As a part of our series called ‘Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO’ we had the pleasure of interviewing Cathleen Trigg-Jones, Founder and CEO of Catscape Productions.
Cathleen Trigg-Jones is a former journalist who now serves as the Founder and CEO of Catscape Productions, which houses iWoman Studios + TV. For over 20 years, the uber-talented CEO has dedicated her time, energy, and expertise to create a full-service media and production company, Catscape Productions. Under her leadership, the Catscape team has created and produced content for CBS, ABC, NBC, FOX, BET, VH1, ESPN, CNN, TNT, MSG, CNBC, MTV, Showtime, and Discovery networks. She developed, shot, produced, and starred in the docu-series “We are the Joneses” which aired on BET Centric and Discovery Life She is also the executive producer and host of her own televised talk show, “Chic Chat,” which aired on FOX and can now be seen on iWoman TV. As a wife and proud mother of four, Cathleen believes it is crucial for women to be represented in all industries and chooses to amplify the female voice in entertainment through her content. iWomanTV is a means of distribution for talented female content creators who have been left out of conversations nor have had an opportunity to get through the doors to pitch shows.
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 had dreamed of being on television since I was a little girl. At seven years old, I took part in a community play which was when I really got the acting bug and realized that being in front of an audience, on their televisions, is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I knew I had really big dreams but I came from a small town, Dover, Delaware. As a baby, I was an orphan and rotated between foster homes until I was eventually adopted right before my second birthday. So I grew up with not only a lot of self-doubt but was also surrounded by doubters. The fact that I had such big, audacious dreams, but lived in the smallest state in the universe, it at times seemed impossible to those around me, but I was very clear on what it was I wanted to do, and I did just that. I have come to a point in my life where I get to check off everything I have done: I’ve been an actress, I’ve been an entrepreneur, and now I’m the CEO and Founder of Catscape Productions, which houses iWomanTV.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I think the most interesting story would be the fact that I launched my own television network. It’s been 15 years since I’ve had the idea of starting my own network and it came to me in a dream one night that it was going to be called “iWoman.” I really had faith in myself and pushed forward with the idea of “build it and they will come.” I knew women needed something like this. They needed a platform to tell their stories and support other women who feel like they can’t, and just showing them through my own example that they can. I felt, somehow, the little girl that was an orphan, that no one wanted, was exactly the person who was supposed to launch this network to show other women that they are wanted and have a voice. It would serve as a voice for the voiceless.
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?
There’s so many! The funniest one, though, I would have to say was when I was a young reporter at WBOC TV in Salisbury, Maryland. This particular week we were doing “live remotes” where we took the whole news cast to the shore, such as Ocean City, and broadcast the entire show live from the beach. My job was to go out and conduct live interviews and I got a tip that Lynda Carter, who played WonderWoman in the 1970s TV show, WonderWoman, was with her family at the beach. I remember thinking “Oh my gosh! I’m going to try to get her live and do an interview with me in the next segment.” I was really young, like 24 years old and didn’t know anything at this point, but I went and found her and she graciously agreed to a live interview. So, we’re live on TV, they toss to me “Cat Trigg is standing by and she has a special guest with her. Cathleen, who do you have?” And I come on live TV and say “Hi everyone! You’ve watched her in so many shows and I’m so happy to have her, Lynda Carter, Superwoman, joining us today!” And she corrected me, “uhh, it’s WonderWoman.” I quickly corrected myself “Oh! WonderWoman!” and laughed it off. She was a great sport about it and laughed with me. Now, it might seem like a small thing, but at the time, I must’ve turned red, I was so embarrassed. What it taught me was that you have to prepare. I always tell my kids the 6 Ps: Poor Planning and Preparation leads to Piss Poor Performance. I’ve lived by that since. If you don’t properly prepare and plan, you become susceptible to making silly mistakes that could potentially blow an opportunity for you.
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 have so many people, or angels rather, that have helped me on my path. But, for the sake of choosing one person, I would say someone who is so instrumental on my path to success (though he probably doesn’t know how much of a difference he’s made in my life) would be our president, Joe Biden. Back when I was a reporter for WBOC TV, I was returning to Delaware after spending the weekend in Washington, D.C. with some friends. As I struggled to get my baby carriage off the train (I was a single mother at the time), this man swooped up the carriage, said “I’ll take that for you,” and placed it on the platform. I began thanking him and finally looked up and said “Oh, wait a minute, I know you! You’re Senator Joe Biden!” At the time, Biden was the senator of Delaware and rode the train quite frequently. He asked me about my daughter and we engaged in some small talk. Having interviewed him in the past for WBOC TV, he remembered who I was and offered me a job in his press office. He said I was dynamic and well-spoken and that their office lacked diversity so I would serve as a great benefit. I accepted his offer and he was so gracious with his time and efforts into making sure I felt supported during my time in the press office. This moment was specifically significant to me because I was a single mother who was coming off of a train wearing overalls, a baseball cap and combat boots. The fact that he saw something in me at that moment meant so much. I see him as one of the angels in my life that opened a door for me. He believed in me and that is the one thing that can make all the difference.
