Jennifer Pinck – Founder & President, Pinck & Co.

Jennifer Pinck is founder and president of Pinck & Co., Inc., 98 Magazine Street, Boston, and Pinck-co.com.

Jennifer Pinck was one of the first women to break into the construction industry, working in the building trades in the late 1970s and as a construction superintendent for a major Boston construction firm in the 80s. She earned an MBA from Simmons Graduate School of Management in 1986, the same year she received an ABC Boston Building License – becoming the first woman in Massachusetts to do so. Jennifer was among the few women in leadership positions for the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority’s Boston Harbor Project, a $4 billion court-ordered sewage treatment plant, and the Big Dig, two of the country’s largest, most complex, and heavily scrutinized public works projects.

In 1998 she founded Pinck & Co., Inc., an independently-owned building industry consultant providing comprehensive project management services to owners and developers. The firm primarily focuses on providing multi-family housing, education, and health care clients with planning, design coordination, project management, and comprehensive real estate development consulting services during all phases of capital projects.

Pinck & Co. has grown every year for the past 20 years, has managed more than $5 billion in construction value, and has won numerous awards, including being named one of the fastest-growing private companies by Inc. Magazine, earning a place on the Inc. 5000 list for 2016 and 2017. Since 2013, Pinck & Co. has also been recognized as one of the fastest-growing inner city businesses, a distinction given by the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC). For the second year in a row, Pinck & Co. was named to the ICIC Inner City Hall of Fame, which honors firms that have received the award, five times or more.

Tell me about your early career.
I worked in the building trades as a commercial painter during the late 1970s when there were no other women in the industry, as far as I knew. It was a strange and hostile environment, and at times, I was totally ostracized. During that difficult time, I knew I had to prove myself, so I grew “thick skin and round shoulders,” stayed focused, and was persistent. I used my time in the trades to learn not just about how buildings happen, but also how to survive a hostile environment and harsh conditions.

I discovered I really liked the environment of a construction site and working with the tradesmen. My persistence paid off. I was recruited by a major Boston construction firm as a field engineer and was later promoted to construction superintendent in 1986 – a first for that firm.

In the 90s, I worked on two of the country’s largest, most complex, and heavily scrutinized public works projects. I was construction manager for the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority’s Boston Harbor Project, a $4 billion court-ordered sewage treatment plant. Then, as mitigation manager for Boston’s Big Dig, I directed staff responsible for designing, implementing, and monitoring programs to help reduce construction impacts on the city’s neighborhoods. I was among the few women leaders who had oversight for meeting important project milestones.

How did the concept for Pinck & Co. come about?
In 1998, I saw a growing need to provide owners and developers with project management oversight for their development projects. I knew of many executive directors and others in leadership positions who were busy running their organizations and did not have the time or expertise to manage their projects. I was in a unique position to offer clients a broad perspective from the building trades to the board room, a diverse skill set, and what I refer to as “twice-in-a-lifetime experiences” – working on two major public works projects. I had gained deep knowledge about the complexities of design and construction, as well as a wealth of management insight.

I wanted the focus of my firm to be mission-driven – to provide exceptional, client-focused services and to build better communities. We started out working primarily on affordable and senior housing projects, and over the years, diversified our portfolio to include the educational, health care, and institutional sectors. We’ve also expanded geographically. While most of our business is throughout Greater Boston, we are working on projects in Western Massachusetts and Connecticut.

How was the first year in business?
It was exciting! I knew I had identified a niche in the industry. I had a lot of contacts throughout the region and continued to get involved in the community and build my network. I already knew many business leaders, public officials, and neighborhood activists who were happy to be references and make connections on my behalf. They knew I was mission-driven and that I supported their vision for building better communities. It took off from there.

What was your marketing strategy?
My marketing strategy was me – I started out on my own, networked constantly, and focused on building relationships. Many of those relationships are still going strong. Most of our business has been through word of mouth and repeat clients.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Very quickly – we doubled our business every year for the first three or four years. Pinck & Co. has grown every year for the past 20 years, even during the recession.

I started out with a small staff and have built my team over the years. I hire staff with great attitudes and diverse credentials including architects, engineers, construction managers, and financial development specialists who use their expertise to oversee a wide range of projects.

