TAMPA – Lauren Weiner has built a corporate culture where mentality and how you treat people matters more than skillset. She hires for how people approach things. So much so that she takes prospective senior staff to fancy dinners to see how they treat the waitstaff.
She also believes in putting positive karma out in the world, helping anyone who asks for help, and her four favorite words are “Oh, really? Watch me.”
These were some of the inspirational takeaways and nuggets of wisdom that Weiner shared at the Conversation with a CEO event series held Thursday by the USF Muma College of Business in downtown Tampa. The event was led by Interim Dean GJ de Vreede, who asked Weiner about her background, lessons learned, and the tipping points to growing a multi-million-dollar company.
Weiner is the chief growth officer and co-founder of WWC Global, a tribally owned management consulting firm. It is part of Command Holdings, a non-gaming investment arm of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation. In August, Command Holdings acquired WWC Global for an undisclosed amount.
The 90-minute talk ranged from how Weiner transitioned from academia at Dartmouth to overseeing policy development in the White House under two different presidential administrations.
When she was stationed overseas with the Department of Defense, Weiner founded her consulting firm with business partner Donna Huneycutt in 2004. Shortly after incorporating, the company landed a short-term contract in the Anti-Terrorism/Force Protection Office on the military base in Naples, Italy.
Over 18 years, the company grew to have a wide portfolio of clients including the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Agency for International Development, and U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Throughout the discussion, Weiner shared funny stories and lessons learned throughout her nearly two decades as an entrepreneur.
Weiner called networking the “central theme” of her life.
“I never set out to be an entrepreneur. I am not built to be one. I’m just built to fix the things in front of me,” she said.
She said she’s a firm believer in putting good karma out in the world, as well as the power of saying yes.
“If people ask you for help, why wouldn’t you do that? It’s the right thing to do to put the right energy in the world,” she said. “But you can’t say yes and not be able to deliver. If you don’t deliver, you’ve got no more chance to say yes.”
Weiner said she never thought the company would be a $100 million company. She also talked about knowing the company was headed into the "valley of death", a feared phase when a company grows out of its small business status and starts competing with the big companies.
“I was really terrified of this. I felt if anyone could do this, I could. I knew I didn’t want to be CEO forever. I needed to not be the one to take the firm to the next level.”
That’s when acquisition considerations began.
When asked about the challenge of keeping a moral compass, Weiner shared a story about losing out on a contract by $1, because the competitor asked a friend to tank the deal so he could undercut their bid. She then called her brother to complain that they would lose out because the other contractor was cheating.
To which her brother told her, “Yes, Lauren, cheating works. If it didn’t, no one would do it.”
Weiner said she learned the lesson that sometimes it’s OK to lose out on business, but it's more important to keep your ethics intact.
“You’ve got to know what your drivers are and mine was never about money,” she said, adding that the firm’s mission has always been to help federal agencies put good government principles into practice.
“We talk about sharp elbows in my company. I don’t want any sharp elbows. I want my team working together,” she said.
Weiner co-founded two nonprofit organizations. The first is In Gear Career, now the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring our Heroes Military Spouse Professional Network. She also co-founded Homefront Rising, a bipartisan organization that educates military spouses for roles in politics, policy and advocacy.
She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan and a PhD from Dartmouth College.
Weiner currently serves on the Board of Directors for the St. Joseph/Baptist BayCare Hospital System and the Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce. She has been a keynote speaker at the Military Influencer Conference, the Working Women of Tampa Bay annual conference, the Military Women’s Conference, and various Hiring Our Heroes events across the country.