As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Desiree Perez.
Desiree Perez has served as CEO of Roc Nation since 2019. She is closely involved in many aspects of the successful business’ management, publishing, and label operations. Her accomplishments include playing a key role in Samsung’s deal with Rihanna along with the negotiation of Ace of Spades’ LVMH deal.
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 managed several nightclubs that offered live music entertainment, especially rap artists. Those connections led to other opportunities.
I booked Jay-Z for a club I was managing. I came together with Juan and J at Baseline studios and started 4040 Club, later launched Roc Nation, and I’ve been there from the ground up.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Community engagement and social justice work are intrinsically connected to Roc Nation’s business operations. I have found many opportunities to support and further our social justice goals. Being able to do both is one of my true passions.
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?
Before I started doing deals with artists and athletes, I was afraid that I wasn’t going to learn the business. I wouldn’t be able to do the job, and I would let J down.
But when I started putting the deals together, I realized that this was all so natural for me. Then I knew I had found the right career.
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 am truly grateful to Jay-Z for believing in me more than I believed in myself. He put so much trust in my ability and in me personally. I wouldn’t be here today without his support, he’s my north star.
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 rarely prepare for meetings or talks. Instead, I do everything “cold turkey.” For me, the stress of the situation helps me to perform better. I thrive in stressful moments but also don’t allow myself to get anxious in advance. I focus on the task at hand, the one right in front of me. My confidence over years of excelling in this path keeps me grounded, knowing that whatever comes out of my mouth in the heat of the moment is my authentic self. I’ve learned people appreciate honesty, almost more than any other trait. Don’t overthink it.
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?
I disagree that this is a recent development. This has been the status quo for some time, but I think we are just now speaking about it openly. While social media has its pros and cons, a lot of social justice initiatives spread like wildfire thanks to social media in 2020.
It’s critical to have a diverse team for many reasons. Ultimately, for the economy to transform, we need to have people from all different walks of life in leadership positions, all focused on closing the economic gaps in minority communities.
Also, I think the idea that one race can generate the best ideas and business evolution is ignorant. Imagine all the possibility that exists in our industries, and we are denying them of potential for growth by having a narrow vision of who transformation ideas should be spearheaded by. Bringing diverse opinions (race, gender, age, etc.) to all leadership tables is necessary to drive forward any organization or agenda.
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.
We must understand that someone’s gender, race, or religion does not mean they are without business acumen or potential for success. We must be willing to understand different perspectives and give opportunities to those with different backgrounds.
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?
The CEO thinks in terms of the big picture. First, they create the company’s vision, and then they develop a mission that reflects that vision.
Next, they design a strategy to accomplish that mission. Finally, they bring in the right folks to build out the structure and execute the plans.
If the situation changes, they may revise the strategy and their plans to achieve it. However, they always keep working toward the mission.
In sum, think ‘big picture’. That’s what executives are tasked with mapping out, while also deploying the right people to get the job done.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
Some people think being a CEO means sitting in a nice office while other people run the business. However, I literally touch everything in the company. It’s not glamorous at all. It’s actually where you work the most, and you have your hand in everything. I want to make sure the company always gets the best result.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
It’s too easy to come up with this answer. Sometimes, you are discounted. Most of the time, you aren’t respected. And, you must earn your position every day.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
Before I started the job, I thought I would spend time getting my feet wet before stepping up to the top level. However, once I took a step back, I realized I was doing this job since I first started.
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?
You can accomplish anything you focus your mind on. If someone wants to be an executive (or a CEO) in a particular industry, they should pursue that goal. I would tell someone to define who they want to be and then put in the work to get there.
Also, there’s no shame in not being an expert in every area. They should bring in experts to help them where it’s necessary.
Finally, they should be willing to roll up their sleeves and do whatever it takes. If they won’t do that, they aren’t cut out for it.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
I’m speaking directly to women leaders here: Don’t be afraid to speak your mind. Don’t let anyone box you in because you’re afraid to be called “tough.” Being called “tough” is a good thing — it means you’re speaking up. And remember, you can’t be responsible for others’ insecurities.
Also, realize that your strengths and skills have brought you to this leadership role. If you hadn’t already proven yourself, you wouldn’t be here.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I have found many opportunities to pursue social justice work. I am able to do this both within my Roc Nation role and in my personal life. I truly believe my efforts will make a difference.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me before I started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Listening is the most important thing you can do.
- Patience — Trusting the process is key to having success.
- It’s not personal, many times, it’s the position that you hold. I’ve been attacked personally without truth, without foundation. I never understood how and why people would say anything without even thinking. I now understand the attacks are really aimed at the position that I hold. People try to challenge that, but if you always stick to what’s right, what you stand for, the truth always prevails in the long run.
- Stay focused. Don’t get caught up in what people describe you as that you don’t even know. Strength and conviction are normally described as tough and rough.
- Honesty at all cost. In the end, no one can challenge the truth. Being open with the truth is an appreciation that people acquire. When you soften the truth it can get messy, so be direct.
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 definitely focus on criminal justice reform. The United States greatly needs that on a federal, state, and local level. Roc Nation has many resources that can be used in those efforts.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’m not sure where this came from, but it really speaks to me. “You really don’t know yourself until you live. And, we sometimes don’t believe the best parts of who we are.”
My dad always told me how good and how smart I was. He said to just go for whatever I wanted to achieve. Now, I realize what he saw in me that I didn’t see for myself. I have learned that you need to have confidence in your abilities.
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 spend some private time with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She has been such an inspiration to me and other young Latina women.