How do you define success?
Being happy. Enjoying your life and enjoying what you do. I look forward to going into the office and I enjoy and appreciate my staff. We work hard and we also have fun.

I’m proud that I can drive through Greater Boston and point to many landmark buildings in which my company has played a key role in bringing to fruition. After 40 years in the business, it’s exciting to count the tangible achievements but it’s more exciting to know that our efforts have had a positive impact on the people and the communities behind each project. It’s important for me and my team to also work with nonprofits and small start-ups with great ambitions.

What is the key to success?
A mastery of skills and attitude.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Count on yourself – it’s up to you.

What are some quotes that you live by?
1. Worry doesn’t solve problems.
2. Work hard, play hard.
3. Embrace change.

What are some of your favorite books?
The Path between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914 and The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge by David McCullough. Also, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert Caro.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
Not being selected by my alma mater to be their project manager for an upcoming project.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I hate to fail and I’m good in a crisis.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Get involved in the community and build relationships. Think big and keep your eyes on the details.

Kyle Kane – Founding Principal & CEO, 180 South Group

Kyle Kane is a founding principal and CEO of 180 South Group, overseeing the multimodal marketing and production efforts, as well as client relations amongst the world’s premier artists and brands. Kyle has budgeted, coordinated, and executed strategic branding and positioning campaigns for clients such as Universal Music Group, Capitol Records, Samsung, Piaget, Montblanc, and others. Kyle is a highly motivated, personable, cooperative team player, experienced across all facets of business and entertainment. His enthusiasm for learning and development exemplifies the core values of the 180 South management team, and his ability to benchmark and multitask in fast-paced environments is proving instrumental to the rapid growth of 180 South. Kyle has most recently won the SmartCEO Award for Outstanding Corporate Culture.

Kyle spent four years at the Academy for Business and Computer Technology, followed by undergraduate studies at the University of Maryland – College Park where he cultivated his own major focused on marketing and consumer psychology, with a minor in ethnomusicology. In conjunction with New York University and the Institute of Audio Research, Kyle also completed courses for Auditory Excellence, focusing on musical engineering and arrangement. He has over twelve years of experience in musical performance, and ten years of progressive experience management and leadership positions.

Kyle’s passion for the entertainment business led him to engage with TVT Records, which was the largest independent record label in the world at the time. Working alongside VP, Les Dixon, and CEO, Steve Gottlieb, Kyle learned the inner workings of the industry through day to day operations, including the deliverance of market research to key decision makers, communication of weekly team meetings regarding BDS, Media Base, and Nielsen reports, and assisting projects totaling over 30 million units, grossing roughly $400 million.

Capitalizing off of the knowledge acquired through the experience working side by side with entertainment executives, Kyle decided to embrace his own entrepreneurial spirit by incorporating an independent label with cousin and co-CEO George Metaxotos. Kyle performed on a 21-city international tour, opening for artists such as Pink, Shakira, The Roots, Jadakiss, and Common for crowds of 1,200 to 12,000 people, building a catalogue of original music with producers such as Swizz Beats, D/R Period, Scott Storch, and Max Martin. Upon culmination of the tour, George passed away at the age of 23 years old, due to an advanced stage of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Kyle started a 501(c)3 non-profit organization called A Better Way Foundation, and in one summer, single-handedly raised $25,000 for cancer research. Without George fueling his passion for live performance, Kyle’s career would soon be in for quite a “180.”

Kyle’s first major label position was secured through Universal Music Group. Working with Jay Brown under Sylvia Rhone’s team, Kyle effectively forecasted sales throughout international territories and executed Radio One and ClearChannel programs for upcoming Universal projects. This experience awarded Kyle the assignment of traveling the world in search of new avenues to reach consumers with music and entertainment, specifically through Europe, Asia, South America, the Caribbean, and the Middle East. Kyle was able to assess sales trends to increase revenue potential and reduce the risk on international investments.

