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This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Women STaRs

Women STaRs Interview with Lynn-Ann Gries

If you prefer, enjoy the audio podcast here: LISTEN

Lynn-Ann Gries has spent her career in the financial arena.  From investment banking to venture capital, she has experience working with a wide range of companies, from start-ups to those in the Fortune 1000. In 2001 she began managing a small venture development fund with a mission to invest in tech-based start-ups. She received her MBA from New York University (Stern School of Business) and holds a Bachelor of Arts from Smith College where she majored in Economics. To learn more about Lynn-Ann, she can be reached at 216-978-2647 or lagries@griesconsulting.com.

Shanti:

I want to thank all of you for listening today. My name is Shanti Harkness, and I’m the Media Manager for On Technology Partners, a woman-owned company addressing Cyber Security and Risk.

 

As a woman-owned business for 30 years, we wanted to share the stories of women and the Struggles, Triumphs, and Reflections they face. That is why we started Woman STaRs. Join us as we share the reflections of women just like you that have survived struggles and embraced triumphs in their lives.

 

Today, we'll be talking with Lynn-Ann Gries. Lynn-Ann, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today.

 

Lynn-Ann:

Thanks, Shanti for inviting me.

 

Shanti:

Tell us a little bit about what you do, where you work, what it's like, and how long you've been doing it.

 

Lynn-Ann:

Sure. So, in a nutshell, I guess my story is that I have a finance career. The first half of my career was in traditional investment banking. Part of it was spent in New York City, and then when I moved to Cleveland, I worked for McDonald & Company, which was subsumed into Key Bank in the late 90s. That was traditional finance work, like initial public offerings, mergers and acquisitions, etc.

 

In 2001, I transitioned into the venture capital space and have been there ever since. So, I've worked for a variety of different funds, mostly investing in pre-seed and seed stage technology businesses, for the most part. So, to date, I've deployed $40 million into upwards of 150 startups.

 

Shanti:

Wow. It's pretty impressive, thank you. So, how did you decide what you wanted to do with your life? Is this something that you've always done?

 

Lynn-Ann:

That's always a great question. I always applaud people who know exactly what it is that they want to do, but I was not one of those people. I will be completely candid and tell you that when I graduated from college, I basically looked for the highest paying job that I could get because I knew that I had student loans outstanding and that I had to pay them back. And at the time, in the 80s, the folks that were paying the most were the banks, and the bank training programs. I lived in the northeast, I lived in New Jersey, so working in banking in New York was a doable thing.

 

So, just the appeal of having a steady paycheck, and being able to start paying down my loans was why I went into banking. And the first two years that I was in it, I had no idea what I was doing, I was completely clueless. I didn't grow up in a household where business was talked about over the dining room table. So, all of the terminology and all of the activities there were new to me, but I'm a perennial student.

 

I like to think, so I kind of just chipped away and figured out why I was there and what I was supposed to do and what all the terminology meant, and eventually went back for an MBA. And that's when things really started to gel because I could apply what I had been confused about and ask questions in a classroom to clarify what those things meant.

 

Shanti:

Absolutely. And to really learn what areas you excel in, I think is important also, and you get that through that exploration. Absolutely.

 

So, we know that triumphs don't come without struggles, right? Talk to us a little bit about what some of your biggest struggles have been. This can be either personally or professionally, and how you were able to get through them and what kind of impact those struggles had on your life and your career.

 

Lynn-Ann:

I'll talk about professional struggles, which really didn't start to hit until I got more senior in my career. I think a lot of women would probably have the same story, which is, you've grown up in school doing well, getting the good grades, doing what people tell you to do. And even in your first years on the job, right, you're Junior, you just succeed by doing what people tell you to do. And so, eventually, you get to be more senior and you're supposed to start developing your own book of business or going out and getting clients or selling, rather than doing the financial analysis, at least in my case.

 

Those are things that you're not really trained for, right? You're not innately salesy, and a lot of women especially, are not innately salesy, right? It feels pushy, it feels overbearing, it feels not authentic. So, there's really no one teaching you that you have to kind of flip on a dime if you want to progress in your career, be it in any kind of service business, right? Eventually, you'll have to stop doing the work, and you'll have to start selling the work. And to me, that was really a struggle, you know? For being rewarded for doing good work, versus eventually you had to realize you're going to be rewarded for bringing in business– two totally different skill sets. So, I struggled a lot with that.

