Leadership Growth When Women Run Boards with Cassie Burr
Join us as I sit with Cassie Burr, a Talent Partner at VMG Partners and the Executive director of the Women On Boards Projects which she co-founded in February 2020. From analyst to powerhouse talent developer, Cassie Burr talks about her her unforgettable and favorite life moments, and how she became the Executive Director of Women on Board Project. As women in leadership is on the rise, this is an episode you don’t want to miss.
Today’s episode is hosted by Diana Fryc of Retail Voodoo, connect with her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dianafryc/
-The Women on Board Project and its mission
-Cassie’s career from an analyst to become a talent developer leader
-Special moments in Cassie’s career and what’s next
-The struggles of women in becoming a part of the boards
ABOUT THE GUEST
Executive Director, Women On Boards Project
Talent Partner at VMG Partners
Websites: https://www.vmgpartners.com/ | https://www.wobproject.com/
00:00 | Introduction
03:49 | What is the Women On Board Project and why does it exist?
08:09 | How does an analyst become a powerhouse talent developer and leader?
15:55 | Pivotal moments that changed Cassie’s life.
20:50 | The moment that working with Women On Board was the right decision
23:24 | Why do women want to be on boards and why are women not accepting the offer?
36:16 | How can someone become impactful in a business?
39:51 | What’s next for Cassie and her career?
42:07 | Conclusion
This episode is brought to you by Retail Voodoo. A brand consultancy focused on building, growing and revitalizing brands in the food, beverage, health and wellness industries. If you are ready to find a partner that will help your business create a high-impact strategy that gives your brand an advantage, please visit http://retail-voodoo.com/contact to set up a discovery call today.
Produced by Heartcast Media.
Diana: Hi, Diana Fryc here with a Gooder podcast where I speak with the powerhouse women in the food, beverage, and wellness industries about their journeys to success and their insights on the business. This episode is brought to you by Retail Voodoo, a brand development firm providing strategic brand and design services for brands in the food, wellness, and beverage industries. Our clients include Starbucks, Kind RCI, PepsiCo, Nike, and many other market leaders. So if your goal is to crush the competition by driving growth and disrupting the marketplace with new and innovative ideas, give us a call and let’s talk. You can find out more at retail-voodoo.com. Okay. Before we start, I absolutely need to give a huge shout-out to Lee Keith, co-CEO and co-founder of Perfect Snacks, the snacking company whose mission is to nourish the world with a hug, good vibes, and a delicious dose of fresh whole food nutrition. Check perfect snacks out in the refrigerated section of your local grocers or online at PerfectSnacks.com. And Lee, thank you so much for making this introduction to Cassie Burr. I think this is going to be a really fun episode. So on that note, I get to introduce Cassie Burr, who is a talent partner at VMG Partners, who are investors and consumer brands like Hey, look at that kind of pirate’s booty, Spindrift Drunk Elephant, Sun, Bum, Daily Harvest. It goes on and on and on. And I want to say, she’s also, and for me, more important for this episode, executive director of the Women on Boards Project, a nonprofit that she co-founded in February 2020 in collaboration with VG Partners TSG L Catterton squander pace encore consumer capital, AG and circle up, and that has placed 40 women on consumer company boards. I cannot wait to hear about this. Hello, Ms. Cassie.
Cassie: Hello. Thank you so much for having me. And I love that you gave that up. So we love her. So, so honored. She thought of me.
Diana: She is a good person and a free spirit and all.
Cassie: Things that I love more now.
Diana: So I really want to. First of all, when I’m working or when I’m interviewing somebody who’s on a consumer brand, I always ask the first question, tell us about your brand. So I want to focus on women on boards today because I think it needs a lot more love than it currently has. Actually, everything needs a lot more love, but I want to focus on women on boards today. Why don’t you tell us what is it about and why it exists?
Cassie: So the Women on Boards Project is a nonprofit with the mission to diversify the boards of private, successful consumer companies. So back when we started this in 2020, I really applaud there was a growing movement around organizational diversity, especially at the board level, but where we thought some of those groups were kind of missing the mark was in their approach. A lot of the conversation back then was around what I would describe as the supply side of how you would increase the pipeline of board-ready women. And so much of that approach is broken. First of all, there’s no pipeline problem. I think you would agree. Most women would. That is such a frustrating thing to hear. But also this phrase board ready is really counterproductive, really problematic. What does that mean? When are you ready? And so we instead have focused on the demand side. That’s where we think we can successfully solve the problem. We need to get more consumer investors and companies to create space in the boardroom to recruit women into these opportunities. So that’s the approach we took. That’s why we signed up all of those consumer investors and many more to be part of what we’re doing. And then we, as the nonprofits, support the companies pro-bono in finding the women. And two and a half years later, it’s going really well.
