As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Camille Fetter.
Camille Fetter is the founder and CEO of Talentfoot, a digital business executive search firm on a mission to change lives for the better by helping people find fulfillment through fulfilling work. She is grateful for a career that allows her to live her personal mission of making the world a better place. As a leader who never stops thinking “what’s next?,” Camille thrives on disrupting the status quo to fuel business growth, constructing impactful leadership teams when the stakes are high, and ensuring the happiness and fulfillment of her employees.
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?
My approach to life and business is rooted in a deep passion for changing people’s lives for the better. This passion really came to a fruition during my college years at the University of Colorado Boulder where I volunteered for a crisis hotline that provided support for domestic violence, suicide prevention and gender and sexuality identity issues for the Denver metropolitan area. I consider this experience as one of my most formative as it propelled a deep understanding within me of the importance of connecting with people to create authentic and lasting relationships, and the value of doing so from a place of empathy, respect and kindness.
If you would have asked me during college if this experience would segue into a career in executive search, my response would have likely been “no.” Yet, hindsight is 20/20 and after observing and absorbing the ins and outs of my career and trajectory, I can truthfully say executive search has in fact been my calling all along.
This industry allows me to live my passion every day — the same passion that was born at the crisis hotline more than 20 years ago — by helping people find opportunities that align to their passions, provide fulfillment and make their lives better. I have a vested interest in every person I work with and during this time of rapid transformation in the workforce, approaching these relationships with empathy is more important than ever.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
To be honest, I found Talentfoot with a misconception that I could grow and scale the company on my own. This stemmed from my desire to connect with and help every client myself. I was excited to impact each and every person’s life and steadfastly committed to creating personal and authentic relationships.
What I didn’t understand at the time is that a leader is only as good as his or her team. This was a pivotal realization in my career and one that essentially forced me to understand that it would be impossible to achieve my goals for Talentfoot if I continued to try to do everything myself. From there, I started to build out my team and quickly learned the importance of building trust with them so that I could focus on growing the company and leave other responsibilities in their very capable hands.
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?
This story isn’t necessarily funny but when I look back on it, it’s funny to me. I previously mentioned that I thought I could do everything myself when I started Talentfoot. I tried to be CEO AND head of operations, HR, sales and marketing all at once, and learned the hard way that this was a mistake. The belief that I could do everything myself resulted in the unnecessary delay of hiring people for my leadership team. I was waiting for the business to reach a certain point before I made key leadership hires but, in retrospect, this was not the right thing to do. I eventually realized that I needed to hire a team sooner than later as it would be them who would fuel Talentfoot’s growth, and that has proven to be true.
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?
I wouldn’t be where I am today without both of my parents who have always been my lighthouse — guiding me through calm and rocky waters. My parent’s unwavering support and the confidence they had in me gave me the push I needed to start Talentfoot at 28 years old.
I’ve always had a very strong work ethic and an entrepreneurial drive, even as a child. My mother encouraged and nurtured both by helping me run my own lemonade stands at barely 9 years old. I did not view my lemonade stands as just “lemonade stands,” rather as a business that I needed to grow and make successful. I differentiated my stands from others in the neighborhood by strategizing with my parents on what our customers wanted the most. This led to us offering multiple lemonade flavors plus food like brownies and cookies, as we thought the customers would likely be hungry if they were thirsty. And to get as many customers as possible, we marketed the stands with decorations like balloons to invite people in to try our products.
Fast forward to nearly 20 years later, and it was my father who insisted that I was ready to start my own business now and to not wait for “someday.” His support gave me the confidence I needed to take the risk. Without my father, there may have been no Talentfoot!
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 believe that I achieve better outcomes when I am centered with myself. I often start preparing my mind and body for a big presentation or pitch a few days in advance by ensuring I get enough exercise. For me, moving my body is key to feeling centered. I also like to take a minute to myself immediately before a pitch or presentation by closing my eyes and doing a brief meditation. And sometimes, I’ll even do pushups on a wall, or a superman yoga pose which has helped boost my confidence.
I find this story about my daughter particularly interesting as it relates to teaching a life lesson about nervousness and anxiety, and how they don’t need to be viewed in a negative way. A few weeks ago, she was the Star Student at school and after this big day, she confessed to me that she was very nervous. I explained to her that being nervous is not a bad thing; rather, it can mean that you really care about doing your best which more often than not, leads to great success.
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?
