Overcoming the Odds to Forge My Own Path

By: Monique de Maio, Founder and CMO of onDemandCMO, a marketing consultancy that provides insightful and impactful marketing--on demand.

I am in marketing and communications—a career that picked me, as I have come to find out, not the other way around. You’ll see why shortly.

Like many other women in LeadHERship Global, I am now doing what I love, and loving what I do. This is as much because of my personal passions and learnings as it is because of what I was told I could not do.

You see, part of my story of ‘’you cannot’’ started at age five, when I immigrated to the United States from France with my family. None of us spoke English, but because I learned it quickly, I became the family interpreter and advocate as soon as I could speak. I managed all communications for my parents—from returning a broken TV to a department store to asking when the next commuter train for NYC was due to arrive. It proved to be quite a lot of responsibility for a young person.

As I recently came to realize, I was communicating and telling stories for others who could not do so themselves—back when I was five for my family, and today for my clients’ businesses and organizations. This explains why I truly believe I was destined to be in marketing and communications— not only positioning, messaging, and creating content, but also helping others share their stories and celebrate what makes them unique.

From the humble beginnings as a student whose name could not be correctly pronounced and who could not quite be ‘’classified’’ (back in the days when “English as a Second Language” classes did not exist), I was put in classes with kids with mental, physical, and emotional disabilities. I didn’t have a disability, I just couldn’t speak English as well as the other kids – quite yet. I was treated differently for many years and made to feel very much like an outsider. Many of my teachers were as mean to me as the students I encountered. Bullying showed up in all sorts of shapes and sizes. This created a fire in me that continues to burn today. An ‘’I’ll show them’’ kind of fire – a hunger to work hard and succeed.

Once I mastered English, I decided I would be the best English student in my class. Every time someone told me I would not, or could not, succeed at something, I worked to push my boundaries, broaden my horizons, and hone new skills.

I managed to get a full scholarship to my undergraduate university and completed it in three years while working various jobs – including one at IBM. My introduction to corporate America continued after graduation at Salomon Brothers, where I learned how to produce large-scale events and conferences – and also met my husband, and now business partner. It was a time when I began to better understand the importance of institutional communications and how to create a compelling public persona – and how a lack of strategy around those elements can hurt a brand.

I also knew that without an advanced degree, I would always be the ‘’conference or event girl’’. That did not appeal to me at all, so I left Salomon to become a Director of Marketing & Programs for a non-profit organization, the Promotion Marketing Association of America (PMAA). People thought I was absolutely crazy to leave my seemingly glamorous events job, with great pay, to work for a non-profit. I thought of the move more strategically, as I knew it would open more career options for me,I could work predictable hours, and I could go to grad school at night. It took me 3 ½ years to complete my MBA in marketing at night, but it propelled me to be a candidate for the Publisher role of a marketing trade magazine called BRANDWEEK. There, I learned that I had a skill for sales and new business development, marketing, and mentoring others. I was, by far, the youngest Publisher BRANDWEEK ever had – and the only female on the leadership team.

Once I had my daughter, I found that how I was treated by my male colleagues immediately shifted. Despite the record-breaking sales and market share performance, I was told I could not work remotely even one day (yes, a single day) per week while raising my daughter. The atmosphere was charged with double-standards, found in both behavior and policies, so I opted to leave.

That was the impetus of launching ondemandCMO, my company that I’ve run for 23 years. I crafted the business model the way I would have liked to have had my agencies work with me as a former client. I now advise large and mid-market companies on their marketing strategy, brand positioning, messaging, launches, and more. We act as our clients’ outsourced CMO and/or marketing department.

I’ve never regretted this career move. Being an entrepreneur is so embedded in my identity as well as my happiness. It is gratifying to know what I put in, I get back – and it is all up to me. I did not miss any of my kids’ activities when they were growing up – letting my work life bend to my personal one, not the other way around. Being able to control my hours (and I do work long, and often strange hours) allows for a better quality of life. The often-overused term ‘’work/life balance’’ is initially harder as an entrepreneur but gets better as you find your groove. Go for it! You won’t look back.

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