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From Marketer to CEO – Focus on the Big Picture for a Big Career

A lot of people think I had a well-executed plan to get to the CEO position, but the truth is, I didn’t really. Don’t get me wrong, I knew where I wanted to go in my career, but if I had to map out an actual plan, well, I probably would have failed harder than I actually have in the past. Here is the reality – I love my job, I love every part of it, the good and the bad, the fun and the boring. When I’m working, I’m not really working. When someone tells me to shut off and go on vacation, I really just go to a different place and have fun, while working along the way. I’m not saying you have to constantly be working to get to CEO, but in my personal experience, you always need to be thinking about what is next and act on those thoughts. I have always had well thought out goals to get to where I wanted to go. I’ve been learning as I go but thinking back, there are a few big picture items that have helped get me to where I am today.

7 Actionable Ideas for Thinking Big

1. You don’t know what you don’t know – learn what you don’t know.
Every single person knows something you don’t know and the only way you will learn what you don’t know is to listen, listen more, and listen often. You will never know everything.

2. Embrace your weaknesses, emphasize your strengths.
Sometimes I think I know my weaknesses better than my strengths. I know when I’m not suited to a specific task and will surround myself with people that will do said task much better. On the flip side, I know what I’m good at and will insert myself where I think my ideas will be well-received.

3. Set time aside to sit and think.
The general rule of thumb is you have to be “producing” if you want to be a leader, but in fact the opposite is true. Think about the challenges facing your firm, the big picture, making your leadership team stronger, etc. The key to thinking is that you have you do it uninterrupted – so walk your dog, sit on your patio, or find a park bench and start the wheels turning.

4. Say you’re going to do something and then do it.
Novel concept; but it turns out that following through is one of the simplest ways to be a leader. Say what you are going to do. Do it. Follow-up. Simple. The amount of credibility you gain by following through is huge, as is the amount you lose when you don’t do what you say you will do.

5. Have a plan, not excuses.
I fully admit I stole this line from a billboard, but it’s so true in this thing we call our careers. I’ve created plenty of plans only to have them fail, then I would make an excuse. About five years ago, I stopped making excuses and instead started adjusting and continuing to move forward. Turns out if you don’t throw your hands in the air and admit defeat, people accept changes to a plan to get back on track.

6. Take care of yourself.
If you would have told me five years ago that I would be waking up to go to a 5:00 AM workout, I would have laughed and called you crazy. Yet, here I am, waking up in the early morning hours to get a workout in, knowing that if I wait until the afternoon I would slowly lose control of my day and miss boxing or yoga. Exercise gives me energy and an hour to myself where I am completely disconnected. I plan every day around my workout.

7. Be present.
It took me six years of lying on a yoga mat to grasp this concept. Our jobs can get overwhelming at times. As my firm goes through this Leadership transition, I’m often finding myself taking part in leadership decisions for the firm, having lunch with a client, and reviewing a proposal all in one day. It got overwhelming at one point, until I took a tip from my yoga instructor and just focused on the task at hand, took a deep breath, and moved onto the next moment.

Grenee Celuch
Vice President, Concord General Contracting
Grenee is currently Vice President of Concord General Contracting and will be transitioning to CEO January 2020.  She has been with Concord for 12 years and part of the AEC industry for 15. Grenee is obsessed with the podcast “How I Built This” and listens whenever she is in her car. She finds the stories of people who built wildly successful companies from nothing fascinating!  When not car bound, she loves to travel anywhere and everywhere.

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Rise Up!

Welcome to the 2018-2019 SMPS Year Arizona! Here we are at the start of the New Year. Over the past three years, our Chapter has been working to find the right balance of events, and created the foundation for continued advancement, growth and opportunities to our profession, our firms and our industry. Today is an exciting time for SMPS; we have a new society brand with a belief in Business Transformed through Marketing Leadership. Similar to headquarters, it is time for our Chapter to “flip the script”. (cue Taylor Swift - …Ready For It?)

We are at a turning point of settling on complacency or digging deep and rising up. I don’t know about you, but I choose the rising up. So what, what does this mean?

A combination of last and this year’s boards have been going through strategic planning and we have some aggressive overarching goals:

  • Be the Go-To Resource in Education, Creating Connections, and Developing Leaders in the Industry
  • Leadership Development for you within your firm and our SMPS Chapter
  • Elevate the SMPS Experience

One of our commitments is to transparency. We will be adding a page on our website laying out our goals and highlighting accomplishments and completions. Stay tuned for more details as we are finalizing our 3 Year Strategic Plan over the next 2 weeks.