Diana: Oh, my goodness. Jimmy Andretti. I think that is a topic for beverages, plural.
Cassie: Yes. Oh, fun topic to have over drinks. Yes.
Diana: Yes. Yes. So. Now you’re co-founder. What about this mission was called to you? What? What? Why are you?
Cassie: So the story goes. Years ago, a few of us kind of got together in a room, and I really would start by calling out Cheryl O’Laughlin. So she is a force in our industry for those that don’t know her. She was the CEO of Clif Bar at one point. She was one of the co-founders of Plum Organic and became the CEO of Rebel. And in this chapter of their life, she’s doing a lot to support the industry. So she approached me. She approached my boss, Cara Rochelle, Melissa Fat Gina, and a few other women. Just being like, this is bullshit. Like, how do you work in this industry? How are there so few women? When do you look at the consumer, who is the consumer? It’s 70 to 80% of consumers that are buying. The products in our industry are women. How are we not better represented on the boards of these companies? So we started with the problem and then we kind of all came together and were like, How do we uniquely change that? So it was in those early days like, you know, a lot of just believing like if not us, then who, right? And since we really have the conviction that we can play a role in solving that, it’s like, okay, let’s where do we go from here? And again, like Sheryl, she is a freaking force. She knows she did not take no for an answer. I learned a lot from her, especially in those early days or, you know, just like making it happen. Mm.
Diana: Awesome. And you took it into your own hands. Yes. I think that well, there’s a lot to be said for that, and I’m sure we’ll address that a little bit later on. But I want to go back a little bit further in time and learn about how somebody who I want to say that your story starts with me.
Cassie: But I know this.
Diana: So tell us your story. How did a research analyst turn into this powerhouse talent developer and leader of women? Like how to give us a little, you know, Reader’s Digest of how that happened.
Cassie: MM Yeah. In short, gosh, good fortune. A lot of luck being in the right place at the right time. Maybe some preparation I throw in there to give myself a little credit. So I’m originally from Phenix, went to school where I grew up with Arizona State, and studied math. And that story is just like I had an amazing math teacher in high school. My mom is a teacher. So like shout out to the world of teachers who just have such an influence on people’s lives. And so her, my math teacher, for a lot of reasons just encouraged me like, sure, why not study that in school? And there were some great professors. AC Lloyd recruited some folks from Cornell, so I got pulled into some really cool math bioresearch programs right from the get-go and like loved my time there, but like really had very little exposure to what a career in math could look like or really frankly, any career outside of my bubble at that time, I got very lucky. I had friends that had interned with Goldman Sachs, didn’t know what Goldman Sachs did, or what it was, but they encouraged me to just meet them anyway. So a lot of things happened from there. I kind of joined Goldman and was there for just over five years. It was amazing. I was in operations, which meant a lot of things, but I think one fortunate component was I was part of their Utah office. Okay. Not the hub of Goldman. Right. But why? It was a brand new office. I was literally one of the first people hired there. They sent me for six months to learn my job and take it back to Utah. And there was just so much opportunity they had to build this office from scratch. You know, they needed heads of their affinity group, so eventually joined the leadership team of our women’s network. They needed people to lead recruiting. So I was able to be involved in that. I had these initiatives that if I was in New York, I would have never had the opportunity to do until five, or ten years in. But being in a new office really opened up doors. So it was through that exposure that I learned that the people’s side was what I really enjoyed. I think there was an opportunity to intersect my more data-driven math approach with humans and people. I joined a search firm for, oh, a hot minute. I was only there for about a year in San Francisco, but it kind of gave me a taste and validation. Yeah, that intersection was really interesting and I could merge those parts of who I was. Yeah. And then, you know, I’ve told this story many times. It’s equal parts embarrassing, but hopefully also helpful for others to hear that can resonate with imposter syndrome. Yeah, I got a LinkedIn message one day from someone that said networking. He was a recruiter reaching out about my new job at the partners and I sincerely just thought he wanted to network. He had shared this opportunity. You know, this VP of talent at VMG. Yeah, I knew of VMG because I had unsuccessfully tried to recruit a lot of their CEOs, and those folks were very happy in their jobs. But I just, you know, embarrassingly did not expect he was trying to recruit me for the job. So I actually did a little bit of research on my own, and I sent him a couple of profiles of people I would recommend. Mm-hmm. And I think he was, like, completely confused, because who does any of, like, those folks look great, but so do you. Can you please talk? So the rest is history. You know, I think that naivete may even have helped me during the interview process. Mm-hmm. Part of me never fully believed I would get this type of opportunity with VMG. And so that gave me courage, permission to just say what I really felt, you know, about certain topics. Yeah. And thankfully, VMG is the type of place where I think that that passion and the ability to kind of back it up with, you know, my research with things I had done, I think that’s hopefully what resonated. And so it’s been seven years since that happened.
