Nina Vaca is chairman and CEO of Pinnacle Group, which provides IT workforce solutions to Fortune 500 companies, a mother of four and one of the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship.
Check out what she says about what makes mothers so good at their jobs for a little bit of Motherly ? motivation.
It’s inspiring that you built your own business while having four kids! Can you talk a little bit about how you did that?
It has been an incredible adventure. I started the company when I was 25-years-old on my living room floor with $300, and we’ve grown into a multi-million dollar company. My whole life I wanted to have a big family. I hate that women feel like they have to make this choice, whether they should have the big family or have the big career. And I just went into it thinking, “You know what? I’m going to both.” The truth is there’s no perfect time to have a child. Your children weave themselves into whatever craziness you call your life. Your motherly instincts kick in, and you know what you have to do.
What were your biggest challenges?
We almost went out of business in 2001. It was exactly the time I was delivering my second child, who was born two days after 9-11. I bought my partner out and took control of 100 percent of the company with two children under the age of 18 months. It’s when the chips are down that you have to be the bravest and toughest and you have to think the clearest. I went on three years later to have two more kids. I had 4 children in 6 years! Building a business and building a family has been challenging. I will not sugarcoat it. I believe in being honest. But, I feel that it’s been one amazing, rewarding journey.
What makes women, and moms in particular, good at business?
In a way, building a business, setting the culture, setting the boundaries, has been analogous to building my family. In a family, you’re trying to bring out the best in everyone. In business, it’s no different. I find women are excellent multitaskers, collaborators and have that sense of bringing out the best in people all for one mission. That’s truly valuable.
What advice do you have for mothers who are struggling to balance home and work?
The No. 1 tip I give all women is: Do not beat yourself up! Somebody else will gladly do that for you. Women have this guilt and this sense of wanting to do the best for their child. And the reality is—this is my best advice—there is nothing more powerful than the silent example for your children. I may not have made every single game, every single play or Valentine’s Day cookie party. I started thinking larger picture. What is it that I want my children to learn from me? How can I do that? Today I’m enormously proud of my kids. When I see them run for student office, join the mock trial team, or take spring break to go to a third world country and build homes—I know I’m doing something right. I may be a White House-appointed Presidential Ambassador of Global Entrepreneurship, but my daughter is the ambassador of her parochial school.
Any tips for moms who want to in return to the workforce after taking time off to focus on their families?
Confidence is the best outfit you can wear to an interview. Honesty is the best interview strategy. I hired my general counsel after she took five years off to raise her children. She was very direct and honest. She said, “This is what I did. This was my priority. These are the talents that I have. This is who I am.” I personally loved it. Be very honest and people will appreciate that honesty. If they don’t or if they see that honesty as vulnerable or negative, then that’s not the right company for you.
How about for women who are pregnant with their first child or anticipating starting a family soon?
I always find that knowing your strengths is the best thing you can do. My personal success has come from doubling down and being crazy good at what I do very well. Whether you’re pregnant, or have two kids or five, it’s irrelevant because people will know you for what you’re able to deliver. I built a company while I was constantly pregnant. My customers didn’t know what I looked like not pregnant. But, people judged me for what I did well. I find that that mentality can be truly helpful.
As an entrepreneur you’re never really “off.” How did you manage that schedule while having infants?
Because I was an entrepreneur, I had the flexibility to bring my kids into work with me. I nursed my kids for 6 months—that was brutal! (Buying the executive pump, pumping in airports and meetings.) There was a point where I was shipping milk back because it was after 9-11, and I couldn’t get 3 oz. past security. I had to buy dry ice and ship it back. I’ve done everything I possibly could for my children to have a normal life from 0-6 months, while trying to build a company. It took a lot out of me. I remember feedings were at 12 a.m., 3 a.m., and 6 a.m., and often times I would stay up from 3 a.m. on. People would get emails from me in the middle of the night because that was my pumping time.
Finally, I know you’re a big triathlete. What is it about this sport that motivates you?
To me, it’s therapeutic. I have this analogy—it’s why I love triathlons. In the swim you’re throwing yourself out into the water with grown men and women, and you’re going to get kicked.
The bike is time you come up for air. You can coast, the wind is sailing through your hair. At the same time, if you don’t keep peddling people will pass you. It reminds me that in life you can’t fall on your laurels. You’ve got to keep that cadence or people will pass you by.
The run is my absolutely favorite because it’s the one I hate the most. I’ve been blessed in my life. Pinnacle has won over 70 local and national awards. I open up a chapter of a McGraw Hill textbook with Kate Spade and the founder of Netflix. I’ve spoken on stages with celebrities, and you know what? None of that matters when you’re running a triathlon. It humbles you, because people pass you, and it reminds me of the struggle of life. The only thing that’s getting you through the finish line is that muscle of will. Competing in a triathlon is so representative of life and all those feelings.
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