We have some new and fresh Programs and Education opportunities  in the works that we are excited to share with you. Then there is Leverage your Beverage; our membership team is hard at work. We also have the Phelix Awards, CPSM, Mentoring, and a couple special events in development. Of course, do not forget the Secretary and Publicity branches will be implementing the new society brand to our chapter oh-my!

To be honest, I know what you are thinking….this sounds like a lot. It is scary. I don’t disagree. So to take a scene from one of my favorite shows Scandal (Gladiator in a Suit):

“You really want to ask me who I work for? Ok, so who do you work for? The SMPS Arizona Chapter. The SMPS Arizona Chapter? You did apply for a job. How do I know? I have your resume on my iPad, the way I know you’d kill puppies to have this job because you stopped breathing when I said SMPS Arizona Chapter. I’m gonna offer you a crap salary, but we all get crap salaries. But don’t feel bad. We’re the good guys, I’m a good guy. Best job you’ll ever have. You’ll change lives, slay dragons, because the SMPS Arizona Chapter is as amazing as they say.”

So much will be taking shape over the year, it is a marketer’s Disneyland (can you sense my excitement). When you find yourself in that place that all marketers do…overwhelmed, proposal deadlines swooshing by, amongst many other things - just know, the Chapter is here for you. We are each other’s greatest strengths, rocks and resources in this crazy world of A/E/C marketing. However, if you need a further push, take a cue from:

Eminem - Lose Yourself

The Weeknd, Kendrick Lamar - Pray For Me

Taylor Swift - Look What You Made Me Do

Beyoncé - Run the World

Black Eyed Peas - I Gotta Feeling

Hamilton: My Shot

Christina Aguilera – Fighter

DJ Kahlid – All I do is Win

Imagine Dragons - Believer

Kendrick Lamar, SZA - All The Stars

Queen - We Are the Champions

What are you looking forward to for the upcoming SMPS year? Or what is your secret motivator? Leave a comment below!

Brandi Barr
SMPS Arizona Chapter President
Associate Vice President, West Region Manager for T.Y. Lin International

Brandi holds a BA in Communication from Arizona State University and has nearly 20 years of AEC marketing professional services experience. For the past 10 years, she has worked for T.Y. Lin International. She has also been recognized by the SMPS, Arizona Chapter as the recipient of 3 Marketing Communications Awards - Best Proposal (2014), Marketer of the Year (2015) and most recently Best Project Pursuit (2016). Her favorite thing to do hang out with her husband, three kiddos and French bulldog. To find her outside of work, check her daughter’s dance studio, son’s soccer or baseball practices or watching sports (probably checking on her fantasy football teams this time of year).


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The Recipe for Leadership – Recapping Tom Zender’s Leadership Workshop

What does leadership mean to you? Who do you consider a leader in your firm? So often we base leadership off of titles and or accolades. It is time to shift the focus on what defines a true leader.

Bestselling Author, CEO Mentor and Business Coach, Tom Zender utilizes his successful background of leadership positions at General Electric and Honeywell, senior vice president in NYSE and NASDAQ listed corporations, CEO of small-medium businesses and startups and a global organization, to mentor and coach leaders. 

See below for a recap of the Tom’s recent leadership workshop on the following topics: what is a real leader, leaders and managers, 10 key leadership qualities researched and the “irresistible attraction.”

What defines a real leader?

  • Create lasting value for others  - generally leave something valuable behind them
  • Hold visions that persist into reality
  • Build teams that stay together for the long term
  • Offer products that shine on by leaving a continuum of great products and services
  • Shares their good fortune


Leaders and managers are not the same but often have either overlapping or similar traits. There are leaders who are good managers and there are managers that are good leaders. Tom explained that there are leaders at every single level, one is not better than the other and we need both to be successful. 

Tom provided the following generalized characteristics:

There are numerous qualities that make up a great leader and Tom has narrowed them down to ten. After researching several business publications such as Forbes and Fortune, he came up with the following:

  1. Integrity - Having integrity means being consistent in all situations.
  2. Communicating – Great leaders listen more and talk less. Always listen first. 
  3. Affirmative – Decisive decision makers are often leaders 
  4. Mindfulness – A leader is conscious of their environment and is self-aware
  5. Initiator – Leaders are Innovative and know how to sustain success
  6. Supportive -  Being trustworthy AND trusting are important keys to being a leader
  7. Principled – Leaders hold high value for themselves and their organization
  8. Visionary – Everything is focused around the vision and leaders are passionate about that vision
  9. Team Builder -  Being involved, engaged and connected are team building characteristics of a leader
  10. Authenticity – Leaders think, speak and act from their innermost being, their heart. They listen to their inner voice, not their ego. 

