Thomas Paterek | Crain's Orlando

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Thomas Paterek


St. Petersburg-based Stevie & Fern bills itself as a boutique brand-experience agency. Co-founders Thomas Paterek and Mary Kay Dwyer have worked with global brands such as Chevron, Pfizer, AB InBev and Coca-Cola.

The Mistake:

Not allowing myself to be vulnerable.

When starting Stevie & Fern, my partner and I came in with years of hot-shot experience working for New York City marketing agencies and supporting the largest brands in the world.

When we decided to set up shop in St. Pete, we wanted to bring that experience to the Tampa Bay area. One thing we failed to leave behind in the Big Apple was, ultimately, our ego in thinking we knew what this area wanted versus what it needed.

I was not allowing myself to be vulnerable and receptive to change. It was a humbling experience to pitch client after client the foolproof processes that worked for Spike TV, AB InBev, PepsiCo, etc., with minimal bottom-line success.

Emotional intelligence is the new MBA.

The Lesson:

When you allow yourself to become more vulnerable, you put your ego aside, acknowledge, accept and ultimately grow in the truest direction.

When you allow space to say, “Hey, I don’t know everything, and you can support me in trying to understand everything, and I’ll be vulnerable to you in sharing [in that process],” then that opens a connection for new possibilities.

In our case, we stopped expecting to do everything we knew. We took the time to ask friends, business owners, and everyone we could what they really needed. I must have taken three meetings a day with random startups, city officials and executives, all with one intention to ask for help. That sense of vulnerability has turned our business on its head.

Vulnerability is admitting you’ve made a mistake, asking for support, not trying to solve everything yourself. And you can do this by really tapping into community. There are so many incredible people with such unique perspectives that will push you beyond your known limits. This opens the doors to endless amounts of possibilities.

But in order to acknowledge this need, you need a certain level of awareness. In today’s business world, I really believe that rather than spending God knows how much for an MBA, that business is more about emotional connection. Of course, you need to understand the systems and processes to achieve success, but if you can emotionally connect with your clients and consumers, you’re going to win every time. They become your advocates and support you on your journey.

Emotional intelligence is the new MBA, and strength in community is the new Ferrari.

Contact Thomas Paterek on Twitter at @Surfrider and Stevie & Fern on Instagram at @stevieandfern.

Photo courtesy of Stevie & Fern

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