Interview: Tess Mateo, Managing Director & Founder of CXCatalysts

Tess has served as Director in the Office of the Global CEO of PricewaterhouseCoopers, a strategic advisor to the JUCCCE (Joint US China Collaboration on Clean Energy), and has launched a real estate group, technology company, and innovative specialty clothing line. Tess is also a member of the New York chapter of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women.

She started CXCatalysts a collaboration accelerator, that develops and manages innovative programs that help companies profitably reach underserved markets and governments and multilateral institutions achieve their environmental and development goals. The startup works with multinational companies and governments to create public private partnerships in “green economy” areas like clean water, clean energy, sustainable food, waste management infrastructure and health in a target dozen emerging markets.

Who is your leadership role model?

I am thankful to have been mentored by a lot of people in my career. They showed me how to navigate political situations, create opportunities and never lose focus on the bottom line. However women like Elizabeth Varet, (Chairman of American Securities) Irene Natividad, (founder of the Global Summit for Women) and Janet Hanson, (from Goldman Sachs & founder of 85 Broads) helped me understand more about the biases facing women. While I thought I was fortunate to have achieved success in male dominated businesses, these amazing female leaders not only taught me how to address these biases, but also and more importantly gave me extremely helpful tips on how to find my own balance and be a good mother, daughter, sister and wife.

I admire lots of different leaders, especially those who continue to evolve and stay relevant. I learned from watching business leaders like Jack Welch and my former boss Sam DiPiazza that you need to be good at both numbers and people. Entertainment leaders like Madonna and Oprah are not afraid to break new ground and constantly reinvent themselves.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I am more of an enabling leader. I present people opportunities and see what they do with them. While most folks fail to recognize the opportunities I present, those who seize them or create new ones, I recruit. The people I attract to work with or for me are usually dynamic, change agent types. I like to be around people who I can learn from, with diverse skills and experience and who are willing to fight for their ideas. People describe me as a catalyst, bringing together people, ideas and resources to pursue something great. I have learned that you often get more from people by giving them control… However, I do demand excellent quality work from the people who work with and for me. I reward the people who go beyond the call of duty, which is why I hire people who are passionate about what they are going to do for me.

I create opportunities where other people can thrive. From my former boss, Sam, I learned that it is actually easier to achieve what you want when you don’t ‘hog the limelight’, I prefer sharing the stage because I think that the more people that I help climb onto the stage, the better the performance since we can achieve more together.

What kind of Corporate culture do you help create/support in your company?

It’s very entrepreneurial, collaborative and resourceful. We are a startup so we have to find the best way to get things done and be very clever in the way we access and use resources. For example, we help our clients achieve their commitments by bringing together companies and governments with complementary initiatives in target geographies cheaper and faster. We are Catalysts. When we connect the dots, there is a lot we can do to increase impact and reduce inefficiencies and costs.

What is your greatest achievement to date?

Being a successful working mom handsomely paid to do things I love, with and for lots of interesting people! I’m glad to have been a role model, particularly at PwC. There are not many women in the top ranks of leading multinational corporations who can and will share their experiences of being a triple minority-as a woman, as a person of color, and as a mom. When I came back to PwC to work for the global CEO, I came back on my own terms, because I was not going to sacrifice my family for my career. While I had never imagined before that time that I could define my terms, I realized then that I, like most women, had underestimated my value. I believe you can have everything you want, you just have to ask and recognize you can’t have it all at the same time. That said, everyone’s journey will be different based on their circumstances. Another achievement I’d like to share is that I found a way to bring my children on many business trips. They have been to over 40 countries with me and I can tell you that with resourceful planning, those experiences and the lessons we share are all worth it.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

What happened to me, I think, was very funny. I have 3 undergraduate degrees and that was not by design! I finished my first degree in 18 months because I started the University of Michigan with over 80 credits and because my parents were immigrants and we didn’t know I could take less than 20 credits per term. I wanted to stay in college for four years but because I had such poor counselors I ended up picking up additional undergraduate degrees in biology, psychology and international economics rather than pursuing graduate ones!

However looking back I don’t think I would have changed anything I did. That broad exposure to so many subjects has enabled me to see and connect dots and with so many friends doing different things, I am able to make things happen. Things happen for a reason.

Maybe I could have been focused earlier, but would that have changed my path in a different way? I think you just take advantage of everything that is presented to you. I was very ambitious and driven then and did things more on my own. I would say to myself now, recognize your strengths and weaknesses and partner with people with complementary skills sooner. Partner, Sooner, Faster – that’s what I do now!

Lessons my parents taught me that I teach my kids and mentees: always offer before you ask, and ask forgiveness not permission. Create the future you want.

How do you give back to society?

My work is completely directed towards that, it’s really in me. Since my parents came from a lower class background, but were helped along by others, I was raised from a very young age to also help others. My parents always taught me that what goes around comes around and when one focuses more on giving, life will be so much more enjoyable. I have been giving and raising money for others since I was 12 years old! Another way I give back is by sharing my story and experiences so others can learn from them to leapfrog my success. While I get invited to speak around the world about the ground breaking and innovative work CXCatalysts is doing, I enjoy talking to young people as well as other women so I can inspire them to reach for something bigger and greater.

How would you describe yourself?

  1. Energetic, high energy
  2. Curious and eager to learn
  3. Extrovert and Connector


Gradberry thanks our partners at Global Invest Her for this awesome post!

About the Author: Anne Ravanona is the CEO/Founder of Global Invest Her, that helps to grow women leaders in corporates and helps women entrepreneurs to grow their businesses. Anne is also Author of the Women in Leadership Series, Founder of the Women Entrepreneurs Network WENglobal and the Paul Nolan Miralles Association to help families of missing persons. Follow Ms. Ravanona on Twitter @GlobalInvestHer, @anneravanona, on her blog for women entrepreneurs.