Upon returning to the US, Kyle and partner Adam Sussman formed Sussman-Kane, LLC, which maintains an extensive network of business and entertainment professionals spanning four continents, with concentrations in northern Europe and eastern Asia. As Kyle’s former English and Language Arts teacher, Randy Rossilli, Jr. was added to the client roster upon winning his first Emmy Award for The Adventures of Young Thomas Edison, and Kyle was subsequently offered a position with Randy’s company, Nightstand Creations.

Working with Nightstand Creations, Inc as the director of marketing and operations, Kyle’s focus on market traction and the development of new media created an opportunity to enhance a $3 million production facility in Fairfield, NJ, subsequently called “Nightstand Studios”. His exceptional aptitude for assimilation across various demographics has opened up windows of opportunity for the growth and development of the studio, earning four Emmy nominations and one win, as well as working with dozens of advertising agencies and production companies to produce Award-winning content. It was this experience in content production that led to the creation of 180 South.

Beginning as a platform to provide solutions for artist and brand partnerships, and after multi million dollar deals with Katy Perry, Samsung, and a sports investment franchise, 180 South has grown into one of the world’s premier brand management firms. Recognized as one of the fastest growing companies by Inc. Magazine, #13 in NYC, and #24 in Global Marketing and Advertising, 180 South has received numerous awards, including SmartCEO’s “Corporate Culture” Award alongside Russel Simmons and Arianna Huffington.

Kyle is also a NASM-certified personal trainer, former Division-I athlete, a contributing member to the Hudson County Chamber of Commerce and the Meadowland’s Chamber of Commerce, and is involved with regional development initiatives throughout the northeast corridor of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Washington DC. Kyle most recently developed a $3.5 million production facility in the Princeton, NJ area. 180 South headquarters are located on 37th and Broadway in NYC, with executive offices at Kaufman Astoria Studios.

Tell me about your early career.
I cut my teeth in the music industry, and watched the dollars flow towards content production, so I helped to build a couple of production facilities, thinking that would secure my future. Then, I watched the dollars flow towards brand integration. I built a brand management company, thinking that was the future of the monetization of media. Then, I watched the dollars flow towards experiential marketing, and now, for the first time in my career, I feel like I’m finally ahead of the dollars.

How did the concept for 180 South Group come about?
During my time on set, I noticed most of the production costs and talent fees were subsidized through product placement and brand integration. As a clear win-win for the artist and the brand, I wondered why more of these deals weren’t being executed. Upon further investigation, the answer was apparent: artists and brands didn’t speak the same language. At the time, artists didn’t really understand the demographics of their audience, nor did they really care how to quantify their impact on buying power or spending habits, and the companies fueling the early days of product placement didn’t understand the creative process, nor how to effectively motivate the audience of an artist. So, when it came to creative collaboration, where art and commerce were supposed to meet, one of the two never seemed to show up. Once I sat back and took an inventory of my assets, I realized that most of my purest relationships were rooted in artistry and creative production. My education and experience in the corporate world helped me to speak the language of the brands, while the former recording artist within me helps to translate this language for my clients, understanding that without artistic integrity, this all falls apart.

How was the first year in business?
Our first year was not typical of any of my other start-up business ventures. We began the company with partnership between Katy Perry and Samsung, and ended the year stumbling into a contract to produce ten LIVE two-hour broadcasts for CBS Sports. We opened up a second office in NYC, and for the first time in my career, I didn’t have to solicit any business. Phones were ringing, the inbox was full, and life was as hectic as ever. Company-sponsored trips to music festivals, court settlements with Fortune 500 companies, and a 100% retention rate. It’s safe to say that our original crew will never forget year one of operations at 180 South.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
180 South is a destination, and we’ve worked hard to build our brand architecture in a way that creates a sense of wanting to join the party, while still encouraging the individuality of each team member. This mindset, paired with 180 South’s create-your-own-schedule staffing style and its music and film festival field trips, has propelled the creative management agency through tremendous growth and nabbed it business with some of the world’s premier artists and brands. With a 92-percent retention rate and a five-fold increase in staff over the last 12 months, 180 South has been named the 13th fastest-growing company in New York City, 24th in global advertising and marketing, and 157th on the 2016 Inc. 500 list. Day in and out, a diverse group of marketers and scientists lives the 180 South motto, “Every day is a celebration of the opportunity.”