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?
It makes all the difference in the world. If you talk about diversity but don’t have diversity in your leadership, you are failing. You’re failing yourself, you’re failing the customer, you’re failing your business, you’re failing your country and our world. The bottom line is you can’t properly preach equality when the people you bring in to lead your business don’t represent the reality that exists in our world. When you diversify your workforce, you open the door to so many possibilities. As people of color, we’ve had no choice but to put ourselves in uncomfortable environments and situations where we’re not represented or supported, not promoted, not given opportunities, we’re having to fight our way, we don’t always fit in, and yet we still have to soar and make a way out of no way. If we continue that trend, we will continue to miss out on a whole sector of amazing leaders, amazing ideas and innovations that can actually change the world. I think it’s uber important for every company, whether you’re a white-owned company or black-owned business, to have a diverse executive team. I hold myself to those same standards. I am very cognizant of the people I hire. I want to make sure that even though I have launched a female centric business and had a female centric production company for many years, it’s still really important for me to have a white male or two working for me, just as important it is for me to have African-American, Black, Latina, Asian, and Caucasian men and women working for me. I really want to be the leader when it comes to not only supporting diversity, but actually promoting diversity in every single thing that we do behind the scenes and not just in front of the camera.
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.
Absolutely. Step one is self-reflection. Honestly ask yourself if you believe in diversity and inclusion. From there, you have to take an honest look at your organization and see where you are winning and where you are falling short when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion. Speaking as the founder of a black-owned business, we all can do a better job to make sure there’s an equal playing field within our office. The first step is really an honest introspection. The second step would be rooted in your hiring practices. There needs to be an effort made to find a diverse workforce — young, old, white, black, hispanic, asian — whatever it takes to make sure you’re representing the customer base you’re reaching. Three, it starts at the top. As the leader, you have to make sure those under you also believe in that same diversity. If you put leaders in place who are racist, or leaders in place who are just going to go out and hire their friends, which we have called the “Good Ol’ Boy Club” for years, there’s never going to be change. It’s not enough for you as a leader to be open and inclusive, you need to put leaders under you, where it is not assumed but required, that they too are open to diversity and making a conscious effort to push that initiative. Step four is doing your homework and looking outside your immediate circle to find said diversity. Let’s be honest, we’re most comfortable with our own, whether that’s women or men or race related. However, you can’t make a change if everyone around you continues being in your immediate circle. Sometimes, you may overlook someone who is talented, but never had an opportunity before. The next thing would be to create a lane and criteria to tap into the new talent that may not have been exposed yet. A lot of people don’t get the opportunities because they don’t have the resume. But they can’t have the perfect resume without any opportunities. If you keep passing them up saying they have no experience, how will they ever get that experience? You know where you saw that? You saw that with President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama.
Both of them are Ivy League graduates, top of their class, probably the two most intelligent people in the world, yet the world didn’t know about them until finally, they got an opportunity to shine. There are so many Michelle Obamas and Barack Obamas in the world, but if no one ever makes a concerted effort to go out and find them, they’ll never get their moment in the spotlight. The next part of the puzzle is ensuring your workplace is sensitive to issues surrounding diversity. You should allow people the opportunity to openly communicate about their ignorance, concerns, and their triumphs in being able to truly support one another. It’s impossible that everyone in the workplace is going to get along and be happy with each other; jealousy is inevitable as humans. But as an employer, you have to shut that down and treat people with respect and make sure their dignity is intact when they enter and leave the workplace so they love what they do. Racism and discrimination really can create a hostil environment at work so you must create an inclusive workplace where everyone has their opportunity to show their talents, get promoted and be seen. This isn’t to say things will be perfect with this implementation, but there’s a greater chance that you will have a workplace where people truly live with diversity and inclusion in the healthiest way possible.
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?
An executive never sleeps. And even if they want to, they can’t. That is the biggest difference. When you are the leader, all the weight of the world is on your shoulders. Especially when you’re a leader who’s also a founder or the owner of a company, an entrepreneur — it is lonely as hell at the top. I don’t know a lonelier place in the world than being an entrepreneur or an executive leader because, in many cases, specifically for people/women of color, you’re charting uncharted territory. Many times, executives don’t have a mentor or someone who brought them in or handed them the reins. This can be extremely difficult, specifically, for a black female like myself, you are expected to know everything. By the time you get to this point, who do you ask? Who do you admit to not knowing everything? You don’t know what you don’t know until you cross that bridge.
