As part of my series on powerful women, I had the pleasure to interview Barbara L. Kerry. Barbara is the Co-founder / Chairman / CEO of Script To Screen. She’s a pioneer in the industry and, in 1986, she co-founded Script to Screen along with her husband, Ken Kerry. Today, Script to Screen is one of the nation’s leading direct response television companies and has produced more than 600 infomercials and DRTV spots, plus generated more than $6 billion in sales for its clients. Under Barbara’s guidance, Script to Screen has been honored with over 70 awards for excellence from the Clio Awards, Electronic Retailing Association, Jordan Whitney and the New York Festivals.A list of its prestigious Clients include AAA, Bare Escentuals, Bath & Body Works, Blink Home Security, Conair, Cuisinart, Dr. Denese, Esteé Lauder, Gaiam, Generac, Guthy-Renker, Gwynnie Bee, Hooked on Phonics, Hoover, Keurig Green Mountain, Laura Geller, Little Passports, Nutrisystem, philosophy, Procter & Gamble, Rosetta Stone, Rubbermaid, Temptations, Tracy Anderson, Tria Beauty, Laura Geller, Les Mills, L’Oreal, Perfect Formula, and Wexler to name a few. Barbara began her career in television producing programs for Southern California sports teams including the Angels, Dodgers, Lakers, Raiders, and Rams. Her education includes a B.A. in telecommunications from the University of Colorado, and an M.A. in psychology from Pepperdine University.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
My dad was a renowned sales and marketing expert so I guess it was in my blood. I started my career in sports broadcasting producing television shows and reporting for radio in the Los Angeles market. When we started seeing infomercials, on the air in the mid-eighties, we thought they were so bad and “cheesy,” we could develop our own product and produce our own infomercials.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Well, I hope it’s ok that it’s not really business related, but it is some fun that comes out of this business we are in. Our business has taken us to unusual places meeting unusual people. We worked with the Duchess of York on a project, and we were invited to her 50th birthday celebration honoring her longest running charity. We attended the spectacular event at Windsor Castle; a great experience, an event with incredible entertainment, and a room full of influential and well known people that we never would have met otherwise.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
This may not be the funniest thing that has happened, it’s definitely the most costly so that makes it the most memorable and we laugh about it now. We thought that just because we knew how to produce 30-minute television shows, we could easily produce a 30-minute commercial to market and sell a product. We learned very quickly that was not the case. We failed horribly and spent the next few years learning how to weave education, entertainment and a very thoughtfully crafted sales message into a 30-minute commercial (infomercial). The lesson we learned is, just because you can do one thing well doesn’t mean it will translate to other areas.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What is it about the position of CEO that most attracted you to it?
At the time, my (soon to be) husband and I started our business, we couldn’t afford to hire a CEO and I seemed more suited to the position. It seemed a natural fit, and I enjoyed the various aspects that come with running a business.
Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
I believe my biggest responsibility is to ensure that my team has the all the tools and resources they need to do their jobs.
What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?
I enjoy being able to touch all aspects of the business.
What are the downsides of being an executive?
Business is full of challenges, but there is a certain satisfaction with knowing, and being involved with the people, the decisions, and then having the ability to sustain the business. There is never a dull moment; it is difficult to “turn it off.”
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
The myth that the CEO doesn’t have a boss. I believe every client, every project, every regulation in our industry is my boss.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
I do believe in many cases that it is more challenging for women to be “heard.” I don’t think it’s a “sexist” thing, I really think it’s part of the genetic predispositions of men and women. We have to work harder to communicate, and persuade, to get our messages across.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
To use a sports analogy, I think the extent to which I really do have to be a “utility player” is surprising. But, you learn owning your own business you have to be ready, willing, and able to respond to, and be prepared to complete successfully any aspect of the business at any time.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive?
No doubt good communication skills, problem solving skills, the ability to work with a variety of personality types and an optimistic outlook and attitude are very helpful. People skills should always be a top priority of an executive.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Be willing and open to working with your team on the ground level. Be willing to do whatever task is needed, no job is too small. And, as my dad often said, “Always agree and ask a question.” When talking with others, if you agree with them and ask a question, it helps them to feel heard and part of the team, and it allows for more collaborative discussions.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My Dad was my greatest mentor, advisor, cheerleader and advocate. When we decided to start our business and for me to take on the role of CEO he said to me — “Be sure you are willing and able to make the very difficult and tough decisions that will need to be made, if you are going to run a successful business.”
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I probably have not done enough of this, but I strive each and every day to lead by example: to lead with integrity, to be kind, generous and helpful whenever and wherever I can.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- You will be blindsided from time to time by people you trust. There are people that simply lack integrity. No business is exempt from lawsuits or people walking out the door with clients. We have experienced both, but thankfully we have managed to survive and thrive, learning from each experience.
- Peaks and valleys are inevitable no matter how successful you are. The economy and changes in technology are out of our control. Our primary medium for many years was television. When the social and digital age exploded our business took a big downturn because clients believed they could achieve the same success marketing via the internet. Our survival depended on our ability to continue to do, what we do, while expanding into the social digital world.
- The amount of change in the world, specifically technology and platforms, will present some of the biggest challenges and some of the biggest opportunities. As an executive you have to be looking for things that will bring change. It can be a full-time job trying to keep up with the ever-changing landscape. We had to look for the right opportunities to take our skills to the digital landscape. We had to have discipline in knowing when to make a move as opposed to trying everything that was “sold” as the next greatest thing.
- Change IS good — I have to remind myself of this often. Some of our most painful experiences have been around significant change that has taken place whether it be employees leaving or technology changing, but some of our greatest growth has come from those experiences. Due to a series of unfortunate and extenuating circumstances we had to let our long time business development guy go. We let him stay longer than we should have, losing him meant a significant amount of more work for my husband and me. In the long run, it was beneficial to our company because it forced us to get closer to the business development needs of the company and clients.
- Push yourself outside your comfort zone; I tend to be a bit of an introvert so joining groups, attending conferences, is not my strong suit. I recently joined our local chapter of WPO and wish I had done that much earlier in my career. There is so much to be learned from other women in other businesses.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
#higherstandards. I would like to inspire a movement that would restore a level of decorum, decency and human kindness to our society. I would like to inspire people to be their best selves and to strive to bring out the very best in others regardless of differences.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Plan your work and work your plan.” Again, from my beloved father. There is no way around it, you have to plan your work and work your plan.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
I would love to have lunch with Rafael Nadal. I would like to know how he keeps the competitive drive alive, what keeps him going, how he manages to focus. How he pushes through injuries, how he prepares for different opponents and where he sees himself in 10 years.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.