What is the key to success?
Managing your thoughts, understanding that they play a role in the reality you see. Grasping the key concepts that work doesn’t have to be “hard,” unless you think it does. I believe that we emit a certain frequency to the universe, and that frequency attracts/repels certain energy. Money can come easily and effortlessly, if you believe it can. Love can come in and out of our lives without us even blinking an eye. I try to protect myself from negative thoughts and emotions as much as possible. I try to see the good in everything. Achieving a higher perspective and learning to laugh at ourselves may be the key to happiness.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“A ship is safe in harbor. But that’s not what a ship was made for…”

What are some of your favorite books?
Lovemarks by Kevin Roberts. That book really changed the way I looked at branded content. It helped me to more clearly identify the relationship between a piece of advertising, and the mission, values, and guiding principles of an organization. It’s a simple book, but the core message is powerful.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
It’s tough to choose just one. In fact, it wasn’t so long ago that I looked up from my phone, after scrolling through multiple negative bank accounts, an IRS audit notice, a cancelled Livenation event, and an unhappy partner, and I said to myself, “I’m done. I can’t do this anymore. I’m going to die, or someone is going to kill me.” We had a marquee artist booked for a big event, and due to “medical reasons,” the event had to be postponed. To this day, I can still feel I the burden.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I have this one particular memory I always draw to the synapses during times of adversity. At the time, I was a recording artist on a tour through northern Europe, and there was an extra stop added to the tour in Dubai, a place that was really buzzing at the time. Fast forward to after the show, after an awesome performance doing what I loved to do, and being paid handsomely to do it, I’m sitting at the top of the Burj Al Arab hotel, surrounded by strangers, and feeling the most alone I’ve ever felt. To this day, I’ve never felt so lonely in my life. It was in that moment of smelling the stench of uber-wealth and indentured slavery, which grew my motivation to only be surrounded by people I love the most, and doing good work. I feed off of the happiness of those around me. Drama adds the salt and pepper to life, but if you’re on a winning team, it certainly helps you to roll with the punches during times of adversity.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Start early; make mistakes. No matter how many smart and experienced people you surround yourself with, there are some lessons you will need to learn on your own. And most importantly, do work that you care about. It’s easy to be numb to what you’re doing, especially in the digital world. It’s easy to chase money, and to be apathetic towards your path to financial independence. You want to look favorably on the work you’ve done, because as you grow older, the work you’ve done becomes the legacy you leave. And when your work is aligned with your passion, you can be content with the time you’ve allocated towards work, during this short life of ours.

Todd Belfer – Managing Partner, Canal Partners

Todd Belfer is managing partner of Canal Partners, where he is responsible for all aspects of the company, including identification of potential acquisition targets, due diligence, financial analysis, and final investment decision making.

Todd has a long history of entrepreneurship and has been involved with a wide range of businesses throughout his career. In 1990, he co-founded Employee Solutions, Inc., a professional employer organization which he helped take public in 1993. He also co-founded a leading sports nutrition company, M.D. Labs, in 1993 and, after realizing triple-digit growth, sold his interest to a private equity firm in 2002.

Todd was also a founder in the successful Japanese restaurant chain RA, which has grown to more than 30 locations throughout the U.S. and was sold to Benihana in 2002. That same year, he founded NETtime Solutions, a software-as-a-service (SaaS) company dedicated to delivering on-demand time and attendance service, which was sold to Paychex in 2014. Additionally, Todd serves on the board of directors for Omedix, Deal Current Network, Limos.com, ClickDimensions, and Sauce Pizza & Wine.

Todd has been a dedicated volunteer with Big Brothers and Big Sisters for more than 10 years. Nationally, he is recognized for his work with The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and received the prestigious Regional Wings of Memory Society “Excellence in Leadership Award” presented by the United States Holocaust Museum in April 2006 for his ongoing support and dedication to the Holocaust Museum and its efforts. He is also a board member of Crossroads, a recovery center for men and women.

Todd holds a bachelor’s degree in finance and a real estate degree from the University of Arizona.