Diana: That’s a long time.
Cassie: It’s been a great chapter. Yeah. Had many chapters within it. Yeah.
Diana: To say the least. And I’ll say, for those of us that don’t interact with VMG on a regular basis like myself, that the company has an aura like there is a specialness that just emanates from it and all the leadership. Like, how, how you like, how you choose the right people to build your culture. It is a gift. And the rest of us just watch kind of in awe as you not only navigate the brands and lead the brands that you do, but also the people that are in your organization. So kudos to you. I mean, really a special place.
Cassie: I mean, I don’t know how much I get to take credit for that, but I’m so humbled and honored to be part of it. I just think they’re so progressive and forward-thinking spaces from like who we are and how we bring our full selves to work. You know, it’s not uncommon. I have a colleague whose hair is sometimes blue. You know, I have colleagues who like to show off their full selves in terms of fashion or identity, and that’s discouraged. If you look at our website, it’s typical to see private equity and like suits and ties and rights. Like dudes. And that’s not us. Yeah. I think the way that transpires with our company is, is it makes us more approachable. Yeah, we are. You know, Leigh, I know everything about her. Families are all my colleagues have attended. I’ve been there when our kids were recently born. Like, it’s just cool to recognize that like in this industry and consumer where, you know, where this all it matters, like who we are as consumers, who we are as people, and who we are as investors. These are not separate hats. You can wear all white and.
Diana: Yet you can be a human and do your job is even still such a strange concept in many organizations. Oh well, so you mentioned a little bit about this. I feel like sometimes some of our biggest learnings come from what I’ll call beautiful oops moments. Those are the moments this thing fell apart. I made a bad call. What have you done that turned out to be one of the reasons why you’re on the trajectory that you’re on? And I wonder if you have one that’s pivotal? Pivotal. Easy enough for me to say or one that just stands out for you where you could say if this moment wouldn’t happen if I would not trip over that step, I wouldn’t be here. And is it something that you’d be willing to share?
Cassie: Yeah. I think a couple of things come to mind. So Cheryl had originally come to me with this idea of the women on board projects, and I was a big naysayer on it. Not because I don’t believe in diversifying boards. I mean, that is fundamental to who I am. Companies cannot be as strong if they are not also diverse. I think it was just like the ambiguity of approach, like how are we going to get there? What are we going to take? Why do we need to do that? I wasn’t seeing the vision early on. And so, as I mentioned, Sheryl is, of course, going to Kara. She’s like, okay, Cassie’s not on board. I’m going to go to Kara, her boss. And Kara is a visionary, you know, and I think saw what Sheryl wanted to build and wasn’t worried about the how. So thankfully, because Kara’s my boss, she pulled me right back and she’s like, you will be involved. Okay? You’re right. And obviously, like, I’m so glad. Right. So I think that we, you know, order of operations, like we can figure out the execution in the how later. Sometimes the vision is what needs to take priority. And then like this was less of an oops on my part or noobs on anyone’s part. But what was interesting through this journey is Kara got sick early on and she has since passed away. I’m sorry, last year. Thank you. I appreciate that. I am. I am, too. And when she got sick and kind of had to recuse herself from a lot of what we were building, it forced me to step up. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. And in a lot of ways, I didn’t know who to turn to, to have the answers. And I just had to kind of dig deep and trust my gut, you know, trust these amazing women around the table. And so I think I’m grateful that I think that was one of the inflection points I grew most was being put in that ambiguity.
Diana: Yeah. Interesting that your superpower at the moment, the analytical mathematician where you couldn’t connect the dots on the front end, ended up being a little bit a of a strip for you, but then came back around and, you know, you were able to put it back on your cape and just push this whole team forward. I mean, I know it’s not just you, but I mean, in regards to your involvement, it’s interesting how our strengths and our weaknesses become our weaknesses in these very specific moments. Right.
