Leading By Example: An Interview with Beth Mast & Rhonda Pennington

Beth Mast, left, and Rhonda Pennington, right, two of the top leaders of Valorous Circle, one of Grand Rapids' women led businesses.
Beth Mast & Rhonda Pennington of Valorous Circle
Under the keen eye of Owner and Chief Operating Officer Beth Mast and Director of Operations and Project Management Rhonda Pennington, Valorous Circle has come a long way from its humble beginnings in a Michigan basement.
 
One just needs to look at their foundational values to understand what sets Valorous Circle apart, not just from other women led businesses, but from the entire region’s web development landscape.

What inspires you on a day-to-day basis?

Beth Mast: Working with our team is fulfilling and uplifting to me. I enjoy interacting with each of them. The synergy is exciting. They are all optimistic, intelligent, and innovative. They take pride in their work and are committed to serving our clients. Our office culture is relaxed but dedicated, collaborative but self-motivated. Every day I look forward to going to our office.

Rhonda Pennington: Creativity and being able to provide something that is a positive asset for our clients. I also get inspired by team dynamics. When everyone is excited about a project, then I get excited, too. Or, if I can help to get the team excited about a project, that is even better!

How do you navigate team dynamics in a male-dominated field like web development?

B: Our team has been pretty evenly split between the genders over the years. We’ve had female developers and I develop some of our websites myself.

R: Web development is male dominated???

B: Our development team management is also predominantly female, so it hasn’t been an issue.

What have you learned from your experiences as a woman in a position of power?

B: I am very direct, precise, and analytical by nature, so I’ve had to learn to think about an individual’s feelings and how they perceive me. I now make sure I’m smiling frequently and spending time one-on-one so each of my staff can get to know me, and I them.

R: One thing I’ve learned is to not get embroiled in negativity and drama in an office setting. If you can keep from getting caught up in it… things will often work themselves out. Oh, and leave work at work. It’s important to pay attention to your mental health to stay sharp and focused at work while allowing yourself downtime with your friends and family.

Who has been your greatest influence or supporter in business?

R: I have had some great encouragers and supporters throughout the years. My family has also been my greatest supporter, but one of my first managers was one of the toughest, most brilliant women I’ve known. She’s a great source of inspiration to me, even long after I moved into different roles.

B: Both of my parents had entrepreneurial tendencies, so I always had a leaning to be independent in my career, wanting to lead my own business. The strongest influence, however, has undoubtedly been my husband, Jonathan. He has always been a trailblazer. He has entrepreneurial ideas by the second.

From the beginning of our relationship he would throw out business ideas and I would analyze those ideas to see if they were feasible, coming up with processes and delivery ideas. We based our company today on his initial idea and my execution, and then years of strategizing together.

Do you have a greatest professional accomplishment, and if so, can you share what it is?

B: Without a doubt, Valorous Circle is my greatest professional accomplishment. I have built the structure and processes for our support and development departments and lead the charge in the execution of it. I have birthed them, managed them, and continue to oversee my team carry on my vision.

R: I think my greatest accomplishment is my career itself. I started out as a receptionist for a large tech company by Detroit in the early 90s and worked my way into a more technical support role, followed by team leadership roles and project management. Each position was a little of a stretch for me, but I worked hard, studied and learned on the job and continued to do well in those roles and advance.

Are there any milestones you’d like to achieve?

R: I’d like to continue to learn and evolve. Short term, I would like to learn more about some other aspects of our business that I haven’t been so closely involved in (SEO & Marketing) and I would also like to finish my PMP.

Beth, what is your goal for Valorous Circle, and how do you plan to accomplish it?

B: My goal is to have a clear structure and process for each aspect of Valorous Circle and to balance this with individual vision and creativity without creating a logistical nightmare. We’ve made excellent progress, but there are still areas that need work.

How do you maintain a work-life balance as the chief operating officer of a demanding, deadline-based business?

B: I have learned that I need to surround myself with people I trust who can balance my weaknesses. If I’m good at A but not B, I need to rely on those who are good at B. I also need to be open-minded to other’s suggestions and guidance so that as a team we can unite, be strong and deliver an excellent product.

Do you consider yourself a mentor or steward in the design field?

B: A bit of both. I definitely believe that I’m responsible for upholding a high level of good design and user experience in our websites. I also teach our developers my unique way of creating designs for our websites. I’m a big believer in eliciting the correct emotional response from a targeted website audience when they look at a website and I have my own steps to ensure that happens. I’ve learned that design never trumps user experience.

What would you like to say to other women in the early stages of their careers?

R: Just go for it. No matter what it is, you can do it.

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