Tell me about your early career.
Studied finance and real estate with a minor in economics. I’ve always had an affinity for business and over the course of my career have launched, grown, and sold several companies. Out of college, I co-founded my first business called Employee Solutions, Inc., a professional employer organization, which we took public in 1993. Following that, I co-founded a leading sports nutrition company, M.D. Labs, in 1993 and after realizing triple-digit growth, I sold my interest to a private equity firm in 2002. I then shifted gears, moving into the restaurant space. My first endeavor wasn’t as successful as we had planned, but soon thereafter we saw an opportunity to create a new category within Japanese cuisine. That was forming of a very successful Japanese restaurant chain called RA, which we grew to more than 30 locations throughout the U.S. before selling to Benihana in 2002.

I’ve since gone on to found NETtime Solutions, a software as a service (SaaS) company dedicated to delivering on-demand time and attendance service, which was sold to Paychex in 2014. All of this has led up to the launch of Canal Partners, a venture capital firm that provides capital to B2B software and internet technology companies.

How did the concept for Canal Partners come about?
I started Canal Partners nine years ago because I saw a need in the Southwest to fund early-stage software companies that didn’t have access to capital, and more importantly, human capital necessary to growth.

How was the first year in business?
We hit the ground running and haven’t stopped yet. I was fortunate to be able to partner with a very seasoned entrepreneur and investor who was very connected in the community. Between the two of us and our networks, we had a great deal of demand out the gate. Plus, we launched when startups were beginning to get hungry for investment and in a market where it was lacking at the time.

What was your marketing strategy?
We’ve relied heavily on referrals and word of mouth. Given that we have a very focused portfolio thesis, not everyone is a fit for us. It takes someone who already knows, likes, and trusts us to bring quality leads. We’ve also implemented some PR strategies over the years so we stay top of mind in the communities in which we operate.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We’ve grown steadily from day one and quickly expanded into a few additional markets in which we have strong networks. Over the past nine years, we have put approximately $20 million in capital to work.

How do you define success?
Success to me is about having fun, and celebrating small wins within the business – customer wins, technology wins, small accomplishments throughout the day, and having low turnover internally and externally – as well as building a company culture that is so infectious it keeps people around.

What is the key to success?
Having a team that actively participates in the growth. Championing collaboration over dictatorship – creating an environment in which the team is able to work to alongside the CEO, and having a CEO who leads through motivation and inspiration, rather than fear. If you’re a solo operation, you need support – coaches, a board, mentors. You need people to help you move the business along. Never try to figure it all out inside your own head.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Develop thick skin. At the end of the day, it’s not about you. Also, trust your partners, co-workers, and customers, but don’t bury your head in the sand. It’s a binary decision to either be supportive and engaged or to move onto something more worthwhile. You have to know when it’s worth it to solve conflicts and problems instead of hanging on to something that simply isn’t working.

What are some quotes that you live by?
This one, by Warren Buffett, is more related to investing, but it’s a great quote to live by: “Be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful.” Another is, “There’s no I in team”, it’s always we. I think a lot of business leaders can get caught up in the “I,” but magic happens when chemistry and teams work well together instead of individually.

What are some of your favorite books?
One of my favorites is Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
I developed a pretty thick skin early on and have learned over the years not to sweat the small stuff. But one of the more challenging times during my entrepreneurial career was making the decision to shut down our first restaurant endeavor and transition in the Japanese cuisine category. Though that concept went on to become very successful, it was slow going in the early days. We didn’t know if we were going to make it, but we dug in, diagnosed where the friction points resided, and determined to course correct.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Developing a healthy attitude towards attachment has been key to overcoming challenges. I’ve learned not to become too attached to any one particular outcome or direction. This has enabled me to remain open to other possible solutions and open to pivoting to a new direction. You also have to be passionate about what you’re doing. For me, this has helped me get through even the most challenging days.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Experience as much as you can and know the business you are in. We meet a lot of entrepreneurs with startups in which the product or service they’ve developed doesn’t match what the market is asking for or they simply aren’t familiar with existing solutions, why they are there, and how customers are making their purchasing decisions. Read the books and the blogs, attend the conferences, and get to know your competition.

