which drives an organization like yours. Let’s go backward because I remember the first time I met you. You were managing a team. It was not a huge team, but it was like LA Galaxy. What was that? That’s when we first met. I was like, “I got somebody here to understand sales,” because you’d knew your numbers. You knew every account I got because I remember talking and I said, “I think she’s buttoned-up here.” Let’s go backward. Where did you get your start in sales? How did you get to this spot? Let’s start with your first job in sales.
Help other people out. Be generous with your time. Think about the greater good.
I love that question because I never get asked, “Where did you start?” Because it wasn’t in sports, I feel like that’s such a great story to tell because I was never like, “I got to go to sports management. I got to get an internship. I got to start inside sales.” I had no idea I was going to be in sports. I had no idea I was even going to be a good seller, but I got a job at Ann Taylor, which is a retail store. Do you know what Ann Taylor is?
I do. I was my mom and my wife’s shopping partner for a lot. I understand.
I’m a young buck, but I am an Ann Taylor selling suits and biz cash. It was at that time the upper echelon. I started selling there, being on the floor and understanding that my commission and bank account were going to be significantly impacted by my hustle. I quickly started working on that floor in my high heels and just owned it.
Where did it start?
On Lake Avenue. There was the Ann Taylor there. I specifically remember Angelica was the number one salesperson. She had all the relationships. I started to sit back and when one of the whales would come in, she would be like, “That’s mine.” I’m like, “What do you mean that’s yours?” That’s why she built a relationship. She earned the trust. She goes to her little book, “What are we looking at today? We want some plaids. We want some Perry Winkle. We want some whatever.” She had all the information on this person. They were loyal to her. I’m like, “Loyalty.”
Correct me if I’m wrong. You’re a businesswoman. You’re going to go to Ann Taylor because it’s timeless. It’s going to carry you 3 or 4 years because it’s that timeless kind of look. That’s your go-to, right?
That was where I started understanding that you got to hustle, clean the dressing rooms, good at everything, be great on the register and be amazing at developing relationships. Quickly building trust, establishing like you’re going to be the person, “Can I put you in the book? Can I get a referral? How can I follow up with you? I’m going to send you a letter.” All of the things that back in the day were so perfunctory, were for me, totally eye-opening and are still the core of what you need to be a good salesperson is you got to be good in a lot of stuff. Be quick on the register. You got to be good at CRM, develop relationships, be at service, and create some hospitality. You got to be able to sell, upsell and get a referral. All those things are still so practical, but I only realized that now looking back.
You’re so dead-on. It’s wanting to do those things. I don’t know if you sense this from college, just a little bit competitive. You went right to Angelica and I’ve never heard this story from you. How competitive were you with Angelica?
If there was a movement in that store, I’m running, but I’m fast-walking to not make it look like I’m trying to beat you to them. I am like walking fast in my heels to, “How are you? Is there anything you’re looking for in particular?” I can go back to that person on the floor like this and Angelica was like, “Okay.” One of the guys I work with, Nick, says this all the time, “Game recognizes game.”
It’s like a shark recognizes a shark. That’s just how it goes.
She was like, “Who’s this?” She took me under her wing and like, “This is how you build a profile. This is how you do it. Start building your own book.” She was amazing. I didn’t think about this as I could have a future in selling. All I knew was that I loved it. I’m sweating thinking about it because I was that competitive of like, “I’ve got to beat everybody. I got to get to that client.” I’ve got to respectfully and professionally make this all seem very organic like, “I’m here to help.” I’ll beat it if I’m starting to get annoying, but I’ll be right there when you need something to go in the fitting room.
It’s still that hustle and that’s what you’ve always expected from your salespeople. You’re not much on the crap and I always took from you like, “I don’t believe my own crap, so I’m not going to believe your crap. Go out and get it done. Figure it out.” I always have taken that as the culture you built. How long did you do that?
I was doing that off and on throughout college. I was taking a full course load at college and I was always commuting back to Ann Taylor. I’m working at least 20 or 30 hours a week because I loved being the master of my own destiny and generating my own revenue, which was the freedom to make some choices and do some things that otherwise don’t happen if you can’t control that.
It’s a gift being able to earn. Some people wait for a paycheck, some people earn, and it’s so important. I love that.
