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BE LIKE A RUBBER BAND
“Be like a rubber band. Keep your circle tight, but be willing to stretch.” Mercedes Young lives by these words.
And this businesswoman of Panamanian descent has proven she can stretch, from working in something as girly as the makeup industry to something as testosterone-driven as construction.
What I didn’t know at the time of my first interview with her is that behind her bubbly, “can’t stop, won’t stop" personality, she was keeping a secret.
INDUSTRY: Construction/Land Surveying/Safety Supplies
STARTED BUSINESS: October 10, 2016
LATINO CONNECTION: Born in Panama
EDUCATION: University of Panama – Bachelor’s degree in Psychology
DREAM JOB AS A KID: Makeup Artist
BIGGEST GOAL YET: To be the #1 supplier in the U.S. of safety supplies in the supply chain world
THE “AHA” MOMENT
The secret was something she’d kept hidden for about 6 months. Before I share her revelation, I want you to get a sense of who Mercedes is.
“When I was a little girl in elementary school, the things that I have now were not even a possibility for me…getting food on the table, that was my focus in that season of my life.”
Once she got a whiff of what was possible, though, she pushed full-steam ahead.
Her journey to becoming CEO of Vivid Consulting started one day after she returned from Puerto Rico. Young realized she’d landed seven contracts in four days for her employer. That was an “aha” moment for her.
It’s the moment she realized, if she could bring in that much money for another person, she certainly could do it for herself.
That day, she decided to start her own company. And she quickly figured out what her ace in the hole would be.
THOSE MARY KAY PARTIES
14 years of Mary Kay parties taught Young the secret to staking her claim in the land surveying and construction business: people skills. She noticed many of the professionals in land surveying didn’t have those soft skills. So she jumped in and felt confident in putting the services together and hiring teams to get the projects done.
Young says she doesn’t have an engineering degree. But she is a certified trainer. And she has a degree in psychology, which helped her connect the dots.
“I LOVE THE HUSTLE”
The exuberant go-getter says, “I love the hustle”. The hustle gives her the thrill that leaves her saying, “Okay, tomorrow, we’re gonna do it again!” She explains the “we” are the four roles she fulfills. There’s the “mom” role, the “business” role, the “you better watch out” role she nicknamed “Lola” and the “loving Mercedes” role.
Mercedes is Afro-Latina. Yet, she says she grew up in Panama without a conversation about race. She came to the U.S. at the age of 22 to become a makeup artist. And she says, “This is the place I learned I was black.”
Mercedes says her voice has been dismissed, literally and figuratively. Because she’s a woman and because she has an accent.
Her answer? “We’re going to work in harmony”.
Tell her no? She’ll tell you no means “no, tell me more.”
FOLLOW THE TRAIL
I think you can get a sense of Young’s approach to people and her people skills. In 2008, when the economy was in turmoil, she realized the conversation centered around roads and infrastructure. So she followed the trail to where the money was going. And that led her to construction and, specifically, engineering and surveying. Even now, during the pandemic, she points out that roads are still being built.
But March of 2020 was a pivotal point in her business. The pandemic was claiming lives and claiming businesses. It nearly cost Young her business.
She cried. She mourned. She forced herself to detach from the emotional part.
And then she snapped back like a rubber band.
She pivoted to provide construction companies with safety supplies such as gowns and masks. She also started creating content and corporate training videos.
Young finished out the year with the highest production levels for her company.
“BREAK THE ICE”
It all goes back to the lessons she learned as a makeup artist. Back then, she realized she was good at getting women together for Mary Kay cosmetics parties.
She was even able to convince Latina women to take off their makeup in front of others (if you’re Latina, you will understand just how big of an accomplishment that is).
She was able to sell them makeup because she knew how to “break the ice”.
And that made her realize something key for when she got into construction.
In the end, people look for qualifications. But, ultimately, they give work to “humans they know, they like and trust.”
The more time she spent with people, the more successful she became.
And that brings me back to Mercedes’ secret. The past six months, while she’s been spending time with people trying to drum up business, she looked around and consistently found, “I was the only one showing up with a mask and keeping it on and not eating [so she wouldn’t have to take the mask off in public settings].”
No, she didn’t have COVID. Yes, she was trying to avoid getting the coronavirus.
But it was actually because she was living with breast cancer and was trying to hide it from people in her business circle. She says she learned there are things you just can’t share with other people.
“If somebody has something like cancer or a stroke”…they will take you off the team. “Because they don’t think you’re going to be able to accomplish your part of it.”
She had a mastectomy and went through “the pain and struggle of the chemo. I lost all my hair and my eyebrows. I lost a lot of weight with the first treatment.”
But she showed up to business meetings, anyway. She showed up for work and for life.
“I just needed to keep my business going and needed to keep a positive attitude.”