Cassie: You know, so like in my big role, you know, we often think about our founders and our CEOs in very rare cases, those are the same people.
Cassie: You know what great people? Very amazing at being able to wear both hats. Bill Creole man. Madeline hated few other Nancy Twine. Mm-hmm. But. But that’s rare. Plus you have the founder who knows how to put, like, you know, visionary guardrails on and, like, just says no to all. And they just see the big picture and they’re so creative. And then you’ve got CEOs who like execution and strategy and like how to get there with the whole women on board projects. What’s been interesting is that I’ve had this identity crisis in some ways.
Cassie: I never viewed myself as a founder. I viewed myself as the executioner, though, right? Mm-hmm. And it’s been a journey accepting that, you know, maybe maybe I can wear bold hats. Like, maybe there are parts of me that can relate to that founder mentality as well. And, you know, set the vision and be the visionary. Right. It’s been interesting, though.
Diana: Yeah. Well, you have to grow that muscle. I mean, oftentimes our strength is the thing that we’ve been growing all along. And the weakness component is the part that we haven’t exercised much. And so we consider that unusable. But once we’re put in a position that we need to grow, you find that balance?
Cassie: Yeah. Yeah. Well.
Diana: I’m curious. I’m curious. At what point did you know that what you were doing with women on boards was the right thing to do? Like, was there an aha moment? Was there a conversation? Was there a specific placement?
Cassie: Oh, that’s such a good question. It was more like a chapter than it was a single point.
Cassie: It was like many pieces of feedback that I think was telling us we were on the right path when we were recruiting our investors. We now call them sponsors. But, you know, I’ll get to wander pace, circle of Citi Capital, that whole crew. My colleague Wayne gave me really good advice and he said, like, make it impossible for them to say no. Hmm. As you launch this, don’t make the hurdle high. Right. Make it very easy for them to be part of this. Yes. You bring such credibility and you can figure out the rest later. Yeah. No. As Sheryl and I were pitching the vision to all of those investors and we were starting to get yeses. That was definitely one of those moments of, like, positive feedback. I think this could work. We officially launched in February 2020. At the end of the month, I flew to New York to be on Yahoo! TV to talk about what we were building. Yes. I almost got bumped because.
Diana: Oh, my goodness.
Cassie: This COVID thing that was happening, I was like, no, no, no, that’ll just freeze over. Right. And so I think it was like when we actually launched and, you know, we were in Fortune Broadsheet or on Yahoo! And we were getting all of this press and we were kind of getting the positive reinforcement of our approach. I think that was another one of those data points. But I think more importantly than anything because the work had not been done yet. Mm-hmm. At those points was. Was our first placement. Got it. You know, the 40 others that we’ve supported or led has been that validation that we’re trying to do something that is more narrow in scope than others. And that is a big part of why it’s working.
Diana: I see. Okay. I love it. Now, I know one of the reasons why we’re talking and why I was so excited, I mean, specifically why I was so excited to speak to you is, of course, one of the big things that I’m trying to do with the Gooder podcast is normalize women in leadership roles. And of course, a board position is a type of leadership role. I speak with so many women as do you, but in different capacities than in your capacity. Ooh. I feel like it’s Friday. Everybody you can hear my brain is a little twirly today. But my question for you is so simple. Why should women want to be on boards?
Cassie: Yeah, I love that question. I think there are a lot of reasons. Mm-hmm. They want to for a perfectly great reason. They why, you know, they want the learning of getting to see how another board functions. If that board has investors involved in the board, how do those investors work with the company? How you influence without doing that is a skill that’s really, really hard when you’re part of the senior leadership team, oftentimes your player, and coach, your job is to both lead and do on the board. You cannot do it. Your job is to influence. So building that skill set is amazing. Getting exposure to other categories, and other business models. So again, all of that I put in that, like because they want to. Mm-hmm. Is it a big component? But also because they just have so much to give, you know, like that if it is a consumer company, is the company composed of the consumers it is targeting, if not the board, making sure your board does comprise that consumer is really, really important. It sends a signal to the consumer. It sends a signal, importantly to the employees of that company, that this matters. You know, your boss, the CEO, is reporting to the board. And so if that board represents the consumers you’re serving, that’s very powerful in terms of retention and recruitment of your team. So a million other reasons, but those are sure things I’d highlight.
