How Military Vet and Tech Founder Phyllis Newhouse Helps Entrepreneurs Harness Their Potential

On this week’s episode of The Playbook, host Mark Collier, area director for the UGA Small Business Development Center, welcomes Phyllis Newhouse, a serial entrepreneur, investor, retired military senior officer, and mentor. Newhouse is currently the CEO and Founder of ShoulderUp Technology Acquisition Corp, Founder and CEO of Xtreme Solutions Inc., and a true pioneer in business.

She is the first woman to win an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award in the technology category, as well as the first African American female CEO to take a SPAC public on the New York Stock Exchange. Passionate about women-led businesses, Newhouse teaches aspiring entrepreneurs to recognize and capitalize on their leadership skills and operate in greatness.

Transcription:

Mark Collier:
Welcome to The Playbook Phyllis.

Phyllis Newhouse:
Thank you for having me, Mark.

Mark Collier:
Thank you for coming. I’m excited about this interview. Your story, career and accomplishments is pretty much unparalleled, and so I’m very much looking forward to this discussion today.

Phyllis Newhouse:
Thank you.

Mark Collier:
All right. Well before we launch into that, just tell me a little bit about who is Phyllis Newhouse, background, and how did you get to be the person you are today?

Phyllis Newhouse:
Yeah, so the interesting thing is that when people ask that question, who is Phyllis? You always like to say, always start with who you are and not what you do. Oh, yeah. So I want to tell you a little bit about who I am. So I’m a mother, I’m a sister, come from a family of 11 kids.

Mark Collier:
Oh, wow.

Phyllis Newhouse:
And my mom is 91, and I come from North Carolina. I’m passionate about what I do, I like to inspire other leaders to be great leaders. And so those are just a few things of who I am and what I do. And I would tell you what I do is, as an entrepreneur, it is really about the inspirational piece of great leadership.

Mark Collier:
Absolutely.

Phyllis Newhouse:
That’s how you build great business. If you look at some of the best businesses built ever, you look at who were leading those businesses. So coming from North Carolina, from a family of 11 kids, I was always taught, told by my father, you’re going to be a great leader.

Mark Collier:
Love it.

Phyllis Newhouse:
You’re a warrior.

Mark Collier:
I love it.

Phyllis Newhouse:
And when you have your father to tell you that, you grow up to believe that’s all you’re supposed to be. Right?

Mark Collier:
Absolutely.

Phyllis Newhouse:
So after leaving college, I decided that I wanted to serve in the military. I had a sister who I saw as a role model, and I thought, “Wow, this is incredible”. And I went for the first time, I saw women coming off the flight line, they were pilots.

Mark Collier:
Oh.

Phyllis Newhouse:
And I thought, and I was exposed to what leadership roles were for women that were not traditional roles. And so that really intrigued me, and that’s how I ended up deciding that I wanted to serve in the military. So that was just a little snapshot of my journey and what inspired me to spend and have a 22 year military career.

Mark Collier:
Very good. And also in the military, you were in cybersecurity.

Phyllis Newhouse:
Yes.

Mark Collier:
Which again, is very nontraditional role for women. And that kind of was a springboard to future entrepreneurial pursuits, I’m sure.

Phyllis Newhouse:
Absolutely.

Mark Collier:
Okay.

Phyllis Newhouse:
Yeah, absolutely.

Mark Collier:
All right. So you talk a lot about a value card, and I’d like to explain what that is and tell me about your value card.

Phyllis Newhouse:
Yeah. So a value card, when you think of some of the greatest teams that, especially, I’m going to use the military for an example. When you think about some of the greatest teams have ever been built, the Navy Seals, special forces, armed forces teams, you think of every single person comes to the table with a value card.

Mark Collier:
Yes.

Phyllis Newhouse:
You have to have someone who’s a strategic thinker. You have to have that person on there that they’re more of a collaborative thinker. You have to have, so each team comprised of all of these different skill sets, and each person brings value. And I think oftentimes, as a leader, if you don’t assess the value on your team, it is very hard to accomplish that mission. So for me, growing up, my father used to have a sitting around the dinner table, and he would say things like, “What’s your value card”? And each one of us had to identify what that value card was.

Mark Collier:
I love it.

Phyllis Newhouse:
And so for me, I would say, I’m a leader, I’m a warrior. I always said that. And so once you say it, once you believe it, and once it’s embedded in you, you know that’s your value. That is the card that you play every day. That’s the card you walk into the room with that people don’t have to guess who you are. And so, for me, I would say my strongest value card is leadership. That secondary card for me is going to be a negotiator.

