Posted on November 08 2017
Today, we are delighted to sit down with the hugely inspiring Sandy Rubinstein, a Chilean immigrant who worked her way up the corporate ladder and is now the CEO of DXagency – a full-service digital agency serving clients such as HBO, MTV, Whole Foods, and Samsung. In this interview, we discuss Sandy's background as well as how this Latina CEO got past the "Boys' Club" on Madison Avenue to run a fast-growing agency. Here's her story:
Newnham: Can you tell us a bit about your background? What were you like growing up?
Rubinstein: I was born in Miami and raised in both Miami Beach and Santiago, Chile. My parents wanted my sister and I to have a real American upbringing and felt it was paramount that we take full advantage of every opportunity that was provided to us. "Work hard and you can be anything you dream of" is what they said, and so we did. My sister became an accomplished environmental attorney and my parents always said they would not have to worry about me since they knew I would see opportunities and find the best way to achieve my goals.
Growing up in a bilingual home provided me with challenges as I was at a disadvantage in my abilities to write and speak proper English. Needless to say, my grades in English were not that good in school but, being a headstrong person I could not let this go on. My senior year I requested to be placed in AP (Advanced Placement) English - partially because I wanted to prove to everyone I could do it, and partially because I was terrified to fail English classes in College. My teacher knew that I was struggling and during the course of that year he worked me harder than anyone else in the class. By the end of the year, and after 21 revisions of my final paper, I received a B in the class. On the last day, my teacher smiled and said, “I knew you could do it!”
I was the only person I knew who graduated high school and could tell you what they anticipated accomplishing by 25, 30, and 40 years of age. And by the way... every milestone has been achieved! As I tell my staff, my kids and my friends, “Failure is not an option.”
Newnham: Amazing. Can you tell us a bit about your career and how you became CEO of DXagency?
Rubinstein: I graduated from the University of Miami with a Music Media Industry degree which basically equates to a Business and Music Major and a minor in marketing. From there, I started in the music business and music television, then I went over to general entertainment television, always in a marketing capacity. After many years in television, I then moved over to the agency-side and started consulting for DXagency.
Eventually the consulting turned into full-time, then I became CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) and then CEO (Chief Executive Officer). The wonderful opportunity was that DXagency was a small mom and pop shop when I joined in 2010 and it had not yet realized its full potential. I was able to double the company size in two years and increase its profitability considerably. Now the agency is ready and poised to catapult from a mid-sized shop into the next stratosphere.
Newnham: And as CEO, what is the biggest obstacle you have faced and how did you overcome it?
Rubinstein: The biggest obstacle was not being as keenly aware of “how” digital works. Learning the language, the ideas, the opportunities that exist in the medium were key to my being able to use it as a marketing vehicle for our clients. It took some time but after the first year, I finally felt like I understood it.
Newnham: And what have been some of the more important lessons you have learnt throughout your career?
Rubinstein: I have worked for some of the best bosses but more so I have worked for many of the worst. The lessons from the latter have been the most important. I have learned how not to treat people; how not to discount everyone’s opinions making them feel insignificant; how not be disrespectful; how to make my team feel like we are a team and in it together. But also how to make the difficult decisions. As the CEO, it is important to remember that your responsibility is equal to the whole, not just one part. My job is to make sure the company is profitable, sustainable and drives forward. And with that comes times where your employees don’t love or approve of all your decisions. And that’s okay, but I hope they know those tough decisions come from a place of knowledge and a bigger picture they may not see yet.
Newnham: Your agency has a unique mentorship program - why do you think mentorship is so important?
Rubinstein: Mentorship is everything to me. I was blessed to have two very special mentors in my life without whom I would not be where I am today. The first got me to music school and pushed me to study a career I had not thought possible. The second I met during the first few months of my first job and is still my mentor today 25 years later, guiding me and giving me insights through their experienced lens.
It just takes one person to change your course or your path and if I can be that person for someone I feel I would be paying my blessings forward. I have mentored several employees, associates, business school students at my former university, local high school students and many more. Being active in the schools is also important. I was elected to the local Board of Education five years ago and I also serve as a representative to a second Board of Education in the town qhere my children attend high school.
Newnham: As a CEO, how do you maintain a work / life balance ?
Rubinstein: Balance... LOL! No one really balances well. I tell everyone I make choices each day. At the end of the day, the scale may be lopsided, so tomorrow I try to even it out. So goes each day - you try the best you can, make sure you have priorities and take a good look in the mirror at the end of each day and ask, "Did I accomplish what I wanted to today?" If not, you tweak your to-do list for tomorrow.
My family is priority one. I wake up extra early to drive my kids to school each morning. Sure, they COULD take the bus, but that’s a half hour I get to spend with them. They call me every day when school is done to talk about what they did, homework they have and we plan the evening. Do I get home for dinner every night? No, but we do our best.
My husband and I also have taught our kids how important it is to give 100 percent of yourself in everything you do. That’s why they understand that when mom or dad have to work late - it's because there is something that we are trying to accomplish and they want us to be successful too.
Newnham: What / who inspires you and why?
Rubenstein: My husband and kids. They are the reason for everything.
Newnham: Finally, what advice would you give a younger Sandy?
Rubenstein: Enjoy the ride.
Huge thanks to Marguerite Pinheiro for coordinating this interview.