Diana: Those are the big things. Well, so then what? What do you find often stops women from accepting an offer or even entertaining a conversation with you? What are we telling ourselves? That isn’t true.
Cassie: So I like to shift that question a little bit. Sure. The world is telling you which is okay, what we’re trying to change. Oftentimes the world is telling women, yeah, you can serve on boards when you’re ready. So do X, Y, and Z in order to be ready. And then let’s talk. And some of those things women are told to do first is, you know. Reach the highest level of your career, maybe even retire potentially.
Diana: Oh, my goodness.
Cassie: Or, you know, draft that board bio, you know, do that first step or serve on a nonprofit or several board nonprofit boards before you consider a for-profit board. All of this is shitty advice, and I think that is why women often don’t give themselves permission to say, Well, am I ready now? Like, is it not a question of readiness or is it a question of like the right board opportunity? You know, where I’m at in my career and what I have to give? Yeah.
Diana: Okay. Good, good. I like hearing that for sure. I feel like there’s more back there. There’s a lot of energy behind your answer. Is there anything there ? I didn’t ask around that that you want to just add. Add.
Cassie: Mm. Something I will share is like so the very natural next question I got is like, okay, you’re, you’re right, Cassie. Like, I do have a lot of girls. I think I could be a great fit for these types of boards. Mm-hmm. Now what?
Diana: Okay, so now.
Cassie: What? Now what? It’s a hard question to answer because that is a big part of why we are trying to shift that onus and that responsibility on the people who actually have the influence over the board composition.
Cassie: I would say that’s consumer investors or investors broadly, but pretty women on board projects and of focusing on consumers, it’s consumer investors and it’s companies within the space. It’s really their responsibility to take a look at the board and be like, how do we improve the composition? How do we add different skill sets, different perspectives, disparate expertise, and make space for both for, you know, a different type of board member? The other tip, though, I would give, because that’s a very unsatisfactory answer. If you’re a woman and I can’t do that, that doesn’t help me. Right. The tip I always say is like, let’s talk about how we define board members when we’re talking about public companies. There’s no ambiguity in that definition. Yeah. You know, it’s in public docs, like, you know what a board director is on the private side. We have more creativity, I would say. Okay. So, yes, you have that independent board member who has voting rights but very rarely is a company progressive or forward-thinking enough to create space for that board, that independent board member. And so that’s sometimes where the conversation dies. The company will be like, I just don’t have an open seat. So what I encourage the company is and what I tell women to think about is I define a board member as someone who is in the room, has a voice, has access, and has the ability to make an impact and achieve. And with that definition, no notice. I didn’t mention voting rights companies. Very little comes to a vote. So frankly, who cares? Right. Investors typically have two or three seats. Why don’t they invite an independent to sit in their seat on their behalf? They’re going to leave the room no matter what. It doesn’t actually diminish their presence. Yeah. How about a board advisor who technically doesn’t have voting rights but is still in the room, has a voice, and is paid with these more creative approaches? That’s a lot of success in changing the board composition. Yes.
Diana: Oh, I love it. Thank you. I think just that definition right there alone, Cassie, is enough for women who have not been exposed to board possibility looks like for them can give them give these women a different way of looking at the opportunity rather than this kind of narrow definition that I think we’re all carrying in the back of our heads. Does that make sense?
Cassie: I couldn’t agree more. Yeah. There’s also a legacy stereotype of what a board member looks like, right? Thankfully, I think most folks understand that’s not a helpful stereotype. You know, the old-school stereotype is someone retired. Yeah, she was a CEO. Yeah. By that very nature probably is an older white guy. Yeah. I think companies are recognizing being far more strategic with your board. Are you going through this massive digital transformation where you are? You know, 90% of your revenue was all in retail, like in record stores, but your product has the opportunity to really sell on Amazon or direct to consumers. Right. Go find that digital expert. You probably don’t want that person to be a CEO. You probably want the chief growth officer or VP of digital. Exactly, you know, and so that’s another area where we’re demystifying those types and re-educating and having a lot of success. Yeah.