Mark Collier:
Okay.

Phyllis Newhouse:
That negotiator. You think about that, the one who leads the negotiation is the one who wins, right.

Mark Collier:
Wow.

Phyllis Newhouse:
And so that’s a value card for me as well.

Mark Collier:
Absolutely. And negotiation is a key component to successful business.

Phyllis Newhouse:
Absolutely.

Mark Collier:
You’ve got to learn that or you’re going to be dead in the water.

Phyllis Newhouse:
Absolutely.

Mark Collier:
All right. So you talk a lot about being the only, And in that mindset, when you walk into the room, you are oftentimes the only. So tell me a little bit about that, and talk a little bit around that if you don’t mind.

Phyllis Newhouse:
So when you hear people say, I’m the only woman in the room, I’m the only African American room, I’m the only this or the only that, you’re always going to, at some point in your life, you’re going to be the only something.

Mark Collier:
That’s true.

Phyllis Newhouse:
It is what you do, the moment you realize that you are the only, I think there is power in being the only. There’s a perspective that you have because you are the only, and it’s how you use that perspective to change the perspective of others in the room, that’s not the only. And so oftentimes, I have been at events when I’ve heard other people of color say to me, I was the only person of color in the room. I was the only woman in the room. And I said, what’d you do in that moment? How did you change the perspective of that room? You see, oftentimes we think it is the job of the people in the room to change the perspective, but I think you have more power than you realize when you find yourself in an only position.

Mark Collier:
No, I like that. And you use the word perspective because you’re absolutely true. If you’re the only, how are you going to respond to that? You’re going to respond negatively, or are you going to look at it as you said, as an opportunity to set a new standard.

Phyllis Newhouse:
Incredible opportunity. And I remember, Mark, being the only one in the room one time, and I said, I was the only woman in the room, and it was in an industry where there are not a lot of women. This is in tech and then cyber. And I said to the guy, said, “Hey, did you notice you’re the only woman in this room”? And I said, “And I probably had the most power in this room”. And he sat back and he laughed for a minute and he said, “I never thought of that way”. You see, I could have taken that one way.

Mark Collier:
Sure.

Phyllis Newhouse:
But I chose to take it from a position of power. It’s like, what do you do in the moment?

Mark Collier:
I love it.

Phyllis Newhouse:
Exercise the power when you’re the only.

Mark Collier:
The power perspective.

Phyllis Newhouse:
Absolutely.

Mark Collier:
I love it. I love it. All right. Well, speaking of onlys, you are the only black female CEO who has taken a SPAC public on the New York Stock Exchange. Talk to me a little bit about that process and what did that milestone mean to you?

Phyllis Newhouse:
Well, the first SPAC that we took public, that was the Athena Technology Acquisition Corp SPAC. That SPAC was all women-led SPAC. And you know what’s so interesting about that, is that we didn’t know each other until we rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange.

Mark Collier:
Interesting.

Phyllis Newhouse:
That was the first time we met. So talk about how going through the pandemic allowed people to pivot, if you were open to the opportunity of something new. And so I had an opportunity to put together a team, literally on Zoom, of women around the country that had never met, but all had done really significant things in their career and their journey. And so we put together a board, our board had all first time trailblazers, the first woman of the SEC was on our board. We had the first woman who run a billion dollar fund, the first woman to ever have a billion dollar company.

So we had a lot of first timers on the board. And then we put together the team based off of this, the expertise and based off of industry. And so we put together a team. And the first time we stepped out on the floor to New York Stock Exchange to ring the bell, Isabel Freidheim, and myself, we realized that, wait a minute, half our team has never even met before. And that’s how powerful that was, to see how we were able to leverage.

Mark Collier:
Absolutely.

Phyllis Newhouse:
Because really it was about leveraging. So the first SPAC we did, we took that public. And I would tell you, the moment that I stepped out on that stage, and I realized that there’d been only 22 women at that point, had ever taken a company public. And there had not been a woman of color to ever do that. I really felt a deep sense of responsibility that it had to happen and must happen.

And so really nine months later, is how I end up taking the second SPAC public on the New York Stock Exchange, after that. But for me, it was my mom who really propelled that, the decision to go forward, I said to my son in 90 days, we’re going to take a company public on a New York Stock Exchange. He says, “Mom, this the New York Stock Exchange. You take us home in public. How you going to do that”? I said, “You watch, we’re going to roll up our sleeves. We’re going to get the job done”. And we were standing on the New York stock, on the floor, at the Exchange, day 89.

Mark Collier:
That’s phenomenal. Again, speaking it into existence, Phyllis.

