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Learning At The Cash Register: 5 Questions For CEO Suzan McDowell

Tom Hudson

As a regular digital feature of the Sunshine Economy, we'll be asking local CEOs how they got where they are and what they think of the business community in South Florida.  

Suzan McDowell is the President and CEO of Circle of One Marketing, a public-relations and community-outreach firm. A Jamaican-American, Suzan was named one of South Florida’s top 50 Most Powerful Black Business Leaders of 2013 by Legacy Magazine and the Miami Herald.

What was your first job? 
I was a cashier at H.E.B. in San Antonio (Texas’ version of Publix). The job really helped me to learn how to pack a bag or box really well.

My mom -- a homecoming queen, doctor’s wife turned school teacher, and divorcee -- was really a helicopter mom, like me. I remember my mom coming to the store at 11 p.m. when I got off and the manager making fun of me over the loudspeaker: “Your mommy’s here.” He was a jerk. And I was usually there late to balance the register. If I was off, I would have to stay longer, with my mom banging on the windows.

Despite those bad memories, my views on work are: Every teenager should have a job. It creates independence and an appreciation of how to earn money.

What's the best career advice you've ever received?  
Be mindful of your reputation because it can make or break you.

I was a representative at HOT 105 radio and my boss, Stephanie Kontzamanys, knew I was getting a reputation for being scatterbrained. I went from print to radio, and it was a huge learning curve for me to go from a physical, tactile media to selling “air.”

Every teenager should have a job. It creates independence and an appreciation of how to earn money.

At first, I ignored her. “What does she know?” I thought, and I crashed and burned. 

Then I picked myself up and started outworking everybody else. And so my reputation is that I work like an ant. I have learned how to multi-task, be super-creative, build relationships and work my tail off to produce excellence. So that’s my reputation.

What do you look for when you hire? 
I look for someone with passion, creativity, intelligence, humor, tolerance, organization -- people who can actually do what they say they can do, [have] a very strong work ethic, [are] willing to pitch in on any project, resourceful and a little bit nuts.

What's your favorite job interview question to ask and why? 
How can you grow Circle of One Marketing? Because that’s what they’re here to do whether by revenue, resources, contacts or brand enhancement.

What's the biggest misconception about the business climate in South Florida?  
That it is diverse or tolerant of diversity.