Interview with Tracy L. Zaiss

"I am a novelty to some and a role model for others, often interviewed by the media."

Tracy L. Zaiss
Chief Planner 
Zaiss & Company
United States of America

Integrated Doctorate of Business Administration Batch 2022

Please tell us about yourself and your family.

I am a serial entrepreneur who has started three businesses. Zaiss & Company, a marketing research and communications company, was started 32 years ago. We currently serve clients throughout the United States, including several education clients, and employ 16 people. ZCo Properties was a commercial real estate entity. Luckily, (quite literally, it was luck!) I sold pre-pandemic in January 2020 before the commercial real estate market collapsed. ZCo Global Partner Solutions is an international education business based on what I’ve learned marketing American education for 30 years.

My husband passed away eight years ago. I have a son who is brilliant!  He holds a Master’s degree in Human-Computer Interaction from Carnegie Mellon and another in Data Analytics from UC Berkeley.  He recently left his position at Microsoft to join a start-up.

What drew you to the program you are studying at Athena? Do you think it will help you to realise your career goals?

In my work in International Education, I think it would add to my credibility to hold a doctorate. The DBA appeals to me because it is more applied than the PhD. Beyond that, in my career, I frequently conduct research studies and publish white papers for clients under their names.  I would like to pursue subjects in which I have a personal interest, and receive credit for the work I do…with the hope of advancing knowledge in business and commerce.

What would you like to learn next? What are your next career steps?

I have many interests. I recently wrote a Guidebook for corporations on steps they could take to advance the UN Sustainable Development Goal #4: Quality Education for All.  I want to learn more about corporate sustainability efforts as well as discover the links (or lack thereof) between corporate education and public education. I  have a keen interest in understanding where the global economy is going – or at least the American economy. I believe we are in a post-industrial, post-capitalist era. However, it’s unclear what steps we need to take to evolve to a system that will promote well-being for all and sustainability without necessarily sacrificing growth. I think corporations can play an important role in both of these inquiries – and, in fact, some are.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I love my work and I love my businesses – so not really sure what spare time is.  When not thinking about work, strategizing, researching, or writing, I like to hike outdoors, meet up with friends, experiment with cooking, entertain, and listen to podcasts.

Suppose you had to live alone on a deserted island for a month. What are the 3 things you will bring with you?

Does some form of Internet connection count? If not, I would bring a good book for guided meditation – like A Year with Rumi, Daily Meditations, a knife or similar tool for harvesting food and making shelter, and a still for desalinating water.

If you face a problem at work, what is the first thing you do?

I start by analyzing the problem. Most problems at work are the result of ineffective communication. I typically ask myself, “How can I clarify or be more effective at getting my point across or understanding the opposing point of view?”  I am very persistent. After I have thoroughly analyzed a problem and believe I have a workable solution, I try to find a different way to proceed rather than give up on a problem.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your life? How did you tackle it?

As a woman, starting a business 32 years ago in a midwestern American city was not the easiest thing. In those days, misogyny was much more overt. The way I handled it was to proceed without the preconception that someone would have an issue working with a woman – whether as a client or an employee, because I feel, to some extent, it’s possible to find prejudice if you look for it. I was a novelty to some and a role model for others, often interviewed by the media. But I can honestly say I walked through every door opened to me and even pushed some open.

If you could only change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

While there may be physical attributes I would just as soon change, I don’t think that’s very important. Other than that, I try to be open, accepting, and curious about change, events and people

What did you want to become when you were a child?

I am a third-generation advertising professional, so that is the career that was modeled for me. My grandfather managed the local CBS television affiliate in Omaha and gave Johnny Carson his break. My father was in charge of advertising at Mutual of Omaha and created the television program, Wild Kingdom. When we were children, we would go to the television station or production studio to watch commercials being made. I just assumed this was the career path I would follow.

What is the last book you read and the movie you saw?

BOOK:  Now you see it: How Technology and Brain Science will Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century written by  Cathy N. Davidson

MOVIE:  Don’t Look Up

Who is the person you admire most and why?

It’s hard to pick one. I admire the following women authors/scholars who have made significant contributions to knowledge despite some adversity and prejudice.  

  •     Cathy N. Davidson
  •     Heather E. McGowan
  •     Rebecca Solnit

All three women impress me greatly. They have shaped my perceptions about education, thinking, scholarship and the role that women can and should play.

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