The Transformative Power of Focus
Sheila Haile, Chief Marketing Officer at Cohen’s Fashion Optical
by, Chris Dessi
I love what I do. I love it even more when I’m inspired by the people that surround me. I met Sheila Haile, Chief Marketing Officer at Cohen’s Fashion Optical only a few months ago. I enjoy collaborating with Sheila. I find myself learning from her and that’s thrilling. She’s that rare combination of personality and intellect. A true joy to be around. We both share an insane work ethic. Many times exchanging work emails on Sundays. Innovation and creativity inspire Sheila, and I’m inspired to meet her lofty goals.
She does it ALL. She’s a mother of 2 great kids, and CMO at Cohen’s. We all know how difficult is it to juggle career and family. Sheila makes it look effortless. She’s responsible for Print, TV, digital, video, mobile, experiential, PR, content marketing, SEO, search, PPC, local search, visual merchandising, and of course social media. Yowza. She’s been able to excel in so many facets of her live. I believe that laser focus is her secret. People like Sheila fascinate me. I think she’ll fascinate you too.
Here we go.
Chris Dessi: We’ve only known each other for a short time, but you’re a powerhouse. Wife, kids, CMO – how do you find the time to do it all? I guess another way of saying it is – what’s your rhythm? When do you go to bed, work out, wake up?
Sheila Haile: I am a morning person. I got into the habit when the kids were little and I needed to carve out some time to clear my head. I have no interest in being the last person at the party!
Chris Dessi: You’ve had a storied career, winning all sorts of accolades. 2012 Most Influential Women in Optical – too many MarComm awards to list. When did you first consider yourself a success?
Sheila Haile: That thought does not even cross my mind. I don’t believe you are a success until there is nothing left to do. And there is so much more I want to do…in all phases of my life. I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished the big one yet.
Chris Dessi: We regularly exchange emails late at night and on Sundays. You seem to have one gear “HARD WORK.” What motivates you to work so hard?
Sheila Haile: I actually love what I do. I love the energy, the creativity and the opportunity to create and build something. I am motivated by the end product…
Chris Dessi: What impact, if any has web 2.0 /social media had on your personal success?
Sheila Haile: I don’t know any different. I don’t consider myself a tech head…I just use the tools available the best ways possible.
Chris Dessi: You’re a triathlete. How did you first get involved in the sport?
Sheila Haile:I was a college swimmer and runner. I started to run competitively again when my oldest was very little as an outlet and a way to meet people in a new area. I joined a running group…and was introduced to people similar to me. I actually met my best friend in that first group. The running group introduced me to triathlon and I immediate loved it. It was a great sport for many many years.
I don’t consider myself a triathlete anymore. For me, it was a unique phase of my life that functioned almost like therapy. It allowed me to focus and clear my head. I made a conscience decision to pull away from the lifestyle. I knew I couldn’t do it all. As my kids grew up, I needed to focus on them. It was their time to shine in their sports. I got much more satisfaction watching them succeed than I ever did on my own.
Chris Dessi: Are there characteristics that have helped you in business that you honed as a tri-athlete?
Sheila Haile: Focus. Commitment. Time management!
Chris Dessi: Speaking of your health – how important is maintaining your health to your success– spiritual and physical? Do you attend church? Meditate? Workout regularly?
Sheila Haile: Health is incredibly important to me. For many layered and deep reasons. I lost my mother at a young age. The early loss of my mother has a very strong impact on who I became. At a very early age I had to rely on myself. My career was just beginning…I didn’t even have anyone to ask what to wear to an interview. I had to figure it out pretty quick. That experience taught me that we have to take care of ourselves. I have actually had some very difficult medical struggles of my own that have had a lasting impact on me as well.
These obstacles shape who you are. They truly make a person understand what matters in life. For me they made my drive sharper and the incredible need for balance even more strong. I vowed to be the best mother I could be while growing my career at the same time. Not always easy and I often behaved like a maniac to achieve it.
Fitness helped me through some difficult times. Health struggles of my own that I needed to “work out”…. But it can go too far too. I was training for a half ironman when Cole was 3 and Nick was in 2nd grade ….a doozer of an event: 1.5 mile swim, 60 mile bike and 13 mile run…when I took a major spill. About 2 weeks before the event, and after 6 months of training…I was out. What a life lesson. I smashed half my body, broke my elbow in a million pieces, got a soft tissue injury on my hip. I was in the hospital, had surgery and had a cast for several weeks. I rolled the boys around town in a red wagon because I couldn’t drive.
