Interview with Sharon Linhart, Founder, LinhartPR
By Carleen Clearwater, Publisher, The About Pages
I often get asked by students, “What classes should I take? What skills should I be learning?” This lovely conversation with Sharon reminded me that in our industry, hell any industry, we can get so buried in the details. We forget to connect with our colleagues. We forget to mentor and be mentored. There is something so intrinsically valuable about the two-way street of a good ‘ole conversation with someone who has been there and done that before you. Through these conversations, we have the power to evoke change. With that, it’s my pleasure to share my one-on-one with Sharon.
CC| You officially retired in December correct?
SL| Yes, but I haven’t been using the “R” word.
CC| What’s the word that you’re using?
SL| I have been using transition. I’m no longer going to the office on a daily basis, and I’m not involved in the day-to-day operations. I am transitioned out of the business, but remain very interested. I’m involved on a peripheral basis.
CC| I was exhausted just looking at your list of board positions. Are you still serving on those boards?
SL| I am on the boards for Junior Achievement, the Boy Scouts and the Mountain States Employers Council Board. I’m also on the Boettcher Foundation Board of Trustees.
CC| What inspired you to get involved with Junior Achievement and the Boy Scouts?
SL| Well, I’m interested in, and a big believer in capitalism, and entrepreneurship. Junior Achievement is important in that regard to help kids get a sense that they have a future, and they have a reason to be optimistic and hopeful if they can stay in school, graduate, and get a job. I also believe in any activities that help young people build character and leadership. It takes people from the business community to get involved, show leadership, and be examples for young people.
Be honest with yourself about are you contributing, and are you a value to the organization and the board.
CC| It’s essential to have new energy and fresh ideas on boards, but a lack of people holding longer terms can be a challenge for the organization’s momentum. Can you give us some insight?
SL| You need to have new blood, ideas, fresh approaches and new energy. On the other hand, there is a benefit to having the corporate memory, and people who have seen the development of programs and the organization’s evolution to bring a historical perspective. You need balance. And people like me, who have been on a board a long time, should evaluate whether it’s time to move on and let somebody else have an opportunity. Be honest with yourself about whether you are still making a contribution, and are a value to the organization and the board.
CC| What is one of your favorite organizations?
SL| One I am especially excited about and have been involved in for a few years now is the Boettcher Foundation.
We give 42, full-ride, merit-based scholarships to students going to any university or accredited school in the state of Colorado. They go to the best and the brightest. It makes you feel so good about our state, and our future. It’s rewarding to be involved.
The Boettcher Foundation is also a grant giving foundation, so we award grants to non-profit organizations in the arts, and various non-profits in Colorado. I’m very proud of the work that we’ve done.
CC| I love the fact they’re recruiting top talent to stay here in Colorado.
SL| Exactly. That was their mission when they established the foundation, more than 75 years ago. They were self-made millionaires who made their fortunes here in Colorado. They wanted to give back to the state that they loved, and felt such gratitude for. It’s certainly not the largest foundation in Colorado, but one of the most influential and well-respected. That’s why it’s been fun, interesting, challenging and captivating for me.
Giving them some skin in the game, and having them be part of it was really the key to my success.
CC| You have a rep for recruiting AND retaining top talent. What’s the secret?
SL| Well, I have always believed in sharing the profits, and sharing the wealth with the people who help you make it. We have always had a profit sharing program that was unique in the business. I’ve never heard any other firm that did it the way we did it. We had a bonus pool, and we’re very open book management about it. We communicate our financials to the entire team on a monthly basis. That is one aspect of how we’re so successful in retaining such great talented people.
I also sold my interest in the firm to my partners, who are employees. Now, they’re the leaders of the company. Finding that talent, with a willingness to commit to the firm is key. Then, giving them some skin in the game was really the key to my success, and my ability to transition out after 20 years.
CC| What were some of your favorite ways to celebrate?
SL| We had a tradition we called Beer Friday, which is pretty self-explanatory. We’d get together at the end of the week, about 4:00 if you wanted to. We’d have a beer or a glass of wine, or two. Just unwind and celebrate the successes of the week. And if there were any wounds to be licked, we lamented our losses.
If it was a really big win, a new client or something, we’d probably crack open some champagne and take everybody out to lunch, or dinner. Obviously, if there was a win of an important new piece of business, we’d let everybody know and acknowledge all who were involved. It wasn’t just me taking credit for new business.
CC| It sounds like one of the biggest successes was making celebrating a routine?
SL| Absolutely. Of course, for personal achievements like if somebody were getting married, or having a baby, we would do something as a group.
Like most of the firms around Colorado, we’re small; we’re like a family. Everybody is familiar with everybody else’s situations. You want to help people lead their lives, and celebrate their successes with them-treating people like people.
CC| With the demand for almost 100% transparency, do you think there’s a line? How much does a company share about its employees?
