As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Brandreth Canaley.
Brandreth Canaley is the COO of Sextant Stays, a next-generation hospitality brand that’s changing the way we live, work, and travel by offering units that combine the service and amenities of a hotel with the space and comfort of an Airbnb. She holds a dual Bachelors degree of International Business from Universidad Pontificia Comillas-ICADE (Madrid, Spain) and Northeastern University, and a Master’s degree of International Management from Northeastern University. Brandy dedicates almost all of her free time to cooking and would someday love to open a restaurant.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I did half of my undergraduate degree in Spain and traveled a lot, frequently using Airbnb. I ended up writing my thesis on changes in consumer behavior towards the sharing/gig economy and used Airbnb as my case study. At first, my goal was to work for them, but towards the end of graduate school, Andreas, our CEO, approached me about joining Sextant Stays.
He had just started the company and I thought that this would be a great way to learn about the business from the supply side and a great chance to build a company from the ground up (and moving to Miami certainly didn’t sound bad either).
My initial plan was to stay for a year, but I haven’t left!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The Summer of 2020 was by far the most interesting period of my time at Sextant Stays. As COVID raged on, several of our competitors went out of business and we took over 3 of their buildings in New Orleans and 2 in Miami. Almost overnight we tripled in size. A group of us drove to New Orleans with no real idea of how long we were going to be there. We experienced everything from cross-country shipping complications to intense labor storages to high pressure negotiations.
That summer showed me what my team and I were capable of. We had no choice but learn how to operate differently, to adapt everyday to new challenges brought on by expanding so fast and the pandemic. By the end of the year, we had grown 650%; it was incredible to see the dramatic change between May and December.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I almost quit my first year! I wanted a more “prestigious” job and started to make arrangements to leave. Luckily, Andreas and I had a conversation about the future and vision of the company and I decided to stay. I learned how important communication is; if I had brought up some of my concerns earlier, I would have saved myself a lot of stress and anxiety.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
During Sextant Stays’ expansion to New Orleans in May of 2020, I was handling the distribution side of our business on a scale that I had never done before and I was very overwhelmed. Doug Truitt, an expert on distribution in our industry, was assisting with the data transfer from another company and could sense that I was a little out of my depth.
What started off as a consulting role, evolved into more of a mentorship and a friendship. Doug taught me so much about the technical operations of the systems we use and also kept me sane through an incredibly stressful summer.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
I try to do something active everyday — yoga, HIIT class, a run. It’s no secret that exercise is good for your mental health so I try to prioritize that. I also love to cook; the whole process, from grocery shopping to serving the meal, helps me relax and is one of my central sources of joy.
If I have a stressful week, I make sure I’m being active in the mornings and then plan a fun meal to cook during the weekend as a way to unwind.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
Diversity in all forms brings different perspectives to solve a problem. Some of our best ideas and solutions occur when something unexpected or creative is brought up that never would have occurred to me otherwise. We have a diverse employee base in terms of race, age, gender and nationality, and everyone is encouraged to bring new solutions to the table. When you’re tackling really big, company-altering decisions, you want to have a perspective that might not be as obvious to you.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
- Hire based on values, not titles
I’ve found myself saying this a lot recently, but we really do hire and fire based on our core values. Of course there are jobs that require a specific skill set, but for many of the jobs at Sextant Stays, the skills can be taught. It’s much harder to improve upon our core values, like empathy or being team first, if the employee lacks those traits to begin within. When you build out your team this way, you’ll naturally hire a more diverse group.
- Go the extra mile for your employees
Right now there is a great realignment of values happening; employees around the country are taking stock of their work/life balance, their pay, the quality of their work. At Sextant Stays, we are constantly adjusting what we offer employees to make sure that what we’re providing is improving their lives.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
As COO, I’m responsible for the health of the organization. That means I am overseeing the day-to-day operations within our properties, making sure that the organization is well run and ensuring that our directors and managers have the tools they need to do their jobs well.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
In big organizations, as it relates to employees, there’s almost a fear, hesitation, or level of discomfort when interacting with the executive team. At Sextant Stays, we try to dispel that because, yes — there is a hierarchy but that doesn’t necessarily mean that communication should only flow in one direction.
We have a manual that all new employees read in their first three months and afterward we schedule a meeting together to discuss it. What that meeting really is, is a chance for us to lay the foundation of strong employee-employer communication. It’s my goal to soften any edges they think I may have, and put a voice and a friendly face to my name. Down the line, if there’s something they want to talk about, or there’s an issue, I hope they feel comfortable reaching out to me directly.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
The most striking challenge to me is parenthood and what is now coined as the “Motherhood Penalty”. Women can be overlooked for promotions or new opportunities once they become mothers because there is the underlying assumption that they will not be as dedicated to the job.
A smaller challenge, to me, is the language that is sometimes used when addressing women. On several occasions I’ve been called darling or sweetheart, which doesn’t really irk me, but I know for certain my male colleagues are not being called “son”.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
My position is unique in that the role of COO didn’t exist when I started at Sextant Stays; it is an evolution of all the things that I’ve done previously. In the earlier days, there was a never-ending list of tasks to cross off, now the list is still on-going but it is more about managing the people and departments underneath me.
Do you think everyone is cut out to be an executive? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
Empathy, adaptability and recognizing the value of the team are key components in being a leader, in this case an executive. Not everyone has those traits and, frankly, not everyone aspires to be a leader in their organization (which is completely fine).
If you can’t collaborate with your coworkers successfully, listen to other ideas and pivot when necessary, you probably won’t flourish as an executive.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Embrace the “soft skills” — empathy, listening, etc- they build trust and ultimately help your team work more effectively.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
We’ve been able to use our core product — full building residences — to provide immediate assistance to people in our communities. When the Surfside condo collapsed in Surfside, Florida, our team mobilized to on-board a new building in less than 48 hours so we could provide free housing for the victims and their families. In New Orleans after Hurricane Ida, our staff prepared hundreds of units without power so we could work with The Salvation Army, Amazon and Cox to provide housing for their displaced employees.
Being in this position and being part of a team that has the resources to help our local community is something that I’m really proud of.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- There is no roadmap in a startup. Sometimes this is the most freeing part; you get to decide how you want to build your business. Other times, it can be frustrating and some instructions would be nice.
- Delegating is difficult. There are tasks that I did everyday that became their own departments, and I was shocked at how hard it was for me to give over those responsibilities.
- The people that were essential when you started the business, aren’t always a good fit once you’ve grown. Personally, this was one of the most difficult lessons to learn. There were a few people who were absolutely instrumental in our success, who joined our team when we were much less sophisticated, but they weren’t thriving once we evolved and hard decisions had to be made.
- Disagreement is healthy. This might seem obvious, but it can be uncomfortable in the moment. Learning how to respectfully argue your position is an important skill (one that I’m working on all the time).
- Ask sales people any and every question. I’ve been responsible for buying a lot of products for my company and my top takeaway is ask as many questions, do as many demos as you want. These decisions will impact the course of your business so you need to feel comfortable making that commitment.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Improving access to affordable education, whether that’s trade school, community college or a traditional 4 year university.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Bad companies are destroyed by crises, good companies survive them, great companies are improved by them.” -Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel.
COVID took out many of our well-funded competitors. We not only survived, but have completely transformed for the better.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
I think Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, has an incredibly interesting story. She has worked in so many different levels of GM throughout her career and excelled in a male-dominated world. She’s now leading GM through a dramatic transformation to produce only zero-emission vehicles; an incredible challenge. I would love to learn more about her decision making process and leadership style in such a high stakes mission.