Rhonda Vetere isn’t your typical Fortune 500 executive.

Rhonda Vetere climbs ladders figuratively and literally.

If she’s not busy in the boardroom, you may find her diving off cliffs or running half marathons in the icy New York City weather. Rhonda is a huge advocate for women in entrepreneurship and was the former Chief Information & Technology Officer for Esteé Lauder. Grit Daily columnist Gene Swank sat down with Rhonda to pick her brain about her new book, her adventures and her life as a top tech executive.

Grit Daily: Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a little about your early  moves?

Rhonda Vetere: I was a self made person and grew up working since I was 12 years old. I worked for everything, nothing was handed to me, and I wouldn’t change a thing. This has taught me to be risk resilient and focus on the end game.

My mom instilled in me early on to work hard, reach for the stars, and that anything is possible once you put your mind to it.

My competitive side came out in sports- swimming, gymnastics, diving, cheer-leading, volleyball, softball, skiing, scuba diving, cliff diving and all sports. I’m an avid sports fan and real-world corporate athlete, I  stay focused and sharp by competing in marathons and triathlons on a regular basis – over 70 events thus far, including triathlons, half-marathons, marathons, and IRONMAN 70.3 mile triathlons. I recently ran 55 miles in the Serengeti as part of a girls and women’s empowerment fundraiser: the first women-only run of its kind.  

For me, fitness helps me to maintain a clear mind and assists with decision-making. I share all of these experiences in my upcoming book Grit & Grind.  The book uses real-life stories of how me and my team team navigate the volatile tech industry and illustrates the simple practice for building confidence in my abilities—no matter what the challenge is.

GD: You’ve been a leader in the technology space since the early 1990s. As a female technology leader, you paved the way for the next generation of female executives.  What challenges did you encounter as a woman in this industry, specifically in the early 90s?

RV: Many encounters. You are making the Rolodex in my mind go back, which is a great question.  Thank you for saying I paved the way for the next generation, I take pride in that and learned how to conduct myself early on in my career as a leader.  Doing what you say you are going to do is important. As far as challenges early on being one of the only females in a male dominant field was encountered with every scenario imaginable.  It is important to keep in mind that was over twenty years ago.

The one that sticks out the most is being the youngest in an executive role and being the only woman. At the time, I thought nothing about it since I have always been in sports and have a competitive nature at heart, but when a pencil was thrown at me in an executive leadership meeting for speaking the truth and standing up for the team, it hit me not only the pencil but how to react.  

Since that day my mental model shifted and nothing surprises me. One of mentors told me early on that I need to accept the challenge of being female in the male dominant world and be true to myself.

GD: You’re known for taking lots of risks and whether you’re diving off a cliff or making waves in the boardroom, you seem to have the stomach for high-risk, high-reward situations. What advice would you give to an aspiring entrepreneur that’s struggling to make difficult decisions that can impact the future of their venture?

RV: To push through to your dreams. Ask for help, a lot of people don’t ask for help because they are scared or don’t have the courage to pick up the phone and ask- live, not over an email or text.

GD: If you could jump into a time machine, travel back in time and change just one aspect of your life, what would it be and why?

RV: I would go back to living in London and working at Barclays.  I should have made more out of seeing the world on the weekends. It is so easy to travel Europe and I regret not seeing more of it during that time frame.  

GD: Tell me about a time that you failed. I mean the sorta failure that feel like a punch straight to the gut. How did you convince yourself to keep going?

RV: When I wasn’t there when my dad died, I was away for business.  I think about that day a lot and push through it daily.

GD: Who is your hero?

RV: General James Cartwright.  He is in my friend, mentor and in my bunker for life.

GD: How have you used your success to give back?

RV: I bring goodness to the world by giving back to the USA Olympic team as a trustee and believe in helping place athletes in the business world after their career in the Olympics. I mentor folks around the world and industry to help them in their career.

Along with adopting orphans in India — we as a global team go there twice a year and give money and make a day of donating our time to help out with the little ones. In addition, believe in helping college students make their curriculum choices and on two advisory boards for colleges.

I also spend time mentoring women globally, and I am passionate about women supporting other women and lifting them up. I want to encourage girls and women to find careers in this space because there is so much opportunity.

I ran in the inaugural Serengeti Girls Run, a 55-mile women-only run in October through the Tanzanian bush to raise money for girls’ empowerment programs in local communities. I also spent time there speaking with women in the tribe on self-esteem and confidence, hoping to inspire change of mindset.

GD:  If you could spend one day with any person (alive or not), who would it be any why?

RV: Most people would think I would say a past President.  Actually, would be want to spend day with Military overseas and on a mission.  I like action, learning, fast pace, strategizing and accomplishing a goal. I am hard core from head to toe and full of grit.

GD: What advice would you give to young women that want to follow in your footsteps?

RV: Be mobile, move out of the USA and live in multiple countries.  There is no line on the globe other then the equator, so experience as much of the world as possible.   Learn and live in different cultures.

Rhonda’s book upcoming book Grit & Grind discusses ways to build confidence in your own abilities.