The former Hollywood studio executive talks to lifestyle expert Claudia Chan about first jobs, fresh starts and how she turned a bad breakup into the business opportunity of a lifetime.
Dee Poku left the silver screen to co-found the WIE Network, a global annual conference designed to inspire and empower the women leaders of tomorrow. Since 2010, the event has drawn the likes of Arianna Huffington, Donna Karan and Melinda Gates. A former Hollywood studio executive, Dee’s background includes senior marketing roles at Paramount Pictures and Focus Features, overseeing the movie-release campaigns of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, the Coen brothers’ No Country For Old Men and others. Originally from the UK and Ghana, Dee now lives in New York with her husband and baby.
Edited interview excerpts follow.
Claudia Chan: When you become an entrepreneur, not everyone believes your dream. How do you personally maintain your drive?
A: I share everything with my very close friends and rely on them to buoy me when I experience major disappointments. It’s hard to do it alone, and this is not the time or place for pride. Now is the time to be vulnerable and open.
CC: What advice do you share with young women coming out of college?
A: Don’t stress out about your first job. Your first job doesn’t define you, so just try and find a great position doing work that you like, and use that time to explore what you really want. Very few people stay in their first job for very long. The goal is to get on the career train, get some great experience and figure out what you really want along the way.
CC: I am a firm believer that obstacles create opportunities because they require us to make change, exercise our resilience and see things differently. Can you share a past obstacle?
A: A major breakup caused me to take a long hard look at my life goals. It ended with me moving continents for an incredible job opportunity, which completely changed my life and career trajectory. Everything wonderful that I have now I owe to that once very painful parting of ways.
CC: How do you prioritize your time and move the needle when there is simply too much to do today?
A: I create a priority list with just three items on it. Ticking those things off your to-do list serves as a good psychological boost because you feel a sense of achievement. It can also help you understand that all the other tasks you thought so incredibly important perhaps weren’t so urgent after all.
CC: How has becoming a mother made you a better leader?
A: I am so much more empathetic now that I’m a mother. I just feel other people’s positions more deeply. I really listen and I rarely lose my temper or get angry with employees or co-workers. Motherhood has definitely brought out the more nurturing side of me. I care about more than my own career objectives.
CC: How do you define what is happening now in women’s empowerment? Next wave of feminism? Where do you think we’ll be in 5 years?
A:It’s an interesting time for the women’s movement. I’m seeing some very creative examples of women trying to reclaim the word ‘feminist’ for example. I just read about an interesting experiment conducted by Elle UK, which commissioned three advertising agencies to rebrand the word. Another group called ‘We are the xx’ are trying to do the same. More and more women identify as feminists but are looking for the right word to express their real positions. The millennials are the ones who are going to change things. I’m not sure we’ll see much of a difference in five years but in 10 there might be a major shift, with women redefining success and living life on their own terms.
Inspired by Dee Poku? Take a look at Claudia Chan’s other interviews with enterprising women.
Bobbi Brown on the Business of Beauty
Joi Gordon on Dressing Disadvantaged Women for Success
Ingrid Vandervelt on Overcoming Self-Doubt and Empowering Others
An Entrepreneur Turns a Passion for Cooking into an Cookie Empire