Stephynie Malik is the Founder and CEO of SMALIK Enterprises, a firm dedicated to serving clients globally who are in need of Executive Transformation, Crisis Management, and Business Consulting.
With more than 20 years experience in the C-Suite, she was also one of the youngest directors of a publicly traded company in Silicon Valley, before moving on to establish her own IT consulting firm at the age of 32, and later SMALIK Enterprise.
In our interview with Stephynie Malik, she talks about the challenges she had to overcome as an Entrepreneur, both before and after she started running her own companies.
Hello Stephynie. Thank you for participating in this Q&A session. Please give us an overview of your origin story, background and career to date?
Stephynie: Being the child of immigrant parents, you learn fast what clear drive and work ethics really mean.
Although my father drowned at an early age, he was an entrepreneur on every level. He had hustle before hustle was even a thing. My mother was also a hard worker and while not educated, she was tenacious and always tried her hardest to provide for our family. When my father passed, my mother suffered an immediate nervous breakdown from which she never recovered. This led to me raising my younger brother most of his life.
I got emancipated at 15, started college on academic probation at 16, finished at 20, married at 21, and a had beautiful baby at 22. Sadly, the dream ended there. I was divorced at 23 and paying alimony at 24.
While I had no intention of becoming an entrepreneur, this is how my journey began. I started out as an entry-level sales associate, far too young, with little to no direction, before going on to become one of the youngest directors in Silicon Valley at a publicly held company.
I have established a 25-year world-class career, in which I both led and founded multiple global companies throughout my career, having over 20 years of experience in the C-suite.
At the age of 32, I set out to start my own IT consulting firm despite the economic downturn. I did this with a laptop, a $1,500 loan and my fingers crossed. Shortly after, I found myself leading what went on to be a successful global firm.
In addition, I have successfully spearheaded multiple acquisition efforts and my thought leadership has been utilized by executives with Fortune 100-500 companies, start-ups, and pre-IPO companies and entrepreneurs alike.
When I made the decision to step down from my global consulting firm to form SMALIK Enterprises, I did so with one single goal in mind, to help others promote change through my proven strategies, methodologies, and undeniable experience, by delivering measurable results that consistently exceed client expectations and outcomes.
This has resulted in me becoming a sought-after Business Strategist, Executive Consultant & Crisis Expert with certifications in both Emotional Intelligence & Leadership from the International Coaching Federation (ICF). I am proud to say that SMALIK Enterprises is a certified Woman & Minority Owned company.
Added to that, I currently serve on numerous boards around the world, most recently excited to be included as a new board member for the EV Hotel Group.
Another new and exciting chapter in my entrepreneurial journey has been becoming the host of my podcast Spin It! with Stephynie Malik. I wanted yet another way to give back and share the stories of other great minds, and to inspire others to keep pushing past their own challenges and obstacles they come to face.
Why did you become an Entrepreneur?
Stephynie: Ironically, I never intended to become an entrepreneur. Truth be told, I didn’t even know what entrepreneurship was at the time. My story starts like most young adults — I wanted to go to law school, make my family proud, be a successful lawyer and make a million dollars at an extremely young age. Insert a baby at the ripe old age of 22 and single motherhood shortly thereafter, and things changed very quickly.
Literally overnight, I had the weight of the world on my shoulders. I had a mentally ill mother that depended on me for her living expenses, a daughter who needed to be fed and cared for, and several other family members that were reliant on me in some capacity. There was an insurmountable pressure to both perform and provide.
Failure was not an option and the only way out was to produce more and more from an income standpoint. Insert the next problem. Based on my need to perform and excel, I found myself quickly climbing up the corporate ladder as I was relentless in my pursuit to provide for my family. Sounds great, right? Well, except for the fact that the higher I climbed, the greater the expectations and responsibilities became.
I was now expected to work around the clock, always be “on”, attend every company and client event, and was responsible for an astronomical revenue number.
I quickly learned that being a VP at the age of 26 as a single mother was not all what it was cracked up to be.
I was simply unable to meet the associated demands, expectations, and responsibilities with such a role, and still look at myself in the mirror and call myself a good mother. The “work-life balance” that so many speak of today was non-existent back then, and the only way for me to make it was to fully submit myself to my company. Since this was not an option, this is when I became what I call an “accidental” or “circumstantial” entrepreneur.
Just like being a single mother at such an early age wasn’t part of my plan, nor was entrepreneurship. Like many others, I had dreamed of a “steady” job, health benefits, a 401K, and “job security”. Given my situation and the inability to meet the expectations of my C-Suite, I was left with no choice but to come up with a plan B. I feel bad referencing a “Plan B” as I had zero plan, and instead was operating solely on need, instinct and to some degree, desperation.
A massive tiger was chasing me, and with no "adult supervision" I like to call it, I had to outrun the beast. For me, the only option to earn a living, be the mother I wanted to be, and care for all those that were dependent on me was to start my own consulting firm. So while it was somewhat accidental and far from the entrepreneurial quest and dreams you hear of today, it absolutely afforded me the freedom and independence that I so desperately needed. I’m forever grateful for that journey as it truly changed my life and has made me the person I am today.
What are the key challenges you have faced in your entrepreneurial journey and how did you navigate them?
Stephynie: My entrepreneurial journey has had two phases, each of which has had its own set of challenges. When I left corporate to start my own firm, I faced the same challenges that a lot of entrepreneurs face today. Youth, lack of resources, inexperience, lack of a plan, no guidance and all of the other challenges young entrepreneurs come across in today's world.
