As a Latina executive in Miami’s Latino-dominated regional and hemispheric information technology space, one could excuse Melissa Medina if she struggles to find her place.
But she’s beyond any struggle. As a founder and current president of the annual eMerge Americas conference; the Women, Innovation & Technology Summit; and the Medina Family Foundation, Medina is a respected and successful executive who has certainly made a name for herself.
After graduating with her bachelor’s in business administration and management and master’s in international business, Medina went to work for Terremark Worldwide, the company founded and later sold for $1.4 billion by her father, Miami real estate and technology pioneer Manny Medina.
Medina, 39, still occasionally struggles to balance work and family. But she’s OK with that. Proud of her family and bullish on the place she’s earned in Miami’s technology marketplace, Medina says her mission is to lead her teams, her organizations, her family, and her community – and elevate Miami’s role in the global marketplace.
In this recent interview with the Center for Leadership, Medina opens up about her focus on innovation and transparency, reframing barriers as opportunities, and a staunch commitment to family – all contributing factors in her extraordinary accomplishments.
Q: What leadership qualities have you drawn upon for your success?
MM: I'm not a micromanager. Not whatsoever. I am all about team building, about encouragement. I want my team not only to bring ideas to the table, but to build on those ideas. I see my team as an extension of my family. I'm very passionate, I would say; and I think my team sees that. I would characterize myself as team building, empathetic, problem solver. I believe, for sure, that these are many of the characteristics my father taught me, and then a lot of it is my own innate personality, also coming through.
Q: You helped create an Innovation Challenge as part of eMerge. Is innovation important to leadership?
Absolutely, hands down, leadership and innovation, in my opinion, go hand in hand.
In order for eMerge Americas to continue to grow and be successful, it's critical that we're innovative and forward-thinking as leaders, as a company, as a team. If I'm not innovative as a leader, then the buck stops there. Innovation has to permeate through our entire team. I mean, I want to be creative, I want to be open to change. I say all the time, we have the BHAG, the Big Hairy Audacious Goal.
Q: What has made you successful as a leader? Any secret sauce, especially for women or working mothers?
MM: I don't know if there's really any secret sauce, to be honest. I think probably what I would say is a little cliché, but especially as a woman, don’t take “No” for an answer. Let the, "Barriers" - and I use barriers in quotes - others say you face empower you to in ways that make you break through those barriers. I'm a mom, a Latina, a woman, a wife, the daughter of a founder, which sometimes people can see as challenging. People might see those as challenges or barriers, but I actually let that fuel me. That's what I would say to others, whether it's men or women leaders.
Whatever the barriers people might say you face, let that empower you instead of using them as an excuse that holds you back.
Q: What leadership lessons have you learned and now share with your teams or protégés?
MM: Three words: Keep your word. I didn't realize it was a leadership lesson, but looking back, it definitely is. This is something that my father taught me from a very, very, very young age. I use it with my team all the time. He taught me from a very young age, no matter what you sign, whatever's in black and white, and even more importantly, what you say, what came out of your mouth, make sure you are following up on the promises you make. Make sure that your word means everything in life. That would be the number one lesson that I keep in the back of my mind, and that I share with my team all the time.
Q: Wife, executive, mother of five, volunteer. Balance must take work.
MM: I would say the struggle is real. I say all the time I have to make self-choices.
It's not about having time, it's about making time.
I feel that I've gotten better at when I'm with my family, it's family time, when I'm with my work family, it's work time, and also understanding that sometimes I'm going to have to miss those soccer games, or the gymnastics competition, or some of the after-school activities because I need to be there for work decisions. Sometimes, family comes first, and that thing at work can actually wait a day or two. It's a daily struggle, a weekly struggle. I'd like to think I've gotten a little bit better at it over time.
Q: What have you learned from your kids that helps you in leading your teams?
MM: Five kids, ages 11 and under, 15,000 adults at a conference. Virtually the same. Managing chaos, I think, comes naturally – time management, logistics, organizational skills, that all plays into both family and conference planning. I think I've gotten pretty good at spreadsheets, and Google Docs, and planning both for my team professionally and for my home. There are lessons to be learned from both. By the way, this is probably one of my most favorite questions that I've ever received.
