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Leadership Insights from One of America’s Top Businesswomen

Pinnacle Group CEO Nina Vaca’s tips to drive business success.

Although Nina Vaca receives much of the credit for her IT company’s ascent in the workforce solutions industry, the chairman and CEO of Dallas-based Pinnacle Group knows that success is a team sport.

For that reason, Vaca embraces a leadership style that seeks to empower those around her while honoring the entrepreneurial spirit of her employees. In addition to leading her company, Vaca has been an advocate for women and minority entrepreneurs. In 2014, the Obama administration appointed Vaca as a Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship. She is also chairman emeritus of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC), and serves as chairman of the USHCC Foundation.

A true leader in every sense of the word, Vaca has inspired greatness in those she has worked with throughout her career. She shares advice on how other small business leaders can do the same.

What is the biggest leadership challenge you’ve faced while running Pinnacle Group, and how did you overcome it?

I experienced my first recession as an entrepreneur in 2001, after the devastation of the 9/11 attacks. It was very difficult, but it was also a huge learning experience. I was down to a liquidation plan and I almost didn’t make payroll. Instead of liquidating, we worked tirelessly until we won one contract, and it was a game changer. After that, Pinnacle doubled and then tripled in size for five consecutive years, and we have been featured on the Inc. 5000 fastest-growing business list for a decade. That experience taught me the importance of adaptability and leveraging technology. It also taught me survival skills.

What steps should a leader take to reset after making a mistake?

Look to the people around you for support. Success is not accomplished on your own, so don’t be afraid to reach out to mentors for guidance. Every leader should know it’s OK to fail; it’s about how you react to and bounce back from it that defines you as a leader.

You credit your business’s success to having a great team. What qualities do you look for when hiring team members?

It is very important to be selective about who you choose to surround yourself with, because no one accomplishes anything on their own. The most important things I look for when hiring are perspective and attitude. I look for entrepreneurial spirit and grit. We are built on the vision that we are all entrepreneurs. I prefer to pass the baton, allowing each of my employees to find their own leadership styles within the organization. It’s the same as building loyalty; when a member of the team feels motivated and empowered, that builds loyalty. When a team member feels loyal, that makes them feel motivated and empowered. I am all about giving people responsibilities with accountability. I trust, but verify. I love to work with people and watch them grow.

What resources would you recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming a better leader?

Find a mentor who has accomplished what you want to achieve and learn from them. Go to conferences such as the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), The Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES), or anything that piques your interest. You’re bound to learn some valuable takeaways from leaders who have been in your place before.

What advice would you give a small business owner going into a leadership position for the first time?

Anyone who wants to be an entrepreneur and start a business should have a plan before they start. Know what your goals are and be able to share them with others and get them to buy in, and you’ll be an effective leader. Any leader must have the courage to be a trailblazer instead of following the crowd. If your people see that you’re committed to the mission, they too, will be committed to your mission.

What are you doing to ensure that you continue to grow and develop as a leader?

I am a strong believer in lifelong learning and I take every opportunity to grow and develop. Learning from the example of others has always been one of my best teachers. Great examples of leadership are all around us if we look for them. I’ve been blessed to work with and learn from great leaders through service on corporate boards and by actively engaging in civic leadership roles. From my role as a Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship, I’ve learned leadership lessons not only from Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, but also from the many entrepreneurs I’ve met from around the world who are building their dreams in the most difficult circumstances.

Pinnacle Group celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2016. Vaca credits her success to embracing an intrapreneur company culture. “Pinnacle is built on the vision that we are all entrepreneurs, and that naturally results in creativity,” she says. “Entrepreneurship is a state of mind and a journey — our people are intent on beating every odd and being crazy good at what they do.”

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