Jeff D. Jenson – Founder & Director, Utopian

Jeff D. Jenson is founder and director of Utopian, a short-term vacation rental management company headquartered in Park City, UT with operations in Aspen and Breckenridge, CO, Palm Springs and Coachella Valley, CA, Austin, TX, Wine Country, CA, Lake Tahoe, and Hawaii. In addition to Utopian, Mr. Jenson has been a financial consultant to emerging and public corporations for over twenty-five years. He is a seasoned entrepreneur and has started many companies including Solar Nation, Inc. and as a partner in Karts & Kisks Management, which operated specialty retail outlets in shopping malls throughout the U.S., selling Proactiv skin care products, and which ownership interest was subsequently purchased by Guthy Renker.

Mr. Jenson graduated from Westminster College in 1992 with degrees in aviation and business management. He is an avid sportsman who enjoys hunting, biking, skiing, snowmobiling, snowboarding, golfing, fishing, and riding horses, and was a competitive swimmer. He maintains his commercial pilot’s license and loves to fly. Mr. Jenson is on the board of advisors of Westminster College School of Aviation. He is married and is the father of two daughters.

Tell me about your early career.
I am a serial entrepreneur and have never had a job. I started working in high school with a lawn care property management business which I sold during college. I started doing investment banking (PIPE) deals in 1991 as I graduated from college and worked in the capital markets sector until 2008. During that period, I took 50+ companies public and assisted in their initial capitalization. In 2002, I was a partner in american kiosk management and ran a company with 50 retail locations in shopping malls across the nation. I co-founded a solar company (Sole Nation) that year and started Utopian in 2010/2011.

How did the concept for Utopian come about?
In 2010, I was trying to decide how to reinvent myself. I took a company public that had a golf centric home exchange program which the transaction was later rescinded and the concept of Utopian was born. I started in Park City where it was immediately evident that a luxury vacation rental model was a good business concept and a weak spot in real estate. The three years prior to that time, I couldn’t find a weakness in the real estate or capital markets sectors.

How was the first year in business?
Rough. I ended the year in the red. I also found that I couldn’t get the inventory to generate rentals and revenue.

What was your marketing strategy?
Mostly VRBO and some third party marketing with wholesalers.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
$487,000 to $1.7 million to $3.7 million in gross revenue.

How do you define success?
Building a team with the same goal in mind, growing responsibly (profitably), and building real estate assets.

What is the key to success?
People, who I define as ideal team players.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
To be humble, hungry, and smart with people.

What are some quotes that you live by?
The above, “Sleep when your dead”, “It’s a startup, meaning work your guts out for a lot of years for little to no money to build a successful firm.”

What are some of your favorite books?
Good to Great, Scaling Up, The Ideal Team Player, Tim Ferriss (all books), Robyn Sharma (all books, but The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari was the first).

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
Realizing that I had lost a multi-million dollar net worth in 2009 and that I was starting over. The day I had to call my vendors and employees in and tell them I couldn’t pay them and needed to put them on a payment program.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Fearlessness.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Never give up, and also realize you can’t do it without any money. Find a good idea where cash flows and go for it.

Joni Newkirk – Founder and CEO, Integrated Insight, Inc.

Joni Newkirk is the founder and CEO of Integrated Insight, Inc., an analytics firm helping organizations strategically and operationally out-behave the competition. The company specializes in adding value through analytical support for new business development, business optimization, and research and consumer insights, and is a four-time recipient of the Inc. 5000 award for Fastest-Growing Private Companies in America.

Prior to founding Integrated Insight, Joni spent 20 years with Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. As senior vice president of business insight and improvement, she was responsible for managing and driving over $8 billion in revenue for worldwide theme parks and resorts, Disney Cruise Line, Disney Vacation Club and Adventures by Disney. She oversaw industry-leading decision analytics within market research and consumer insights, forecasting, pricing, revenue and profit management, and industrial engineering. During her tenure at Disney, Joni led key initiatives that resulted in step-change growth including “Magic Your Way”, a sweeping change in revenue strategy built on consumer wants and needs, and “Back to the Basics”, a refocus on guest service as a key differentiator.

Prior to joining Disney, Joni held management positions in planning and development at both Lockheed Martin and Orlando Regional Healthcare System. She holds a BA in Statistics from the University of Florida and a MS in Industrial Engineering from the University of Central Florida.