I’ll go back to one more thing quick with Angelica and what I’ve learned from that as well. When you expect that hustle and competitiveness from your team, that’s great, but you also have to be able to gracefully understand when that’s not your lead or your sale. The way that Angelica was with me and I think we are as a culture is you can go after somebody, but at the point, you realize that that’s not yours or you need to call in for help, be gracious, “I’ve been working with somebody else amazing. Can I go get them for you? I’ll start the room.”
Help other people out. Be generous with your time and not be so sharky out there. Think about the collective, the greater good, and how you stepping aside and not making it about if somebody asks you on the floor, “You work off commission? You’ve lost.” Now you’re just out there for their money. You have to do it in a way that is helpful that someone is there as a resource, not as someone who’s stretching you.
There’s the right way to do stuff. It can’t be the cutthroat and salespeople get such a bad knack for that anyway.
Don’t be so salesy that you can’t put aside good human behavior.
Was the transition there? You get through college. You’re there 4 or 5 years or longer. What’s the next move for you?
After college, I took some time off and went to go live in Tahoe. I did a ski season there, waitress, also very applicable skills to sales and service.
You try your destiny with money.
Being in the service industry and waiting tables is an invaluable lesson in human dynamics. I highly recommend it to anybody.
The best hires I ever made are servers. My mom served her whole life. She finished off at Red Lobster, bottom line and she’s a hard working lady. I’ve worked at seven different restaurants. If you can deal with serving in the stress that goes into it and the kind of service you have to get, knowing that the experience you give them controls your destiny, they are the best salespeople you’d ever hire. Who cares if they have a degree? I don’t even care if they have a degree.
That’s life skills. Being a server is a straight-up life skill. I am glad that I was able to do waited tables. I love that analogy how you brought that to life with having that be applicable to your sales journey in pro sports or anywhere. I waited tables and did a ski season in Tahoe and then I moved to Hawaii. I did a stint at Planet Hollywood and CPK. I needed to do two jobs and in my spare time, I was jumping in the water, playing tennis and, goofing off, but I got a lot of that lost out of my system, which if you know me, you know that exists and this insatiable appetite for getting out there and seeing what the world has to offer. I wasn’t thinking about my career at all, but that was the best thing for me.
I took a year off. After that, I came back to California. I started working in entertainment and that’s an LA thing to do. It’s great. I worked for a huge production company. I got some different skillsets there that also set me up for working in sports where the pace is outrageous and the demands are incredible. Everything was urgent, things changed at the drop of a dime and I was working as an executive assistant for somebody who put me to the test in terms of what I could fathom. It was my ultimate bandwidth and the tipping point of, “How much can you work? How much can you do? How many resources can you call up to do this job that you have no idea about?” I was asked to do a lot of different things in that role.
Anytime I’ve ever hired one, I want that person to be the best thinker in the business. They got to anticipate every one of my motives.
That is key, the anticipation.
I brought an A-player back into my business. I brought her in as our director of executive operations and she’s my EA. Her job is to manage in plug-in with me every day and anticipate everything. I fought hard before I brought somebody in because my last person was like that. I said, “I got to replace that.” That’s a great learning ground. It’s humbling, too, because you get a lot of stuff passed off to you. You got to deal with your EQ.
How do you deal with that when you’re in a role where you’ve got to go get somebody coffee, go run something in the mailroom, do faxes, print scripts, and do weekend drop-offs? Those are very humbling experiences. If you take it like, “I’m a second-class citizen in this company,” and you go like, “I’m on it. What else do you need? What else can I do?” You then become super invaluable and you take all the air out of that being something that’s subservient or less than you like, “I’m not beneath any of that stuff now.” You’re hitting on something that’s important. It’s this lesson in humility.
I don’t want to ever act like I’m better than or can’t do any of the things that I’m asking anybody else on my team to do. That’s grounding. I want that to resonate with everybody I meet because in your job and life, at any moment. You can be humble like this. How do you handle that? If you are able, it’s a lot harder to take.
Be real. You’ve got to learn how to say what you need to say.
It ties back to you serving too. It’s incredibly humbling because you get some people who are just jackasses, but that’s life at some levels. I didn’t even realize we had that in common as long as I know because I literally spent the first 6 or 7 years of my life. I always had cash too. I always had money. I’ve served from Denny’s to fine dining and family restaurants. It’s all hustle. It’s like, “How can you turn that table? For a longer restaurant, how long do you have to serve that table?” Meaning it’s more classic dining.