Diana: Well, you say something that I would like to use. I love a good analogy. And you said something that I was like, okay, look, if you are a CPG company. I guarantee you 1,000%. You are not just selling your product in the grocery store over the last three or four years you have gone to a hard-core Etsy.com platform. You’ve changed and you’ve migrated in order to meet the demands of the consumer and what’s happening in the marketplace. For some reason, when it comes to people, we get stuck in operations. We’re willing to make the change, so we have the ability to make the changes. It’s a conscious choice, and maybe that’s what it is, is just reminding the leadership of these companies that who you put on your board is a conscious decision, that this isn’t about putting. I’m going to throw a stereotype that your golfing partner or what have you in on the board, that we can make the change. You just have to be aware.
Cassie: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. And I’m really optimistic because so many people get it. The way they get it is the companies, the founders. So we really are. We’re in it. We’re in an exciting time.
Diana: I love it. I absolutely love it. So as you’re moving forward, I’m wondering, do you have a moment that you can share, something that you’re proud of? I know it’s kind of hard to choose your baby’s favorite moment, but if you could just kind of say, yeah, this was one of my favorite things I like to talk about the most, about what we’ve been doing.
Cassie: How worried are you? You know, this whole time you haven’t caught me off on the backs of my feet. And I have a lot of thoughts. I always have thoughts. Okay. This is. This is another learning for me. Okay. Okay. For two years, there were about five or six of us that did this. Okay. As volunteers, as our nighttime jobs. Remarkably, with amazing support from my VMG colleagues, they always knew what I was working on and they saw the intersection in the world, but always kind of felt like, you know, maybe I shouldn’t convey exactly how much time I spent.
Diana: An hour a week, I swear.
Cassie: Right, exactly. And at the end of 2021, one of my fellow board members, Brianna Rizzo, who is now one of my colleagues at Virginia Partners, recognized this is not sustainable. Like we’re holding this back. This will not be as big as it could be if we just continue to allow it to just be a few of us volunteers as our nighttime jobs. Right, right. Right. So we’ve really, Brianna, that had the idea like what if we launch some type of committee framework and we see like if we can just define great committees, great goals for those committees, maybe folks might want to get involved in what we’re doing. Yeah. And yeah, it’s been really rewarding six months since we launched six committees.
Diana: Oh, my.
Cassie: Gosh. Overwhelmed by the interest of people you know, that other woman who can just so understand this journey and want to be part of the solution. Yes. Who raises their hands, dispose of VMG companies or heads of marketing or people that we’ve helped placed into opportunities like seriously, some of the most incredibly accomplished folks said, Yeah, I will spend my nighttime hours. Yes, a considerable amount of time. Make sacrifices be passed like this. So we now have about 35 committee members that are helping us stop what we’re doing. And I’m just going by the scale of the impact we can have with so many more folks involved.
Diana: Yeah. And did I see that Rusty Porters on part of your posse?
Cassie: She is part of our pocket. For example, she is one of the folks that we had early on introduced to a board opportunity. So, yes, she’s not the only placemat that made that raise their hand like, wow, thank you. I benefited from what you guys are building and I want to make sure it benefits so many more other women.
Diana: Yes. Awesome. I like her. She is such a good person.
Cassie: I couldn’t agree more. Okay.
Diana: So when you’re thinking about when people come to you and say, how do I change the world? I guess because you do a lot of things. So I’m just going to say, how do I have an impact on the business? Like you, Cassie, what kind of advice do you give them?
Cassie: Like me and. So part of me thinks the first thing that comes to mind is the people I get to do all of this work with. Mm-hmm. And I like it. Can’t undervalue or underrepresented the impact that has on all of it. So I’ll give you a few examples I referenced, Brianna. You know, we’ve always been really close friends. We got to work together on the Women, on Boards Project and got to see that. Looks like I’ve always kind of referred to her as my work wife. And when the opportunity to work with her in my day job came up, I was kind of nervous about the idea. I remember telling that to her and Kara being like, so wonderfully supportive. Just like, Oh my gosh, that’s such a great idea. I know that we were targeting someone way more junior, but I think this is a beautiful marriage. You guys could support each other in your careers, but also your lives are so grim. And I was just like, you know, Kara’s support and Brianna’s excitement, all of that. That was just a great example. Elisa Williams is a partner at VMG. She’s also my best friend in life. And again, I like to have someone that knows you so well that can call you out on your bullshit when you’re being stupid or like, not giving yourself enough credit. Yep. That could help you. See, your blindspots are wonderful. Yes. Melissa Parker. Sheena is another one. She’s on the board. She was one of the founders of the Women on Boards Project. The ability to call her and talk out loud and her just to supplement the way I’m thinking about everything and like, help me get from point A to B is wonderful. I mentioned Sheryl like this all when asked, if not for her, her persistence. So I don’t know how helpful that is. But like, you know, there’s this analogy to use, like the approach you mentioned. These people are like my personal board of directors. Yeah. And like, learning over time, you know, I think a lot of women can probably relate to, like, having to do it all themselves. Because if you don’t, then I might see your weaknesses. Yes. And having these wonderful people in my life who I can be vulnerable and like say I don’t know and like they can lift me up and support me. Like, it’s been a really important learning for me. What about.
