Women in Business Q&A: Tracey Armstrong, President and Chief Executive Officer, Copyright Clearance Center

01/28/2015 12:04 pm ET Updated Mar 30, 2015

Tracey Armstrong is the President and Chief Executive Officer at Copyright Clearance Center, bringing more than 20 years of experience in rights management with CCC to the industry. Leading the organization through a period of phenomenal change and challenge, Tracey has helped transform CCC's licensing solutions to meet the needs of today's digital publishing world.

Tracey works with publishers, authors, universities, businesses and industry associations around the world, addressing copyright concerns and establishing new alliances. In addition, she frequently speaks at industry conferences and events as a thought leader on digital copyright licensing issues.

Tracey holds an MBA from Northeastern University and serves on the board of the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organisations (IFRRO).

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I've been with CCC for 25 years, beginning in the mail room and working my way up to where I am today as CEO of the company. This journey has taught me the value of hard work, dedication, and the impact that great colleagues and teams can have on individual careers.

By starting out at the entry level, I've gained a unique perspective on what it takes to make a project successful from multiple points of view. The years I spent in the trenches have had a tremendous influence on my leadership style. I've learned how important it is to listen to the voices of the people closest to the customer and the work. It's impossible to reach every one of our 350 employees, so I've tried to create a flat organization where people can feel for themselves what's really happening and communicate well with each other.

I believe this unique perspective on the company, top to bottom, is a blessing that has shaped my style for the better. I respect the company's past, but it also drives me to constantly challenge myself to make the company better for the future.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Copyright Clearance Center?
Without a doubt, the digitization of content has been both the biggest highlight and the biggest challenge, as it has fundamentally changed almost every industry, including copyright. As a business and industry, we've had to rapidly evolve to stay relevant.

Software has become a much more significant part of how we're delivering our products and services. We've gone from using software to deliver licensing to delivering software that enhances licensing. I'm also proud of the work we've done to simplify global collaboration. We operate in a world where everything is instant and where neither content nor companies are limited by geographical borders. I consider it an achievement that we've developed borderless licenses.

What advice can you offer women who are seeking to build a career from the bottom up?
Don't apologize for anything and never compromise. Don't stick to a single role or avoid travel or miss getting your MBA even if you want to have kids someday. Don't ask for concessions before you need them. And never underestimate the power of listening. Figure out what you love to do, and do it. And finally, surround yourself with people you love who will support you and your journey.

How do you maintain a work-life balance?
There is no such thing as a genuine work-life balance. There will always be a struggle in juggling all the things you care about. If you're working on something you're stimulated by, carve out time to do it because it will make you feel fulfilled.

Don't forget to take care of yourself, or else you won't have the energy to multitask and give each part of your life the attention it deserves. I had to learn that lesson early in my career. I thought it was work first and everything else second, but later realized I was more effective at my job as a whole person. I recognized that I needed to take the time to work out to operate effectively. Now approaching 50, I'm trying to take care of myself so that I can have the energy to address the other things in my life besides CCC, such as my charity work.

Most important, I want to be an active member of my family, and I want to be an effective leader. Eventually all leaders are vulnerable. They need to protect themselves by being authentic and true to themselves. That's also true in work-life balance. If being your best during a 14- to 16-hour day requires that you exercise, you need to take that time.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentoring is, and has always been, an active part of what I do. It taught me that individual people can make a huge difference in someone's life. I was very fortunate to have strong women as mentors. As my career has advanced, I've always asked myself, "How can I pay it forward?" Mentorship doesn't need to be limited to a formal program. You can even mentor someone in an hour by just taking the time to listen and offer advice. It doesn't necessarily have to be an ongoing, lengthy relationship. In that way, you can make it a real part of your professional and personal life. It's amazing how authentic people can be in a mentoring relationship and how enriching it can be for the mentee. For women, it really does take a village. We have to stick together to help each other succeed.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I'm a product of the women around me. Their dedication and intelligence is beyond admirable. The female leaders I have the pleasure of working with at CCC amaze me with their willingness to take professional risks by going to extreme lengths to meet customer needs. I've incorporated what I've learned from these women into the context of my own day-to-day life, from the office to my own home.

What do you want Copyright Clearance Center to accomplish in the next year?
As we continue to focus on promoting a greater general awareness of the importance of copyright, one of our goals is to stay ahead of the rapidly evolving copyright marketplace on a global scale. This is no small feat. There are so many new ways for rightsholders - authors, creators and publishers -- to create and deliver content, and accordingly, a growing number of ways for people to consume that content. We'll continue bridging the gap between content creators and customers. Licensing that intellectual property in a way that satisfies both groups is difficult, but not impossible.