I have always been a big believer and supporter of personal brands. Everyone has one if they really think about it: Soccer mom. Investment Banker. PTO Volunteer. Real estate Expert. Most people just don’t know how to identify their personal brand nor do they know how to use it, market it and network with it.
Growing up outside of Boston in the 1970’s and 1980’s, I had no clue about personal brands. However, what I did know was that I was the only Mexican/Italian/American among an influx of jovial Irish catholic friends and that I was different. Pinatas on my birthday, vacations climbing the Mayan pyramids in Chitchen Itza were the norm in my family. Did I embrace my differences at such as young age? No. Not really. It was only later when I achieved specific milestones, coupled with an upbringing where no one gives up, when I truly embraced my identity. (Thanks, mom and dad).
Coupled with my “get out there and stack the wood” chores to “come inside and set the kitchen table”, my younger sisters and I were raised with the mentality that girls (and women) can do anything and that there was no stigma identified with what was considered a male role versus female role (however I will say that I am (currently) stuck making dinner during the week which is another topic of discussion). I was fortunate enough to attend an amazing all girls independent private high school where women, confidence and giving back were at the cornerstone of the schools’ value system. This is where my personal brand identify was fostered, nurtured and developed. I became an independent thinker, team-player, leader and advocate for the underdog. In addition, the academic rigor of my high school, Newton Country Day School of The Sacred Heart in Newton, Massachusetts coupled with the confidence that I developed as a young girl, set the bar for my future as I knew I wanted to hang with and learn from the best and the brightest, as well as have a positive impact on society. (Thank you, Newton Country Day School!)
After visiting 18 college campuses (yes, a bit excessive), I fell in love with Maine and the team-like atmosphere of Bowdoin College. Having the academic rigor that I knew I wanted coupled with a team-like environment, Bowdoin was where I further developed self-discipline, tough love and where I learned how to write. Having the ability to cleverly and artfully articulate what you want to do with your life, explain who you are as a person and identify what you need from others is not easy. I was receiving “C’s’ on my papers during my freshman year in college which taught me that hard work (and re-writes) were the only way I would master the art of writing and nail home the notion of never giving up. (Thank you, Bowdoin).
With a liberal arts education, anything is possible right? So, why not tackle the world of finance and embrace debits and credits? Joining State Street Bank at an entry level position working in mutual funds where CUSIPS were my everyday world, I aggressively networked my way OUT of a data-entry environment and into asset-backed securitization at State Street Capital where I was cast into the throws of present-value calculations, sitting for the CFA Level 1, Series 7, Series 63 examinations and late night coursework in statistics at Harvard Extension School. With the hard-work mentality that was engrained in my upbringing and the academic environments that I had been fortunate to experience, I persevered in narrowing down who I was as a person, what I was passionate about and how I identified myself; In essence getting even closer to solidifying my personal brand.
Working my way up the corporate ladder, it was generally understood that it was either “up or out” for an investment banking analyst and that an MBA was the next milestone to hit and acquire if you are ever to move up within a competitive high-performing bank. Probably emphasized and clearly enforced more so in the investment banks of NYC than the smaller firms in Boston, this was generally the “silent” whisper within the walls and cubicles of most banks including our small boutique bank. After applying to the top 10 business schools in 1999, I was rejected at all of them at age 26.
This was a very challenging time in my life where a promotion from Senior Analyst to Associate at my company would not be awarded without an MBA. You can imagine how uneasy I felt after hearing that I would not be headed off to business school in the Fall. The sounds of crickets echoed through the hallways of our offices. A humbling experience to say the least, the writing on the wall (mostly conveyed with glances and hushed conversations by the men in my office) quietly led me out the door.
I credit the “tough love” acquired at home and in college, the networking skills that I derived in high school and the book, What Color Is your Parachute?” to propelling me towards picking up the pieces at age 26 and forging my way into securing a new position in a dramatically different field at Reebok International in Canton, Ma working for the CEO at the time, Carl Yankowski.
I decided that I would gain exposure in the world of marketing working on cross-functional teams and through that experience re-apply to business school. The “never-give-up” attitude coupled with hard work and putting myself out there through crafty networking, allowed me to change jobs and industries even without an MBA. After one year of learning new skills and identifying my passion in marketing by developing new brands, new products and new businesses, I re-applied to business school and was accepted and awarded a merit-based scholarship to The University of Chicago Booth School of Business. This was the opportunity for me to establish a foundation in business fundamentals and at the same time continue to solidify my personal brand.
Since my time in business school and the many years later working in marketing, branding and new product development, I have had the opportunity to refine and sharpen my personal brand. Originally, “The Banker”. Later, “The Marketer”. Twice, “The Pregnant Woman who always looked tired” and there’s always, “The Fitness Fiend” but more recently, “The Founder, CEO”, I can honestly say that I have embraced who I have become and love who I am as a person, a leader, a mother, an entrepreneur, a friend and a wife. With all these roles and past experiences affecting who I have become, I have created my own personal brand that merges both my personal and professional. My personal brand is not only the “working” side of me. And it’s not only the personal side of me. My personal brand has morphed into my entire me and I am thrilled to share my story and my personal brand with other women to empower them to embrace their past, love their present and think about their future. Because knowing yourself and your personal brand will give you confidence and get you to where you want to go.
(The above was taken from the Blazin’ Babes women’s professional networking website member profile page of Renata Merino Bregstone. As part of the Blazin’ Babes’ membership, each Empower and Inspire level member is asked to include their “personal story” within their profile page. This allows for members to search for other members and learn more about each new member allowing further networking connections).