Loeb Enterprises | Loeb.NYC
Loeb Enterprises | Loeb.NYC

Speaker Series | Dr. Helen Rothberg | From bartender to business badass

Devante Timms

As one of Loeb Enterprises‘ paid summer interns, I appreciate the value that their weekly Speaker Series brings to the Internship Program. It elevates the internship experience from being purely transactional to being actively enriching and growth-oriented. 

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Interns Climbing the Career Ladder

Throughout the summer, we have had the privilege of learning from an array of people ranging from the experienced angel investor Brian Cohen to the director of strategy and operations at 3×3 Insights, Noah Friedman. Most speakers discussed their personal experience in the realm of finance and various lessons that we could extract from their stories.

However, Dr. Helen Rothberg did something a little different. Dr. Rothberg’s talk followed the theme of her book, The Perfect Mixwhich contains stories from her career as a New York City bartender and how those lessons have applications in the world of business (where she has achieved resounding success as a Competitor Intelligence Strategist and Intellectual Capital Manager). The book, as the author describes it, is “About leading yourself, because how can you lead anybody else if you can’t lead yourself?”

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This premise instantly drew in the audience since many people our age (college interns) have experience working in the hospitality industry, given its prevalence in high school employment.  We can relate to the thirst, struggle, and aspiration of working tough service jobs with the hope of “making it” in the world of entrepreneurship, startups, and business. Dr. Rothberg says, “If I were queen I would make everybody work in a restaurant or bar because that’s where you really get to understand how people work and human nature.”

Dr. Rothberg embodies the spirit of the Loeb NYC summer internship. A self-described “CUNY kid”,  she worked as a bartender throughout her academic career up until she received her Ph.D. From working as a consultant for many years and subsequently as a professor at the School of Management at Marist College, Dr. Rothberg is a model of adaptability, guts, and persistence. Especially in the face of rejection, and hearing “no”. 

Taking ADVICE

Dr. Helen Rothberg’s book contains a cocktail at the end of each chapter which relates to that section’s theme. Her preference: vodka. But that’s not the only recipe she shares. Dr. Rothberg explains, “My book is about A.D.V.I.C.E. because bartenders give good advice. Action. Determination. Vision. Integrity. Communication. Empathy. Those are the ingredients that I think are essential to being able to lead yourself. Then I add to that two more things: Being who you really are, standing in your own shoes and not being afraid of change…because nothing stays the same.”

 

Taking Action: Do More. Say Less.

The concept of doing more and saying less is an extremely important life lesson in the digital age. Social media has fostered a culture of saying rather than doing, which has heavily influenced this generation. It is a valuable lesson, as it limits the times you over-promise and under-deliver. This is something that I am guilty of doing from time to time and is a pitfall a lot of eager young professionals and interns fall into as they attempt to create a good first impression.

It is always a lot more satisfying to not only be able to meet goals that you verbally set but also be able to exceed them. I don’t think I know a worse feeling than telling everyone about something that you are going to do or want to do only for it to be a public failure that everyone witnesses. It is much better to keep it to yourself only to acknowledge it when whatever you are working on is in development.

Dr. Rothberg refers to a time that she applied for a job at a bar that she had carefully researched (proximity to a police precinct, far from her prying PhD supervisors, an expensive menu for good tips), only to be told: “I don’t hire women bartenders.” And yet she persisted. “Showing what you can do is the best way to show what you can do. I offered to come in on their busiest night and work for free. And then they could decide whether I stay or not, I wouldn’t even take the tips. The lesson: Do more, say less. Be willing to show what you’re made of before you take for yourself. Because then you’re always going to get more…Think about how you can look at it differently.”

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Determination and Vision

For college students, earning a PhD is an intimidating prospect, but Dr, Rothberg put it in perspective. “Working on a PhD has nothing to do with intelligence it’s all persistence and humility.” It is true that it is easy to mistake intellect, cleverness, and smarts as the only keys to business success. Really the ability to stay focused, keep fighting the fight and having the patience to keep moving forward is sometimes underrated. Also underrated – civility.

