Alexandra Salomon is the Director of Sales and Online Business Development for The Christian Science Monitor. During our interview, she explained why she moved from Knight Ridder to the Monitor, how the Bible has influenced her life and career; the need for patience and humility in dealing with egos; insights about defying limitations gained from competitive skiing; and her leadership style.
How did you get into the publishing/Internet industry?
I was writing for a local weekly newspaper, and I did a story on a couple who started a web software product that, when installed, blocked out pornography and violence and things you might not want your kids to see. They said that they were looking for someone to help write their user guides. So I decided to give it a try. I was with them for 5 years and then worked for Knight Ridder for 5 years. I just started with The Christian Science Monitor in January. My move to the Monitor was good timing for me because Knight Ridder has just been sold, and I didn’t have to go through any of the upheaval associated with the sale.
What are you responsible for at the Monitor?
I run the second largest revenue-producing channel for the newspaper -- advertising sales for the newspaper and website. I’m helping the organization and its website grow and be positioned for more growth in the future.
What do you like about working with the Internet and/or the Monitor?
I’ve always enjoyed the Internet because it was new, and I could be a pioneer. That’s what I enjoy about the Monitor, as that brand is reinventing itself, and the website is opening up new channels for it. I get to work on new business models and bring the highly respected newspaper into the 21st century. I also love working at the Monitor because it’s fabulous to be working in an environment where we are all supported from the management, especially in thought. The Monitor's support of its staff was evident in the efforts that the Monitor put forth to ensure Jill Carroll's safe return to the USA. At the Monitor offices, prayer was a constant during the 82 days of her captivity. What’s especially wonderful about her return is that it is a testament to the power of prayer -- at the Monitor and worldwide.
I think many people around the world felt that prayer played a vital role in Jill’s release. Speaking of prayer and challenges … what challenges have you faced in your career, and how have you met them?
One of the challenges I’ve run into is ego. There are a lot of different directions people want to go. It’s required a lot of lessons in patience for me -- challenging myself to step back and let things take longer, for example, when we’re working on which direction to pursue. Having a sense of humility has also helped. Maybe the decision is not up to me, or maybe, after looking at the issue, we’ll come back to it with different views. I think a lot about the humility that’s expressed in the Psalms: “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way” (37:23). The steps that I take, either personally or in business, are ordered by something bigger than the human ego, and I can rejoice along the way. I enjoy this idea very much. I also think back to the story of Samuel when he’s called by the Lord, and he’s a little bit afraid of what might happen. I can identify with him: there’s a natural, “Gee, I wonder what’s going to happen next?” Samuel was protected and taken care of his whole life.
Do you have specific instances where you’ve felt protected or directed by God to do something?
When I first started at Knight Ridder (I had only been there two months), the entire department around me was laid off, except for one other person. Four years later, out of 15,000 people, the two of us were awarded the Excellence Award in the category of Innovation. That was pretty neat. We moved the business model forward by creating an online network. We aligned Knight Ridder’s online websites with more than 40 other local newspaper companies and got national advertising for them. Without becoming a consortium, the local newspapers would not have been able to get national advertising. Now, it’s a $15 million business line per year. There was nothing 5 years ago. It’s also a part of their business that looks like it will continue to grow even through the sale of Knight Ridder.
You were so successful at Knight Ridder. How did you decide to work for the Monitor?
Knight Ridder was the second largest newspaper company in the world. The CS Monitor is smaller and doesn’t have the same type of business presence. So, I struggled with whether or not I should work for the Monitor. Then, I heard a talk by the Editor of the Monitor, Richard Bergenheim. He was discussing the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke and comparing the Monitor, which is a good paper but not profitable right now, to the man lying on the side of the road needing help. As we know, the first two men pass by without helping the guy, but the Samaritan helps the wounded man, picks him up, and takes care of him. Bergenheim explained that there was nothing wrong with the first two people who went by; they were just too busy to help. And that’s kind of what I was feeling: I’m doing fine where I am; I’m important here; I don’t want to get involved. But hearing this story made me re-think the situation. It was okay for me to take time and use my skills where they were really needed. That shifted my thought, and within a month, I’d taken the position with the Monitor after months of ongoing talks. It was a Bible-based career step.
What about the Monitor makes it worthy and important to “save”?
The Monitor has won 7 Pulitzer Prizes. It’s one of most respected newspapers in journalism. It will come up on its 100 years of publishing in 2008. It’s one of the only papers that still does original national and international reporting. Most papers today use AP wire services. It has a highly credible product, and it’s worth having around. There’s a story that came around internally regarding one of the stories the Monitor covered. The Monitor received a note from a school thanking us for running an article about a program the school wanted to start, but which they couldn’t because they didn’t have enough funding. As a result of reading the story in the Monitor, someone sent them money, which was enough to launch their whole program. The existence of the Monitor promotes good in the world, and good things happen.
Let’s shift gears. You were a competitive skier. How did you get into skiing?
I grew up in a ski resort -- Park City, Utah -- the location of the 2002 Winter Olympics. My step-dad was a professional ski racer when he was younger, so my sister and I grew up on skis. At age 10, I started skiing with the Park City Ski Education Foundation, which is a world-class ski program. Ted Ligety, who recently won gold in Combined Slalom in the Turin Olympics, came out of the same ski program.
Did you like competing?
