Women in Business: Elyse Causey, School of Rock franchise

26-year-old Elyse Causey took her father's CEO and CFO business advice to pursue her passion for helping kids.
11/12/2014 04:23 am ET Updated Jan 11, 2015

26-year-old Elyse Causey took her father's CEO and CFO business advice to pursue her passion for helping kids. Elyse's father was a successful businessman in C-level positions most of his life, but when the recession hit, he made a life changing decision to pursue a new route of business, one that he was passionate about - School of Rock, the leader in performance-based music education. After learning this lesson at such a young age, Elyse was determined to let her passion shine within the family business, becoming a successful General Manager of a thriving franchise at the young age of 23. Elyse has always had a special place in her heart for helping children and she wanted to be a part of something that would have a positive impact on her community by helping kids develop self-confidence and empower them to accomplish anything they put their minds to. From the moment she walked into a School of Rock, she was dedicated to her new position, growing the business and providing a musical outlet for kids.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
My family has played a huge role in the leader I am today. I grew up as the oldest child with two younger brothers, which really helped develop my leadership skills from a young age, along with a desire to help my parents in any way that I could. I think that desire to help translated well to owning a family business and acting as General Manager. I also grew up learning from my dad, a wonderful businessman and entrepreneur, who believed in me just as much as he did my brothers.

How did your previous employment experience aid your position at School of Rock?
I got into this family business young--not my first job right out of college, but just about. However, I began working as soon as I could at age 16 at an ice cream shop, moved onto working in a restaurant, worked through college as a tutor, and in the summers worked in retail. I've basically been in customer service since I was a teenager, which helps me now as I currently work with both my employees and my customers. I then got a job right out of college at a local magazine as the administrative assistant. At that time I was pursuing writing, but found out that wasn't what I wanted. I also happened to work much more with the sales department and financial team than the writers, which actually turned out to be great experience for later. That job truly gave me a great primer in customer service and being a cheerful and helpful face of a company--as well as learning how to multi-task and juggle lots of jobs at once, which has proved useful in running a small business.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Work/life balance is tough, especially for someone in my generation. My family got internet access when I was in junior high and I've been pretty much constantly "plugged in" since then. I think the only times I haven't checked my emails since we opened School of Rock is maybe a day or two of vacation when our doors were already closed, and an occasional Sunday over the past couple years. It's something I'm working on getting better at, but I think that's my biggest struggle in that balance. It's so easy to work from anywhere and at any time that it's difficult to say no. But, I don't think I'm alone--I know a lot of other people my age with careers who have a hard time unplugging. I've actually thought of attending an unplugged conference that takes place in my city at a monastery--a full day without internet, your phone, anything--but I don't know if I have the guts. This is something the Millennial workforce needs to get better at, myself included.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at School of Rock?
The biggest highlights have been relationships with people--students, parents, teachers, members of the community. Seeing students light up when they walk into School of Rock, seeing their parents try to drag them out when they're supposed to leave, parents telling us how excited their kid is to come in, meeting amazing parents who really care about their kids, music instructors who are extremely passionate not only about music but about affecting kids' lives -- those are the things that get me up in the morning. The "why" behind what we do is all of these things, and it makes every struggle worth it. The biggest challenges have involved getting a small business off the ground, from financial struggles to finding the right people--but all I have to do is watch the kids perform, with their joy and passion evident on their faces, and all of a sudden I'm reignited.

What has been the secret to your business success at School of Rock?
Business gurus like Seth Godin and Simon Sinek often talk about the secret to running a successful business, which is to focus on the good you're doing, the excellence of the product you're selling, the importance of the relationships with your customers and above all the "why" behind what you're doing. My dad is a business coach and is constantly reminding our team to keep at the forefront of our minds our goal: to inspire kids to rock on stage and in life. If we focus on that, everything else will fall into place; and it works. People can tell when your primary goal for your business is much larger and more important than financial success or attaining customers. That was one of the things we fell in love with about School of Rock as a brand; they truly focus on what's important, which is affecting kids' lives in a positive way.

What advice can you offer young women wanting to pursue management positions?
My suggestions for young women wanting to pursue management positions are to believe in yourself, to be open to coaching and growing as a manager, and to value and respect the people in positions above you, alongside you, and under you.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I think it depends on what industry you're in and the environment. A small business like ours is very different from a corporate environment. However, I think overall, women have to overcome their fear of managing, fear of success, fear of how they're being perceived. And honestly, men struggle with a lot of those same issues. I think a lot of challenges we label as women's issues are really life-issues everyone deals with. I've run into someone not respecting me because I'm a woman, but I've also run into someone not respecting me because I'm young, so it's not always necessarily a gender issue.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?
I have to confess, I haven't read the book from cover to cover; however, I know a lot of women who really enjoyed the book. I commend Sandberg on writing such a successful and inspirational book for women. I think it's an important movement, one that's offering plenty of positive encouragement and coaching for women in the workplace.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
One of my favorite aspects about this family business is my dad's mentorship of me. Having someone encourage me, teach me, and coach me in the business world as I learn how to be the best manager I can has been incredibly important. Even just to hear his insight as a seasoned businessman is invaluable; something that may seem like a huge deal to me, he quickly puts things into perspective in light of everything he's experienced in the last thirty years since he's been in the business world.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I often think about my two previous female bosses. They did such a great job encouraging me and never belittling me, pushing me to do things I didn't know I could do. They set a great example of what I strive to be as an employer. I've also met some inspiring local women who own and run their own businesses that I admire. These are the leaders that inspire me to be better.

What are your hopes for the future of School of Rock?
I think everyone who's involved with School of Rock, from the corporate management team to the franchisees to the instructors all hope for the same thing: to positively affect more and more students' lives. It's a mission that's most recently been expanded to adults and even to other countries. School of Rock has more than 140 schools in eight countries, with more than 17,000 students. As School of Rock grows as a brand, it will be amazing to track, years from now, the positive effects we've had on students and in our local communities.