When I started my agency nineteen years ago, I had no idea that the agency would outlast any job I ever had. I have been CEO for over 1/3 of my life. And to think this all happened by accident. Yes, I’m an accidental CEO. I didn’t set out to do this work. I loved the upside of Corporate America. I had benefits, event tickets, and an expense account. It lost its appeal when I was told that I was too client oriented and that I couldn’t give clients what was promised.

My manager thought I would never make it on my own.

Tell me I can’t do something and it’s like fueling a rocket. It drives me. I ran my first marathon in 2000 for exactly the same reason. I said to myself, “I can’t run a marathon” and I did. And twelve more over the years. Image Quest / IQ / knoodle had made it through 911, the stock market crash of 2008 and The Great Recession. I have learned to build a team, live for every day (not just the weekends) and to see the world. I have learned to incorporate kindness into culture and to enjoy the fact that I choose who I work with.

As I reflect over the last nineteen years I have learned…

Choose character over qualifications

My worst hires were highly qualified overachievers –on paper that commanded big salaries. A big ego (that often comes with the pedigree and the salary) often creates havoc in the office. My best hires developed their talent at knoodle over time.

Score with Core Values

I am on record as being against mission statements. I have never heard would that didn’t sound like a bunch of pompous gobblygook. I want authenticity not arrogance. So my team and I settled on core values that define us and also how we hire. They are updated annually. Ours are collaboration, harmony, integrity, preparation and strategy, CHIPS, for short.

Inject new life into your business with Interns

Yes, most people like to rant about millennials. But interns, who are usually in this age group, give us the opportunity to mentor promising individuals. It also helps our business thrive and gives us access to a great pool of talent. Whenever we have an open position, we look at our pool of current and past interns before we decide to post the opening. Our last two hires are interns and are contributing members of the staff.

Test your salespeople

I am a terrible judge of salespeople. I have so many bad hires I’ve made in this area, that they could be a baseball team. I stumbled upon an electronic test that rates their answers and sizes up their sales abilities- identifying sales reluctance and ability to close business. This may not be the only criteria we look at but it is good objective information.

Every team member is an ambassador

Be good to your team. Even when I have to let someone go, I try to be as gentle, as possible. Your past employees go our into other work places and they talk about their experiences. Over time, this reflects on your image. This also applies to interns. Treat people fairly. Do what you say you will do. And create as much positive team building, as possible. Your people are your brand.

I may be an accidental CEO. But I have learned many lessons over the years from hard times and from my team members.

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Rosaria is the Queen Bee at knoodle. She’s the Captain of the Ship. The Executive Chef.