Chatting with Mrs. Fix It: Mentoring, self-talk and being a mother

Valeri Marks has run eight businesses in her career including in the telecom, data communications, online real estate, recruitment and health care industries.

She has been the CEO of Medical Technology Associates for six years, which was on track to do $24 million in revenue in 2019.

She’s an avid mentor and is a member of the CEO Council of Tampa Bay.

Bridgette Bello, CEO and publisher of Tampa Bay Business & Wealth, interviewed Marks in front of an audience at the Tampa Club. This transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity. See photos from the event below. 

Let’s talk about Medical Technology Associates, because we didn’t spend a lot of time talking about the company and what you actually do.

Medical Technology Associates is a national company. We work in the world of safety compliance. We go to hospitals all throughout the United States, pharmacies and laboratories, and our job is to keep you alive. So, we check out all the medical gases in the room. We check the air flow and air exchanges in the room, all to ensure that there are no contaminants.

What’s on the horizon—for not only you—but for MTA? Are there any big acquisitions planned?

Why would you ask that, Bridgette? [laughter]

I don’t know. Why would I ask that? [laughter]

The company is doing extremely well and we’ve grown organically at a wonderful pace and now we’re looking at acquisitions. We have two right now that we are heavily involved in and, hopefully, we’ll have some announcements coming soon, but excited about the horizon, what’s available for us and our customers.

Mentoring has always been something that was important to you. When my daughter was 16, and for those of you who have daughters at 16, you want to kill them most of the time, right? Well, Val said to me, “It’s a part of the plan. You’re supposed to hate them, otherwise you’d never let them go. You would never let them live their own lives. You’d never let them become adults. You’d just keep them home the whole time.” That was really good advice.

Bridgette, my kids are watching and you’re telling them that I said that…

Whoops, whoops! It’s part of the plan. Jessica’s going to find out soon enough.

Talk about mentoring and how it played a role in your career.

I grew up with almost nothing. Not a highly educated family or background. We were all pretty much on our own. I’m the oldest of five. I found as I was trying to figure out things in life, you just try and if you fail, you pick yourself up and move forward. I never really had a mentor, or coach, through any part of my life until I got further into my career.

When I finally found a mentor, it was the most amazing experience to have somebody else who had been there, done that, failed on their dime and their time, be able to help coach and get me to think outside of the box.

I feel God put us on this earth for a purpose and it’s to give back. As Rebecca White [chair of entrepreneurship at the University of Tampa] always says, “time, talent or treasure.” I like to give back on all of those fronts but, in particular, with time by mentoring and coaching, especially women or people who are disadvantaged.

You probably all know my husband, Tim Marks, who runs Metropolitan Ministries, which focuses on the homeless. I think it’s very important to mentor, to coach and to help because we, we have a lot of wisdom to give. We all have a lot to give. And I know I am very, very blessed and thankful for the people in my life, particularly CEO Council members, now even at this late stage in my life who have coached and mentored me.

Agreed. I don’t know what I would do without my roundtable and there’s a couple of them here today, but we’ve been through births and deaths and marriages and divorces and buying businesses and selling businesses. And I mean we’ve been together for a long, long time. I don’t know what I would do without it.

What is the best piece of business advice that you were given that really influenced your trajectory and your career?

I’m going to give two, actually. One was to fail fast and that it’s OK to fail. I like to encourage other people, even my employees, you learn best when you fail. Some of my absolute best learnings in life have been when I’ve pushed myself, expanded in my thinking and what I wanted to do and then picked myself up and moved forward.

I think the, the second one is the “self-talk.” Don’t listen to that little voice in your head that says you can’t do it. You’re not good enough. Even tonight, I told Bridgette, “What if nobody shows up? What if I get here and no one’s here?”—think it’s so easy and I’m so blessed seeing all of you here. So, thank you. But it’s so easy for us to sit there and think the worst instead of having that confidence to be the best.

That’s great advice. And we are our own biggest critics usually. What about personally, like you gave me the best personal piece of advice I’d ever gotten. Is there something different that you would say on a personal level?

I think on the personal front, I always wanted to be that superwoman, that supermom, superworker, and was in constant guilt mode because I never measured up, ever. And now that my kids are grown and they’re in their late 20s, early 30s, and I watch them go out into the business world and they’ll come to me for advice. You know, me, the dumb mom who knew nothing, who was off chasing her career, it just puts life for me back in perspective that there is no supermom. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid. The thing doesn’t exist. Just be the best you can be every single day and let go of those lofty ideals that aren’t real.

When I’m at work, I feel guilty when I’m at home, I feel guilty. I’d say it’s just what we do as women.

And, and just to add to that, I wasn’t going to mention my granddaughter, but I have to. My daughter just had a baby. Now I watch her go through this challenge of trying to balance the work life and being a mom and being a wife. And you know, it’s easy looking at your mom and saying, “Why can’t you do it all?” I mean it is tough, and it is real. And that’s some of the best advice I give to those of you that are working moms trying to do it at all. You said it well, Bridgette—there is no such thing as balance. There has to be sacrifice and you have to be comfortable with that and get rid of the guilt.

We called you Mrs. Fix It. You are a turnaround CEO. You’ve done it across multiple industries. And when we were talking, I said, well, I know how to run a media company, but I don’t think I could go all of a sudden run a health care company. And you said, “Yes, you can.” Talk about that. Talk about the different industries and how that really doesn’t matter.

My career evolved in terms of being a long-time executive within AT&T, kind of really knowing telecommunications, internet data communication and then to finding myself on the entrepreneurial side, running businesses. My investors believed in me that I had great business skills regardless of industry experience.

What I found over time was to me, businesses are all basically the same. It’s like a three-legged stool. They all have sales and marketing; they all have operations and they all have finance. I go in and drill down on those three legs looking to make it the best that I can. But the secret is always the top of the stool. It’s the people and the culture that glues it all together. It’s where I spend more time than any other part in any industry. And my success factor has always come back to the people. Show employees respect, treat them with dignity, have integrity and just believe in them.


Photos by Mamarazzi Foto

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