It was a pretty incredible way to grow up. We traveled all over the intermountain region -- Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado -- and then with Junior Olympics, we traveled to California and Alaska. I learned a lot really quickly. I also learned that while I was competitive, I was not as competitive as some of my competitors, such as Picabo Street, Hilary Lindh, and Shannon Nobis. Learning this was humbling. It was a lot of fun, but it was hard. The race I excelled in was the downhill, in which we reached speeds of 55 mph. So you learn to be tough really fast, which I appreciated and enjoyed. You’re exposed to the cold and uncertain conditions. I’ve performed in fog, snow, and sun. You learn to adapt to things and learn not to be afraid. My attitude was to go for it and do the best I could, and I succeeded. I raced competitively for 5 years, was nationally ranked all 5 years, and qualified for Jr. Olympics every year -- all this while being on my school’s honor roll. In fact, I even beat Picabo Street in a downhill in Alaska one year. All-in-all, ski racing taught me great life lessons. Ultimately, I wanted to pursue my academics more fully, which I did at a college prep school in Southern California before going to Stanford. That was a wonderful decision for me and opened up all sorts of new activities. I also skied at Stanford, where ski racing was a team sport. I enjoyed that new angle because it brought a whole new level of camaraderie. There were 5 women on the team who would compete, and our times were added up at the end of the day. We were all very supportive of each other and had a great time. I was captain and also competed for Stanford at the U.S. College Nationals one year. For me, skiing in college wasn’t about making the Olympics or a national ski team, it was about using talents developed earlier to benefit the college and have fun at the same time.
Did you turn to the Bible during your ski racing career?
Yes. I was continually praying. I would often turn to the first chapter in Genesis, where we read: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth” (Gen. 1:26). I could demonstrate dominion in my ski racing, as there were always different challenges -- the run, the people, the weather, etc. I also used, “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (1:31). I had a lot of crashes and injuries, but I was always healed through prayer to God, which was Bible-based, within a matter of a day or two. I was healed of broken teeth, a broken thumb, a broken nose, a compressed back, concussions, and more. (Read about one such incredible healing.) The Bible challenged me to do what Jesus told us to do: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). That is a theme I’ve had throughout my life. I want to be one of those people who lets my light shine in all situations. And it was neat to do it through ski racing. I’ve gotten many awards from sportsmanship awards (I got a toilet seat one year because I had crashed so many times but kept on going) to most valuable skier awards. People recognized that it was about more than just winning. I may not have gone to the Olympics, but I know I was a positive example for the team, younger racers, and sometimes even the coaches.
How do you know you’ve had a good impact?
It goes back to the Bible and my purpose, or theme, for being wherever I am -- letting my light shine. The one constant when I’ve left somewhere is that people have said to me, “We will miss your presence” -- not the expertise you brought, or the trophies won for us, or your eloquence. I’ve been told I’m someone who’s motivated myself and others to do their best. I saw that in ski racing, too. Those of us who raced together are still friendly, and we still have respect for each other and who we are.
How has your sports career influenced your business career?
I credit sports and ski racing for giving me the ability not to be limited by obstacles. You’re constantly faced with what you think are your own limitations, team limitations, or your own desire. Yet, you’re challenged with sports to push beyond those, compete anyway, and do the best you can. That’s a valuable lesson which is really important in the business world -- not to get stopped up by an obstacle, or by a seeming obstacle. Many obstacles look “real” but aren’t. Many are self-imposed or created by others. Overcoming these obstacles is how you pioneer a better path. I’ve used this philosophy as a basis for my leadership style.
What is your leadership style?
My leadership style has grown. People have said that I am a natural leader, but I never felt that I wanted to be one. In the past year or so, I’ve embraced the opportunity of being a leader, and I’ve taken courses to improve my understanding of my own style of leadership and to gain confidence in order to help others. Encouraging people and helping them think through obstacles is really important to me. Sometimes I see how to get through an obstacle right away, but they don’t see it yet. But I want them to see how to get through the obstacle, so it may take a lot of time, patience, and the willingness and ability to ask them the right questions. The other aspect of leadership for me is being transparent about where you want to go -- setting a path, letting people know what it is, and encouraging them to be a part of moving down the path. Leadership doesn’t always mean that you’re the first one there. It can be: here’s the path, and we’re going there together.
What do you mean by the leader might not be the first one there?
I’m the Sales Director, so my job is to drive all the revenue for the organization, and yet, I’m not the person doing the selling. I have to set a path and encourage my team members to be the ones to go out and make the sale. They’re the first ones there, but I’m encouraging them. It’s hard, sometimes, for managers because we often have the urge to be the one who’s doing the work. But to me, great leaders are able to motivate the whole team to do the type of work you’d be doing. That way you build a stronger base from which an organization can grow. Also, a good leader has the ability to listen to ideas that come from others in the organization and put them into practice. Just last week, I had my own ideas of how to present a sponsorship opportunity to prospective advertisers. I laid out my concept for the team and then paused for a moment. I then asked if they had any different ideas, and they did. In fact, they came up with the ideas that made the most sense. I had opened up the conversation, but I wasn’t the first one to see the best way to achieve our goal.
That’s the beauty of collaboration, though. You put a lot of great thinkers together and come up with great ideas. It’s a great style of leadership.
I like it, but it’s not an easy style because the human ego doesn’t always feel like its leading. So I don’t think you see a lot of it in companies, and you certainly don’t see it everywhere. But I do think that it’s becoming more important in today’s business culture. There are a lot of talented people in the workplace. Yet, so many business leaders don’t ask their employees for what they’re thinking. They may ask for reports, but to the employee, reports don’t always tie in with doing something significant. I find this a bit surprising since many surveys point out that the number one thing individuals say that leads to job satisfaction is to do something that matters.
And, based on what you’ve said so far about your work with the Monitor, you obviously feel that you’re doing work that matters.