Phyllis Newhouse:
Oh, absolutely.

Mark Collier:
I love it. I love it. All right. I’ve often heard you say, if you want to play the game, you must first become a student of the game. What does becoming a student look like from your perspective?

Phyllis Newhouse:
Well, I’ll share with you. So when I took the first SPAC public, I didn’t come from Wall Street. I didn’t come out of investment banking. I didn’t have the background. I had not run a private equity fund. I had not been in capital markets. I had to learn all of this in short order. And so I went out, and what do you do? If you want to be the best, you go out and you get a coach, you get an advisor.

Mark Collier:
Yes, you do.

Phyllis Newhouse:
You get a mentor. So all of those things I needed to do in order to play the game. And people say, “Well, how did you learn so much about the SPAC market so quickly”? It was because I became a student of the game, and once you become a student of the game, you cannot, will not, be denied the opportunity to play the game.

Mark Collier:
I love it. I love it. I love it. All right. You’ve often talked also in the past about how important it was to you to be a voice of change in the military and speak up. So how do you relate this to business, or just in your day-to-day?

Phyllis Newhouse:
Yeah, so I’ll give you a great example. And this is just recently. I decided about five years ago that I wanted to get into professional sports. When you look at the ownership, you look at the NFL, you look at the NBA, and you look at how women in sports are really underrepresented.

Mark Collier:
Yes, they are.

Phyllis Newhouse:
And so this has really been a really desire of mine. And so actually having a conversation with my son, and he said, “Mom, you’re always talking about anyone can make change, but can you make lasting change and impact”?

Mark Collier:
Absolutely.

Phyllis Newhouse:
And where I am on my life journey is about making impact. And so I went to a sport which was NASCAR, and I decided, this is a really tough cookie to crumble.

Mark Collier:
Oh, yes.

Phyllis Newhouse:
You at NASCAR. And so that goes back to understanding the game, if you want to play the game, understanding the culture, understanding the economics, understanding the landscape, and what the future of the sport is going to be like.

Mark Collier:
Okay.

Phyllis Newhouse:
And so for me, I looked at here’s a incredible opportunity to make change. Because when you look at change, you look at the number of engineering… Well, if you look at how much of technology is embedded in the NASCAR, most people don’t understand it. It’s about 83% of the sport is technology.

Mark Collier:
Absolutely.

Phyllis Newhouse:
But if you look at the tech jobs, who those jobs are not people of color. They’re not the black and brown community. And so when I looked at going into this sport, I looked at where can I create change? You can create change by creating job opportunities, you can create change. Because if you can’t own it, you can’t really change it. So for what I see professional sports going, is that we’ve got to get in a position of ownership to change the landscape so we can create opportunity. And once you create opportunity, now you’re making real impact. So that’s what I mean, is using what I’ve learned in the military and being able to use that in everyday life today.

Mark Collier:
Well, I think Mellody Hopson must have read your playbook because now she’s part of the ownership group of the New Denver Broncos.

Phyllis Newhouse:
Absolutely. Her and Condoleezza Rice.

Mark Collier:
That’s correct.

Phyllis Newhouse:
Yeah. And so you have two women of color creating that sort of impact. So hopefully as you start to see more women go into professional sports and creating the opportunity, because no one’s given us these opportunities, we’re creating these opportunities.

Mark Collier:
Right. That’s right. All right. So you talked about ROCS. It’s an acronym, ROCS. What does it stand for and what’s its significance to you?

Phyllis Newhouse:
Yeah. So when I left home, my father said to me one day, and I was leaving to go into the military and my father said something. He said, “Hold your hand out. I want to hand you something”. And it was rocks. And he put the first rock in my hand. He said, “This is a resource,” he said, “Hold onto it, close your hand”. He says, “Here’s another one. This is an opportunity. Hold on to it”. And he says, “And this is a connection”, which was a third rock. And he says, “Hold your hand tight”. And I held my hand tight, close my hand up, and he said, “Now I want you to let go of that and pass it on to someone else. A resource, an opportunity and a connection”. If I were to give you one resource today, that could be life changing for your business as an entrepreneur.

Mark Collier:
Yes.

Phyllis Newhouse:
What if I gave you this incredible opportunity? And that could be game over. What if I just connected the dots for you? Or what if I gave you a connection and that were life changing? So oftentimes we have resources, opportunities, and connections that we can give to others. And oftentimes that’s all we need, is a resource and opportunity and connection. That great idea that you have. What if I were to connect that, connect the dots for you?

Mark Collier:
Absolutely.

