Third Act with Liz Tinkham
The Mayor with Shelley Brindle
In this episode, Shelley shares her journey from finding her first job in the Want Ads to beating an incumbent as an underdog and why making an impact begins with personal responsibility.
Third Act with Liz Tinkham
In this episode, Shelley shares her journey from finding her first job in the Want Ads to beating an incumbent as an underdog and why making an impact begins with personal responsibility.
Your first act is school, your second act is work, but have you thought about what you’re going to do in your third act? Join host Liz Tinkham, a former Accenture Senior Managing Director, as she talks to guests who are happily “pretired” – enjoying their time, treasure, and talent to pursue their purpose and passion in the third act of their life.
Inspire others to get more and to do more later in life.
Athena helps women achieve executive-level leadership expertise, polish their boardroom and executive knowledge, get closer to board seats, and make leaps in their careers.
Mayor Shelley Brindle is defined by her need to make a difference. From her experiences as an assistant college football coach to the only woman in a media company’s C-suite, Shelley established her reputation as someone who always delivered. With her head down at work, she didn’t pay much attention to her local town, but when she left her big C-suite job, she looked around and realized that her energy and determination might be useful to that town. After an eye-opening election, she’s now delivering again, this time as the Mayor of Westfield, New Jersey. With a clear vision of change she wants to implement, Shelley forges onwards into her next election.
In the episode, Shelley shares her journey from finding her first job in the Want Ads to beating an incumbent as an underdog. Join us as she describes – the visualization that instigated the leap of faith into her third act, and how to avoid “the pasture”. Most importantly, Mayor Brindle highlights how making an impact begins with personal responsibility.
(3:38) The first role model
(5:54) The University of Virginia’s tradition of losing
(9:04) Act 1: a lesson in humility
(10:03) Act 2: self-addressed stamped envelopes
(13:08) From “in the room” to locked out of it
(17:13) Diving off the cliff
(20:31) Act 3: pick up a clipboard
(23:20) Republican bastion under siege
(28:45) The greatest resources are within the community
(34:20) I’m not done yet
If you enjoyed the podcast, please subscribe and share a review at https://ratethispodcast.com/thirdact. Engage with more stories of those finding fulfillment in the third act of their lives on Liz Tinkham’s Third Act podcast at thirdactpodcast.com.
Liz Tinkham (00:17):
Hi, this is Liz Tinkham, and welcome to season two of Third Act, a podcast about people embracing the third act of their lives with a new sense of purpose and direction. The third act begins when your script ends, but your show’s not finished.
Liz Tinkham (00:33):
Hello, hello, hello and welcome to Third Act. On today’s episode I am so thrilled to have our first public official, Shelley Brindle, who is the Mayor of Westfield, New Jersey. Shelley grew up in an all-female household playing sports, doing well in school, and eventually going to the University of Virginia, where she became a member of the football team. Yeah, that’s right, but you’re going to have to listen to the episode to find out more.
Liz Tinkham (00:58):
She parlayed an early start in TV ad sales to the C suite of HBO, eventually becoming the executive VP of all domestic network distribution and marketing. When she was 50, she jumped off a cliff, so to speak, retired, and didn’t know what else she was going to do. But that didn’t last long.
Liz Tinkham (01:15):
She soon noticed that the town around her was losing its edge and smacked of complacency. So, she threw her name into the hat to be on the town council only to end up as the mayor. And, oh boy, does she have a great story to tell about what it’s like to spend your third act serving the public as mayor of Westfield, New Jersey.
Liz Tinkham (01:40):
Madam Mayor, welcome to Third Act. Is that the right title for you?
Mayor Shelley Brindle (01:46):
Oh, Shelley’s always good, but you can always start with Madam Mayor.
Liz Tinkham (01:50):
Madam Mayor Brindle. I’ve never addressed a mayor, so thank you for honoring us with your presence. So, a couple things. When I first originally conceived of this podcast, I was thinking about what people do in their third acts. I thought it would be great to get somebody who’s daring and courageous enough to go into public service. So, here you are, thank you. And, secondly, you’re my sixth guest from New Jersey. So, there must be something in the water. No pressure.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (02:16):
That’s incredible. Yeah, no pressure. Absolutely.
Liz Tinkham (02:19):
So, like I said, you are the mayor of Westfield, New Jersey. But if I back up a bit, you’re not originally from New Jersey. You’re from Virginia and you went to the University of Virginia. So, what were you doing there and how did you end up graduating from UVA and what did you want to do with that degree?