Q: We’ve read that you love podcasts as a way to learn, hone your soft skills, and pursue personal development. What are your favorites?
MM: I am definitely a big fan of podcasts. My husband (Tony Jimenez, Managing Director of Medina Capital Partners) introduced me to them and now I try to sneak them in whenever I can. My hands-down favorite is called “Masters of Scale.” It's with Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn. It's all about building big ideas, and how to scale. He interviews the top business executives and serial entrepreneurs on each show. Sara Blakely, Marissa Mayer, Stewart Butterfield, Peter Thiel. The list goes on, and on, and on. You really get an in-depth conversation with each of these people. From each one, I learned something different, whether it's challenges they currently face or how they tackled others; these are great firsthand accounts. They're just very inspiring, phenomenal stories.
Another one is called “How I Built This” with Guy Raz on NPR. Again, you learn from the founders of SoulCycle, Kickstarter, Five Guys. For me, I just find a lot of inspiration from these firsthand accounts.
Q: How has having Manny Medina as your father helped you, or created a challenge for you?
MM: Having my father as my dad has 100% affected me in a positive way in my life. I think it's helped me both professionally and personally, of course. I don't think I realized until a little later in adulthood how lucky I truly am to have had him as the one who raised me, and someone I can still reach, in a quick text or phone call or car ride away. I was in the Terremark conference room probably since the age of five. I've had exposure to his meetings and due diligence processes when he was in real estate, and have just always been fascinated by the business world. When I first started working with him, I actually didn't realize how difficult it could be to be the boss's daughter. You’re looked at in a different way, "Were you just given this position." You need to prove yourself a lot more, I think. Trust also comes into play or, "Am I going to be the tattletale within the workplace?" All of that, I had to work through for many, many years. I'm not complaining in any way, to be honest. I think it just built my character up, and also helped me create my own path and my own journey. At some point, people don't think about it anymore. They realize that I was not given anything. I had to work my way up through many different roles in the organization. I deserve to be in the role that I'm in, not because I'm his daughter, but because of my work.
Q: As a leader, what's your greatest strength? What do you need to work on?
MM: I'd like to think my greatest strength as a leader is always encouraging my team to grow and think outside the box. Again, not micromanaging. But giving them the ability to create and build ideas, and the space to fail also. That's okay. I want to see my team members build something, and if it's not executed perfectly, that's okay. That's how you truly learn.
What do I need to work on most? I probably need to work on following my gut a little more with decisions. Whether it's hiring, or budgeting, or reporting. I second-guess myself. I question my gut a lot. But then usually when I think back, I'm like, "Man, I had a sneaking suspicion that this would happen. I should've followed my gut to begin with." I need to work on that.
Q: What's been your greatest career success?
MM: My greatest career success, I think, has been being present and working at all the eMerge Americas 2016 conference events, because this occurred less than 10 days after having my fifth child via C-section. I was there day and night. I think it taught me a lot about resilience, a lot about myself. Right before I had her, I thought, "There's no way that I could be up and functioning basically four or five days straight." I was really questioning whether I would be able to do that or not. I pushed through it. I'm glad I did. And then I completely shut off after that and gave all my time and energy for several months after that to my family. That was a big career success for me.
Q: What mark do you hope to leave on South Florida?
MM: When I think about this question, I think about both my parents and my children. I think of my parents because both of them came from Cuba at a very young age. This community has given my family incredible opportunities. It welcomed my family with open arms. Then I think about my children, and the future that they have in South Florida. What I hope is that I'm able to be part of creating something that has lasting impact in our community. I really believe that creating a sustainable and thriving tech and entrepreneurial hub will create those positive opportunities for my children. At the same time, I want to continue to build this community that has been so great to our family.
Join us for the lecture
Join us Thursday, November 14, 2019 for a Leadership Lecture featuring Melisa Medina Jimenez, President of eMerge Americas and the Medina Family Foundation.
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