Authenticity creates irresistible attraction of like-minded people, builds more honesty, better interpersonal relationships and a better view of life and work. Furthermore, authenticity builds trust and bonding which are essential to good business.

  • How can you be authentic in order to create irresistible attraction?
  • Match thoughts, words and actions
  • Take care of yourself – meditation, exercise, diet, journaling, etc.
  • Be yourself
  • Listen to your inner voice 

In Tom’s opinion, being authentic is the most important quality of real leaders. What is the most important quality to you? Do you have that quality? If not, work on it! Not everyone is born a leader and it takes patience, practice and desire.

 Always remember, leadership is based on behavior, not position. 

Ashley Black
Marketing Coordinator, Ryan Companies US, Inc.

Ashley joined the AEC industry in January 2015 and became a member of SMPS shortly after. She is the current Blog Chair and a member on the hospitality committee. Ashley loves hot yoga, basketball, cooking and spending time with her newborn niece, Halle. 

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I liken the new SMPS year to a new school year. While it obviously occurs around the same time of year, it also resembles a time of advancement to build on what we we’ve learned over the years. Every year presents new opportunities based on the last, based on trends and changes. In Maureen’s closing message, she highlighted impressive accomplishments of what this Chapter provided you during 2016-2017. I see those accomplishments as a foundation for continued advancement, growth and opportunities to our profession, our firms and our industry.

So what’s on deck for 2017-2018? Internally, we’re fine-tuning some processes to give you the best impression and experience possible. Externally, we’ve planned some exciting programs and networking opportunities that we believe will fuel your professional development and help you take your career and your firm to new heights. Part of this includes giving back to those who give so much to us: our members and sponsors. Expect to see more scholarship opportunities, free events for members and a sponsors-only event— to name a few.

As in any business, we spent significant time strategic planning and identifying new goals for the year, and making sure they align with our mission, “To ADVOCATE, EDUCATE, and COLLABORATE for the AEC industry to build business for a THRIVING economy.” This year we’re putting extra emphasis on THRIVING. Together, we’ve weathered many storms; we’ve survived, we’ve established deeper roots, and now we believe it’s a time to provide opportunities to grow deeper and stronger.  Through our programs and events, we will help you build up your toolbox with resources to market smarter, and strengthen your leadership skills to be the marketing and business development expert in your firm. SMPS’ vision is that, through this experience, you will transform your business through market leadership.

On a personal note, when it came time for me to write this first message as President, I found myself imaging what I wanted to write in my closing message a year from now. I realized that my hope, in the end, is that you are given an experience this year that makes you thrive. That all the goals our Chapter leadership has identified will empower you in your career, guide your firm to more successes and ultimately give you greater personal fulfillment.


If you serve on the board or leadership team, this experience will challenge you and provide a chance for you to be the leaders that our industry needs, that your firm needs and that your career needs. If you are a member, this experience will expand your network, help you do your jobs better and with more confidence and direction. If you are a non-member, we want to be sure every interaction with us brings value to your firm, your profession and entices you to be part of delivering professional development to AEC marketers. Member firms, you should see direct results of these experiences and feel comfortable providing feedback on how we can be a better resource to help your business grow. This is my hope and expectation for this year. Thank you for this opportunity to serve you! I’m excited to be part of this experience with you, and can’t wait to see you at our upcoming events!

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” Eleanor Roosevelt

 What are you looking forward to for the upcoming  SMPS year? Leave a comment below!

Emy Burback, MBA, CPSM
Lead Strategist, Marketing Engine, LLC.

Emy has been working in the A/E/C industry for the past 18 years and has been an active SMPS member for the past 10 years. She has enjoyed working for a variety of firms in the AEC industry. Most recently, Emy has started her own Marketing and CRM consulting firm, Marketing Engine. Her favorite thing to do in her free time is hang out with her husband and dogs on the beach in Rocky Point. Emy is passionate about traveling and loves an adventure! She enjoys hiking, going to new restaurants or buying a plane ticket to somewhere she's never been! 