Mayor Shelley Brindle (02:36):
Yeah, okay, a little back story on how I ended up in Virginia because it plays into my life later on. But I grew up in a military family, my dad was an Air Force pilot and I had two older sisters and we moved all around when I was little. We were living in Las Vegas, my dad was stationed at Nellis Air Force Base when he was in Vietnam, and he was a fighter pilot in Vietnam, and on his last tour of duty before he was to come home for Thanksgiving, he was shot down and killed over North Vietnam when I was six years old.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (03:05):
So, the Air Force gave my mom one move, and we went and looked at Colorado Springs and Pensacola, Florida, and ended up in Yorktown, Virginia, because there was a lot of military bases in the Hampton Roads area, and we had the medical benefits and so forth. So, my mom picked us up and moved us to a really little town called Grafton, Virginia, where she didn’t know a soul. She had never worked a day. She got married right after he graduated the naval academy, so she had been an officer’s wife. So, she just had to figure out how she was going to reinvent her life. And I do believe watching my mom go through that struggle with such resilience and grace, I think definitely was a bit of an inspiration for my sisters and me.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (03:48):
But she went on to become ultimately through volunteer service, she ended up becoming the Meals on Wheels coordinator for the Agency on Aging. And so it instilled a lifetime in service. But through that process, when we didn’t have a lot of money, we discovered that my dad had grown up in Roanoke, Virginia, and had been a taxpayer and there was a thing called World War II Orphans Act, and found out that if we went to a state university in Virginia, our tuition would be paid for by the state.
Liz Tinkham (04:16):
Mayor Shelley Brindle (04:17):
Yes, which was like we won the lottery when my sister was a senior in high school and found that out. We were lucky to live in a state with great state institutions. And so, yeah, that’s how I ended up there.
Liz Tinkham (04:30):
What were you going to major in? What were you going to do with it?
Mayor Shelley Brindle (04:33):
I think…does anybody know when you go into college… Certainly I didn’t have any idea what I was going to do, and it became a process of elimination. I thought I wanted to be in the business school. Quite frankly I hated accounting and finance, and so not really… Wasn’t a great fit for me. So, I was at the time what they called a rhetoric and communications major and I minored in history, really a typical liberal arts major. Graduated, what do you do with that? Well, I’m very chatty and outgoing and I was interested in the media business, so I picked up with my college roommate, say, $500 in cash and moved to Atlanta and slept on an air mattress. And, at the time, went through the Yellow Pages and found a job. That’s how you did it back then, right, before the internet?
Liz Tinkham (05:18):
Yes, exactly. Yeah, the Yellow Pages.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (05:20):
Through the Yellow Pages, and I landed a job making no money. As a glorified secretary, really, for a television ad sales firm, and that was my very first job out of college.
Liz Tinkham (05:30):
Oh my gosh. Well, one more college story, last season I interviewed Chris Peterson, who is the former head coach of the University of Washington. And he told me remarkably that he had 10 women affiliated with his coaching staff and the football program, which was really impressive. But you were a part of the UVA football team back in the 80’s. So, what was that all about and what did that teach you?
Mayor Shelley Brindle (05:54):
Yeah, that was kind of a crazy thing. So, my first year of college–I had played a lot of sports in high school–and my first year of college, my RA, her roommate actually was a manager for the football team. And she said she was on a scholarship for that. I was like, “Oh, that sounds pretty cool.” Virginia had lots of traditions. One of the traditions they had was a losing football team. And they prided themselves on that. You’d wear a suit, guys wear ties and dresses for the games, they’d drink themselves silly and that was kind of the tradition of the school. But they had brought in a new coaching staff from the naval academy to turn around the program.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (06:33):
And so when she told me that she was a manager, I said, “Oh, well I want to go try.” Well, I went and interviewed with the new staff and the coach from the naval academy said they didn’t want any women on the field. They didn’t need that distraction.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (06:47):
So, I’m like, “Okay.” And I had gone with my roommate. So, we just forgot about it and went and moved on. Well, because Virginia had been so terrible, they couldn’t get anybody else to do the jobs. So, they called us back and asked us if we’d reconsider. So, of course we did. So, we did and I worked with the offensive coordinator.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (07:06):
And what was great is we got a front-row seat at the turnaround of that program and by the time I was a junior in college, they went to the Peach Bowl. They beat Purdue in the Peach Bowl and they were ranked number 15 in the country. That was pretty cool.
