As the president and CEO of a dollars 10 million PR firm that recently merged with one of the world’s leading agencies, and as a noted female pioneer in technology marketing, Sheri Benjamin seems like the type to have a regular table at any one of Silicon Valley’s hot spots. But this self-confessed fast food junkie claims you’re more likely to find her in the drive-though lane at burger joint Jack in the Box than at posh eateries.
As the president and CEO of a dollars 10 million PR firm that
recently merged with one of the world’s leading agencies, and as a noted
female pioneer in technology marketing, Sheri Benjamin seems like the
type to have a regular table at any one of Silicon Valley’s hot spots.
But this self-confessed fast food junkie claims you’re more likely to
find her in the drive-though lane at burger joint Jack in the Box than
at posh eateries.
’Every day at a quarter to eight, that’s where you’ll find me,’ she
In fact, Benjamin is such a Jack fanatic that her colleagues gave her an
autographed photo of the chain’s mascot, which she has displayed
prominently in her office alongside related memorabilia. ’It was my
favorite Christmas present ever,’ she says.
One look at the 40-something Benjamin’s slim figure and clear skin,
though, indicate that her affinity for Jack in the Box is driven more by
a need for speed than an addiction to greasy fare. And she has likely
been sitting in quite a few drive-through lanes of late. After 11 years
at the helm of The Benjamin Group - which capped off 1998 with dollars 9
million in billings and occupied the number-three spot in the region,
according to The Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal’s 1999 Book of
Lists - she accepted a buyout offer from BSMG Worldwide in July.
Now a partner in BSMG, Benjamin oversees the Orange County, Campbell and
San Francisco offices of Benjamin/BSMG, which handles such clients as
NetTaxi, Quantum and Toshiba Electronic Components. She also took on the
new role as head of BSMG’s US technology practice.
For Benjamin, the new position will enable her to not only enrich her
own agency’s capabilities, but to bring her shop’s renowned
family-friendly policies to a larger stage.
Famous industry-wide for its on-site daycare centers and child-care
subsidies, Benjamin Group has landed on Working Mothers magazine’s ’100
Best Companies for Working Mothers’ list for the past three years - the
smallest company to be honored. In fact, Benjamin made the long-term
survival of her policies a condition of the sale to BSMG.
Not an easy sell
And she was far from an easy sell. ’For two years I had been going on
those lunches, but I always resisted the offers,’ Benjamin recalls. ’But
with BSMG, (chairman and CEO) Harris (Diamond) was smart - he courted me
the way my husband did: very slowly and very carefully.’ Benjamin
insists that her family-focused policies are not based on benevolence,
but solid business sense. ’Childcare is expensive, but so are executive
recruiters,’ says the mother of two.
If balancing such a high-level position with motherhood seems
impossible, don’t tell that to Sheri Benjamin.
A self-described Pollyanna, Benjamin says she never experienced a
moment’s doubt when she and husband Steve decided to leave full-time
corporate posts to start The Benjamin Group in 1988. Even though she was
a new mom at the time, had no clients and funded the business with a
second mortgage on their home, Benjamin remembers thinking, ’What’s the
worst that could happen? They could take our house, but they can’t take
Megan.’ Nothing of the sort happened - within six weeks of launching the
business, Benjamin Group had 10 employees and a handful of profitable
This optimist does have a pragmatic side, too. For example, Benjamin
shucked her first job as a reporter for a daily newspaper ’because I
decided I would rather be a capitalist than an idealist.’ Later, the
woman who twirled a baton for the San Francisco 49ers through college
and didn’t have a lick of experience in science or engineering, jumped
headfirst into the burgeoning hi-tech world, mainly because of the
opportunities she saw there. ’On the tech side, you could be very young,
female and pretty and nobody cared. Technology was a great leveler in
this business,’ she says.
Not that the past decade has been trouble free. The recession in the
early ’90s, plus the stress of working 14-hour days while pregnant with
her son Cody seriously taxed her. There were also all the battles
involved in getting the childcare program off the ground.
Throughout it all, however, most of her long-standing staffers remember
an ever-considerate manager who always recognized the efforts of others.
’One night when I was eight-months pregnant, we were at the office late
preparing to pitch for a new account. Sheri was feeding me crackers all
night, and then the next day, she called me into her office and promoted
me to VP even when she knew I would soon be off on maternity leave,’
recalls SVP and GM Ellen Roeckl. ’Then as congratulations, she gave me
eight gift certificates for massage - one for every week to the end of
Gets what she wants
At the same time, Benjamin’s forceful personality is not always an easy
sell. ’Sheri is the only person I know who sees what she wants and goes
out and gets it. She definitely has expectations, and can be very
demanding,’ says SVP Carolyn Fromm, who has been with Benjamin since the
And at least one senior level ex-employee says that stubborn side has
cost Benjamin some major-league talent in the upper ranks: ’There has
been some turnover at the senior level because managers tend to have all
the accountability and no real responsibility - Sheri has total veto
power over every decision.’ And this manager, now working for a
competing Valley firm, says Benjamin’s focus on employees took the place
of actual PR strategy and counsel.
Perhaps her new role with BSMG will bring Benjamin back to her pure PR
roots and force her to take a step back from day-to-day management
Whatever the future holds, one thing’s for sure: there will be no
slowing down for her anytime soon. In addition to championing her
work-life crusade at BSMG Worldwide and helping to grow the firm’s
hi-tech practice, Benjamin says she has one other personal goal for
2000: to take a race car driving course at the world-famous Bob
Bondurant Racing School in Phoenix. ’It’s fast, it’s precise, and it’s
an exciting way to take a calculated risk.
Plus, it would be a helluva lot of fun,’ explains Benjamin. Sounds a lot
like the ride she’s been on so far.
President and CEO, Benjamin Group
VP, general manager at Jansen Associates
Founds The Benjamin Group with husband Steve
Benjamin Group acquired by BSMG Worldwide. Benjamin becomes partner and
head of BSMG’s US technology practice