Having a diverse leadership team is not only the right thing to do, but it also drives exponentially more business success, outcomes and growth. I advise employers that diversity must be their top priority for their recruitment strategy if they want to win in the marketplace and stay innovative. No one wants to become the next Kodak and diverse teams is a very simple solution to prevent this from occurring.
- Bottom Lines Benefit from Diverse Voices: According to McKinsey, outside of company values, “companies in the top quartile for racial/ethnic and gender diversity are 35 percent and 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians.”
- Two Diverse Opinions are Better than Two Like-Minded Colleagues: Once you bring in varied executives and employees, you must give them the opportunity to lead and be heard. They should spearhead initiatives and always have their voices included in brainstorming and strategy sessions.
- A-Players Don’t Have Cookie-Cutter Skillsets: Organizations that limit their search to one type of candidate cut themselves off from recruiting top talent. Ask any recruiter and they will tell you that there is no one place to find top talent. Good headhunters will look far and wide to bring in a diverse range of candidates. The best headhunters are not order takers, they will challenge the status quo and find a way to help organizations hire true game changers. Hiring high impact players almost always requires out-of-the-box thinking.
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.
I strongly believe that business can make a positive impact on society and that it is the responsibility of leaders to promote inclusive values and actions.
Leaders can do this by:
- Making Sure that Everyone’s Voice is Heard: Everyone’s voice must be heard in the workplace, and it is an employer’s job to help ensure the opinions and feedback of all employees are considered. In a meeting, I make a concerted effort to ask people of all backgrounds and levels for their input.
- Being Vulnerable: It’s important for leaders to be able to admit when they have challenges or don’t have the answer. This allows other people in the organization to feel like they can be vulnerable, and are in a safe environment to share their authentic feelings and viewpoints. Vulnerable leadership is a key part of Talentfoot’s culture. I don’t pretend to be perfect or know all the answers and therefore don’t expect my employees to either.
- Getting to Know People’s Unique Strengths & Experiences: An important driver of inclusive leadership is for leaders to prioritize learning about their people’s unique strengths and experiences — both professionally and personally — so that they can tap into those strengths for the benefit of the culture and business. Employees want to bring their whole selves to work. The leaders who are truly more curious and interested in their people are the leaders who create a much more inclusive culture and environment.
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?
CEOs and executives build and fortify great teams, which includes diversity of opinions, experiences and skillsets. They know how to create strong cross-functional teams by considering the entire chessboard and knowing what pieces to move at what times, and how those moves affect the other pieces both immediately and into the future. Last but definitely not least, they are constantly asking for feedback because learning, and pivoting, is how they got to the top.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
I would like to preface these myths by first saying that I am extremely grateful to be a business owner. I am thankful every day for my job, Talentfoot and my team. That said, I believe in transparency and want to provide a realistic view of what a day in my life as a CEO can look like.
- Being a CEO is Glamorous: People think that it’s glamorous to be a CEO or a business owner but it’s not! I love my job but in this role, there is no such thing as taking real time off or a vacation. As a CEO, the business becomes part of your lifestyle and something you are always thinking about. I don’t check in or check out which can take a toll physically and mentally. Before someone pursues a career path as a CEO or starts their own business, my advice is to really make sure you understand what you are getting into in the context of the responsibilities, time demands and ultimately, the pressure.
- You Must be Good at Everything as a CEO: You absolutely don’t have to be good at everything! No one is good at everything, and that applies to CEOs as well. It’s imperative to hire smart, dedicated and diverse people to work alongside you, with experiences, knowledge and skillsets that complement yours.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about the challenges women are facing in the workplace, especially in light of the pandemic. The recent Women in the Workplace report from McKinsey and LeanIn.org was eye opening to me in terms of the work we still need to do to make the C-suite more inclusive, the impact of the pandemic on women versus men, and the general lack of respect that women are still experiencing.
This is the data that stood out to me:
- White women make up 20% of the C-suite while women of color make up only 4%.
- Women are significantly more burned out and increasingly more so than men (42% versus 35%).
- 36% of female senior leaders say they are interrupted or spoken over versus 15% of men.
I also want to use this opportunity to share an experience I had at a conference before the pandemic. I found myself standing in a group of my male peers and having a great dialogue, but I noticed that when a new attendee entered the group they introduced themselves to everyone except me, the lone woman. I wish I could report that this was an isolated incident, but it’s happened before, and it will happen again. We can do better.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
Overall, I was surprised to come to the realization that there are similar skillsets required for being a great CEO and raising a happy family. Both roles take time, attention, nurturing and development. As a CEO, parent and/or spouse, you must constantly develop and take care of yourself so you can give back to others.
