A former professional musician and public school teacher, Tammy Meinershagen is the first Asian American representative on the Frisco City Council. A Frisco resident since 2004, Meinershagen has championed the arts and diversity. She is also the chief innovation officer at Blackshaw Partners, where she oversees business operations and strategy. Meinershagen spoke at the 2019 Women in Business Summit.
How has the business world changed since the start of your career?
When I graduated from Northwestern University in 1997, it was a very different time. Email was still a novelty, and handheld cell phones were the newest item on the market. Because everyone was much more siloed, there was a limited, linear career path to follow, making it difficult to change jobs or move to other industries. There’s no question that mobility within the workforce has changed greatly due to the advances in technology!
The business world has become much more interconnected and accessible at all levels of entry, and post-pandemic, there’s even more fluidity. You are no longer stuck down one path in your career; you can explore different opportunities and learn about them quickly through online sources and social media, which did not exist when I first entered the workplace.
How have you changed?
I like to say that my career has had a lot of flavors, not just plain vanilla! I’ve been a public school English teacher, professional musician, nonprofit executive, business consultant, and now Chief Innovation Officer of a global executive search firm. All of these experiences have cultivated a variety of skills to work successfully with many cross-sector teams, from students to CEOs, and everyone in between.
I have grown personally and professionally through each role, and the biggest way I have changed is that I’ve learned to embrace who I am: my strengths, my weaknesses and what brings me joy. It’s taken me 46 years to start feeling comfortable in my own skin, and I honestly can’t wait to hit 50!
What obstacles did you face?
When I decided to leave the workforce to raise our three beautiful girls, I began volunteering in many capacities in the public sector. I had a passion to change our city for the better and increase arts, culture and diversity, but because I had not followed a traditional career path, my resume was much lighter than those of the people around me. I wondered if I could really have a significant voice or impact without their titles, and I also felt uncomfortable at times being the only Asian American woman in the room. All of this caused me to deeply question my abilities and strengths. What I realize now is that my biggest obstacle was not the other people around me or the circumstances, but how I viewed myself.
Did any of the obstacles surprise you?
When I began to re-enter the workplace after taking the time away for my family, I didn’t realize how difficult the process would be. As women, I think we have a tendency to second-guess and downplay our experiences, especially if there is a gap in our resumes. It was important to meet with friends who had walked that road ahead of me for advice and networking, resulting in a smoother transition back into the workplace.
What experiences, training or education best prepared you?
Being a musician has taught me the value of stepping into another’s world, taking time to reflect and persevering to the end. Through the arts, I learned important life lessons of practicing until you get it right and taking things from concept to reality, no matter how difficult it is along the way.
It’s also given me the perspective that success is not always a straight climb up the corporate ladder; sometimes, it looks more like a spiral staircase. There’s still movement forward, even if you feel like you’re just going in circles.
All of my separate experiences in brand management, business strategy, cross-cultural connections, public relations and philanthropy are utilized in my current role as Chief Innovation Officer of Blackshaw Partners, a 40-plus-year global executive search company. I oversee all business operations and strategies for expanding the Blackshaw Partners brand, both in the U.S. and internationally. I also lead the firm’s Global DEI Practice and Client Engagement in Dallas/Frisco. Our team is ethnically diverse and majority female, and we help build talented, diverse teams with top leaders from around the world. I love what I do, and I’m thankful for each of the experiences that prepared me for it.
What has helped you the most during your career?
What has helped me the most in my career is the willingness of trusted leaders to build into me personally and professionally. They have given me a larger perspective when I can’t see a path forward, and they’ve encouraged me to persevere through many obstacles. I wouldn’t be where I am today without their wisdom.
What is the best advice you’ve received?
I’ve received so much great advice, it’s hard to pick just one! Here are 3 of my favorites:
“You can do it all, but you just can’t do it all at the same time. There’s no such thing as balance.”
“Obstacles are not always a wall, but a speed bump.”
“Just show up. You never know what will happen if you are present.”
What is the worst advice?
I don’t believe in skipping dessert. I may not finish it, but I’ll definitely enjoy a few bites!
What do you wish you had known earlier?
Everything you have done up to this point in your career has value. Sometimes all we see are the messy, loose threads on the back of the tapestry, and it feels like the years have been haphazard or fruitless. However, when you turn the tapestry around, it’s actually a beautiful masterpiece that tells your unique story. Every part of your career, whether it’s the volunteer work, the people you’ve met along the way, the seemingly insignificant roles you’ve had — it’s all important; nothing is wasted. Your lived experience has purpose, and the beauty is in the process of discovery.