In retrospect, I’m not quite sure how I achieved success other than trusting my gut and making the decision to bet on myself as failure simply wasn’t an option as a single mother.
Fast forward 10+ years and my firm was global, I was a CEO and found myself responsible for a corporate entity that so many people relied upon. While successful, accomplished, and a leader in the industry, I found myself in the same exact situation as where my journey began. I had built a world-class organization but in return was the recipient of all of the demands, responsibilities and pressures that come along with being the CEO of an industry leader. Don’t get me wrong, I was able to fulfill a dream, care for the loved ones that depended on me, be with my daughter and be a leader to so many amazing people; however, it was at this time that I realized my journey was not complete. In coming full circle, I felt an inner void.
While I was praised for my accomplishments and leadership, I wanted to give back in a different way and so started my second stint in entrepreneurship. I made the difficult and scary decision to step aside as CEO of my global consulting firm to start SMALIK Enterprises, a company that would specialize in Human Behavior-Executive Transformation, Business Consulting and Crisis Management. Despite being fueled with a ton of excitement, unshakeable confidence and an unstoppable mentality, I naturally faced several key challenges in my new entrepreneurial quest.
For starters, I was no longer running a successful company with a solid team or client base with an endless supply of prospects and new business opportunities. I was no longer able to stand behind my firm's outstanding reputation and track record of success. So many things that I took for granted would soon present an entirely new set of challenges. I had to quickly learn how to market myself and my services on the internet and across various platforms in a manner that I hadn’t had to do in over a decade.
Sounds easy enough until you realize just how much the game can change in 15+ years. I laugh at it now, but I even published an article a few years back that documents that effort and how I even lost twenty-five thousand dollars in 8 minutes. There was literally so much that I didn’t know and so much that I needed to learn...quickly. It was this realization that proved to be one of the biggest challenges that I’ve ever faced.
Simply put, online selling, with funnels, and ads, and webinars is just different. It wasn't better, or worse, it was just different, and quite frankly, no one online cared about your non-online track record. I was stunned that no one really cared that I had closed over a billion dollars in business. Furthermore, no one cared that I had structured uncanny, and unheard of revenue deals that brought in millions for large corporations. It simply didn't matter online.
There were several nights where I just wanted to call it quits and return to my consulting firm, but I knew deep inside that there was so much more that I wanted to do and I quickly learned to be comfortable in the discomfort.
I had to put my pride on the shelf and find the 26 year old girl that was so relentless and fearless in her quest. I rolled up my sleeves, got back in the trenches, and made it my mission to learn all that I did not know, and that was a lot.
I know I annoyed so many influencers in my quest for growth by questioning them to death. I became a sponge. I put in the sweat equity that I did when I was younger and reactivated my passion for the true hustle. The best way to say it — I went back to my roots and channeled the inner girl who didn’t have the option of failure. I relied on lessons learned that I didn’t even realize I learned in my first quest. I humbled myself and allowed others to teach me instead of being the teacher. I relied on my gut and on my instincts that hadn’t steered me wrong in the past and again, found the courage to bet on myself.
One would think that this time around such obstacles and challenges would be far less daunting and much easier to overcome, but it was entirely the opposite. This time was so much harder. Four kids, living all over the country, ailing family members who were nearing the end of their time on Earth, board seats, mortgages, and tuitions — Being overwhelmed was an understatement.
It was a lot but I had to reach deep inside to a place that I hadn’t been to in nearly 20 years and call upon a young woman who I thought I far surpassed once I became successful. It was truly the hardest work that I have had to do in my entire life, but it was also that catalyst that catapulted SMALIK Enterprises to where it’s at today.
Being able to successfully navigate the never-ending challenges that I had to face for the second time is the sole reason that I’ve been able to continue on this journey and impact so many lives in the process. I am beyond grateful to have come full circle and be a part of so many beautiful transformations at SMALIK Enterprises.
Before concluding the interview, we would like to know if your entrepreneurial journey has been influenced by any past or present business leaders?
Stephynie: I always say you can use anything as a good example! Something you fiercely want to emulate or something you want to fiercely repel. In my journey there were so many amazing leaders, pillars of strength, grace, humility, and EQ before EQ was even a thing. There was also many naysayers that laughed at me or insinuated I did more than my job to get where I was. There were as many haters as there were supporters. There were companies that partnered very well, and there were companies that treated their partners horribly.
Regardless, I learned from every single bit of it. The leaders that took me under their wing, asked one thing of me. "When you become successful, pay it forward... with no agenda." They said when you find someone in the future that has your grit, your tenacity, your ability to never take yourself too seriously. STOP and spend time mentoring, guiding, and lifting them as we have done with you. That was so easy for me to do, and I make it a regular practice in every aspect of my life. I also have the very real practice of repelling companies and people that don't align with me, my brand, and my companies.
I remember the day it happened. The day I didn't have to say yes, but I got to say, "No, thank you". We didn't align and their company’s mission didn't align with my purpose. I remember not realizing how good it felt until the next day when one of my Directors asked me how I felt. I had to stop and reflect — How did I feel? I felt whole, complete. It was my terms. It was purpose-filled and integrity-driven. It was the right way to lead.
I know this journey is far from over, but what I do know is that despite the changes and challenges, I have the will and grace to get through two horrible financial downturns and a pandemic. I never said it was pretty, and I will say it was messy, but I wouldn't have it any other way!
Thank you Stephynie for participating in this Q&A session, we wish you all the best?
Stephynie: Thank you.