In the race to succeed in school, business, whatever, it is easy to get distracted by competition and competitiveness. Dr. Rothberg advises, “Determination is about getting things done with ingenuity and civility. It’s about never stepping on someone else to make yourself look bigger. It’s about if you can’t get something done, figuring out a way to go around and get that done.” This attitude puts the focus back on yourself, rather than seeking blame, validation or comparison from outside sources. “Vision is about seeing what’s possible and sharing what you see with others.”

I and the other 39 summer interns for 2018 have been able to see that Michael Loeb, Rich Vogel, and Loeb NYC is a place of vision and innovation. It’s a quality that Dr. Rothberg noticed about us too. She said she has visited Fortune 500 companies and startups of all kinds, but that what we have at Loeb NYC is a buzz and energy that is hard to find elsewhere.

Something that Dr. Rothberg pointed out, which has been demonstrated by the startup portfolio companies I’ve worked with during my internship is that while a plan can be executed without a manager sharing their vision with their underlings, a great leader brings their team along and keeps them informed. “A good manager can get things done in the dark.  [But] you have to know what you’re selling. You have to know what you’re trying to create and you have to be able to share that with others…Have a vision for where you can take yourself, your company, your team, your community.”

Integrity: Always Tell the Truth

College interns are used to the concept of competition. Finding a quality, paid summer internship where you will be making an investment in your future, rather than just fetching coffee, involves competing with brilliant students from all over America. Especially in the case of coveted commercial internships in New York City. Some internship programs only take students from ivy league schools – which is a whole different battleground.

In this context, it is tempting to get caught up in fiction, drama, and politics. But Dr. Rothberg has some grounded, almost zen-like wisdom. She also espouses the value of taking risks, not being afraid to fail and being willing to learn from mistakes.

“Tell the truth. All the time. It’s not an option. Don’t play into drama and don’t create drama. But if you do play into drama, own it. None of us are perfect, and that’s what’s perfect. Failure can be your best opportunity to learn. You’ve got to embrace it and not be afraid. Some of us really begin to play it safe after a while because we’re afraid that we’re not going to live up to some image that someone has of us, or we’re not going to get it right. The best thing you can do is not be afraid and have the courage to try things. If it doesn’t work: own it as yours.”

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How to Communicate Better

One aspect of Dr. Rothberg’s Speaker Series talk that resonated with me was the idea of being a better communicator. It can be easy to assume people understand our intentions when we converse with them. However, communication extends way further than words alone. Adjusting body language and truly listening with the intent to learn rather than with the intent to respond is something that I am personally working on as I feel that it is an extremely important skill to learn.

Jason Blankfield, a Performance Coach, also touched upon this concept when he spoke to the interns at Internatopia. Internatopia is a feature of the Loeb Enterprises internship program. Michael Loeb describes it as “An entrepreneur boot camp comprised of programming developed by myself and other startup veterans to help prepare the students for their immersive summer experience.” Blankfield pointed out that we generally ask questions and instantly begin to think of how to reply to the answer we are given rather than truly listening to the answer and internalizing what it means and how it can be applied to our lives.

Sure, some questions and answers can be trivial, but one thing I am extremely guilty of doing is completely tuning out someone right after I ask them what their name is. I am horrible with names because I generally attempt to further the conversation rather than actually listening to the name the other person responds with. These kinds of miscommunications have significant implications in the business world. Better communication creates a situation where a manager is truly listening to the input of their team members. Effective communication is the foundation of a positive business relationship. Dr. Rothberg says, “The hardest thing to do is communicate in a way that what you really mean is received as you meant it.”

Cocktail for Success

In summation, Helen Rothberg challenged us to “Dare to care about yourselves, about your communities about the people around you. If you can do that you can lead yourself.” Her closing comments echoed another Speakers Series guest, Damian Woetzel, who told us “Live big, happy, lives”.  Rothberg’s version: “Lead yourselves to good, happy lives, to do good things for your companies, your community, your nation.” It must be significant that these themes unintentionally recur through Speakers Series.

From her engaging stories, relatable to college students and young professionals alike, to her vast knowledge of personal and professional advice, the hour Dr. Helen Rothberg spoke seemed like minutes.

 

Devante Timms