Tell me about your early career.
My first five years were spent at Orlando Regional Medical Center focused on long-range planning. I had a great mentor, Ann Ashmore, who taught me how to write. The analytics came easy, but telling a convincing story to gain approval for future medical services was just as much art as science. After the hospital, I joined the network planning team at Lockheed Martin (then Martin Marietta) and stayed there for almost five years while I chipped away at graduate school classes and finally earned my MS in Industrial Engineering.

Living in Orlando, I knew all about Disney parks as a guest, but never thought about joining the company until I read an advertisement for a manager of operations research position. It fit both my educational background and work expertise so well, it was as if the ad was written for me. And so began my twenty years with the mouse. To take full advantage of those Disney benefits, I immediately had three children.

How did the concept for Integrated Insight come about?
I love to invert problems to look for viable solutions from a different angle. Literally diving into the work with my team and bringing new strategies to life is what excites me most. For a long time, I was certain I would retire from Disney doing just that. But continuous, increasing responsibility pulled me farther away from what I loved most, and with worldwide responsibility, I was frequently away from my family. The thought occurred to me that I could add significant value to other organizations through consulting, so I took the plunge and Integrated Insight was born.

How was the first year in business?
Liberating, enlightening, scary as hell – everything I thought it would be. I wanted to go back to “doing the work” and clearly, I was, including everything my superb assistant Linda and the IT department did for me previously. Having a great business partner helped. Scott Sanders and I left Disney together and it has been a remarkable nine year partnership. It also helped having a business plan prepared – something I worked on for a couple years prior to leaving Disney – and our first client lined up before we took the leap.

What was your marketing strategy?
Networking was our primary marketing tool. We spent a good six months developing our story – who we were, what services we provided, and why a company would want to hire us. This not only fed our website, but it helped as we began networking. Our non-Disney contacts were minimal given our 20 year history each, but other Disney colleagues who had ventured out before us quickly connected. Our analytical horsepower was a perfect fit with their design and/or operational expertise. Today, we enjoy a great deal of business from repeat clients and referrals in addition to continued networking.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
The first year we did a little over $200,000 in revenue, but by year three, realized over six times that much and have continued to grow at a great pace ever since. For the past four years, we’ve made the Inc. 5000 list of Fastest Growing Private Companies in America which is no small feat considering our product is intellectual capital and our growth is dependent on hiring even more, really smart people.

How do you define success?
Making a significant, positive difference. Whether it be for family, our clients, our team, or the communities to which I belong, I’m successful when I’m making a positive difference.

What is the key to success?
Do what you love and love what you do.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Take risks. Specifically, calculated risks. When I look back over my career, I can see where I’ve been willing to take risks that others have not. Fear will always be peering over your shoulder. How much you allow it to drive your decisions is really up to you.

What are some of the great quotes you live by?
“Make little decisions with your head, big decisions with your heart.”

“Time flies when you’re having fun.”

What are some of your favorite books?
As for books, I’m a Malcolm Gladwell fan, but Outliers is probably my favorite. I also like The Five Faces of Genius by Annette Moser-Wellman, and a couple of books by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton have resonated, particularly The Knowing-Doing Gap and Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths & Total Nonsense.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur?
Are there easy ones? Pinch me. Seriously, the toughest days are the ones when it is next to impossible to see how you’ll get through the workload, meet your deadlines, and still produce exceptionally high quality results. That said, those days exist in corporate America as well. You just feel more of the burden personally, as an entrepreneur.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
First, faith. I truly believe God is with me in whatever I do. Second, confidence. It goes back to that calculated risk. If the plan is well thought out, it will work. That doesn’t mean ignoring new information or not addressing issues as they arise, but staying focused on the end goal is what makes it happen.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Have a rock-solid business plan. Test drive it with others who have expertise in your field. Know the risk and mitigate what you can without giving up on the vision. Be objective in your evaluation. Once you feel confident you have what it takes, tune out the naysayers and stay focused on your goal. Don’t let others chip away at your confidence. Work through the setbacks – not everything will work precisely as planned – but don’t give up. The risk is well worth the reward.