03/09/2015 03:06 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Trailblazing Women: Valarie Gelb, CEO of Gelb Global Strategy Consultants

An Interview with Valarie Gelb, CEO of Gelb Global Strategy Consultants and Chairman of the Board for MPOWERD.

This interview appeared first on Global Invest Her and LinkedIn and is part of a series about Trailblazing Women role models from around the world.


Entrepreneurial women tend to hide behind the paperwork, instead of just jumping in, feet first, not having a life-jacket on, and just kicking their feet and bobbing above the water. Just do it!

Valarie Gelb Has Spent Her Career Bridging Corporate and Philanthropic Worlds

Valarie Gelb is CEO of Gelb Global Strategy Consultants. Prior to this, Ms. Gelb was Chief Sales Development Officer and Executive Vice President, MasterCard Worldwide, 1997 to 2010. She was one of the eighteen top executives who served on the Management Committee chaired by the CEO and was responsible for the global sales force in 210 countries and territories. Her expertise lies in the areas of payments; strategic development, global customer due diligence, products and solutions, sales, marketing, business development, multi-channel distribution, operations, technology, e-commerce and risk management. Ms. Gelb holds an MBA and an Undergraduate Business Degree with emphasis in Finance and Economics from Baldwin Wallace University. She served as the interim Chief Executive Officer for the Global Fund for Women and currently co-chairs their Corporate Leadership Council; and is currently a Lead Board Director at Cimbal, Inc., and MPowerd, serving as a University of Connecticut Student Advisor and Mentor and President of the International Women Forum Connecticut.

Follow her on Twitter @ GelbVA

Who is your role model as an entrepreneur?

My father comes from humble beginnings and was an alarm installer for a major corporation and when he retired, he translated those skills into entrepreneurship by setting up his own highly successful company. It can be difficult to adjust from being part of a corporation to having an understanding of what it takes to become an entrepreneur, but he did it successfully. He inspired me to take chances, to be agile in your business and to know when to pivot and change course based on a keen understanding of market conditions. Sometimes the rest of the world has to catch up with your ideas and what you are trying to accomplish, but you need to be out in front even before the customer realizes they have a need. Life is interesting , and I am proud to have followed my fathers path, moving from an executive career in the corporate world to becoming an entrepreneur myself.

What is your greatest achievement to date?

Besides raising one of the world's best daughters, I would have to say my ability to stay true to my values. I learned about philanthropy by observing the duty and sense of obligation my parents felt toward others in the community.

Helping others is a really important part of my DNA. I have spent my career bridging the Corporate and Philanthropic Worlds. My passion for working with and influencing women leaders are present in the building of the MasterCard Women's Leadership Network, mentoring women entrepreneurs and executive women and the work I do with the Global Fund for Women, Breakthrough and other non profit organizations.

Corporations are global citizens and they are with us on the journey to create a better world and I choose to acknowledge the good that they are doing.

What has been your biggest challenge as a women entrepreneur?

The greatest challenge for me falls in the same four categories it falls into for most women and men:

  1. Raising capital and getting the money necessary to drive your business,
  2. Identifying and securing the right talent to help you guide your business,
  3. Connecting to the right network of clients, vendors and suppliers,
  4. Maintaining your own energy level and getting to the panacea of "balance" in your life. You are important to the team and the business. You have to manage by wearing a million different hats, in order to do that you must maintain your health and do a few fun things in between.
Most women entrepreneurs will tell you that a supportive relationship at home is a key to success. I always went into my career knowing that as long as my family supported me emotionally, I could give 150 percent to my business or my corporate life.

There are times things are not in balance, and that is okay, just so that imbalance doesn't take over your life.

When I was managing people all over the world, I had to travel a lot. What helped my sanity was using that as an opportunity to stay an extended period of time and learn more about the local culture; understanding people and culture feeds my soul. Another key lesson I learned is that I have to take vacations. That downtime re-ignites my creativity and allows me to see into the future and to create visions and strategies, which ultimately propels me and my teams forward.

What in your opinion, is the key to your success?

At MasterCard, it probably was my ability to be a chameleon -- be able to adapt, adjust very easily to various people, situations and environments. I can easily go into a crowd of people I have never met before, make an assessment of what their motivations are and find out what's important to them. Based on that, I try to figure out how I can create a relationship to help them. A lot of people would say that I am very strong at creating good, solid, mutual relationships. At MasterCard, I was able to bring solutions and more revenue to the company because I always approached things from the perspective of mutual benefit to my customer and to my company.

