When Stacey Cohen launched Co-Communications Inc. in 1997, she had “no lofty goals” for the business.
“Co-Communications was born in a spare bedroom in my apartment,” said Cohen, president and CEO of the full-service public relations and marketing firm in White Plains. “I didn’t set a strategic plan. I just knew I wanted to do it better (than other public relations firms).”
Entrepreneurship is in her blood, Cohen told the audience at “Driving Your Business: Women at the Wheel,” an annual panel seminar hosted by accounting firm Citrin Cooperman. Cohen said both her parents owned their own companies, and she started her first business – a babysitting enterprise – at the age of 14.
“I’ve always been a risk-taker and loved a challenge from the time I can remember,” she told the crowd gathered at the June 12 panel at the Westchester Country Club in Rye. “I really believe that all of us need to manufacture our own opportunities. Nothing is going to come your way. You’ve got to take on more risks, stretch out of your comfort zone.”
Ellen Rosenbaum, principal of Citrin Cooperman’s Technology and Risk Advisory Consulting practice, discussed taking the risk of leaving her career to join her husband’s information technology firm.
“I just kept thinking, ‘This is not my life’s work. I’m not going to stay here forever,’” Rosenbaum recalled of her 14 years at Ciba-Geigy Corp., where she had held a variety of roles from laboratory research to human resources.
She finally decided to take the leap and join her husband’s company RCS in 1993.
“It was a very risky proposition because, up until then, at least I had a regular job with benefits. I was kind of supporting us,” she explained. “Everyone that we knew said, ‘You’re out of your minds. You’re not going to be able to work with your husband.’ That didn’t happen.”
Later, RCS was acquired by Citrin Cooperman in 2015.
“We’re still here,” she added.
Part of the company’s success stemmed from her ability to separate her work life from family life, Rosenbaum said, something that proved difficult when the company decided to move its headquarters from an office space to the family’s basement.
Although that move allowed Rosenbaum to spend more time with her children, there were still obstacles.
“The day just never ends,” Rosenbaum said, adding that her children “always thought of our business as another sibling that had a lot of issues.”
“There were a lot of interrupted football games that I had to put on pause,” she added.
For fellow panelist Merin Joseph, executive vice president and chief information officer of Westmed Medical Group, dealing with the ever-present “mommy guilt” is an ongoing struggle.
“Balance is not about better time management,” Joseph said. “It’s about better boundary management.”
That was especially true when Joseph decided to return to school to attain her MBA while working full time and raising two young children. Joseph said she works to ensure the members of her team at Westmed understand that taking personal time is important.
“Children have a tendency to remember the missed moments,” she said. “My son held me accountable for an event I missed six years ago. He still talks about it.”
“I really never took any time off of work, but still, my kids were very important,” she said. “I never missed a school play. My office was 1.2 miles from my house.”
Panelists also advised those in attendance to embrace their failures.
“Failure is part of success. There’s no way around it,” Cohen said.
For Rosenbaum, a notable failure that occurred early on in her life came when neither she nor her husband was accepted to medical school, a path they’d both hoped to pursue. “We thought we had our futures all laid out,” she said.
Joseph said that having close mentors can help with overcoming those failures. “It’s key to find mentors who understand you, who push you and have also been through that path,” she said.
Similar to Rosenbaum’s, Joseph’s path to a career in information technology “took many turns.” Initially, she had studied to become a nurse.
“I realized that’s not what I wanted to do,” she said. “It took a lot of courage to tell my parents I didn’t want to continue the program two years into it.”
Instead, she decided to pursue a degree in health information management. “In hindsight, I was doing what I was meant to do,” she said. “I made my decisions rationally and also let my heart guide me.”
She added, “If you are passionate about the field, it will pay off.”
Cohen again agreed: “After 20 years in business, I still can’t wait to get into my office, and I want every day to feel that way,” she said.