Liz Tinkham (07:21):
And you did not get kicked off at that point?
Mayor Shelley Brindle (07:23):
Did not get kicked. Kept us exactly. And it was kind of funny, I used to run the football during practices. They’d have me on game film, and the coach was like, “Who is that?” Kind of thing.
Liz Tinkham (07:34):
So, what did you learn from that? I love that story because I love college football, and I love that Chris had women associated. I didn’t believe him at first, and then he named them all by name and position. I was like, “That’s incredible.” What did you learn?
Mayor Shelley Brindle (07:47):
It is pretty cool too when you see now with the umpires and refs and so forth, women on the field, it’s fantastic. Do you know what I learned a lot? It’s funny, I realized we’re the only women in the room. We actually end up becoming very close with coaches. And you just learned a lot about discipline and just really what they did to turn that program around. And it really was about creating this culture of accountability and expectation of excellence. And that was kind of fun.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (08:18):
And the nicest surprise is my last semester of college I’m in a class, and I didn’t really hang out with the football players but I knew them all obviously, and one of the football players, who I thought was one of the nicer guys on the team, sat next to me in this class because I knew him. And long story short, he’s now my husband. Another benefit.
Liz Tinkham (08:37):
Liz Tinkham (08:40):
So, you go to Atlanta, you’re sleeping on the floor, you’re dialing for dollars, Yellow Pages, you end up in TV ad sales. But you ultimately want to end up in New York, and you go to HBO. But there’s some stamped self-addressed envelopes involved.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (08:57):
Yeah. I hate to even tell the story because it sounds so dated.
Liz Tinkham (09:00):
I think it’s hilarious.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (09:04):
So, I was working pretty much as a glorified assistant, and there was this other woman that did too. And then I left, I went to go… It was kind of funny. I went into work. I got a job at Time Inc. I left the sales assistant job, I got a job at Time Inc. Time Inc doesn’t even exist today, but it was the most unglorious job in the world. I was in the newsstand sales arm of Time Inc., and every time you go to a grocery store and you see People magazine at the checkout, that would have been someone like me hanging up at that rack and putting magazines at the checkout for people to buy. And it was a great lesson in humility and it really, I think, prepared me for anything to come, quite frankly, with a lot of gratitude for everything that came forward.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (09:45):
But one of the women I met coincidentally at my old job had moved back to New York, where she was from, and was working for Sports Illustrated. So, I said, “Wow.” She was telling me about all these job listings that they posted internally because there was no internet at the time. So, they’d pass around the internal job listings.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (10:03):
So, I said, “If I send you a bunch of self-addressed stamped envelopes, would you send me those job listings every two weeks when they came out?” And she did. And that’s where I saw… HBO was owned by Time Inc. at the time, so that’s when I saw the jobs at HBO and I applied. And the next thing you know, I was trying to get to New York, but there was a sales job open in Philadelphia, so I ended up. I was like, “Okay, it’s not New York, but it’s close enough.”
Liz Tinkham (10:28):
And then how did your career at HBO evolve? What were some of the highlights?
Mayor Shelley Brindle (10:32):
That’s really funny. There’s a couple of very specific highlights I think. So, I started obviously in Philly on the sales side. And then, I don’t know, I just kind of outgrew that job very quickly. And you start learning through experience the things that you like to do and the things that you’re good at. I know better than to ask a 21-year-old out of college what it is they want to do because you realize it’s hard to articulate that probably until you’re about 30, and you’ve had some experiences. And you can say, “Who knew I was good at this?” And that’s kind of what happened to me.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (11:02):
And it became evident I was very good at just really focusing on the bottom line and identifying the things that we need to do to resolve that. And I didn’t have much patience for the fluffy stuff that didn’t really have a material impact. So, I built out that reputation as someone who could really be focused and deliver. So, they asked me to come to New York to help them on the marketing side to roll out this new work with our cable distributors to work out a time with new products with HBO was when we went from one channel to seven channels before everything was even online and so forth.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (11:39):
So, I did, I relocated to New York, and that was a very pivotal thing. And I learned a lot. It’s so funny because I was so young, but my manager there, her name was Lisa, she had come from… She was a product manager at Jell-O, and so I brought the knowledge of the cable and sales experience, she brought really true packaged goods experience, and we made a great team. But more importantly than that, what Lisa taught me, and she was a young manager, she included me in every single meeting that she had. Yes, and with senior leaders I was oftentimes the most junior person in the room. And I remember thinking how that made me feel, and it made me feel like I would do anything to make Lisa look good because she had put so much confidence in me it made me want to overdeliver for her.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (12:30):
And she ended up leaving to go to a job in DC, and I was kind of a young manager. I, normally by their standards, wasn’t tenured enough, if you will, to move into this director’s role. But because Lisa had just… I was always in the room. While they were interviewing for this director’s job with other people, I was too busy doing the job. And I will never forget when the head of the department said, “You know what? I don’t know how I can tell you this isn’t yours.” And so that’s how I became a very young director at HBO. And I really attribute that all to Lisa.