 

I mean, I think I've ultimately found a career where it suits me, and I can. Investing is a different kind of sell, right? You're selling entrepreneurs on the fact that you want to partner with them, you're selling investors on the fact that you can invest in good companies on their behalf.

And so, I think I've ended up in a good place, but that was a really key struggle for me back in my investment banking days.

 

Shanti:

So, let's take a moment and focus on your biggest triumph. Can you share what that triumph was and what made it so great for you?

 

Lynn-Ann:

I would say professionally, it was working to establish the organization JumpStart. That is an organization in Cleveland that was founded in 2003 through the merger of four independent nonprofit organizations. That in-and-of-itself was kind of overwhelming but working in conjunction with Ray Leach and Rebecca Braun and the board chairs of all these organizations, we were actually able to get this organization created. It really is a testament to be the board chairs of these other nonprofits to really say, okay, yes, we're going to give up our chair, and for the good of the region, merge all these organizations together to serve entrepreneurs in a bigger and better way.

 

So, what JumpStart does in a nutshell is really serve regionally-based technology entrepreneurs. It has a fund and it has services, and it has a lot of other things that it does… efforts to really help the entrepreneurial ecosystem grow. It was a really a fun ride. I was there for 10 years from the inception of it, to 2014, managing the investment fund. I would say I'm very proud of that, very proud of that.

 

Shanti:

We know we all face difficult times. Do you have any tips or tricks that you use to push through those difficult or challenging times?

 

Lynn-Ann:

My advice would be to get a lot of sleep, eat properly, get outside. But I feel like challenging times are challenging because there's probably been a lack of communication and a lack of realization of authenticity. So, you've probably either compromised your beliefs or you've put yourself in a position where you're not exactly being authentic, and something doesn't really feel right in your gut. And so, communication, communication, communication, I think is the best advice.

 

I know when I have a difficult situation and I let it just sort of bottle up inside me, it's terrible, right? And so, the minute you make that phone call, and you say, “Hey, we just have to talk about this,” the levels of stress start coming down. Even though the conversation is difficult, when you have it and you're done and hang up, you're like, “Ahhh! I feel so much better!” So, proper communication and, similarly, being your authentic self. Realize that there's gonna be ebbs and flows in your business career; It’s not always great.

 

Shanti:

Communication is definitely key for so many things and can just make or break anything. It can make or break a professional relationship, it can make or break the success of a project, make or break the success of an organization or institution. So, communication is key, thank you for sharing that.

 

So, do you think there's anything that employers could do to help be more supportive to women that are juggling all of these different responsibilities (work, family, illness, caregiving, household responsibilities)?

 

Lynn-Ann:

I've been incredibly blessed, not just with my life partner, but with the fact that I've worked in jobs where they’re service jobs that can be done from anywhere. As technology has evolved, I've always been blessed to have one of those jobs where no one cares if you're in the office or out of the office, as long as you get your work done. That's a luxury. That's a luxury job, right? And I've always been blessed to have a job like that.

 

No FaceTime, but on the flip side, you are working a lot, right? Your technology is with you at home, you're working nights, but personally, I love that because I happen to be really productive between say 10pm and 2am. Don't schedule the meeting for me at 7am. You know, I won't even be out of bed.

 

So, I believe that coronavirus has shown that a lot of us can work like that, and bosses are reluctant to realize that a lot of people can work like that without having to be in the office and FaceTime is something that might be going away. Those are all great things for women. I think

it's just hard for jobs that are place-based, you know? I just haven't had to deal with that. Quite frankly, I've had a luxurious career where it's been mostly service industry-based, but technology is a beautiful thing

 

Shanti:

So, Lynn-Ann, as a woman, how do you define success for yourself, and do you have any tips or habits that have helped you to be successful?

