Secrets of Success: Lisa Vallee-Smith

July 16, 2014 Rieva Lesonsky

secrets of success

We’ve launched Secrets of Success, a new weekly interview series here at’s Small Business Forum. I’ve asked some of the smartest, most innovative, most successful people I know to share their insights and success secrets.

Meet: Lisa Vallee-Smith, the co-founder and co-CEO of Airfoil, a multidimensional marketing communications consultancy and Holmes Report Tech Agency of The Year. Airfoil is also an Advertising Age Best Place To Work.

Rieva Lesonsky: What did you want to be when you grew up?

Lisa Vallee-Smith: A magazine publisher! I was obsessed with Gloria Steinem [cofounder of Ms. Magazine] and Helen Gurley Brown [legendary editor of Cosmopolitan magazine]! I was a teenager during the women’s movement in the 1970s and my celeb heroes were the likes of Billie Jean King and Margaret Thatcher.

Lesonsky: Why did you start your own business?

Vallee-Smith: Freedom to take risks; a creative outlet; opportunity to make a difference in Detroit, my home town; and to prove to my family that as a woman I was just as capable of doing business as any man–there’s that 70’s influence again.

Lesonsky: Did you experience a pivotal moment on your way to success?

Vallee-Smith: Not in particular. Running a business is like parenting: It’s a long hard slog with many ups and downs and you don’t see what you’ve made for many years. Worthwhile? You bet. Fun? Tons. Would I do it again? Not likely.

Lesonsky: What’s the best small business advice you ever gave and/or received?

Vallee-Smith: From my dad, “Take on debt only as a last resort” and “Don’t be a slave to your bank.”

Lesonsky: What’s one “best practice” more entrepreneurs should be embracing?

Vallee-Smith: Put yourself last and your employees and customers first. Too many business owners get into trouble thinking the business exists for them. A business exists for those you serve—if you happen to benefit from that, great.

Lesonsky: Do you have a 2014 small business prediction?

Vallee-Smith: Slower than hoped growth; the 2008 hangover is still hangin’ on.

Lesonsky: Do you have a favorite book?

Vallee-Smith: Winning by Jack Welch. He’s a badass.

Lesonsky: Is there a quote you find particularly inspiring?

Vallee-Smith: I like Jack Welch’s advice on strategy: “Pick a direction and go like hell.”

Want more inspiration from Connect with on Facebook or Twitter.

Author information

Rieva Lesonsky

Rieva Lesonsky

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at, follow her on Google+ and, and visit her website,, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.

Previous Article
Women in Business Tip: Wanted! Women for STEM Jobs
Women in Business Tip: Wanted! Women for STEM Jobs

According to a recent abstract: The demand for employees trained in science, technology, engineering and ma...

Next Article
How to Turbocharge Your SEO With Internal Linking
How to Turbocharge Your SEO With Internal Linking

Any small business person or entrepreneur who has been at it long enough knows that SEO, or search engine o...