By Debbie Brannigan
Brenda Bence is a very successful, Harvard-educated businesswoman, motivational speaker, and marketing expert with an international reputation and following that makes her one of the most sought-after marketing consultants in the world.
It all started in 2001, in the aftermath of 9/11, when she was the Vice-President of International Marketing for a major multi-national company, responsible for dozens of brands across almost 50 countries and 4 continents. She was non-stop, putting in 16-hour days, 6-7 days a week. On September 11, 2001, she was working in Brazil as the security of her country was disintegrating in front of the whole world. She felt stranded, paralyzed and alone.
To make a long story short, she had an “epiphany” – an “aha” moment, as she calls it, when she realized that her life was no longer her own – it was being led by a company. She decided in that moment to make a change. On the flight home, she wrote a business plan for her own company –one that she could lead herself. Brenda went home, quit her VP job and, after 20+ years in “corporate America,” she took the big leap on a “wing and a prayer” – to build her own company. That was 7 years ago and she still loves her boss! Her dream has come true.
Living that dream has meant some significant life changes for Brenda, as her company deals with clients spread across 15 countries and 4 continents (North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia). She is based in Bangkok, Thailand and has lived in other wonderful places besides Thailand – France, Poland, Taiwan, China, and the U.S. While she loves living and working in different cultures and it is less expensive to run a business out of Thailand, she has also lived her “worst nightmare” – a pre-dawn call from the U.S. with the news of her father’s death and a 3-day trip home from Thailand to be with her family.
Brenda emphasizes the value of learning about local customs and business practices; the food, the people, the customs, and the many other things that make people all over the world so different. With a lower overhead in Thailand, she is also able to maintain a larger staff, which translates into a better overall lifestyle than if she was living in America. Nothing is ever perfect, however, and Brenda finds that the “less-than-perfect” part of her business setup is that 95% of her clients are outside of Thailand, which means she travels extensively and often. It also means that she has to work harder to build up strong customer relationships across the airwaves since many of her clients hire her without ever meeting her!
With all the air miles she has logged, Brenda has many stories to tell – one that she says she can laugh at now, but at the time was the most frightening thing that had happened to her while traveling. She was on her way to the Moscow airport in a taxi when the driver suddenly pulled the taxi over to the side of a very dark road (there was not one street light and not one car in sight), jumped out of the taxi and began screaming at her through the back window. She, of course, had no clue what he was yelling but he seemed to be furious for some reason. He then jerked open the trunk, reached in and grabbed something, which Brenda knew had to be a gun or a machete. It turned out to be a harmless roll of toilet paper, which he needed to “do his duty” right beside the car.
The winner of the funniest thing that has happened in her travels wasn’t such a shoo-in. Brenda says she has had to learn to laugh at herself and that there have been SO MANY funny things – such as:
-Naming her cat a really dirty word in Polish (without knowing it) and then announcing it to the entire Polish staff on a Monday morning
-Being thrown head over heels off a camel in the middle of the Sinai desert just at a time when she was trying to impress a guy she had a crush on
-Ordering a “prostitute” for lunch instead of “chicken” (the words are surprisingly close in Thai)
-Asking the vegetable man if he had any long, yellow penises in stock today (likewise, the word for ‘banana’ and ‘penis’ are apparently very close in Thai)
-And so on and so on…she’s thinking of writing a book!
Living and working on a global scale brings other challenges and new experiences. She claims to have eaten snake’s blood and meat, chicken feet, duck bill soup, roasted scorpion, and a dessert made of frog fat in China and a kangaroo tail in Australia. And the list could go on….
The challenges come mainly when dealing with the cultural and societal differences that most Americans are not accustomed to – from little courtesies to big taboos. For instance, she learned to never extend her hand to a man in some Middle Eastern countries, and, in India, she has to have a man to represent her and present her credentials to the men she’ll be dealing with in order to have any credibility in business dealings. Mostly, she says, the niceties and political correctness are still the same in most every language.
Her travels have taken her to many countries, but when asked what one country she feels that every American woman should spend a year in, she said she’d have to split the year into thirds. The year should start off driving around the south island of New Zealand where the views are breathtaking, the fresh air is addictive, and the people are fantastic! Then, the spring and summer should be spent in Italy, eating pasta, drinking good wine, and biking through the countryside (a good idea, after all the noodles and vino). Finally, the last third of the year should be spent in Thailand, doing things like trekking through the jungles up north on an elephant, then hitting the pristine white beaches in the south for a little sun & fun, eating lots of Thai food, and taking advantage of the best-in-the-world Thai hospitality!
When asked what gives her the greatest satisfaction, Brenda says, “knowing that I’ve created something really meaningful from scratch (my business and my personal branding system) and having that ‘something’ make such a big difference in the lives of so many people around the world. It’s incredibly rewarding!” Well said, Brenda!
About The Author:
A high school drop-out and single mom before the age of 18, Debbie struggled to provide for her daughter by working three jobs for over two years. Through hard work and perseverance, she progressed from fast food jobs to become a sought-after design engineer for the top Automotive, Aerospace and Trucking companies in America. Her passionate belief that anyone can realize their dreams led her to found Capitalist Chicks.com. It is her mission to cultivate the true entrepreneurial spirit, and eradicate the negative connotation often associated with the word Capitalist. Debbie is also a contributing panel expert on the Work Her Way website.