How much can your personality serve their experience and make it that much more enjoyable for the family, the grandma, or whoever? You’ve got to change up your cadence constantly. It could be impactful to your tip if you take action or you did something extra, “You pay for all those fries. Let’s get you another round. Let’s get you another beer.” If you are on it, doubled without them even knowing it.
That salespeople ever. I didn’t even realize we had that in common. What’s that next move? I know one part of your career ended up in New York.
After working in entertainment, I went to New York. I channeled my sales there and I had an amazing time.
Tell everybody where you went to New York there.
I went to Shubert Theatre, which was also a foray into a sports complex.
Your route to where you are, you didn’t get the underwater basket weaving Sports Management degree. You’re off in a whole different direction here.
This is the thread that runs through the entire story of how I get anywhere. I have always followed my heart what is in that moment, the most important thing to me. The career and jobs that I had, in retrospect, all served me very well, but not by design. It’s because I was doing things that I love and I wanted to experience and live in places. That was the driver. It was not my job. I wanted to go live in New York. I had no idea what I was going to do.
You lived in New York, tailored to New York, where I haven’t lived anywhere. That’s something I say in New York.
Think about how New York is important to how I am as a salesperson and that no crap. In New York, you’ve got to learn how to cut to the chase, say what you need to say, get out, be real, crap and that was such a great defining characteristic for me as a woman coming back to Los Angeles, having that edge and then getting into a sales pit when your mentality is a boiler room and LA is a little bit more chill that gave me a little bit of an edge to come back and assert myself in a way that was different. Not just because of the way I look, but the nature and the way that I sold.
That’s another thing I want to bring up in a second. It’s important because I’ve done a lot of critical interviews, especially around diversity. Number one, my organization is almost all women. I watch how women are treated and it blows me away. You’re a person who has risen up through the ranks. Not only do you have to play the political game that everybody has to play as a woman and from a diverse background, but you’ve also got to play a whole other game. There are two games going on there. I don’t think a lot of people realize that. As a middle-aged White guy it’s easy for me to say, “I get it,” but I don’t get it. I want to go back to Chelsea Piers and that’s where we have Pat Murphy in common. You’re at Chelsea Piers are doing what and how long?
I started in public relations and I did that for one year. That was hosting a lot of different events on the campus and making sure that we were marketing and doing all the things around creating some brand awareness. I started doing that and then I went to the owner role in bets. I remember not even thinking about like, “I should go to my boss first or I should professionally hit some other markers?”
He was awesome and we had a great relationship. I was able to go to Roland and said, “What else is coming to the campus that you think I might be good for because I’m tapped out over here and I want the next challenge?” He’s like, “We’re building some events spaces too. One is the Lighthouse. The other is Pier 60.” Abigail Kirsch, who came in, is a very well-known caterer and events company in New York. Why don’t you go interview them? I got the job. Literally, I started by just getting a phone book and started calling people on a phone book. We barely had CRM. I learned how to build a BEO and start selling events, and I loved it.
I started selling big events for Chelsea Piers. I met incredible people at weddings, bar mitzvahs, trade shows, premieres, Gallas. You name it, I was booking it. Anything from a $60,000 happy hour for a Wall Street firm in one of the small rooms to a $250,000 wedding because it was $250 per person plus 200 guests minimum. I was selling Chateau Briana, doing tastings, lighting and linens. That was super fun because that keyed in on things that I enjoy doing, which we’re planning events, creating experiences, developing relationships, and getting to know people at the end of the day.
You were an event planner disguised a salesperson at the end of the day.
I was a salesperson first and I also had to service it.
For everybody reading, number one, Chelsea Piers is a marquee area, but it’s not like there are 1,000 of those. There are 1,000 marquee areas in New York. You’re slinging hard. You’re going up against a lot. On top of that, if you’ve ever sold in New York, there’s not a lot of niceties. That’s like negotiation. You’re grinding into it right away and you’re right into the flames that way.