People need to feel as if you are "touching" them in a personal way. My gift of sincerity and really knowing myself, allows me to have good perceptions about people. I am good at asking probing questions without being intrusive.

I brought all these traits with me in all of my businesses, even when I went into the non-profit world at the Global Fund for Women, with a big scarlet "C" for corporate branded on my chest! What made me successful was my ability to let people know that my intentions and work come from a sincere place. I spend a lot of time making sure I understand people's motivations, because that helps guide how you can create and bridge and ultimately change. People would say that I am good at fixing things that are broken, because I bring people together as a team and create a common vision, get people to participate and have them drive it forward.

If you could do one thing differently, what would that be?

The one thing I would do differently is, when I was planning my retirement, I was so engaged with leaving something for the organization, that I wish I had spent a little more time in preparation for boards of publicly traded companies. If you are not on those boards before you retire, it's probably not going to happen. At the end of the day it's not a major thing. Years ago, I would have told you I want to really work on my patience, but at the end of the day, people would say I'm one of the most patient people they know. I have consciously worked on that to get myself there. I do tend to be impatient when I want to see goals met, but I always temper that impatience in a way that doesn't come across externally. You have to understand that people are not at the same place and point of time that you are. I am still building that patience.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I have been described as an authentic leader. I come from my core values. I believe in human dignity above all else, so I treat my clients and staff with that same dignity and the way I want to be treated. I'm a very participative leader -- I don't dictate and am not controlling, which I think is very important in leadership. I tend to take a bit longer on the front end, because if I'm more participative at the front end, I just sail through with my team and things get done much faster. I don't get into analysis paralysis and have done this long enough to know -- get the buy-in at the front end and then everything else will follow nicely. I'm great on strategy but I can also take things to execution level.

What would you say to others to encourage them to become entrepreneurs?

I would say to women especially, that as an entrepreneur, the one thing is -- you need to just go and do it! I speak to many entrepreneurs who want everything to be done perfectly, who have done the business plan, gotten agreements. I say to them "Why don't you just go do something!." Entrepreneurial women tend to hide behind the paperwork, instead of just jumping in, feet first, not having a life-jacket on, and just kicking their feet and bobbing above the water. Just do it! At first, I started down that rabbit hole and realized: What am I spending my time and energy and money for?

Just figure out what you want to pursue and at the end of the day, get your first client. Until you have your first client you won't get the capital. Start piloting and experimenting- you will pivot and tweak along the way, but Just do it!

Women entrepreneurs want to have everything buttoned up and they probably have 99 percent more ready than any guy would have at that stage, but they don't believe in themselves. Some women have Ph.Ds and master's -- you have golden platters and privileged educations, but no self confidence -- why?

What advice would you give your younger self?

Believe in yourself, believe in the skills you have -- take it forward and go for it!

Create your own self-confidence. Be able to tell your story and take credit for where you contributed. My very early self would have said, "It was a team effort," and I learned very quickly that if I wasn't the one preparing my boss at review time and telling him all the things I did to make him look good and make money for the company, the promotions just wouldn't happen. My earlier self would have said, "I'll just sit here, they'll notice me," but I quickly learned. I lost the first two to three years of my career thinking that. The trigger for me, was that I had a bad boss and I realized, if he wasn't going to promote me, I was going to have to promote myself. Early on, I would have loved someone to tell me how I could tell people about my good work in non-bragging way, in the terms that benefitted my boss and in turn benefitted me, to get promotions and raises.

When our daughter was born, my husband and I made a conscious decision to push her to have self-confidence. As an only child, if she wasn't self-confident and able to be 100 percent independent, how could she exist without my husband and I? I do a lot of role play with women I mentor. One of them has gotten three promotions and raises since we started working together. I told her it's not about the promotions or money, it's about her telling people about her good work and feeling comfortable with that.

What would you like to achieve in the next five years?

I would love to grow Gelb Global Strategy Consultants. What I love about our mission is that it's the bringing together of all the things I love and am good at. I love working with multinationals I look at them as bridges to NGO's and academics.

Bringing together multinationals, NGOs and academics to get them to work together on social impact, using our company to get out the messaging and communication using modern day social media - leveraging all that we have for the common good -- that excites me. My lofty goal is to get that into the mainstream of what corporations should be about.

It goes far beyond corporate social responsibility. I'm talking about how you integrate all the verticals of your company and become a good societal citizen, how can you impact the lives of women and girls on the ground. Collecting the data points to prove the impact is critical. Bringing those 3 loves together to create something good for the world, is really my goal.

Three key words to describe yourself:

  • Energetic,
  • Happy,
  • Loving.

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