As an executive, you’re a leader and expected to lead. However, in my opinion, the smartest leaders have an even smarter executive team around them. If you’re the smartest person in the room, what does that say? Find another room! You can’t lead effectively if you’re afraid to put other people around you that might outshine you. So as an executive, you’re the one calling the shots, setting the tone and direction for that company. You’re the one that is praised when there are wins and you’re the one that’s blamed when there are flaws. You really have to be all in and have to know your stuff, but also be honest with yourself and realize that you don’t know everything — and no one is expecting you to. The goal, as an executive, is to find out what you don’t know and to put the right people in place who do know so there’s no room for error.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
The biggest myth is that when you make it to the top, becoming a CEO or executive, that you got it made, you don’t have to worry about anything, you’re set financially and you can kick back and relax. That cannot be further from the truth! Once you get to the place where you are, as a leader of a company, you are holding the weight of everything on your shoulders. You’re personally responsible for making sure everyone in your organization and their entire family eats every single day. You’re the one that has to think about food on the table for everyone who works for you. I know that sounds rudimentary, but that is how I feel. If I mess up, or don’t keep money coming in the door, no one here eats. Once you get to this point, this is when the real work begins. You can fake it till you make it up to a certain point. Once you become a leader, that’s when true colors show and you’re either going to sink or swim, and if you sink, you’ll take the whole ship down with you.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I thought that once I got to a place where I’ve launched my company, employed staff and have money coming in, that I would be able to relax and enjoy the moment. I thought I would be able to finally relax and enjoy the beautiful creation I’ve made. The reality is that, when you’re an entrepreneur or executive, the company will stop the minute you stop working. There is no autopilot, you’re really the foundation/nucleus that holds it all together. I thought it would be a little more fun, that maybe I would have time to travel a little more or have drinks with my girlfriends. We all joked about how one day we’ll all be sitting on a beach in Tijuana, sipping on martinis laughing together — I’m still waiting for that day to come. Right now, I’m working pretty damn hard. When you’re a business owner, there’s a new goal set everytime you reach a goal. You have to keep reinventing yourself, continue to be innovative and continue to grow. The marketplace changes everyday, so if you kick back and relax, the world is going to pass you by and your company is going to fail. If you really want to make it, if you want to continue to win, you have to work hard day in and day out, unless you get bought out (maybe when I get to that point, I’ll have that martini), but right now, I’m working really hard everyday.
Presumably not 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?
I personally think that no one should not aspire to be an executive if that’s their dream. I really believe everything starts with a dream and passion. So if your dream is to be a leader, you should be a leader. Leaders come in all shapes and forms. I was an orphan in foster care, so many people told me I shouldn’t and couldn’t become a leader- imagine if I listened to them? So, I think anyone who aspires to be a leader, can be a leader. You just have to figure out where you want to be, what things are you lacking, and how do you check off the boxes and fill the voids to be successful in a leadership role. Now, are there things that make a really great leader? Absolutely. I would say one of the biggest things is organization, consistency, experience and passion. If you have those, you are set. A good leader is a good leader, regardless of their industry.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help create a fantastic work culture? Can you share a story or an example?
I personally lead a little differently than most executives might lead and I hope I never change this one side of me. In my organization, I don’t see a difference where I stand versus where my housekeeper stands, where my intern stands, where my assistant or producers stand — I treat everyone as if we’re on the same level. I treat them with the same amount of respect I want them to treat me with. Sometimes it does create an environment where people think that they’re your friend and that makes it difficult when you have to discipline or come down on someone harshly. However, I believe that, if we can make work exciting and fun for everybody, then they’re going to be more productive and enjoy coming to work. I also don’t put up with any gossip or people not getting along with one another. There is no room in my organization at all for that. What I tell people very clearly is that if you don’t want to be here, I 100% support you leaving and I would do anything in my power to help you (make a recommendation or phone call). If this doesn’t speak to you and you’re not passionate about it, you don’t enjoy coming in here everyday, don’t come! There’s no hard feelings. I typically leave the door open too. If you go out somewhere else and find you don’t like it and want to come back, the door is open. But the last thing I want you to do is come into my workplace, my office, and get stomach pains and hate what you’re doing, the people you work with — it’s not fun for anyone. The best thing that a leader can do, what I try to do, is foster an environment of creativity and a light-hearted atmosphere where people are free to have fun and enjoy being at work. During my interview process, I ask potential employees “what is your passion?” and see how I can provide resources or help them in achieving their dreams. A great example of this is how I supported my graphic designer at the time. After his typical work day at my office, he would dress in drag and bartend at all these different places. My staff knew, but I didn’t! I guess they hid it from me because I would think he was unfit for the position at my company, but that couldn’t be further from the truth! So finally, I confronted him about it and proposed he use the production crew, studio and equipment (after hours, of course), and use it to create his own show where he mixed drinks in full drag and created his own content for his own brand/socials. It made him love coming to work and he loved that his boss supported him, so he worked even harder. That’s a prime example of why I lead the way I do. My advice is don’t get caught up in being the cut-throat executive, but foster an environment where people really enjoy coming to work.