 

Lynn-Ann:

I define success as being able to be your authentic self, in a job that you love, making a wage that you can live on. That's really what I think everyone should aspire to, right? Find something you love. When I was early in my career in banking, I never felt like I could bring my authentic self to work. I felt like you had to dress the part, look the part, talk the part, and your personal life was to be at five o'clock, somewhere else. That's just not practical. People are who they are, and they should bring who they are to work. And I think we've become much more accepting of all of that over the 30 years of my career, but it's still not perfect. So, that's how I define success: really being able to find something you love doing, and that you can get paid for, and you can be authentic.

 

Shanti:

That's a wonderful definition of success. So, what would you say is the absolute best advice you've ever received?

 

Lynn-Ann:

Get out bad news right away. Get out in front of bad news. You know, I think I implied earlier, sitting on bad news and hoping it'll go away, it's just not good for the soul, it's not good for the body, it's not good for the business deal. It's painful, right? It's really painful to figure out how to do this, but the longer you're in business, the more you realize a deal, for example, it'll start and so many times, there's good news, there's bad news, there's good news, there's bad news. So, the first time you experience a bad news situation, you think, “Oh, my God, this is so awful,” realizing it's just kind of the natural part of getting business done.

 

I think that was probably the best advice I've ever gotten is just, call a meeting, get on the phone, talk about bad news, get it out there and figure out a solution because it's not going to go away.

 

Shanti:

So, what advice would you give to a young woman beginning her career?

 

Lynn-Ann:

I think it's sort of along the lines of what I said before: advocate for yourself, speak up. What I have never done, but what I heard someone else tell me that they did, which I thought was really smart, was really just keep a diary of the projects that they worked on. At the end of the year, they wrote up a small memo to their boss and just said, “You know, I just wanted you to know how I spent the 12 months.”

 

Chances are the boss gave them work and knows 70% of what they worked on, right? But there's always that thing where someone walks into your office and says, “Can you help me with this project” that your boss may not know, and you're a good person, so you do it, right? The time spent on other stuff is equally important, and so, to have a summary of what you did for the year and write it down, even if that's not a practice at your company, I thought that was genius.

 

I never had the idea to do that, I was always just like, well, they know what I'm working on because they're giving me the assignments, right? But it's a really good way to advocate for yourself, keep people abreast of what you're doing. And for your own good to really do time management. So, that's one thing I would really encourage anyone to do, not just women, but anyone early in their career to kind of make that a habit or a practice.

 

I think that women probably don't toot their own horn enough. A lot of this is changing and I would like to think that it's getting a lot better. But for anyone listening to this, if you're shy and you think you're gonna get ahead by just doing good work and keeping your head down, that is not true. You will get sort of far, but that won’t be the qualities that are rewarded for success later on— management, higher level jobs, more responsibility, those kinds of things.

 

So, don't be afraid to speak up. I always tell the story of when I was in investment banking and I had had six years of work experience and an MBA, and I was still one of the younger people in the room. I often didn't speak up because I thought, well, I just don't have as much experience as these other people. A young kid right out of college, who's 23 or 24 was speaking up in meetings left and right, and sounding like he knows what he's talking about. It took that kind of situation for me to look over and go, okay, this is silly. I do know something; I do have the right to speak up. I just have to do it. So, do it.

 

They didn't hire you to sit in the meeting and be quiet, right? They hired you to use your brain and to contribute to the conversation. It's up to you to do it. It's up to them to sort of draw you out in the beginning, but it's up to you to just put yourself out there and do it.

 

Shanti:

Absolutely. Excellent, excellent words of advice, thank you.

 

So, Lynn-Ann, if somebody wanted to get in contact with you, how would they get in touch with you?

 

Lynn-Ann:

My email is lagries@griesconsulting.com. My number is 216-978-2647. That's my mobile, so it’s always on.

 

Shanti:

Excellent. Thank you so much for sharing that, Lynn-Ann, it has been an absolute privilege speaking with you, thank you so much for taking the time for this interview.

 

Lynn-Ann:

Thank you. It's been an honor to be asked. So, thank you so much for the great questions and the good conversation. Thanks Shanti.

 

Shanti:

On Technology Partners wants to thank you for joining us on this episode of Women STaRs. If you'd like to nominate a businesswoman to be interviewed for Women STaRs, please email their contact information and your reason for nominating them to stars@ontechpartners.com. My name is Shanti Harkness. Until next time, have a great day.

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