Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin is the CEO and executive creative director of her internal communications and branding agency, Tribe. Besides the important work she does for globally known brands and employee engagement, she also works hard for the everywoman looking to expand her horizons. She’s written three books (that’s right, three!) helping to guide readers in their professional and personal pursuits. She even authored a card deck, “Start Your Own Company,” to help other entrepreneurs launch their own business in 52 manageable steps, one step per card.
Elizabeth isn’t just about business–she, alongside her husband, two sons and border collie, Lucy, squeezes the most out of every facet of her life. She’s an avid runner, sometimes medaling in the trail races she competes in. In fact, she even participated in the New York City Marathon … though the jury is still out on whether she’ll run in that race again.
Get to know this entrepreneur and author and find out how Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin, our newest FACE, is making an impact in the Atlanta business community.
Tell us a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up? How did you arrive in Atlanta?
I was born and raised in Chapel Hill, NC, which was a really wonderful place to grow up in the ’60s and ’70s. My father was a modernist architect, and my mother was a college professor running research projects in developing countries.
We lived in a glass and steel house where all sorts of people would end up around the kitchen table. Our Thanksgiving was usually a huge collection of people who didn’t have anywhere else to go, so you might have an anthropologist from Kenya sitting next to my grandmother sitting next to an Italian painter next to some teenager who’d run away from home.
I moved to Atlanta in 1979 to go to college at Emory University. Most of my friends were staying in Chapel Hill for the University of North Carolina, which also would have been a fine route for me, but I wanted to spread my wings a little bit. Except for a brief chapter working in Florida, Atlanta has been home ever since.
How did you get started in the internal communications business?
I actually started in advertising, as a copywriter and later a creative director. When I launched Tribe, it was a creative boutique doing the same sort of branding—television spots, magazine campaigns, other traditional advertising—I’d done my whole career.
Eventually, we noticed that the most interesting work we were doing was all internal communications for larger companies like UPS, Porsche and Whole Foods. I think clients appreciated that Tribe approached that work with the same caliber of strategy and creative talents that we’d apply to advertising projects. We finally made a commitment to focus only on internal communications with the goal of becoming one of the best agencies in the country in this niche.
Tell us about your family.
I’m married to my business partner, although that’s sort of a new development. Steve and I have been married 22 years, but I just convinced him to join me at Tribe a few years ago. He’s had a huge impact on Tribe’s success. He’s incredibly smart, but he’s also wise. You don’t always get both of those traits in the same person. His background is in agency account management and media, as well as corporate-side branding; I’ve always been in the creative department of an agency, so our strengths complement each other exactly.
We have two boys. Sam, 15, our youngest, is just on fire right now. He’s a sophomore in high school and having a great time. Cameron, 27, is my stepson, but we’ve had each other since he was 2, so I’ve been able to see him grow up and to play a role in that. He lives here in Atlanta and works in the IT department at Sam’s school, coincidentally. We laugh so much when we’re all together. Not everyone gets the Baskin brand of humor, but we all think we’re very witty.
How do you balance the pressures of running your own business with taking care of family?
Having your own business makes it a ton easier. It gives you much more flexibility. Steve also carries a lot of the load. When Sam was little, Tribe was just me sitting at a desk on a screened porch that we turned into a home office. It’s right off the kitchen and looks out on the backyard, so I could see him and his nanny on the swing set.
As Sam grew, so did Tribe. By the time he was in first grade and at school most of the day, Tribe was in a big office building. I told our real estate broker that the office could be anywhere in Atlanta, as long as it was five minutes from both the house and Sam’s school. That way I could be a lunch monitor and do other things at the school easily.
Why is internal communications so important for businesses?
The overriding end goal for internal communications is to align employees with the vision of the company—and to engage them in how their individual roles can contribute to the success of that vision.
When you have a large number of employees aligned with top management’s vision, the company can move much more quickly and efficiently toward those goals. It makes work more meaningful for employees, because they understand how they’re contributing to something larger than themselves. That builds employee engagement, which helps the company improve on almost every metric, from productivity and profitability to recruiting and retention.
What’s the one thing every working woman should have in her closet?
What do you tell other women entrepreneurs trying to get ahead in the business world?
I once had lunch with a friend who had recently been laid off and was trying to figure out what to do next. She said, “I’d start my own company, if I knew I’d be successful at it.” As she tells the story, I burst out laughing and said, “No s–t.” Somehow that helped her. She had this epiphany that there are no guarantees of success, but also that it’s not a very good reason not to try it. The company she ended up starting has been succeeding for almost a decade now.
You’re an avid, medaled trail runner and have even run the New York City Marathon. What gives you the fuel to compete in these races?
I run because we have a border collie. That’s not the only reason, but it’s the one that gets me out there on the trails even when it’s rainy or cold. I let her run off leash in the woods, so she does triple the mileage I do. A tired dog is a good dog!
I also run to be outside. I feel best when I can be out in the woods several times a week. We’re really lucky to live so close to the Chattahoochee trails. Five minutes from the house, I can be on a dirt road that dead ends at one of my favorite trail heads. And no matter which way you run, you eventually end up at the river. There’s something very calming to me about looking out at water.
I don’t do much running on pavement anymore, not since the New York City Marathon. Over dinner one night, I got talked into doing that race by world record-holder Lornah Kiplagat. But she took advantage of the fact that I’d had a couple of glasses of wine.
You’re an author. What are your books, and what inspired you to write them?
I like to make things, and books are good things to make. Hell Yes is about saying no to the things that don’t really light up for you. Beach Wisdom is a tiny little book that I pretty much wrote sitting on the beach with some girlfriends one afternoon. It still earns me a royalty check every six months, 12 years later. Run Your Business Like a Girl is about women entrepreneurs and how we manage our companies a little differently than guys do. What I really would like to do is publish a novel, but I’m not quite there yet.
What book(s) are you reading right now?
I read different sorts of books, depending on what time of day it is. On my Kindle in the bedroom right now I’m reading Shadows on the Rock, one of Willa Cather’s less famous novels. It’s about settling Quebec in the 1600s, and you can almost smell the pine trees and the snow. In our sunroom, where we have coffee in the morning, I’m reading Brain Maker, about the connection between brain health and the microbiome. That’s my latest health project. In our study, where I write, I’ve got stacks and stacks of books on early Jamestown for a novel I’m working on.
What’s your best advice?
Life is long and the world is small, so be nice to people. You may cross paths again someday.
What are three things you can’t live without, excluding faith, family and friends?
Coffee, wine, chocolate
A great big thanks to Elizabeth for sharing a little bit about her professional and personal worlds! And a gigantic thanks to CatMax Photography for today’s great shots!