This brings me to the day I had my third conversation with Mercedes to update this story. Not only did she attend a big event for the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Tampa Bay the night before. But as I was getting more info for the story, I found out she was getting ready to head out for the “My Sister’s Keeper” event for St. Petersburg. The nonprofit supports girls and young women of color through mentorship, networking and opportunities.
A FULL-CIRCLE GIFT
She was also super excited to tell me about the Monday kick-off event for Women of Color Golf. For five months, she and the other volunteers will be teaching migrant children of color how to play golf. That’s because it’s much easier to get a full college scholarship if you are a young woman of color who can skillfully play golf than, let’s say, other sports.
And that brings me full circle back to how Mercedes Young lives her life. She finished her six chemo treatments and says she feels great. But cancer has taught her to “live your life like it’s the last day…Every day, give, give, give.”
And she’s definitely giving. There’s no slowing her down. Maybe it’s because she sees herself in the little girls that are learning to play golf and vividly remembers herself as a little girl.
“I never, in a million years, thought that I would be exposed to golf….So I’m going to do all I can…She says she’s going to summon “every gift that I have within me to give to others. I am not taking anything with me.”
“THE ART OF PEOPLE”
That’s why, no matter what other challenges come her way, the job of makeup artist taught Mercedes Young the ultimate tool in winning; it taught her “the art of people” through connection and through giving.
THE TIP JAR...(tips passed out courtesy of Mercedes Young)
STARTING OUT: Ask. Ask everything. Just ask.
STEEPED IN SKILLS (mid-career):
Save enough for one year’s cost of living. This way, your frustration won’t be as bad.
Stay up to date on what’s going on in the world. This will give you a sense of whether or not your services will be needed.
STARTING OVER: Be open-minded and open to shifting.
Use your resources and Google everything and everyone. Young says, “I Google people sitting next to me.” She uses what she calls “the best thing that happened to mankind - the ‘palm computer’” (aka your smartphone).
I’LL NEVER DO THAT AGAIN: I’ll never do anything without a contract. “Shaking hands and taking people’s word is not enough anymore.”
BEST ADVICE FROM “LA CASA”/BEST “HOUSE” ADVICE: This section is inspired from being “en la lucha”/”in the battle”. That’s my dad’s answer whenever I ask how things are going, plus my mom’s advice for everyday living: “Keep smiling!”
YOUNG’S ANSWER (Her grandmother’s words still ring true):
“Portate bien que nada te cuesta.”
LOOSE TRANSLATION: Act with integrity. Don’t let anything cost you.
YOUNG’S PRACTICAL APPLICATION: Do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. It’s a reminder to her to “always be in service” to others, even if “no money is gained. It always comes back.”
NO NEED TO GO IT ALONE
HELP ON THE OUTSIDE...because we can all use a helping hand:
CUSTOMER SERVICE AND THE HOLIDAYS
Are you ready? The holidays are right around the corner. For some businesses, the time to prepare is now (if you haven’t done so already). I thought this was a great guide to help you get ready for the holiday shopping season in terms of customer service. It’s actually a good checklist for providing excellent customer service during other seasons of the year, as well. In life, it’s all about expectations. If you set them clearly, you have a greater chance of making sure things run more smoothly. Good luck!
WORKING ON THE INSIDE...because we know our culture has a hard time asking for help, especially when it comes to emotional health:
Is it opportunity or burnout that's driving you to consider entrepreneurship? We know the pandemic has put extra pressure on workers and families. This survey from Visier has eye-opening insights on the state of employee burnout. The survey's findings reveal what I found to be interesting statistics on differences between the genders, generations and how your peers are trying to get a handle on the problem. You might learn some new ways to combat burnout yourself. Check it out:
THE INSPIRATION BEHIND THIS ISSUE: Mercedes Young has a duality in her personality I really respect. She’s no-nonsense. One of the first things out of her mouth when I spoke to her was, “Is this going to cost me anything?” (the answer was definitely not). She also brought up in the conversation that she’s a “lover of people”. And it shows. She freely gives out advice and, as soon as I started speaking Spanish, admitted she has a soft spot for helping fellow Latinos.
She shows that leadership quality of being firm with what she wants and not being afraid to say it, as well as setting boundaries. But you can tell that she balances it with trying to help others. She repeated during our conversation of “being in service to others”.
Her recovery from cancer has only intensified her desire to serve others.
That’s a quality I looked for in people I consider for this newsletter: people whose belief in service to others is ingrained in who they are.
I also loved the fact that she started her business after 25 years of working for others. It’s never too late to take the path that you know you’re capable of achieving. What separates her from the many who know it in their heart is that she actually did something about it. Immediately.
The day Mercedes realized she should be making money for herself, she went out and registered her business. That burning desire to squeeze every drop of life out of her days and to do it helping others speaks volumes. In short, action wins the day.