What advice would you give to others?
Raise your hand and take the leap to the next level. If not now, when? If not you, then who? You don’t have to have all the answers; just do it scared.
Do you have any memories of Women in Business?
One of the most impactful memories I have is when Katherine Wagner, CEO of the Business Council for the Arts, gave a presentation during the Women in Business Summit in 2017. At that time, I was the executive director of an arts advocacy agency in Frisco, and having someone in the arts world included as a keynote speaker in a high-powered business forum was very meaningful for me. It gave gravitas to the work we were doing in the arts, and it inspired me to create one of the most successful initiatives for our organization, called “Ladies Who Launch,” supporting women art-repreneurs. I loved sharing that story when I was the emcee for Women in Business in 2019. It was a full-circle moment!
What do you think the future holds for women in the business world?
I have three daughters, and one of them is about to graduate from college and enter the business world. I am excited for her because there have been many positive cultural changes in the past 30 years that have moved the needle towards greater gender and racial equality. We still have more work to do to break through not only the glass ceiling but the “bamboo ceiling” for Asian women specifically; however, there are many more opportunities for women and women of color now than ever. In addition, with the rise of DEI initiatives in small businesses to large corporations, creating an inclusive, more equitable environment is no longer an afterthought, and it’s only going to get better.
What book had the most impact on you and your career?
Speed of Trust by Stephen Covey is one of the most impactful books I have read. The premise is that true success, whether business or personal, comes down to trust and communication.
Think about a current issue you’re having at work; if you boil it down, it’s because there is distrust and miscommunication at some level. Identify the breakdown of trust, whether between employees, departments, or clients, then work intentionally to build trust, and you can move mountains.
What is the biggest mistake you see women making when it comes to advancing their
I think the biggest mistake is not betting on yourself. Most of the things we worry about are not going to happen, and we limit ourselves more than we should. We need to ask for the opportunities we want and not be afraid to take them when they come.
What was one of the most interesting (or useful) things you learned this year?
At the beginning of 2022, I honestly did not foresee that I would be running a political campaign and holding public office! I am proud to be the first Asian-American to serve in the Frisco City Council and in one of the fastest-growing cities in America. It was so meaningful to be sworn in during AAPI month this year, and one little Asian girl shared with her mom that she didn’t know Asians could run for office until I announced my candidacy! Frisco is actually 26% Asian-American, and representation matters. It is an honor to be part of others’ journeys to becoming more civically engaged, and I am truly grateful for this new chapter in my life.
What’s a recurring hurdle for you? (time, money, attitude, location, knowledge, etc.)
What strategies are you using to overcome that?
One of my recurring hurdles is not playing my piano and violin regularly. Music is really my first love, and it’s very cathartic to play; it’s like visiting with old friends. One strategy I recently employed is saying “yes” to a request to host a solo concert. My first one was this past Valentine’s at the Nack Theater in Frisco; I arranged love song medleys from the ’80s, ’90s, jazz, pop, and classical, and I performed on both instruments to a sold-out crowd of 200. I was overwhelmed with the support, and planning a concert forced me to practice for months ahead of time. To keep up the streak, I’ve said “yes” to performing a holiday concert this December, so the pressure is back on to start practicing again!
What’s your personal brand and how do you nurture it?
I believe my personal brand is being a champion of arts, culture and diversity. It is a thread that weaves my entire story together, from when I was growing up with my Korean immigrant parents in Rockford, Illinois, to my roles now in public office and a global firm. It is my life‘s mission to help others feel included and part of their community, whether that’s in your neighborhood, school, business, or city. One of the ways to nurture your brand is to serve where you are passionate. I’m a member of the Orchid Giving Circle through the Texas Women’s Foundation, dedicated to supporting Asian-American causes in North Texas. I’m also an Advisory Board member of the Frisco Arts Foundation, Legacy Christian Academy, Leadership Prep School, and a business mentor at the Frisco public schools. The most important thing about developing your brand is to be authentic and find what truly brings you joy. When you do, you’ll make work your play, and play your work!
Local Profile‘s 21st annual Women in Business Summit will be held on September 30 at the Renaissance Dallas at Plano Legacy West Hotel. Click here for tickets.