Game changer. The accident taught me I couldn’t do it all. I was lucky to be alive. I realized I had to make some choices.
Chris Dessi: What was the single most important decision you made that contributed to your success?
Sheila Haile: Committing to what I loved. I was the weird art kid. But I knew who I was and I was “allowed” to embrace it. I went to Wesleyan University at 16 to study all aspects of art, design, dance and theater. I studied abroad in Italy and traveled extensively. I learn by experience. These things made me who I am.
Chris Dessi: How do you define success?
Sheila Haile: When you have reached a pinnacle of what you set out to do that you can begin to teach others. I am not there yet.
Chris Dessi: You’re a woman in business, and you’re excelling. What’s the best piece of advice you can offer young women starting out in business?
Sheila Haile: Life is about balance. Be honest with who you are and what you want, then build around that. The 2 best pieces of advise I have ever gotten more as a mother than a woman in business:
You can do it all …just not at the same time.
You don’t get a do-over when raising your kids.
Chris Dessi: Who have you looked to you in your career as a mentor?
Sheila Haile: I don’t have a single mentor. Know anyone? I would love a mentor!
Chris Dessi: You have a degree from Manhattanville College, I’m curious: how important has education been to your success? What do you say to those that say a college education isn’t worth it?
Sheila Haile: Education and exposure is critical to growth. Experiencing life and seeing cultures of all kinds can broaden your view.
College education is absolutely worth it. Education exposes your mind to new ways of thinking. I love school and have been taking classes and going to seminars consistently for many years. College is the time for you to become yourself.
Chris Dessi: If you could travel in time and speak with the 22 year old Sheila Hale – what is the one piece of advice you’d give her?
Sheila Haile: Go a little easier on yourself.
Chris Dessi: How do you deal with adversity and setbacks?
Sheila Haile: With each set back there is a takeaway. I try to look at it objectively and see how I screwed up and what I could have done better. I truly believe that you learn more from a mistake than by doing everything right.
Adversity is a different ballgame…being in an unbalanced situation is the most difficult for me.
Chris Dessi: You have laser focus, but you also know when to relax. I think that’s why we get along so well, how do you strike that ever elusive work life balance? Especially with a husband and children at home?
I’m all about the balance. Everyone’s balance is different. My kids always came first. Period. I did not miss an event, play or game. Even if I was running across the field as the starting gun went off. (Happened more than once). I knew each event for them was “the big one”…and I was there when they looked up for me in the stands. I could and would work all night if I had to, to make up for it. I wanted to make it work because I loved what I did.
Chris Dessi: What do you think has separated you from other high performers throughout your career?
Sheila Haile: You have to put in the work everyday, just like everyone else. I am no better than the next guy.
Chris Dessi: I know you as a very humble person – but now is your time to brag. Tell me about some of your biggest wins.
Sheila Haile: My kids are big wins. To watch them become adults is the most extraordinary experience. It really does work! I have had some nice wins in pitching on the agency side…and some nice opportunities to be recognized by my peers. Always nice.
Chris Dessi: Have you ever had a nickname? What is it?
Sheila Haile: She-She. My godchild used to call me that when she was little.
Chris Dessi: My daughters know that I hate witches – what’s one thing that scares the hell out of you?
Sheila Haile: Heights.
Chris Dessi: Best day of your life:
Sheila Haile: 2 of them: when the kids were born.
Chris Dessi: Worst day of your life?
Sheila Haile: I lost some important people in my life. Those were difficult times.
Chris Dessi: What is the best gift you have been given?
Sheila Haile: My kids
Chris Dessi: You have access to a time machine, but you can never come back to present day. You can go into the future, or into the past. Where do you go in time?
Sheila Haile: I would go to the future, but everyone I care about has to come too.
Chris Dessi: Who is your hero?
Sheila Haile: No hero’s. There are people I think are extraordinary…very varied…from Georgia O Keefe to Oprah..but I don’t have a hero.
Chris Dessi: Name someone who knows more about you than anyone else in the world.
Sheila Haile: My husband.
Chris Dessi: If you could share a meal with any 4 individuals, living or dead, who would they be?
Sheila Haile: Me, my mother, and my boys and my husband.
Chris Dessi: Most powerful business book you’ve ever read that you recommend to everyone.
Sheila Haile: I read a lot…but I don’t have a business book that changed my life…but many many other books life made an incredible impact on my thinking.
Chris Dessi: If you were a super-hero, what powers would you have?
Sheila Haile: Happiness. All the time.
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