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Everything I do in life is to make the world a better place. I wake up every morning thinking “how can I make the world a better place?” One way is using my success to open as many doors as I can for people. I believe that my calling, my purpose on earth is to open the door for those who may not have the tenacity or opportunity, experience, talent, look — whatever it is that I’ve been blessed with. I realize not everyone has had the same opportunity I did, and even my opportunity was scarce as I had to make a way out of no way. I don’t expect anyone else to do that because maybe this was only my calling, that I was the one that was supposed to be given this opportunity, and that is something I take very seriously. In brevity, I interfere in people’s lives without them asking, that’s how I make the world a better place. When I see that someone needs help or that I can help in some way, I jump at the opportunity. That’s something that’s so easy for me to do: to make connections, to introduce people. I don’t have to be your best friend and I don’t need to get anything out of it, because what I get out of it is the gratitude and the feeling knowing I’ve made a difference in someone else’s life. That’s what allows me to lay my head on my pillow and go to sleep and what allows me to wake up every morning and keep fighting in this crazy race we call life. I hope one day many people can say “hey, she helped me” or “she opened the door for me” and that my children will one day get to hear those stories so that maybe there will be a warm bed reserved up in heaven for me one of these days.
Fantastic. Here is the primary question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- One — it’s lonely at the top.
- Two — you’re going to be poor, very poor, before you’ll be rich. As an entrepreneur, you always feel kind of poor because what you make goes back into the company and back to your employees.
- Three — find your passion and don’t waiver from it. If you have a dream and a passion, stay on that course and don’t let people pull you in different directions.
- Four — don’t be afraid to ask for help. Yet, don’t rely on asking for help either. Trust yourself. The worst thing that can happen is that you’re wrong and you fail. But what is failure if not an opportunity to learn and get back up and try again?
- Five — faith and fear can’t live in the same sentence. If you say you’re faithful and you really believe in what you’re doing, leave the fear at the door. You can’t operate in fear because you will cancel out not only all the faith you have in yourself, but all the faith others have in you. When you’re building a business, you have to be so passionate about what you’re selling/what you’re doing and believe in it so much that everyone around you has no choice but to believe in it too. If you believe in what you’re doing it can’t fail unless you’re operating in a place of fear.
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’ve already started it by launching iWoman. This platform elevates women’s voices and serves as a movement towards women empowerment. The reason I believe in the movement of women supporting women and telling our stories, is because I really believe women are the center of the universe. We are mother nature. We give birth. We are the ones who continue to keep mankind growing. I believe that there is so much that can be gained by women supporting one another and lifting one another up so that we’re in positions of power. I believe when we get to the top, we are able to see and think very clearly about what is needed to get the job done, uninhibited of all things that stand in the way of that vision. Women are amazing multitaskers and possess both sides, masculine and feminine, that makes us the most brilliant leaders. The movement has already started: it’s getting women to speak up, tell their stories, support one another, encourage one another, and then take care of the rest of the universe together.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I was raised with a very spiritual base and consider myself a Christian. Coming from what I’ve come from, I’ve always believed there was something greater than me that was responsible for my life, my success, or even the fact that I’m still here today. My life lesson quote is proverb 16:3, “Commit your works to the Lord and your plans will succeed.” All the decisions I have made in my life, I always ask myself “Is this grounded in faith? Or is it grounded in fear?” If it’s grounded in faith, it will be successful. I am very committed to what I believe spiritually, and that is to take care of your brothers and sisters. You’re supposed to treat people the way you want to be treated and you’re supposed to do good. Your blessings will come by blessing others. All of this to me is grounded in faith.
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
Oprah Winfrey. Growing up in Delaware, I watched both the Baltimore and Philadelphia news because Dover did not have its own news station. At that time, Oprah was a news anchor in Baltimore and I would watch her on TV and wanted to do what she did. I wanted to be able to ask those questions, conduct interviews and be on television. Most importantly, though, I think seeing her do what she did really made a difference for me and reaffirmed my own belief in myself. As a black woman, it was comforting knowing it was okay to talk about my background and where I came from. My biggest struggle growing up was thinking I had to hide everything about who I really was, that if people figured me out, everything would fall apart. So to see her speak about her background and still become one of the most famous people in the world inspired me. I would love to sit down with Oprah to have breakfast, and one day, I will.