Molly Hillenbrand is an executive producer of the Amazon Prime docuseries "The Social Movement" and founder of hillenBRAND Media where she produces segments promoting people, brands and businesses in various cities. She is also a TV host of the Eye On channels
You have had a varied career as an entrepreneur. Please talk about your career journey and what led you to owning your own branding/marketing firm and starring as a host on TV and radio.
To say that my path has been long and winding is an understatement. I started out working at Goldman Sachs right out of college but quickly realized that it wasn’t going to make me happy. After a few career changes, I found my true passion when I helped my brother, through his small record label at the time, to promote singer-songwriters. After having children, I opened up a store in Princeton called Luxaby Baby & Child as it combined my love of beautiful children’s clothing with sales & PR. I also got involved with the wonderful charity, Operation Smile, during this time and learned how to fundraise and promote them in the Princeton area.
Life threw me a few curve balls. I ended up divorced and a single mom of two young girls, and that lit my fire to show them that life is not what happens to you but how you respond to it! I took what I knew how to do and put it on a larger scale by opening up a larger store in Chicago. These stores taught me a lot about sales, PR and running a business! Social media also became a huge part of marketing at this point, so I quickly learned how to build business pages on various platforms (Instagram, Facebook etc...) and how advantageous that is for promoting yourself and your business!
When life moved me to Florida, I decided to take that social media knowledge to help others promote their own brands. This is how hillenBRAND Media was born. I take on clients who want to expand their own brands and show them how to use all the social media platforms to their advantage. The Eye On channels (a social media website that produces segments in various cities) brought me on as a host for South Florida but also to expand their brand. We have now created Eye On channels all over the country in various cities.
All the producing and social media presence led me to be seen by a producer, Chris LaVoie, who was looking for participants for his reality/docuseries "The Social Movement," and I was a part of the pilot season. After filming wrapped, and after a lot of hard work, I became an executive producer of the series and am also director of the PR & marketing
Who are/were your mentors? Why is mentorship so important?
I’ve had various mentors over my life depending on what stage I was in, but the one constant has been my father. Whether it was going to work with him growing up, watching his interactions with people, the stories he would tell of his day or the conflicts he would deal with at work, and how he handled stressful situations, I learned a tremendous amount. But nothing has been more powerful than his unwavering belief in me and my abilities.
He taught me how to treat everyone -- from your closest friends, to the waiter, to the receptionist, to the CEO or the stranger holding the door for you -- with the same level of respect and kindness. Every person matters, and every person has the same potential. He has an incredible ability to bring out the best in someone and is one of the most generous and brilliant people I have ever known. Yet, he is the most modest and humble about his many accomplishments, and that taught me to not be boastful but let your work speak for itself.
You were a lifer at Stuart. How did your years at Stuart influence your path to leadership?
Where do I even begin?! I am so incredibly grateful for the education I received at Stuart Country Day School. It took this incredibly shy, insecure girl and made me believe I mattered and, more importantly, was capable. I learned that my voice matters and that how you treat others matters more than anything. Instead of competing over what we wore or boys, we competed on the athletic fields and in the classroom. I learned that giving back should be an automatic part of anything you do.
Specifically, I can name a few teachers who taught me important lessons. Sr. Cox taught me about tough love. Mrs. Moore taught me the importance of spt5vending those extra few minutes with someone so they feel seen and heard. Mrs. Hutchinson taught me how to find strength when life throws you a curveball. Mrs. O’Gormon taught me how to make learning fun. Our beloved "Nursie," as we called her, taught me how to push myself when I was sick with Lyme Disease and had a hard time getting through the days. Mr. Siegel taught me that grades were just one part of who I was and that the whole package of who you ARE and how you make people FEEL is just as important. There are so many more but this will turn into a book if I go through each one.
Tell us about the Amazon show. How did the opportunity come your way and what was the experience like?
This has been the most exciting chapter of my life, and I feel that every single experience, job, and person I’ve met along the way has led me here.
"The Social Movement" is a docuseries that has executives, business owners and entrepreneurs from all over the world coming together for one week in Montreal. During this time, they are divided into teams where they are asked to work together and in four days make a business plan to solve a global issue- not help, not improve, they have to SOLVE it. On the final day, the teams pitch their business plan in front of a panel of esteemed judges who then pick a winner. This show is the creation of the visionary genius, Chris LaVoie, who is creating an entire catalog of shows aimed at tomorrow’s leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs, and I’m lucky enough to be on his incredible team of executive producers. It is exciting, empowering and motivating to watch these people from all different countries, backgrounds, ages and cultures work together to come up with an actual plan to solve an issue. It is mind-blowing to see what the teams came up with. We discuss the difficult topics, and it’s time that we show the good that people are capable of and that ordinary people are capable of being extraordinary.
You certainly seemed to have seen and done it all. What advice would you offer our students? Is there a mantra that you live by that you want the next generation of women leaders to know?
I’ve still got a long way to go. I’m forever a student and forever learning from every experience and person I’ve been lucky enough to meet. The advice I would give to students is to never use the word failure. There is no such thing in my book. I’ve won and I’ve lost along the way, but I’ve never failed. Every single moment of my life has taught me something -- it is your choice to take what happens to you and figure out the lesson you are supposed to learn and grow from it. If something doesn’t go your way, if you didn’t get the job you wanted, get into the college you wanted, your first project didn’t go the way you hoped, take that lesson learned and let it teach you how to better prepare yourself for the next challenge or opportunity. There is ALWAYS something coming next if you just remain open to it. So many people get stuck in failure; don’t get stuck, instead, use it as a springboard to another opportunity.
Life lessons are invaluable-- my best ones usually come from my biggest disappointments, but I wouldn’t be where I am today if they didn’t happen. Keep growing, keep learning, keep broadening your ideas, and always remain open to others' opinions, ideas and insights.
Lastly, you are SO capable. You have been given this gift of an amazing education and you have been given all the tools you need to go out into the world and make yourself proud. Believe in yourself; you are capable of being extraordinary.