Phyllis Newhouse:
What if I were to just give you an opportunity? So that’s what it means, is that we’re encouraging leaders to look at the rocks that you have. Okay. How often do you share those rocks? Sometimes we sit on these incredible opportunities and we just wait for the next great opportunity. We have capacity.

Mark Collier:
We do.

Phyllis Newhouse:
At what’s capacity if you don’t share the opportunities with others. And so I’m really speaking a lot about this, because I think a lot of times, especially women entrepreneurs, we’ve already paved the way. And part of is it’s a little more than just paying it forward. It’s resources, opportunities and connections that we have that we can share with others. So that’s what that means.

Mark Collier:
That makes so much sense to me, because resources, opportunities, connections. The more you kind of work that triangle, you can create some real impact.

Phyllis Newhouse:
And it’s almost like understanding what you need. What is it? If you have this great idea.

Mark Collier:
Yeah.

Phyllis Newhouse:
And this great business idea.

Mark Collier:
Sure.

Phyllis Newhouse:
What is it that you need that would propel the thing forward?

Mark Collier:
All right.

Phyllis Newhouse:
Maybe it’s a resource, maybe it’s an opportunity, maybe it’s a connection. And I remember doing this a couple weeks ago at a conference, and I said, “Stand up”. And I said, “I want somebody to come on the stage right now”. So a woman entrepreneur, she came on the stage. I said, “Right now I want you to tell the audience, so you had to ask for a resource, an opportunity or connection. What do you need right now”? She said, I need a connection. And I said, “Tell us what that connection is”. She said, “I need somebody. I need a connection at the Department of Energy”. And I said, “Now this is in front of an audience of about 3,000 people”.

Mark Collier:
Okay.

Phyllis Newhouse:
I said, “I want you to raise your hand right now, if you have a powerful connection at the Department of Energy that you can introduce her to”.

Mark Collier:
Okay.

Phyllis Newhouse:
You would not believe the amount of hands that went up. And I said, “I want you to stand up…”

Mark Collier:
Phenomenal.

Phyllis Newhouse:
“Right now. And when she walks off the stage, I want you to flood her, bombard her”. And there was so many people standing there to talk to her. It was that simple.

Mark Collier:
Okay. I love it. I love it. So last question. For those, and a lot of entrepreneurs out here, they’re starting from scratch, they may not feel, back to power perspective, they may not feel they have any resources, opportunities or connections. What would you say to that group of entrepreneurs in order to jumpstart them towards hopefully some progress?

Phyllis Newhouse:
Yeah, I would say a starter. It’s like when you think about running a marathon, first marathon, I went to run. I didn’t train for it. It was horrible.

Mark Collier:
I can imagine.

Phyllis Newhouse:
It was an unbelievable experience. I finished it, but it was so painful. And so when asked me, “What would you do different”? I said, “In order to run a marathon, I would never started out sprinting”.

Mark Collier:
Got it.

Phyllis Newhouse:
I would have gotten a trainer, I would’ve got my focus, and I would’ve done so many things. So I would say the starting point is this, realize that if you’re starting out, you’re getting ready to run a marathon. And it takes a tremendous amount of discipline and focus and commitment. And it takes having the resources, opportunities, and connections.

Mark Collier:
Absolutely.

Phyllis Newhouse:
And knowing what you need on every leg of the work, race, you’re going to need something. And being able to identify that quickly so that you can deploy those things that you need.
But I would also say, don’t be afraid to reach out and just say, “Here’s what I need. Here’s where I am”. Because a lot of times we’re not even… And when people ask me all the time, “Will you mentor me”. I’m like, “Where are you on this journey”?

Mark Collier:
Oh, yeah.

Phyllis Newhouse:
It’s almost like running that marathon. You’re like, “I don’t know if I’m at mile 10 or 12. I just know I’m exhausted”.

Mark Collier:
Sure.

Phyllis Newhouse:
“I just know I don’t have the resources”. And it can be a very exhausting race when you don’t understand the race you’re running.

Mark Collier:
Yes.

Phyllis Newhouse:
So understand the race you’re running, what resources you need to continue the race and to finish it and complete it. And also to don’t be afraid to solicit others to help you to get through the race.

Mark Collier:
Sound advice. Phyllis Newhouse, serial entrepreneur, investor, retired senior military officer and mentor and mother. I want to thank you for taking the time out of your very busy calendar, come in and sit down in just impart some words of wisdom, and I’m sure these words are wisdom will be well received by all those who view it today.

Phyllis Newhouse:
Well, thank you for having me. I enjoyed the conversation.

Mark Collier:
All right.


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