Women in Business: Q&A with Sabina Teshler, Founder of SET

Sabina Teshler is the founder of SET, an experiential brand marketing agency. SET specializes in creating and executing experiences for exceptional Brands.

Sabina is a 20 year veteran of the industry, including project management, creative, retail marketing, digital and web. Her ability to manage experiential brand marketing launches, while delivering costs savings by streamlining processes and value engineering, set the ground work that the company runs on today. Sabina shares her passion with over 70 employees between Portland and New York, transforming the experiential marketing industry. Most recently SET was named to Inc. Magazines Top 500 fastest growing companies list (#286) and The Agency Post's list of fastest growing agencies in the U.S. (#9).

Sabina is an Advisory Board member of EPO, an active member of the WPO Platinum National Chapter, was named 2013 Enterprising Woman of the year, and most recently was named to Portland's Women of Influence list. When she is not shooting off emails at dazzling speeds, Sabina can we found jetting to sunny destinations, mingling at community art events or taking her dog, Igor, for a hike in the Portland hills.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
My life has been anything but traditional. I realized at a young age that I was never going to fit some mold that society was pushing me towards. Because I continually went against the grain, for instance by choosing to enter the workforce directly out of high school instead of going to college, I became fiercely independent and determined that with hard work and drive I could accomplish anything. Coupled with the fact that I began my career when I was quite young - without preconceived notions and rules about how things "should" be done, my leadership has developed into a style where the freedom to be innovative and forward thinking is key.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at SET?
I have worked in this industry for a long time, a self-proclaimed "lifer." However, after 20 years, I realized that the industry perpetuated an idea of what clients' wants and needs were, without ever really addressing the actual client. It became clear to me that because clients are distinct, in that no two are really ever the same, the industry was doing a disservice to clients in assuming otherwise. I launched SET to raise the bar in the field of experiential marketing to provide an experience tailored to each individual client. It was through my previous employment experience that I was able to see where I wanted to take the future of this industry and it gave me the foundation I needed to turn my vision into reality.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Maintaining a work/life balance is challenging for anyone with aspirations of "doing it all." My approach is simply to not get ahead of myself; I take each day as it comes. I am fortunate in that I love my work, but this can also be problematic in that because I love what I do, it is harder for me to say "no." This industry can definitely be intense, and as such, I understand the importance of not letting my work-life become all-consuming. I make a conscious effort to allow myself to recharge by doing the other things in life I enjoy. Just getting out for a hike with my dog Igor or fitting in a Pilates session can do wonders. Maintaining a balanced life does not mean combating one extreme with the other; it is the little things that keep me grounded and allow me to wake up each day knowing that I can have a fulfilling life. I wish I could say that I was always gifted with the knowledge that balance is important, but it is definitely a skill that has developed over the years. As I've gotten older I've come to really value the importance of finding time to take care of myself. Of course this is easier said than done, my schedule changes by the minute, I realize that my work/life balance is really a work-in-progress, but I always make it a priority to keep a little 'me time" in the mix.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at SET?
One of the biggest highlights during my tenure at SET is being able to work with amazing clients. I am fortunate in that I get to work with some of the most creative and forward thinking people in the world. The nature of the beast is that simply maintaining the status quo is not an option. Together with the clients, we broach the experiential future, constantly doing things that have never been done before. At SET, we have so much fun taking on the challenges that necessarily come along with this type of innovation and ultimately delivering solutions. Another highlight has been the growth of the company; it's thrilling to see all of our hard work coming to fruition with the expansion of our Portland headquarters, and satellite offices opening in New York and Los Angeles. Yet, rapid growth has also been challenging. First and foremost, SET is a company that thrives on the zeal of client satisfaction. We have had to ramp up our workforce considerably to support increased demand. Maintaining our standards of exceptional service and execution during this process has required a good amount of effort and some long hours for our entire team.

What advice can you offer women who are seeking to establish their own business?
My advice is the same for anyone looking to establish a business. First and foremost, be passionate about your vision; you are much more likely to succeed when you love what you do. One of the best things about starting your own business is that you are in the position to decide what you want and then make it happen. Highlight your strengths. Back your idea up with a solid plan and a strategy for business development. Identify your target customer and consider scalability of the business. And as a woman, don't let others tell you what you can or cannot do; you have to have the will to show those that don't believe you can succeed that they are wrong. To sum it up - a combination of passion, practicality and drive is a great place to start.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
While there are a record amount of women in the workforce today, many sectors remain male-dominated. The biggest issue for women in the workplace is that the fight for equality is still not over. We're still fighting to change the status quo on a multitude of levels, and this necessarily takes a great deal of time; change does not occur overnight. I encourage women to tenaciously challenge the norm and to think differently, be smart and not accept limitations.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I haven't had traditional mentors per se, which is not necessarily a negative thing. Forging my own way taught me to be self-reliant and to think outside of the box. However, the most influential person in my life was definitely my father. If I had any role model at all, it was him. My father led by example and taught me not to be afraid of hard work, to be smart and to do what it takes. His "no excuses" attitude has made a difference in my professional and personal life because I expect the best out of myself, and everyone around me. Taking excuses out of the mix means people will either rise to the occasion or they won't. Of course people, including myself, make mistakes, and those mistakes should be learned from, but removing excuses makes people responsible for their actions whether good or bad.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?
The book Lean In gives visibility to some very valid issues women face in modern society. I don't share Sandberg's views across the board, but I champion others to speak their minds because there is inherent value in discourse. I applaud the discussion of how women can take charge of their careers, because I believe that even against all odds women have the power to succeed. I am not your stereotypical "bra burning" feminist, in fact because of the connotations surrounding the feminist movement I don't even consider myself a feminist at all. But in many ways, feminism is just a label that I don't want to be bound to. I support women and I am a big believer in women's empowerment. To the extent that the Lean In movement offers women support and inspiration to achieve their goals I am a complete advocate.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Angela Ahrendts. As CEO of Burberry, Ahrendts was able to change the company from the inside out. She built Burberry's company culture around collaboration and trust, recognizing that people are the most important resource; a culture that I aim to emulate at SET. Ahrendts is an eminent and admirable female leader because she utilizes innovative thought. She used cutting edge technology to reimagine retail space and build a brand experience that took mere brand promise to a whole other level. Angela Ahrendts is the modern well-rounded woman, and I am eager to see the direction she takes Apple as their Senior VP of Retail and Online Stores.

What are your hopes for the future of SET?
My hopes for the future of SET are quite literally the world. As SET continues to grow and expand we will breach global markets even more so than we are currently doing. Becoming an international powerhouse has been one of my goals for SET from the start, and fortunately it is happening even faster than we ever anticipated. The future of SET is bright: SET will continue to revolutionize the brand experience taking our client's brands, and thus our agency, to a whole new level.