Hanover Park, Illinois
Founder & CEO of the Baaba Holland Agency
FAVORITE POLISH COLOR
Essie's Blanc and OPI's Cajun Shrimp
Baaba Holland is a hustler, a visionary, and unapologetically confident. As the Founder and CEO of the Baaba Holland Agency, she works with businesses to develop their brand image and advance their marketing strategy.
She launched the Baaba Holland Agency after spending over 14 years working in financial services, where she held leadership positions at large financial institutions such as JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo. While becoming an entrepreneur outside of the financial services industry may not seem like the most natural transition, Baaba couldn’t imagine a more rewarding position than being CEO of her own creative company. At first, she entertained the idea of transitioning to a larger advertising or marketing company after her years in financial services. However, take a peek inside these companies and their leadership primarily consists of people who don’t look like her. Having spent her career in an industry that is dominated by this same makeup, she was looking for a cultural change and a more direct path to the top.
Her solution to bridging the female leadership gap in marketing and advertising while advancing her career was to become the head of her own company. Read on to hear from the #ToughAsNails woman herself.
WHAT DOES #TOUGHASNAILS MEAN TO YOU?
I think the #ToughAsNails woman is someone who is willing to disrupt the status quo. She speaks her mind, stands up for what she believes in, and she won’t let anyone get in the way of that.
WHAT IS AN ACCOMPLISHMENT YOU ARE PROUD OF?
While working full-time as a Branch Manager for JPMorgan Chase, I knew I was ready to advance my career by transitioning away from retail banking to working in corporate management. In order to do so, I worked full-time while pursuing my Masters in Business Administration (MBA) as a full-time student at Roosevelt University in Chicago. After two years, with my degree in hand and a clear dedication to the company, I continued to work hard, staying at the office late most nights to try to get ahead, and I made more of an effort to build the interpersonal relationships that are so critical in the business world. I reached out to managers to grab coffee, went up to their desks to chat in the middle of the day about the business at hand, and asked if I could work on any side projects to gain additional recognition. We tend to stay in our silos as women and as minorities, but if you want something, you have to both work hard and make yourself known. After a few months, my efforts paid off, and I was promoted to serve as a member of the leadership team.
While my path has changed, getting my MBA was one of the best things I have invested in and has made me a better entrepreneur. People tend to tell entrepreneurs that they don’t need the formal education that an MBA provides, that they just need a good idea, a strong work ethic, and they can hire people to figure out the rest. However, I learned skills that I use on a day-to-day basis that I may not have cultivated as early on without my MBA. My Marketing class was particularly helpful in terms of entrepreneurial skills development. The objective of the class was to pitch and sell a product to my classmates. I had to be completely vulnerable when standing in front of a room full of at best colleagues and at worst strangers trying to convince them that my product was worth buying. This was my first taste at what it would be like to sell my own business product, and I value these critical skill building moments as equally, if not more, today than I did as a student and a banker.
WHAT MAKES YOU A GOOD ENTREPRENEUR?
I attribute my entrepreneurial drive to growing up with immigrant parents. My mother and father came to the United States from Ghana, and they always pushed me to work hard and be the best in me classes. My father was incredibly strict. Growing up, he didn’t let me bring home B’s and C’s. He taught me at a young age to develop a strong work ethic and a passion for learning in order to succeed. As an entrepreneur, I hustle day-in and day-out to make my business dreams a reality, and if I stumble upon something I don’t know or don’t know how to do, I dive right in to learn all about it until I figure it out. I live by the motto “the cure for fear is knowledge and action.” By being as prepared as possible, really doing my research before entering a big meeting or being introduced to a prospective new client, I’m able to deliver what I have to say without fear. People can’t deny facts and sound business advice even if their instincts or their biases are telling them not to immediately trust what you say at face value.
WHAT IS YOUR SECRET TO STAYING #TOUGHASNAILS?
The keys to being a #ToughAsNails woman for me are getting enough sleep, staying organized, and keeping an open mind. Earlier in my career, I felt like I had to grind 24/7 to get ahead of my competitors. As I’ve matured, I recognize how a lack of sleep can negatively impact my performance. I also try to stay organized in all aspects of my life: from my wardrobe, to the way I work, to how I keep my home. Finally, I’m open to trying new things - new styles, new knowledge, new career paths - to inspire my look and make me feel like I am continuously moving forward. And of course, I stay polished by getting a manicure every two weeks. I feel that when I present myself at my best, I am putting my best self forward, and having manicured nails makes me look and feel polished. If you want to push yourself in the best way, show up how you want people to see you.
TELL US ABOUT A TIME WHEN YOU EXPERIENCED BIAS IN THE WORKPLACE. HOW DID YOU RESPOND?
I had to find my own voice while working in corporate America as I was often the only woman and/or the only minority in the room. I have not-so-fond memories of being told how to act in meetings with senior executives: “don’t be so bold”, “stay calm”, “you are too passionate”, “hide your emotions”, etc. However, I dismissed this gendered and biased advice by remaining steadfast in who I am and by not being afraid to speak my mind if I was sure of something. As an entrepreneur, I continues to challenge the stereotype that a woman has to hide her “female qualities” to be successful. I bring my full self to any business pitch or client presentation, which often still means speaking in front of rooms of people who don’t look like me, who may unknowingly judge my abilities without giving me a chance. However, the second I open my mouth, I am confident, and people know that I mean business.
WHAT DOES SUPPORTING OTHER WOMEN LOOK LIKE TO YOU?
Outside of running my own business, I hope to find time to organize recurring meetings with female entrepreneurs where we can share best practices, advice, and resources. I believe that having a solid group of women to support one another is so critical to enabling the rise of all women. From cheering up a best friend, to passing along a resume, to providing advice to other female entrepreneurs, I strive to do my part in lifting other women up, and setting up a formal structure for female entrepreneurs to do this is something that I hope to accomplish in the near future.
WHAT PIECE OF ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO ANOTHER YOUNG ASPIRING WOMAN IN YOUR FIELD (OR TO WOMEN IN GENERAL) ON HOW TO LIVE A POLISHED LIFE AND BE #TOUGHASNAILS?
Find out what you are really good at, what makes you passionate, what gets you up in the morning. Take baby steps every day and you will eventually get there. It can be easy to get lost in pursuing your dreams if you only focus on the big picture. Having concrete goals along the way will help you stay on track and celebrate the little victories even during the tough times.