Brandchannel sat down with Rebecca to get her thoughts on Atrium as a woman-owned brand, and covered motherhood, racing cars and horror stories, along the way.
brandchannel: Give us a little background on the how and why of Atrium.
Rebecca: When I graduated I went to all these different agencies looking for a job and right out of college itís really tough. I remember going to this one agency and being really unrealistic with my expectations. I had zero skills.
I had answered an ad that was paying US$60,000. The lady looked me right in the face and said. ďYou answered this ad?" and I answered her, ďWell, $60,000 in Manhattan, maybe I could do that for six months, but Iím really hoping to double that in a year.Ē They wound up offering me a job as a recruiter. I never thought of going into this business
Rebecca: They must have thought I was really good at sales. So I worked there for a little while and just started to think that there were things that I could do better. I started to explore other agencies, what was happening and how people and other clients were being treated. And then I came up with the idea of doing this but doing it very different from the competition.
bc: How did you get the name Atrium?
Rebecca: My husband came up with that name. We wanted something that sounded familiar. You donít want something out there that is really brand new to everyone. So we wanted to pick a name that people would hear and think, ďOh yeah, I think I heard of you guys.Ē In actuality they did, hundreds and hundreds of times, but not in the staffing industry. We also wanted a name that was pleasing. When you think about an atrium, itís open; there are trees. We also wanted to be at the top of the alphabet.
bc: Atrium makes it known that itís a fully woman-owned enterprise. How does this translate as an advantage in terms of differentiation in the marketplace?
Rebecca: For one thing, it makes you feel really good to tell people that youíre a woman-owned company. Whenever we talk with someone about being woman-owned they say, ďThatís wonderful. Thatís great.Ē It definitely helps us in our business because companies are now socially aware of the initiatives to utilize minority and women-owned businesses. We didnít take advantage of it in the beginning. We didnít think anything of it. One day we realized that we werenít even utilizing the fact that this was a woman-owned company.
bc: And after you started?
Rebecca: In our business itís a lot about sales and you get people to listen to you because they are starting to become much more familiar with the corporate social awareness. It definitely helped open doors and make it easier to communicate and get our point across. It also has made our business with larger corporations better because many larger corporations are expected to utilize and spend in minority and women-owned sectors.
bc: Any drawbacks of differentiating as women-owned?
Rebecca: [Long pause] No. None. I really canít think of a single drawback.
bc: A Catalyst study cited in Forbes magazine found that organizations with the most senior women had returns more than a third greater than those with the fewest amount of senior women. Thoughts on why that might be?
Rebecca: Women tend to have a softer, more diplomatic approach. And success in business comes from being successful with people. Women also tend to give more attention to the details. The big picture is very important but real differences are found in the details. Also, I think women are great multi-taskers.
Okay, I just became a mom. And Iím realizing how incredibly difficult the job of being a mother is. I think women have so many jobs that they have to do that itís not easy to do all of them. But when you are able to juggle everything you become an extremely good multi-tasker and you do your job well. You do them all really well.
bc: Working mom? What about a business-owning mom?
Rebecca: Itís tough. Itís so hard for women. There really are two sides. As a mother you want to be with your child. You want to be the one with them, teaching them. On the other side you want to be involved in what we consider the real world and other things. You want adult communication. Itís a major struggle to balance that. And I donít care what any working mother says, thereís always guilt.
As a business owner with a baby Iíve found that I am able to be flexible with the other mothers at Atrium as well as the mothers who come in to interview. The fact that I can relate and empathize with whatís going on in their life makes it easier for us to get along and build trust.
bc: People are funny. You work with people. Tell us a funny story.
Rebecca: Years back we had an associate whose assignment was a professional position at a prestigious financial company. We had a great relationship with him and they loved him because he was a great worker. They eventually hired him and a few months later I get a call from the manager at the company saying that he had been firedÖ for viewing pornography on the premises. But not only had he been viewing it, he stored so much of it on his computer he was slowing the server down!
A year or so later I was on a sales call at another financial company and the manager said she had a great story to tell me about a guy, porn and a server. I almost died.
bc: In 1999 you ran a 3.5 mile race in 35 minutes and 50 seconds. Have you gotten faster?
Rebecca: Yes. How did you know about that? Thatís so embarrassing. It was one of the Chase Corporate Challenges. Before that I had never run. I get near the finish line and two people start chasing after me. So I start running away from them. I mean, this is New York.
So these people are chasing me through the park and I am just running away from them thinking, why are these people chasing me? Well, I found out later that I was the first woman CEO to cross the finish line and they wanted to have me come to the side. Now I run more like an eight-minute mile.
bc: Atrium sponsors an off-road racing truck. Whatís up with that?
Rebecca: My husband is a car racer. I go to all his races and help manage the team. I love getting involved. Itís a totally different world than the New York business world. Itís fun.
He sent me to racing school. I was with this group of car racers. One guy showed up with his Porsche. Another guy with his Ferrari. They were all wearing these racing gloves. I was the only female in this driving school. At the end of the weekend my time was the fastest. My husband was really proud of me.
bc: If you werenít running Atrium what would you like to be doing?
Rebecca: Owning a spa. I love the concept of relaxation. I love everything about spas. I have all these ideas. Maybe in the next life.
bc: That seems to be in line with you taking care of people.
Rebecca: Thatís so funny. I never even thought of that. I love the concept of helping people really balance their lives.
bc: What word do you use too often?
Rebecca: Holy shit.
All the time. The type of stuff you see in this business. We work with thousands of people and you canít control people. Yeah, ďholy shitĒ would be it. Every day. You canít imagine.
Donít print that.
bc: Your sonís going on his first job interview. Whatís the one piece of advice you give him?
Rebecca: Prepare and be genuine. Those are the two most critical things. When you are yourself and genuine, most of the time the right things happen