That job helped me get ready for nighttime. I had to sell during the day and then I had to be onsite at night. That set me up to work at a STAPLES Center because you work all day, do events at night, come back the next day, and do it all over again. I was doing eight wedding appointments back to back for eight hours straight on a Saturday, walking people through our space and the terrazzo flooring and then Monday, I’m back. Between working in entertainment and events atmosphere, I started to develop this stamina for being able to run around a venue in high heels, sell my face off and then work an event. I put on the service smile and make sure that you’re getting around it, seeing everybody that was nailing the experience.
Are you there for a couple of years?
I was there for four years.
To feedback, you now have the service mindset. You have practical experience selling one-on-one, smaller ticket items to suit all of a sudden big investments. It’s a B2C sale at Chelsea Piers and a B2B sale because you’re swinging both. On top of that, you’re executing or making sure it’s being executed. Whatever your sell, your signature is on it. I understand why you’re so particular about certain things being done a certain way. Now I get it. In a good way, Michele sees the way they shouldn’t be done the right way because I didn’t know your background from there.
There’s a lot of layers because I also started at STAPLES Center as a service manager. I started on the service side at STAPLES Center.
Is that for Chelsea Piers?
After Chelsea Piers, I came back to California. I took a year off between New York and coming back to California. I did some traveling and some backpacking. People are like, “Why do you put that on your resume?” It’s because I don’t believe in gap years. I believe that gap year, like what we’re in, this pandemic, it’s not a gap year. These are incredible opportunities for growth, developing your personal best, and exploration in an environment that isn’t just being served up to you in a normal way.
I took a gap year between New York and LA. I backpack through Southeast Asia and South America. I tell my team this all the time, but those lessons and being able to get out of your comfort zone, be resourceful and when you strip away all the things that you’re used to, language, currency, time, food, all of those things are different, how do you respond?
Also, that time of being alone and backpacking by myself set me up for something like a pandemic when you do have to go back into isolation on some level. It didn’t bother me that I had to go from being in an 18,000 person arena to being at home and not seeing anybody. It was an easier transition than I would have expected, but I call up my past experiences and I go, “I’m okay being alone.”
The other interesting thing about your story is that I don’t think you felt compelled to race. I feel you’ve been compelled to go at your pace. This is your third track into, “Let me just take some time off here, rethink, rediscover and decide what we’re going to do again.” You went hard a couple of times and you chilled. You get back to STAPLES Center. This is when you’re entering the AEG world. You get hired as a service manager of what? Is it of the Premium experience or what is it?
The job that was available to me was to be a service account manager and it was in Premium. I had no idea what any of that meant at the time, but it seems all right. I liked the industry and people. I’ve already identified that I like selling, so I came in wanting sales. That wasn’t available, but I knew how to service. I took the job and worked as hard as possible to develop as many relationships as possible, which I still have now. That’s such a great testament to playing the long game in this and not just being in it for some short-term rewards. This is a long-term relationship and it isn’t about what somebody could do for me is being short-sighted.
I started in service. I did that for one year. I say this to a lot of people, “If the perfect job isn’t there for you, get into the company that you’re in and navigate inside, not from the outside.” You can learn a thing or two by just being in whatever role you’re in. I talk to a lot of people and understand what the big picture is. You might not even want the job you thought you wanted. Get in and do a good job. When a sales role opened up, I transitioned into sales. I absolutely loved it.
Humility is very important. As a leader, you don’t have all the answers. You’re still a work in progress.
Were you selling Premium?
I was selling Premium and event suites. At that time, that was all part of the department. It was events suites, Premiere seats and suites.
We won’t get into how many years it was or with time, but now you’ve got Ann Taylor, serving, working a hustle at Chelsea Piers, selling big-ticket items, then back to a service role. You enter into hardcore selling. You’re in it. How’s this next run going for you? Do you move fast people? Do you find a competitive cause again? Is there another Angelica that you target?
There are different Angelicas everywhere. I’m surrounded by Angelica’s now. I’m like, “They’re all selling against me.” They’re not as nice as Angelica. I had a target on the back of my head and my chest. Everybody was gunning for whatever inventory was out there. I was largely just selling in a pit of dudes. I Think about 2004. I started in 2003. In 2004, I was selling in Premium and all of these things are relatively still new.
I want everybody to know from a diversity standpoint, how many women are there?