Diana: I love it. I want a personal board of directors. I wrote it down and I.
Diana: Personal board of directors. Is anybody interested? Just send me an email. I’m like ten.
Cassie: I’m like, I’m Diana. Like, I love that you brought us together. I love what I’ve been learning about what you built. The unity of folks that you are lifting up and celebrating and bringing the light is just magnificent. So I know that we’re just one early in our journey of getting to know each other, but yeah, I applaud you so much, and I hope this is just the beginning of our friendship. Yay!
Diana: Well, then, cheers to that. I’ll tell you a little bit more about there’s a real cheer coming up for sure. I’ll tell you about it later. For now, can you share what’s next for you? Are VMG or women on boards? That’s what’s happening we should be keeping our eyeballs on.
Cassie: Well, you know what? I’m probably supposed to answer from a career perspective, but I will. I’ll be seven months pregnant. Oh, no. Yeah. So I’m not going to lie. I’m. I’m. That is something that’s on my mind, like. Yes, of course, it is. Yeah, she’s my first. I’m having a girl.
Diana: Oh, that’s. Oh, my goodness. Oh, all of it. How are you feeling?
Cassie: Oh, I feel. I feel fantastic. Knock on wood. I hope no other moms hate me for saying that. It’s not without its hard struggles. Yeah, yeah. I’m just kind of excited. Like, I really think becoming a mom is going to impact everything in my life. It will be, you know, this nonprofit, my day job. I think the perspective and lens that will give me will only make me hopefully stronger. So I’m excited about that. Yes.
Diana: And that it’s a girl I. First of all, moms and girls have a very different relationship than moms and sons do. You know, our moms and daughters. Moms and sons. But how I look at the world when I’m looking at the world through the lens of my daughter is different from the lens of my son. And it drives me bonkers. And it’s really the reason why I do. A lot of the stuff that I’m doing now is because I don’t want her to see that disparity when she is an adult. So it’s of course going to change your world. And I got to tell you, holidays are going to be the best because you’re going to see them through kiddo eyes. So that’s going to be the best. I’m going to guarantee you that’s going to be the best.
Cassie: It’s something quite special to look forward to at the back half of this year. Yes.
Diana: Well, congratulations to you on that. That’s a big deal, Cassie. My goodness. I’m really enjoying our conversation, but our time is almost up. Couple of questions I like to ask everybody. First of all, one is about trends that could be in food, beverage, and wellness because that’s the space that we know well. But it could be in anything. What trends are you watching and why?
Cassie: Okay. We are at interesting macroeconomic inflection points, approaching a recession most likely. And my biggest fear because I’ve seen this in previous recessions. Yeah. That is when companies cut corners a lot and with it, you know, you’re already seeing mass layoffs. And I think I’ve already anecdotally observed fewer celebrations about new board members, new ones. And so I want to take this opportunity to say my conviction and I don’t think this is unfounded because I think VMG has benefited from previous cycles around this. But my conviction is that companies that are brave enough to continue to focus on ESG, on diversity, are the ones that double down on bringing in those new perspectives, that different type of expertise, and aren’t afraid of this environment to make you know, to bring on those additions. Those are the ones that will come out of this cycle even stronger. These cycles, the down cycles are always much shorter than the. Yes. So I really hope companies keep that in mind. Yeah. They don’t miss this opportunity. They don’t use that as an excuse. Yeah. That’s a make-them-board hire right now.
Diana: Hmm. So interesting, I. I am going to go out. I’m going to put money down on this. I think the recession is going to be mild and incredibly short. I think it’s going to be a hiccup and it might be along the lines of what we saw during COVID, where people freaked out, laid everybody off, and then suddenly couldn’t find enough. Like it felt like a minute later. Now they were understaffed and they could. I have a feeling I’m watching the markets and I’m super interested in how the Fed is handling interest rates. I think it’s smarter than what we’ve seen in the past. That is another reason we might have to have like 17 drinks eventually because we’ll have to talk about each of these topics individually.