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Living the Why

“Most of us live our lives by accident – we live as it happens.
Fulfillment comes when we live our lives on purpose.”
- Excerpt from Together is Better: A Little Book of Inspiration, by Simon Sinek

From kindergarten through fifth grade, I was a Girl Scout. My parents initiated my involvement with the association and I learned practical skills such as how to build a campfire, navigate a canoe, administer CPR/first aid and even how to sew a button (although I have to admit that I lost that particular skill shortly after I learned it). I think that my love of archery even started way back as a beginner Girl Scout, when I shot a bow for the first time at summer camp. Looking back on those years, I have distinct memories of learning how to be part of a team, and also how to step up and be a leader. The Girl Scouts of the USA has a mission to “build girls of courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place.” Being a Girl Scout played a role in shaping who I am today – my independence, my love of the outdoors and my drive to volunteer.

Courage, confidence, and character. The three C’s. Without these traits, it’s hard to live our lives on purpose, and impossible to feel fulfillment. My time as a Girl Scout introduced me to the three C’s, but I believe that my time as a member of SMPS pulled the three C’s out of me and made me live them every day. For instance, having the courage to walk into a room of a hundred people – without knowing anyone. The confidence to speak in front of a crowd of my industry peers. Lastly, the character to set aside my personal needs and wants for the overall benefit of something bigger than myself. With courage, confidence and character, I was fortunate enough to be the 2016-2017 SMPS Arizona President. My focus? The power of WHY.

This year’s SMPS Arizona leadership theme was the power of WHY. This comes from Simon Sinek’s inspirational TED Talk and subsequent book, Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. Simon’s message is powerful. He talks about the WHY, how, and what of a company or organization; also known as The Golden Circle. As a Board and Leadership Team, our WHY has been clear: to increase awareness and increase advocacy for SMPS Arizona.  

We lived our WHY this year. I saw the motivation to succeed in our board of directors, our chairs, and our committee members. I couldn’t have asked to serve alongside a more dedicated and committed team. We achieved some pretty cool things this year – I don’t have enough room to list everything – but here are some highlights:

  • Hosted 12 Programs/Marketing Councils, with an average of 31 attendees per event

  • Hosted five Leverage Your Beverage events, with an average of 37 attendees per event

  • Exceeded Chapter sponsorship goals by 11%; exceeded Program sponsorship goals by 46%

  • Successfully implemented the StarChapter platform to increase efficiency of Chapter operations

  • Partnered with ADOT’s Business Engagement and Compliance (BECO) program and the APWA AZ Conference to give education presentations on behalf of SMPS AZ

  • Introduced CPSM-only discount on Chapter-wide events and training
  • Reinstated New Member Breakfasts

  • Launched new SMPS AZ Instagram account

  • Experienced 72% member retention rate and gained 36 new members

  • Partnered with APWA to bring in over 150 attendees for a single event

  • Launched Roadmap to Being a Marketing Ninja: SMPS AZ’s Program & Education Event Guide

  • Hosted 11th Annual CANstruction event, bringing in over 58k cans of food for St. Mary’s Food Bank, increasing donation from 2016 by 8,000 cans

  • Produced nine Chapter videos

  • Gained 157 Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter followers

We all accomplished these things while juggling full-time careers, families/friends, other industry commitments, etc. It never ceases to amaze me - as marketers, we continue to be the ultimate masters in the world of multi-tasking. We take deadlines, commitments, and goals head on and do what it takes to get stuff done.

And although the accomplishments listed above may be specific to this year, it’s due to a culmination of many successful years as an association that we’ve been able to achieve what we have. I can feel the energy continuing to build. We’re in a great place as a state, as an industry,  as an association, as marketers and business developers - and I am so excited to see where Emy Burback takes us next. From the bottom of my heart, I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to serve in this position and I’ll never forget the inspiration I felt this year. It’s given me a renewed drive for what we do as marketers and for what SMPS Arizona stands for. My ultimate hope – and parting words – is that we continue to focus on living our lives on purpose, both personally and professionally. Let’s make the effort to keep an eye on our WHY and continue to find courage, confidence, and character within ourselves – every day.

What was your favorite aspect of the 2016-2017 SMPS year?


Maureen Varela, CPSM
Marketing Manager, Pulice Construction Inc.

Maureen joined the A/E/C industry in 2006 and has been employed by Pulice Construction since 2010. She has been an active member of SMPS for a decade and thoroughly enjoyed her role as current Chapter President. Many know Maureen as the hard-working Marketer that she is, but few know about her passion for adrenaline! Over the years, she’s tried out ziplining, skydiving, rappelling, and white water rafting, and she’s always on the lookout for the next adventure.

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