Beth Berman Cohen | Crain's Washington D.C.

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Beth Berman Cohen


Beth Berman Cohen has worked in the Washington, D.C., media marketplace for more than 25 years. She joined Modern Luxury in August as group publisher of its Washington-based publications, which include DC Magazine, Capitol File, Modern Luxury Weddings Washington and Charity and Social Datebook DC, as well as the upcoming 2018 launch of Interiors Washington.

The Mistake:

The first part of my career, I was in sales and I was a high-performing account executive at my station. I was focused on building my own business and being the master of my own domain. Then, looking to grow my career, I got promoted to a sales management position at the station that I was selling for the past few years.

My misjudgment was that when I first stepped into management from being a salesperson, I was used to only having to worry about myself and being my own person with my own style. I went into management expecting people to be like me and [that I would treat] everybody the same way rather than taking into consideration the individuality of the person I was working with.

I had a mentor who brought it to my attention and a sales team that wasn’t performing and wasn’t responding in a way that I wanted them to, and that’s because I wasn’t speaking their language.

I wasn’t catering to them. People were intimidated by me; people didn’t like working for me, and through that type of feedback and self-reflection, I reevaluated what I needed to do as a professional to be a better manager and get better performance out of my team.

In a sales environment, technology handicapped us a lot. I would use technology to manage people rather than taking that time and interacting face to face. I think that happens across the board, whether you’re working with clients or managing people.

It comes back to human-to-human contact and understanding your audience and their needs.

The Lesson:

Being a highly-competitive sales professional, I was independent, but what I learned is one size does not fit all. It was my first time being in a management role. I had mentors who helped me and tools I’ve used that not only helped me become a better manager but also allowed me to help my sales team become better executives.

It was a valuable experience learning how to adjust myself and deal with people in a proper way so I could develop a more collaborative environment. That one-to-one connection is wonderful.

I learned to treat people as individuals and think about how they think and operate, as well as to adjust myself to work with them and get high performance. It’s an evolution, just like any professional and any product. You come up with a way you think works best and you evolve as you see the type of response and feedback you’re getting.

That was 10 years ago. ... There are things I started doing with sales teams now that I never did at the beginning of my career. I think it comes down to recognizing your purpose and then thinking about how you serve your community. My purpose as a publisher is to serve my team and provide them with motivation and leadership, to serve the business community in a way and also to serve our readers with a product that is going to resonate with them.

It comes back to human-to-human contact and understanding your audience and their needs, whether your audience is a salesperson or a CEO or one of our readers.

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Photo courtesy of Moshe Zusman