There was me and in fairness, there was one other woman, Crystal Thomas, at that time. I was like, “I couldn’t even believe there was another woman that I was selling with.” She was just as competitive as I was. We pushed each other to get better. I remember there was one night that we were there until 10:00 or 11:00 just trying to sell out the Grammys. Everybody had left, including my boss and we’re like, “We have got to sell this thing out. It’s you, me and this phone. Let’s go.”
We got hardwired in with our little speaker headset thing and it was go-time. I loved everything about selling in that period, selling against guys and constantly having many challenges every day, “Who’s going to sell it Depeche mode? Who’s going to sell out the Grammys? Are we going to sell these next ten Lakers games in a row? Who had the most revenue?” It was always looking at the numbers. The dry erase board, the chalk, or whatever. It’s like, “Where am I on the board? Who’s beating me because I’m coming for you?”
For everybody to understand, if you don’t know a lot about AEG, you’re talking about some strong business people that come out of AEG. Let me tell you something, and I say this as a cultural thing. AEG is not for the weak of the heart. If you’re going to sell there, it is. There are all kinds of cultures. My small company is very much like AEG. There’s not a lot of excuses like you get it done or you don’t. It’s not so hardcore that you don’t want to be there, but if that’s not in your blood, that’s not going to be good. I think of Todd Klein, Todd Baker, Shervin, Mr. Lee Wiki. You got to know what you’re into. I’m not trying to overplay it. Am I on that a little bit?
I am going to correct you. It’s Nick Baker and Todd Goldstein.
They are absolute assassins when it comes to who I was looking up to in the sales culture. It was them. There is no lower bar in terms of, “You might have hit the goal, but the goal just moved. You might be great today, but what are you going to do tomorrow?” These are hard lessons when you’re in it, but super invaluable once you go through it and you realize, actually, that’s what’s setting me up to be the best possible iteration. I could have done a little bit more. As good as you think you are, there’s always a little bit more that you could have given to that or done. That is certainly a philosophy that I have carried through. I’m grateful that I do have that. That’s such a by-product of being in AEG and being committed to excellence and nothing less.
That’s what it is. That’s not, “Let’s celebrate now. Let’s move.” That’s business-wise.
That celebration piece is important.
Let’s start turning a little bit. This is a loaded question. Where’s your next promotion and next deal? How do you start to develop your leadership philosophy? I don’t love cliches. I want to know your leadership philosophy. Talk about those next couple moves inside AEG, and then how has that leadership strategy philosophy you start to develop?
The moves came with now that I’ve hunkered down and I knew I was going to be in LA. I knew I wanted to be with this company and I love selling. What’s next? Do you want to lead? You want to be somebody that could help change the culture. From sales, I was a manager, a director, and then I went to the Home Depot Center.
That’s where we first met.
That’s when I was overseeing sales service and ticketing there.
Was that the first big role where you’re starting to come across some things?
That’s right because I was managing our sales team. I was started to manage my colleagues. I got a director position, but it wasn’t until I moved to the Home Depot Center that I got service under me and ticketing under me. That was important to see and be able to manage the different functions and verticals under Premium. Also, it was a change of leadership as well. I was able to get into a different dynamic and sell something that wasn’t part of the mothership, STAPLES Center. People were like, “What are you doing? Why are you going to this other venue when you’ve made it at STAPLES Center? The revenue and cachet are there. What are you doing?” David Beckham had gotten signed and then decided to go play for AC Milan, which wasn’t the dream.
I got in at Home Depot and I was able to learn so much in a vacuum and got an incredible amount of liberties because it was a different and smaller venue. I got a lot of my leadership chops there. I was in the trenches with my team because we had a lot of challenges with David Beckham leaving in his first year and not playing. Pivots, refunds, and all of those things that have now come back through in a pandemic. How are you managing that when people aren’t getting what they expected they were going to get?
I love how you said it and that makes so much sense to me. You left the mothership, you said it twice, and then you’re able to put your own signature on some things. You’re not under a microscope. Not that that’s bad, but you now have it all. What starts evolving from your leadership? How do you start that? What do you do differently? What’s the do-over?
We touched on it before, but it is this humility like, “Who are you to not think that you can’t take another opportunity away from this thing and how are you defining who you are as a leader and a person, by STAPLES Center or by what you bring to the table?” Those are a lot of the early lessons that I learned. From Home Depot Center, I came back to staple center and then continued developing. I am constantly a work in progress. To think that all of the answers are short of the truth, I’m not there. I don’t have all the answers.