Cassie: Well, you know, I’m going to be craving those drinks, though. Yes, you are. Money, as I would have liked. Zero. Oh, wow.
Diana: Well, here’s where you’re dry. So you know the history of dry soda, right?
Cassie: Actually, no. Oh.
Diana: We worked on that brand years ago. And so the history of dry salt soda is Cherelle was pregnant and she loved wine. And at the time she came out with the brand, which is almost 20 years ago now. Her choices were milk or water because she couldn’t drink juice, couldn’t drink anything else. So she came out with dry soda, something that had a culinary flavor profile with no alcohol that she could drink. Big girl with a real dinner. That is the genesis of Dry Soda.
Cassie: I love that. Yeah, it’s amazing why not that routine? And, you know, it’s less about the abbey and right. Like the community, the being able to sip something delightful and different and indulgence.
Diana: Yes. Yes. So that is history. Good timing on that one.
Cassie: Love it. More shout out to Rusty and for dry soda. There you go. Okay.
Diana: And then, are there any women leaders or rising stars out there in our industry or not that you would like to elevate or simply admire for the work they’re doing right now and why?
Cassie: Okay. I’m going to kick myself because, you know, as soon as I answer later on today, I’m going to be like, oh, my gosh, I would use her and her and her. This is a forever list. Yes. At this moment, a couple of people come to mind. Okay. So I would make a shout-out to Aurora James Kay, who is the founder of the 15% pledge. Okay. It’s phenomenal the movement that she has created. I should also mention that this is not her only job. She is also the founder of Brother Valley, an amazing shoe company. I mentioned to her that she’s created a movement where she’s putting light on retailers and the lack of representation of black-founded and black-owned brands on the retailer’s shelves. Mm-hmm. She has very successfully encouraged those companies to change that and the increased representation across retailers, you know, apparel, food, and grocery sector. So I wanted to highlight her. I don’t know this woman, but one of the partners at Blackstone and Chong, just the investment that Blackstone has been making is women founded the brand. Oh, yes. Best that those brands are having just an hour off. I cannot wait to see what they continue to do. Yes. And then, you know, I think I would highlight Jocelyn, the founder of him, for her. Again, we know each other, but not super well. But I just think for a very long time, she’s been fighting the good fight in the moments that we have intersected. She has been nothing but generous with her ideas, her approach, with her knowledge. I think what she is doing is phenomenal. Mm-hmm. Now, in a similar vein, I’d probably highlight Elena over at Goldman. You know, I think Goldman was one of the more progressive that said, we’re not going to take your company public unless they have women representation on their board. Yes. And Alana has been the one internally that has largely supported a lot of these companies, private and public, in diversifying their boards. And it’s just really cool to see that type of entrepreneurship in a place like Goldman, you know, where I used to work, where I didn’t see that very often. Right. It’s been a really hard journey for her. Yeah. So a few of you have a few.
Diana: Thank you. We’ll have to. I will have to. Look. Those are I. I love it. I’m my favorite part after the podcast is going through all the names that people recommend and going and just learning about the amazing works that are happening out there. Thank you for sharing those folks.
Cassie: I’m like, well, if you get you get access to. Oh, wonderful. More incentive for people to listen to all of your podcasts.
Diana: There you go.
Diana: Let’s make it happen. Like, let’s spread the love and spread the word, right?
Diana: Yes. Well, we have been I have been you guys have been listening, but I’ve been talking with Cassie Burr, executive director of Women on Boards and Talent Partner at VMG Partners. Cassie, where can people learn more about you and the companies that you work for that organization that you work for?
Cassie: Yeah, well, I’m terrible with email, but I am pretty accessible, so shoot me and know Brett VMG partners at com connect with me on LinkedIn and are really active there. If I don’t respond right away, you can send me that second message. Yes, I don’t mind it at all.
Diana: Hopefully she’s involved with the baby these next few months, so don’t get too aggressive.
Cassie: Very, very sure I should pay for that. Yeah, just on the Internet. That really easy to buy your child a friendly face.
Diana: I love it. Well, thank you so much for your time today, Cassie. I have loved getting to know you. I cannot wait to meet you in person, and I really look forward to seeing what you’re what you do next. And I want to thank all the listeners for your time today. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with a friend. Otherwise, have a great rest of your day, and catch you next time on the Gooder podcast.