SL| Well, we’d never share anything that anybody was uncomfortable sharing. But, I always have said, kind of one of my mottos is people do business with people. Clients and prospective clients want to work with people that they like, or that they find interesting or fun.
CC| Maybe even who they align with?
SL| Exactly. Finding some common ground with your clients is key to building a long-term relationship with them. Even if you’re in a leadership position in your firm, you need to remember you’re dealing with people. You can be human, and you can share your feelings and your emotions to some extent, but I think there is a limit.
CC| Or, a time and a place maybe?
SL| Yes. My team always knew that I was likely to cry at the drop of a hat. I wear my heart on my sleeve. They knew that about me, and they’d almost put a bet on how soon into the Christmas party thank-you speech that I would tear up and get emotional.
I used to get embarrassed about it, and finally, they all convinced me that they appreciated that I was showing true emotion.
A post shared by Linhart Public Relations (@linhartpr) on
CC| In the corporate space, we’ve heard, “Don’t take your job personally.” Thoughts?
SL| You asked me in one of your questions about why I got into my own business in the first place. I’ve had a lot of experience in the corporate world, and there was some stuff I didn’t like. I felt there had to be a better way to do it, and that I could do it.
CC| To do great work.
SL| Yes. Do great work; have pride; and be a professional, but enjoy your work, and take pleasure in it, and have fun.
CC| You got your degree in journalism. When did you know it (your career path) was PR and not necessarily reporter/writer?
SL| Well, I decided that pretty early on. I was in college and realized that being a daily reporter for a newspaper, was not my path. I really enjoyed helping businesses and organizations communicate with their audiences by using various tools and methods. In their early days, this was basically media relations. Of course, that’s all so vastly different now.
Early in my career, I had some great experiences and opportunities. I did some amazing and fun things. It was rewarding and challenging.
CC| Who was an inspiration to you early on, or someone who still is?
SL| I’ve been blessed with wonderful role models, mentors, people I respected, and heroes. I would include people like my father who was a civil engineer and had a consulting engineering firm. In a sense, in business for himself as an entrepreneur with partners. He was one of my earliest mentors and inspirations. The man I just mentioned, Hank Brown, was certainly one of my political heroes. I learned so much from him.
I always try to absorb and observe the people that I thought were worthy of
admiration or respect in our business.
My husband was an entrepreneur in our early years of marriage. We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs with successes and some failures. He’s certainly my number one supporter and has been all the way.
I always try to absorb and observe the people that I thought were worthy of admiration or respect in our business. I tried to learn from them. It’s been quite remarkable how willing people have been to help me and each other, or share knowledge along the way.
CC| I’m a believer that for our community to elevate, it’s going to be with linked arms and everybody going up at the same time.
SL| That’s an important observation. I agree. Everybody’s been very supportive. Well, there are a few grumpy people that were not so kind and not so generous, but you quickly learn who they are and you avoid them. You know who you can turn to in if you needed a hand, or wanted to pass off a business lead that you couldn’t follow up on. I have a couple people I really admire. I like their work, their integrity and they would never let me down.
CC| Right. They would treat your clients the way that you would treat your clients.
CC| What’s next?
SL| There’s a fairly long bucket list of places that we want to visit. My husband and I have been very fortunate and had a lot of interesting travel experiences together. And then there are places that we just like to go back to again and again. Now I don’t have to worry about maybe trying to fit those trips into a long weekend, instead of saying let’s go in the middle of the week.
We also just love being here in Colorado. I have family here in northern Colorado.
CC| And it doesn’t matter if the hotel has rock star wifi.
SL| Exactly. We love being here in Colorado. I have family here in northern Colorado. My mother is in an assisted living facility in Greeley. We get up to see her on a weekly basis, if not more. We just got back in fact from taking her to see Celine Dion in Las Vegas.
CC| I took my mom to see Celine Dion when she was here in Denver!
SL| It was a fun and somewhat challenging trip. My mom’s not real mobile. We had our work cut out for us, but we did it by gosh.
CC| My mom had a temporary handicap parking permit from surgery; and, I confess we used it to park closer to the door on a big shopping day! How bad is that?
SL| Those things are worth their weight in gold, man.
You know how it is. You write that stuff, and think is anybody out there, anybody?
CC| Recently I heard a quote by one of our long-time friends of The Review, “There’s something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person. What will you leave behind?” What would be that one piece of wisdom you’d want to leave us with?
SL| I like that quote. It’s very thoughtful. And you honored me by asking me for this. I was touched and pleased that you said you had read my blog post (Reflecting on 20 Years at Linhart PR). You know how it is. You write that stuff, and think anybody out there, anybody?
I would say I have such gratitude for this profession, for the people in this honorable profession. It is a way that we can change people, and change lives, and change the world. I’m proud that I’ve been able to be involved in this profession, and in this state, for the last 20 years.
CC| It was a real pleasure, Sharon. Thank you so much for your time, I appreciate it.
SL| You’re welcome and thank you.