Is that more because you’re not satisfied? There’s another mountain or is that just you don’t have the answers? It’s more of like that perfect Michele that you see in your head or is that just because you’re always a work in progress?
I have always wanted to be a work in progress. The minute that you think that you’ve developed mastery on something that you can plateau, I don’t know that you ever or anyone ever, I know that there are high levels of accomplishment and getting to a place of, “I get it.” I get it, but I know that I’m always a work in progress. I know there’s always more. Just by experience, like in 2020, I could have said, “Yeah. I feel like I’m at the top of my game,” and then a pandemic hits then you’re like, “What do I do now? I didn’t see that coming.” Only by experience can you continue to grow, develop and nurture the things that you want to double down on and that you want to continue improving. That way, I’m always learning, curious, and trying to figure out like, “Who are the other good leaders out there? What can I learn from them?”
When you are getting managed as a salesperson, think about your manager and you are a salesperson. What would piss your manager off about you when they were managing you as a salesperson?
When I was younger, I thought that humility piece we talked about might not have always be in front and center. Remember, my career was never the most important thing to me. That was me being able to move to New York, to go to Hawaii, and work in entertainment or whatever that was. I remember there was a time in New York that I was doing calls. I had my own little office. I had my feet up on the counter. I was making long-distance calls to California. My boss walked in with her boss and his boss. My feet are up and I am just shooting the crap like I’m on my lunch break, but I’m on the clock.
I was like, “Sorry.” There are other times where I’m in my production company and I’m working at the front desk. I didn’t start as an executive assistant. I was a receptionist. I do crossword puzzles, paint my nails, and Tom Cruise, whoever’s walking through the front door. I’m like, “What’s up?” I didn’t know that optically, that’s not total proof that you are a job killer. I’m just like, “Oh my God, Tom.” Dumb stuff, but the audacity like, “Who do you think you are, kid?” Even at STAPLES Center, we’ve got to always check ourselves. When you’re younger, you’re not always thinking that way like, “I can handle this,” but that third glass of wine, you can’t handle yourself.
You don’t need that and you shouldn’t be in the building thinking that in the position that you’re in, that’s acceptable under any circumstance. I wasn’t doing that to be a cocky asshole. I had more hubris at that time because I wasn’t aware of optics. I wasn’t self-aware enough to know my own limitations. I do now and that is such an important part of checking in with where you’re at. The rules always apply, more than never above or beyond the rules. It will come for everybody if you don’t watch out.
I’ve got two more questions about your leadership. What are the biggest 2 or 3 reasons beyond you executing that you’ve been promoted every single time? To everybody reading, she’s a Senior Vice President of a major and a very male-dominated company. Other than flat-out executing, what are two reasons you get you’ve got promoted and moved? What do you think it is?
There are times when you can outsurvive people. Sometimes, you’re the last person standing and you have earned enough equity within the company to allow somebody to take a chance on you and not feel like it’s a complete high-risk situation. I do believe there’s a little bit of that. I think a lot of people are quick to leave if they don’t get the promotion, the money and when things get tough. That’s all perfectly fine. Everybody has got to do what they’ve got to do. I’m sure that I’ve had the good fortune of being able to stay in this same company, in the same department of Premium, for many years. That’s a lot to do with, “Build your equity and brand,” but also sometimes it means you’ve outlived a lot of other people.
Your brand is so good at pro sport. The arena we’re talking about is is in the middle of freaking nowhere. This is this sitting on the stage. This is the stage.
It’s pretty impressive to think about.
I’ve been fortunate enough the times to coach your salespeople. I don’t have to do the basics with your salespeople. We’re doing level 2 or 3, usually. We’re not doing, “I got to teach these folks to tie their shoes. It’s never that.” They are prepped and ready to go. I know of anybody that I can ask this question. You’re a diverse candidate. You’re a woman trying to break it up to men like, “Let’s go off?” Michele unplugged everything you wanted to say. What’s that no-crap advice to that person that is struggling to come up that has to play two games. They have to play a political game. They have to play a game because they look different, sound different, or whatever it is. What is it for you? What would you say?
