Welcome to my new interview series: Creative Geniuses. Discover entrepreneurs that are innovating the world around us in fashion, culture and technology.
Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down with one of the most amazing women that I have met to date, Paula "Pixie" Dezzutti Hewlette. Don't let her nickname, "Pixie", fool you. It's not often that you meet a woman who has decided to turn a very male-dominated industry upside down through patented technology and an out of the box approach to giving back to the local community. Dezzutti Hewlette has not only raised nine children of her own, but accomplished this while starting and running several businesses, creating new strategies for American Express, studying theology, developing real estate and finally, launching a spirits company for social good. Her ability to succeed in everything she chooses to do is admirable and her passion for helping others is contagious. Take a moment to get to know a very extraordinary woman who continues to revolutionize normal.
NOVA LORRAINE: You are truly a Renaissance Woman when it comes to innovation, entrepreneurship and building brands. What are some of your greatest accomplishments to date?
DEZZUTTI HEWLETTE: All of the pieces of my journey seem to have been the building blocks necessary for the foundation of each life lesson I have managed to master. When you have an insatiable appetite for wanting to "experience more" you tend to take on pretty lofty challenges. I think taking on the responsibility of bringing almost a dozen children into this world in today's environment, with the commitment of having them all be independent and successful individuals who contribute demonstratively to society, was a pretty big feat. However, pursuing my education in business and finance even when it meant traipsing all over the world to learn from the best of the best with a bunch of kids in tow, still impresses me to this day. I don't know how I did it, except to say I had divine help! Launching my financial planning practice, which still serves its clients today with the same dedication it did three decades ago, is a reflection of how much I have been able to improve the financial well-being of those who depend on me to lead them. And of course, I feel the creation of Local Choice Inc, as a platform to change the world through an improved business model of partnerships, equality and sharing, will ultimately be recognized for its disruptive, exemplary contribution to furthering the embracement of diversity in big business.
NOVA LORRAINE: Your experience after college eventually led you to be a game changer at American Express. How did that door open for you and what legacy did you leave behind at American Express?
DEZUTTI HEWLETTE: I first came to American Express through a financial advisor my parents were using that was helping me start a savings plan from my teacher's salary. He was so impressed with how I was able to manage kids, school, teaching and still put money away enough to buy a house at 23 years old and start a savings plan for retirement. He said if I could do that by age 23, I should be teaching others how to do it too! I interviewed the next day and was faced with my first abrupt brush with discrimination in a job interview. I was a woman, I was pregnant, I wasn't even old enough to legally rent a car, and I had scored higher on their aptitude entrance test than any other candidate. They offered to double my teaching salary and I was in management by the end of my first year. Through the years I formed a joint practice with my husband at the time and we operated a legal division of American Express called Dezzutti & Dezzutti. This was one of the most rewarding times of our lives. He was always very supportive of me and was instrumental at continually pointing out to me how big I was and how I had what it took to do anything. I was lucky to have such encouragement during this critical point of growth in my life.
NOVA LORRAINE: For so many people, their passions take them to many places around the country and sometimes the world. After your time with American Express, you left Connecticut and headed to Florida. From an entrepreneurial perspective, how did you spend your time in Florida?
DEZZUTTI HEWLETTE: Making the move to Florida was bittersweet. I was leaving what I loved in the Northeast, but I was also getting to be closer to my parents, who had also recently moved South. My parents and I have always been inseparable and losing my dad a couple of years ago has made my connection to my mom even so much more poignant. So looking after their needs was always important to me. My sister, JoAnn, also relocated to Florida, even before my parents, so wanting to be able to have a place to stay when I visited them naturally led me into the next logical career path: mortgage broker and real estate developer. I hooked up with a developer in West Palm Beach and convinced him to let me partner with him on building some new homes in a development in Royal Palm.
NOVA LORRAINE: The entrepreneurial bug kept biting and you have found yourself now leading a very unique company in South Carolina. How has building a business, in an industry dominated by men, played out for you?
DEZZUTTI HEWLETTE: Given the past foundation building blocks we have been referring to, I happen to be particularly comfortable in this predominantly male space. I think more challenging than me being a woman in a man's space, is me acting like a woman in a man's space. My model is founded on giving and nurturing. Women are biologically and socially more compassionate and nurturing than their male counterparts on first glance. The alcohol industry takes on a male persona in general. Most brands are named after men and most cocktails are named after women. It's kind of like sports and cars. Since we have been conditioned as a culture to think of men in spirits as moonshiners, and women in spirits as witchcraft sorcery, it's been really challenging and amusing for this spirit guru aptly named "Pixie" to be taken seriously. Innovation is thwarted and the system is so archaic, it is almost impenetrable. I am about disruption, diversity and divinity and through those avenues we will change this industry -- because the whole will always be greater than the sum of its parts!
NOVA LORRAINE: Being a guru in brand building, what are three key facts other entrepreneurs should keep in mind when launching their own brand?
1. Be Yourself First. Make sure your own unique ability is shining through in your brand building. Think Mahatma Gandhi.
2. Be a Leader. Passion will rise and wane, but purpose will never be extinguished. Think Martin Luther King, JR.
3.Be a warrior. Energy is neither created nor destroyed, it simply transfers form. Think of Nelson Mandela.
NOVA LORRAINE: What are the most important goals that you want to accomplish over the next 3 years?
1. Raise millions of dollars for local communities across the USA. Local Choice has been trademarked as a "for community profit" foundation promoting local products and services with a humanitarian twist.
2. Release my Baby Boomer Bourbon for causes such as the W.I.S.E. program. Since its inception in 1984, Wise programs (Women in Science and Engineering) have propelled organizations to inspire women and girls to pursue S.T.E.M. subjects as pathways to exciting and fulfilling careers.
3. Begin my speaking tour and finish my book. Laughter Thru Tears has been a book in the making for over a decade now. My greatest desire is to share my story with as many people who want to listen and empower them to create possibility wherever they find themselves in life.
NOVA LORRAINE: How did you overcome your single most difficult challenge in your career?
DEZZUTTI HEWLETTE: I cried it out! Then I cried it out some more; and then I remembered, big girls don't cry... they think! So by all means, experience your experience. Cry, fight, retreat, defect, get angry and wallow in the depths of despair. These emotions themselves are not obstacles to your progress. And don't let your opponent tell you differently. Efforts to suppress emotional reactions that are part of your innate response mechanism only serve to magnetize you to situations that trigger more of the same. It was Carl Jung who first said "What you resist persists" and many teachers have expanded that by going on to say "What you resist persists...and what you accept changes."
-Nova Lorraine, Founder and Editor in Chief | Raine Magazine | www.rainemagazine.com