ANALYSIS: Sheri Benjamin proves you can have it all - Sheri Benjamin enjoys life in the PR fast lane, but her speedster comes equipped with a room for her kids. For the past decade, Benjamin’s family-first principles have garnered a stellar reputa

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.

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

laughs.



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

clients.



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

my pregnancy.’



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

early days.



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

issues.



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.



Sheri Benjamin

President and CEO, Benjamin Group

1984

VP, general manager at Jansen Associates

1988

Founds The Benjamin Group with husband Steve

1999

Benjamin Group acquired by BSMG Worldwide. Benjamin becomes partner and

head of BSMG’s US technology practice



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