For me, it’s always to be your most authentic self and show up as who you are. I had the greatest compliment paid to me when I was a salesperson at STAPLES Center. Somebody said, “I never know who you’re on the phone with. I don’t know if you’re talking to a prospect. I don’t know if you’re talking to a CEO, admin, your mom, your friend, boss, or you treat everybody. The way that you show up to conversations and relationships is the same.” It has a lot to do with consistency. The only way that you can be consistent is if you’re authentic. It’s too hard to try to play the game of, “Who do I have to be for this person? What do I have to do in this scenario?”
Just to be your most authentic self and show up just as you are.
If that means that I skew more towards not acting like a Japanese woman, maybe? Also, if that’s just who I am and that’s the way that like, “Listen to the story I told.” That’s why I’m showing up the way that I am. I don’t know any other way. That has served me well. It’s also something that I mentioned before. Follow your passions. Don’t follow what you think the prescribed road is.
If you’re doing things that you love, you’ll naturally be great at it. You’ll naturally be exercising all of the things that are in your best self. When you are in your best self doing things that you love, it’s going to attract other people to you. Your journey shouldn’t be one that you’re constantly looking at like, “Who’s doing a startup and flipping their company and making millions? I got to dip my toe in that because that’s where the money’s at.”
Chasing money, titles, and these other things like that are not fulfilling. I don’t even know if you’re going to be good at it. Do things that you love, be authentic as you possibly can, and you will probably manifest the greatest success story of your life. It’s your life. It’s not somebody else’s. Live it the way that you can, and you will. Taking a gap year and putting that I was a waitress for one year on my resume might not be what people think is the dream candidate. For me, “If I could talk through why that benefits me and how it could benefit you, Mr. Interviewer, I think there’s something to that.”
I love that answer because I will attest that I have not talked to Kaj and probably exchanged some texts and stuff we got on. We were just together at a restaurant in LA, and it’s been wild going a couple of years. I will also say this for anybody reading. When she says authentic self, she will debate you. She will tell you she doesn’t agree with you. She’s not afraid to give her answers.
I can remember our first time. I’m like, “Why?” She’s the only person in the room arguing with me, “I’m getting paid a lot of money to be there.” We debate it out, but that’s her authentic self. The last two questions and we bring this bird down the landing. You sell a pretty complex deal. What’s your outlook for sales in the future as a leader, as a strategist, as having salespeople? What do you think?
There’s going to be a lot of technology, analytics, and automated processes because we’ve gotten so virtual. That’s the progressive answer, but part of me also wants to go back to the root of what selling is. What we talked about in the beginning is getting back to connecting with people. We are starved for the interaction of having not been able to gather, do an in-person, be in an office, and talk shop at the water cooler. We’ll never take that for granted again.
I hope we don’t, all those little nuances of connectivity and synopsis that you have in an environment where you are firing and that energy is producing more energy. It’s atomic. I miss that. I feel like, to a certain degree, our prospects miss that. You can’t replace live sports with a video game. You can’t replace live entertainment with a video on your TV. There is nothing in the world like being there and feeling the electricity in an 18,000 to 20,000 person packed arena, getting beer spilled on you, sweating, dancing, cheering, and losing your mind, like you are hitting every imaginable sense.
You’re seeing, smelling, and feeling all of it. I want to say some progressive answers about buying suites, crypto and doing all kinds of cool stuff, probably going to get there. I also feel like we’ve got to get back to the root of what it is we love. Why we do any of it, and why that live experience is important to not just a company, but a person into a family and to the way that represents something in our life and culture at large globally. I get fired up about that.
It’s such a great interview. I ask this to everybody. If you have a sales song that you play in your head, what’s your sales song?
Eye Of The Tiger.
The book you gift the most besides mine?
I haven’t gifted it, but I recommend it a lot as just one of my all-time favorites. It’s The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. I’m not super dialed into her objectivism and overarching viewpoint on life. I love that one of the characters in her book is a female, bad-ass heroine. I’m talking about having a strong female figure, tons of adversity, the triumph of the human spirit, and navigating, surviving, and thriving. I loved everything about her books.
I’ve only said this to maybe three people. We’re doing part two on this. There’s no doubt because I think there are about ten things we have not conquered. I want to do a whole thing on the human thing. It’s a great story. I can’t wait to get this out. I appreciate everybody reading. Thanks for being on.
Thanks for having me.
Thanks so much.