Suzanne Ross & The Aerie Company
Not Every Note Resonates the Way You Expect


I was never sure how the final symphony would play out.  As a kid studying the cello, my vision of being on stage as part of a world class orchestra was getting blurry.  Even after graduating from one of the country’s most prestigious music schools and performing, the wildly out of tune voice inside my head was singing that I just couldn’t do this.  How could those tens of thousands of hours I’d devoted to music already be betraying me?

I didn’t always want to listen to the cacophony around me, but thanks to a well trained ear I was led to many unexpected opportunities.  Little did I know that I was better prepared than most for the tempo, dynamic and key signature changes that life would continue to throw in my path.  In hindsight I realize that the humming in my head was about fine-tuning my ultimate vision and mission on how to demonstrate value.  I’m an eternal optimist and recognized as a mentor by executives, colleagues, staff, students  and even teens (in fact, my 16 year old daughter nominated me to submit this Hot Mama case study).  I help my teams, clients and colleagues stay focused on how to solve customer problems.  We create momentum by celebrating milestones and successes.  Yet my greatest ongoing challenge is to maintain a mindset that empowers me to believe my unique skills, experience and perspective does create impact and I have a choice in how I can deliver that impact.


Clearly the years of musical training and performing were more than a rehearsal for business success. Listening, interpreting, communicating in harmony, leading, following and teamwork are the foundation of my creative problem solving approach.  I wish I’d had this insight when I slipped behind the curtain to promote what was on the stage.  For me the exit  offstage was a reaction to confidence-fracturing songs in my head.  What I didn’t expect was how this simple change of venue helped me find my real voice. My richer communication talent as a marketer would ultimately enable me to add deeper value to even more organizations and individuals. I was loving it in an equal but different way than performing.  Suddenly it wasn’t that I couldn’t succeed as a full-time professional musician.  With my new voice, I didn’t need that exclusive form of expression because I had a new, more effective way to communicate. 

Unfortunately that early “aha” moment didn’t resonate too well.  Over the next two decades I would find myself again and again at this uncomfortable yet familiar place  –  mired in self-doubt and lacking immediate recognition of choices and opportunities to be a more useful communicator.  I nearly fell into the healthcare industry when a mentor asked me to join the PR department of a large urban health system despite protests that I couldn’t promote them because of limited familiarity with that industry.  I was surprised by quickly achieved awards and success. Later when I was approached by a neuroscience center of excellence to set up my own agency and represent them, I initially fought the idea because I was sure I couldn’t run a business.  More professional success and two kids later, I was recruited to build and support pharmaceutical brands at a global consulting firm. 

After many years when the pace of travel and work became overwhelming, I heard “I Can’t Do It” again ringing in my ears.  This was very worrisome now that I was considered a role model for young women in the company – they’d die if they only knew what it required.  Another musical key change sent me back in-house to help transform and sell an emerging healthcare company.  The successful sale was a major industry coup, but within a few years that unpleasant hum buzzed back.  As part of the executive team integrating multiple company acquisitions I saw a future of banging my marketing head against a wall to try to move the new business forward.  With so little support to identify, articulate and communicate value, I felt enterprises like this were doomed for failure. 

Perhaps it was the virtual head banging that caused the tune in my head to change.  If emerging companies and their executives really wanted to demonstrate value they needed a better way to soar to market leadership.  It’s challenging at the top – both getting there and staying there.   I had a vision but would it be an effective solution for that market?  Could I finally have the courage to use my full range of experience and resources?

When I brought The Aerie Company together, my goal was to help small and mid-sized healthcare companies as well as executives communicate impact and accelerate their growth.  We’ve soared high and low the last five years.  Beyond help from mentors, industry networking and getting additional credentials, I find myself on the constant look out for more resources to create impact and more clients to help.       

Professional Challenge

Although I’ve been engaged in communications my whole life, I suffer from that fraud syndrome where I’m just on the verge of being discovered.  There are days when I feel like I’m about to tap dance off the stage right into the orchestra pit.  That’s when I try to catch myself by remembering how my early career prepared me for these moments.  Working in my earliest days with resource constrained organizations,  I developed great creativity, the ability to wear many hats and often do it all. These are skills that bode well for an entrepreneurial life where I have found myself t a number of times.  I’m also grateful  my mother instilled in me a sense of organization so I’ve always been a list maker, goal setter and plan developer/implementer.  Yes that’s a solid foundation, but curiosity, strategy and the ability to uncover and create better frameworks to communication are what make me most valuable professionally.   Like my clients, I have had to focus on defining my best value proposition.

Lessons Learned:

Be clear about who you are, what you do and how you add real value.  Value and authenticity come to life when we invest in and commit to live our brand – often that means balancing the both company and your own personal brand.  You can overcome many fears when you are surrounded by a smart professional network where you can turn to for advice.  I believe that has been a key to success for me and the entities I support.  And most importantly, remember that attitudes are contagious.  Winston Churchill knew that when he said “attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”   

Personal Challenge

Like many women, I have tried make it look easy doing do it all.  When I delivered my children a year apart and both by c-section, I wasn’t going to skip a beat.  I was making calls to clients from the hospital like it was just another business day (most didn’t even know I was pregnant).   Colleagues, clients and friends knew I was available 24/7.  I didn’t think I had a choice.  Thankfully my family has been blessed with good health, but it was a devastating divorce a decade ago that shattered the last of my fragile confidence.  I desperately needed to shift in how I viewed and served the world. Now don’t get me wrong – I’m someone who has sought out mentors, training programs, built networks and worked hard at experiencing life in a major key.  But when I finally took the time to really look within, I understood how my focus had been on helping everyone else realize their dreams.  Sacrificing my own aspirations, I never took the time or learned how to think big enough for myself and see what was possible.  What I really needed to do was redefine abundance.  

Lessons Learned

Everyone needs support – even mentors need mentors so don’t be shy about seeking support.  You make a choice about success and how to achieve it.  Abundance comes not just with clarity about your value but in how you share your gifts. Again, it was work on my own personal brand that helped me define the link between purpose, patience, persistence and payoff both for myself and for my clients.  The hardest lesson has been about understanding respect and how if you don’t respect yourself you will rarely get respect from those around you.

What’s Next?

After a 30+ year career, the composition is far from completed and I’m not ready for a final performance yet.   There are still many companies and professional who need helping identifying, articulating and communicating their value.  I know how to give them a voice.  That dissonant hum has never completely silenced, but my fine-tuned ear is constantly working on taking that sensory overload around us and turning it into a melody.