The Playbook for Leadership
Rising to the top ranks at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami, media executive and community leader Tina van der Ven is a mentor with big plans and great passion.
It’s 8 a.m. on a Thursday and Tina van der Ven, chief strategy officer at NewStar Media, is answering a barrage of emails, DMs and Linkedin messages. While a relentless stream of communication is typical for a marketing executive, van der Ven isn’t interacting with clients or reporters. Rather, she’s responding to many of the participants who heard her speak at an event for Impact Circle, the young professional’s division of Big Brothers Big Sisters, Miami. Held in the offices of Greenberg Traurig, van der Ven — along with Carolina Menendez of First Horizon Bank, Christopher Drew of JLL and Matthew Jafarian of the Miami HEAT — spoke to professionals ranging from 25 to 35 years old employed in a variety of industries. The information attendees wanted most: secrets to the speakers’ own success, despite the tremendous workforce challenges.
“I walked away inspired,” says van der Ven. “These events remind us what it was like to be in their shoes. It’s powerful to be a sounding board for young professionals, for them to hear our stories and hopefully become encouraged. Having a mentor throughout your life is critical.”
Mentoring, in fact, has been the very mission of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami since 1959. For seven decades, the organization has been working to develop future leaders, strengthen families and build communities by matching at-risk youths (referred to as “Littles”) with professionally supported adult mentors (called “Bigs.) Serving more than 4,000 children and teens each year, BBBS has been recognized by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention as a strategy proven to improve academic success and gain essential life skills, paving the way for future economic success. That’s helped in no small part through a network of strategic partnerships with local businesses — think: Baptist Health South Florida, Carnival Corp., Ryder System Inc. and of course, Greenberg Traurig LLP — where kids can get hands on experience.
It was 2009 when van der Ven – today chair of the gala and co-chair of the board of directors and former gala co-chair – headed up BBBS Young Professionals division. Working at Greenberg Traurig at the time and volunteering as a “Big” – eventually helping to bring the law firm on board as a school-to-work partner — she saw it important for BBBS to cultivate relationships with the people her own age.
“For sustainability, it’s an incredible model for non-profits,” says van der Ven. “If you invest in young people, teach them and guide them, they can be the next generation of leadership. We have to get their fresh ideas and their insight on initiatives. And in turn, help them with their career and networking.”
Too often, van der Ven worries, the triumphs of success are widely publicized while the setbacks are buried. Van der Ven herself began her career as a clinical researcher in Boston and pivoted after deciding not to attend medical school. After instead getting a master’s degree in public health at Boston University, she worked as a health policy analyst at Ernst & Young when she was asked to assist on a marketing project. That ignited a newfound passion and expertise and she later changed her focus to legal marketing. Today, she is one of the leaders of NewStar Media.
“We learn from our failures, our mistakes,” she says. “Sometimes success looks magical, but you don’t know what the person has gone through, the rejection and all the setbacks. To hear this humanizes the process.”
Anthony Howard, current chair of the Impact Circle, is very familiar with the each of the BBBS mentoring processes. Beginning with the organization at age 13 as a “Little,” Howard learned to write resumes, prepare for job interviews and even speak to girls from his “Big,” who he still visits each Christmas. Today a manager in Deloitte & Touche’s cyber security practice, Howard credits the mentoring he got as a child for his career as a consultant and the Impact Circle for his constant motivation.
“It inspires me to see young professionals want to give back,” says Howard, “and think of something bigger than themselves. And it’s cool to hear about other people’s experiences, specifically Tina, who talked about integrity. She gets clients willing to pay top dollar but says if their missions don’t align, she doesn’t take them on.”
The BBBS Impact Circle is the most effective conduit for future board members and community leaders, says Gale Nelson, president and CEO of BBBS.
“It’s a great way to network and gain tremendous through leadership and to be a part of an organization mentoring kids,” says Nelson, who has a “Little” attending Miami Northwestern High School and four of his own children. “Mentoring is necessary. It’s not just a nice thing to do.”
That’s true for both underserved children in the community, he says, and also for the professionals with an eye on community. Nelson notes that Howard – who recently got a unanimous vote from the board to join — appears to be following the steady leadership ascendancy of van der Ven.
He says: “It’s a playbook I plan to use over, and over again.”
Brett Graff is SocialMiami.com’s managing editor and has been a journalist covering money, people and power for over 20 years. Graff contributes to national media outlets including Reuters, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, Maxim, and the PBS show, Nightly Business Report. A former U.S. government economist, her nationally syndicated column The Home Economist is first published in The Miami Herald and then on the Tribune Content Agency, where it’s available to over 400 publications nationwide. She is broadcast weekly on two iHeartRadio news shows and is the author of “Not Buying It: Stop Overspending & Start Raising Happier, Healthier, More Successful Kids,” a parenting guide for people who might be tempted to buy their children the very obstacles they’re trying to avoid.