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Leaders behind myMatrixx, iRobot discuss breaking boundaries

Veronica Brezina



Veteran entrepreneur and investor Deborah Ellinger (left of the stage) and Artemis Emslie, CEO of Cadence RX, speaking at the Glaring Gap Summit. Photo by Veronica Brezina.

Taking risks, asking for more capital and equity, and overcoming the overall common boundaries female entrepreneurs face was the theme of this year’s Glaring Gap Summit. 

The summit, held Wednesday at Embarc Collective in Tampa, supported by ReliaQuest, brings veteran female executives and investors under one roof to present to an audience of 50 women who are college students, aspiring young professionals and investors. 

The summit included a fireside chat with longtime entrepreneurs Deborah Ellinger and Artemis Emslie. Ellinger has 15 years of experience working with companies in the consumer goods and technology space. She was a lead director of iRobot (maker of the Roomba vacuum) during a period of record-breaking growth. She currently serves as a director of iRobot, Covetrus (NASDAQ: CVET, a $4 billion tech-enabled veterinarian services and supply company), and as a director of Tupperware (NYSE: TUP), a $2 billion manufacturer of products for the home.

She spent 14 years running private equity-backed companies on behalf of L. Catterton and Charlesbank Capital, including Tampa-based laser hair removal giant Ideal Image, The Princeton Review (an international test prep and tutoring company with 5,000 teachers and tutors worldwide), Restoration Hardware (a global retailer of home products and furnishings) and Wellness Pet Food. 

Emslie is the CEO of Cadence Rx, a peer-to-peer platform designed to improve patient medication management.

Prior to joining Cadence Rx, Emslie was the CEO of myMatrixx, a Tampa-founded workers’ compensation pharmacy benefits company, and led myMatrixx’s strategic growth and successful sale to Express Scripts in May 2017. She also founded the Alliance of Women in Workers’ Compensation, a think tank that mentors tomorrow’s industry leaders.

The two executives spoke about establishing a bold brand and dominating their industry. 

A highlight of their responses on the topics discussed are paraphrased and edited for clarity. 

On negotiating salaries, equity 

Ellinger: I have a daughter, who is 31 years old and attended Cornell University. She got a job offer and I wanted her to ask for a higher salary, but she totally refused, why is that? (she asked the audience) It’s because she feared they wouldn’t see her as a team player. I know women who are going for CEO or board positions are the same – they are still reluctant to ask for more. 

I was hiring a CMO for one of my companies and she asked for a higher salary, but not equity. I had more in my pocket that I could have provided her, but she didn’t ask for it, so I didn’t. I feel slightly embarrassed because women should look out for women, but I’m the CEO of the company and I have to manage the cap table. I told her this years later after she left the company, and I was giving her counseling on negotiating terms with another company.  

Emslie: From the other side of the table, there is always more room – you have a range, but do you ever start at top of that range? No, you start at low or mid-range. As I’ve mentored young women looking for a job, I say go for equity, but they value cash hire/salary. What it comes down to is understanding the type of company you are vying for and the future value of that company. Equity also shows you are in it for the long game.  

On showing the numbers and (un)checking off boxes 

Ellinger: One of the things that helps you get hired is that you have a good understanding and ability to do tradeoffs. I find too often when women are asked about this, they’ll say, “I’m not a numbers person” – never say that. 

Ellinger: There was a study done by HP that looked at applicants seeking jobs and the qualifications listed. Let’s say there were 10 qualifications required and men had five or six while women had all of them. Going for a new job is about learning new things. You are there to learn … I’ve brought four different companies from private equity firms to the table in completely different industries – one was a pet food manufacturer, one was Restoration Hardware, and Princeton Review and Ideal Image. I didn’t know anything about those industries. I am able to look at a business and figure out where the money is and isn’t made, and then have people focus on the things that mattered.

Emslie: You’re being offered the job not just based on your skill set, it’s your capabilities and mannerisms. You don’t have to check off a box to get there.

On branding yourself 

Ellinger: Branding is all about identifying two or three things to impress somebody – not 10. By the time you’ve finished, they would have forgotten what the others were. Artemis, what are your three things?

Emslie: The ability to figure out puzzles, see a friction point in an industry, or find a solution for it – that’s top of my list. The other is growth strategies for organizations, I have the ability to create a culture and people strategies with whatever the business is. 

Back up your brand with stories and see if other people are perceiving you with that brand. When I was selected to be the CEO of myMatrixx, they approached me, and the reason the founder wanted to hire me was purely for my brand. He said, “I have asked everybody in the industry about you and they all have good things to say,” and that I knew how to move a company forward. I got my first CEO job from my brand.

Ellinger: Often when I ask women about their three things, they lead with “I’m a people person” or “I’m a team builder.” Those are great things, but they are table stakes, they will not differentiate you. Come up with three things someone doesn’t know or isn’t expecting. I’m very data driven. I talk about the return on equity, etc. If you are good with numbers, make sure they [your employers] know. I’m also a change agent [an individual who provides a different perspective at a company]. 

Ellinger, who previously served as an executive vice president at CVS Pharmacy, explained how CVS had an issue with too many skews (units of a product) in the store. Instead of talking about the number of skews, she talked about what she calls a “butt brush,” describing how multiple people would be packed into an aisle trying to get to the same items. Ellinger said she wanted to lower the height of the shelves, reduce the number of screws and widen the aisles. When helping executives visualize this “butt brushing” issue, they understood it.

 On building a network  

Ellinger: I wanted to be on the board of iRobot. I didn’t know anybody, but I thought it was a fascinating company, and it was in Boston and so was I, and it was consumer tech, which I was interested in. I looked up to see where the employees have worked and I knew people at those places, those connections ultimately led me to 15 introductions to eventually get to three or four people on the board. 

Ellinger briefly addressed the sale of iRobot to Amazon, stating she couldn’t disclose the details, but said Amazon approached them, iRobot wasn’t looking to sell. 

On getting close to your competitors 

Emslie: You get valuable insight from competitors; you don’t have to give away trade secrets to connect with people. I worked closely with my competitors on state legislation and regulations. I started the Alliance of Women in Workers’ Compensation by reaching out to 20 different women, some of which were competitors. To this day, there are competitors on that board helping uplift that industry. 

Ellinger: When I was CEO of Ideal Image, we were having difficulty that Google, Twitter would only have bad reviews up, but we knew we had very happy customers. I connected with CEOs of my competitors to understand if they were experiencing the same thing (stating leaders went to those companies and questioned the review/rating process). 

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