As CEO, I also thought that I’d mostly focus on the visionary and strategic roadmap for the company to ensure its growth. I of course do that but my day-to-day is primarily centered on making mission-critical decisions for the company which requires a tremendous amount of focus, energy and having my pulse on what’s ahead versus the right now.
Is everyone 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?
I believe that anyone can be an executive if they have the desire and motivation, the right mindset, skillsets and experience. They must also have the confidence to believe in themselves and their ability to succeed.
In my opinion, someone who aspires to be an executive must start with a growth mindset, a thirst for knowledge and approach life through the eyes of a student. Seeking out the best training and mentors is also incredibly important.
All of this takes time and practice to build but if someone is able to combine and leverage these critical traits then, yes, I do think becoming an executive is very possible!
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?
My advice would be to use the post-pandemic era as an opportunity to reinvent, redesign, and re-develop how you interact with your employees and teams. This can mean showing greater empathy and vulnerability, listening with greater intent, and being open to all ideas and opinions. When a leader brings their whole self to work, their people will do the same, and that’s when cultures begin to really flourish, drive retention and business outcomes.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Talentfoot’s mission is to change lives for the better, for every leader we work with and every professional we recruit. Our goals are to bring people together who bring the best out in each other, help people live fulfilling lives through fulfilling work, and show them the possibilities of their careers.
I found it interesting, and disappointing, that a Gallup poll found only 15 percent of people are engaged with their work, which essentially translates to 85 percent being unhappy in their jobs. Talentfoot’s mission is to grow that 15 percent.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- You Can’t Do It All: A leader is only as good as his or her team. As I mentioned earlier, this was a pivotal realization in my career and one that essentially forced me to understand that it would be impossible to achieve my goals for Talentfoot if I continued to try to do everything myself.
- Work with People Who Are Smarter than You: If something is worth doing, do it right and all the way. This means working with people who are smarter than you and have diverse opinions, experiences, and skillsets.
- Meet People Where They Are in Life: I was 28 years old when I started Talentfoot with no significant responsibilities other than myself and the business. I believed I needed to build a team at a similar life stage to really benefit the business. Again, I was wrong. I’ve seen the tremendous value that mothers, fathers and others with great responsibility outside of work add to our company. I value quality of work and productivity over how many hours someone works in a week. If people can make an impact working part-time, more power to them!
- Business Growth is Not Always Linear: Similar to life, building a business is not black and white. It’s extremely important to approach building a company with resilience and perseverance. There may be a few weeks where you feel like giving up but then the next week, something great happens.
- What Gives You the “Rush” will Change and Evolve: When I started Talentfoot, my adrenaline rush came from closing a deal. More than 10 years later, I still get that rush but also so many more which have kept me motivated and excited to come to work every day. My fulfillment now also comes from growing the business, seeing my employees happy, learning that we have matched someone with their dream job, and so much more.
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.
I would inspire a movement of empathy which I believe can be taught. By nature, I am a giver and fixer and feel most valued when I’m able to understand and share in the feelings of others. I am thankful that empathy comes naturally to me, but I recognize that it might not for others. Therefore, the movement would teach empathy to all business leaders by explaining how empathy can and should be weaved into how they communicate and lead. The last few years have proven that the emotional well-being of our workforce is a business imperative and can no longer be siloed as a personal vs. business concern.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote is by Mel Robbins and it’s something that I live by every day in both my personal and professional lives: “There will always be someone who can’t see your worth. Don’t let it be you.”
My parents were dedicated to building my confidence. As a result, building confidence in others is innate to me and something I believe is extremely important — with my daughter, my team and my candidates. Studies have shown that if a child loses their confidence by the age of 6, it can take sixty or more years to regain that confidence — that’s an entire lifetime! Part of my life’s mission is to help children of all ages develop confidence and help adults who have lost their confidence regain this life skill.
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 would love to have breakfast with Dolly Parton, a beloved American icon to me and so many. We all know that she is an incredible performer, but what I am truly inspired by is her passion for changing lives for the better which comes through beautifully in her songwriting.
For example, at a time when the world was feeling scared and helpless with COVID-19, Dolly got to work and donated $1 million to research which helped to fund the development of the vaccine. She also supported HIV/AIDS groups at a time when few people did and has always been a strong advocate for the LGBTQ community.
Dolly has never shied away from using her good fortune to help people who she believed needed the most support, which I find truly admirable. The world would be a much better place if more people followed her lead.