Liz Tinkham (13:07):
Do you still keep in touch with her at all?
Mayor Shelley Brindle (13:08):
Yes. Funny enough I didn’t, but she and I ran into each other. She was in New York and she came to HBO not long before I left. And I actually had the opportunity to tell her how much she influenced me, not only at what I did but as a leader. And I remember the contrast that, with after them–through a few iterations of bosses and so forth, I had this boss, another boss, that was the opposite of Lisa. I don’t know if he was threatened by me, but he refused to put me in the room, he refused to share information with me.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (13:45):
And I remember thinking, I’ve got to be honest with you, I acted like a jerk. And I remember thinking, “I’m the same person who I was with Lisa, and I was a superstar.” And I just took myself personally out of it and looked at it as an objective person running a company, what was the environment that happened when I was doing everything I could to go above and beyond? And what was the environment that existed when I was doing as little as possible? And it all came down to how they made me feel. And that has been a really big factor in my leadership philosophy going forward. It’s about how do you get the… If you just look at it from a pure employee productivity standpoint, what’s the environment you want to create to do that?
Liz Tinkham (14:30):
That’s exactly my philosophy as well. It’s like, how do I create the environment that my employees can perform the best? Lisa definitely demonstrated true stewardship, which I think is pretty rare. Because most people do want to hold onto things, so it’s lucky you found her early. I had a lot of good early mentors as well.
Liz Tinkham (14:49):
All right, so you said to me when we were prepping that you always felt like an accidental executive. What does that mean?
Mayor Shelley Brindle (14:56):
If you had asked me, that 21-year-old self, about what I wanted to do, if you ever told me, “I want to be in the C suite at a media company,” first of all, I don’t think it occurred to me that I was even capable of that. It just wasn’t even in my realm of thinking of something that I aspired to. I always thought I was going to open a flower shop or something. I don’t know. It just never really occurred to me.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (15:24):
But as a result, because I always thought there were these other more entrepreneurial things that I wanted to do. It made me very brave in my corporate job because I never felt like this was where I wanted to be in the first place. And that bravery, in terms of really always telling it like it is and being the one to come up with the crazy, out-of-the-box idea that we should be trying, ultimately, in a perverse way, me not being afraid to take risks is ultimately–because I wasn’t worried about self-preservation–is ultimately what led me to be successful.
Liz Tinkham (16:03):
That’s great. So, how does your career at HBO kind of finish?
Mayor Shelley Brindle (16:09):
Well, I had done… I was one of those people that they put me in whatever this needs to be fixed or that needs to be fixed. And I’d come and I’d get the right people running it and then I’d be like, “Okay, well, my work is done here.” I wasn’t ever really interested in just being the person to make the trains run on time. I was always about how can we fix something and then hand it over to the people that can just continue to run it.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (16:31):
So, at some point, after we launched our HBOGo, which was our first transformation from the linear to the digital online streaming world, and that was a very big deal. And that was incredibly rewarding and, you know, overcoming this challenge. Then you think about, now what? What is left to do? And, quite candidly, I had turned 50 and my contract was up. They gave me a great new four-year contract with a promotion and the whole bit. But I was thinking it in terms of, okay, what is next? In terms of what’s the next thing I can build or create?
Mayor Shelley Brindle (17:13):
Because Time Warner was in transition, I knew they were probably setting themselves up for sale, which they ultimately did, I just was worried that the challenge wasn’t going to be there for me. And I was going to be one of those people that I always tried to look at, like punching the clock executive that’s just happy to be living the sweet life. And I wish I could have been that person. It would have made me and family’s lives a lot easier. But I just couldn’t.
Liz Tinkham (17:40):
I used to tell the people who work for me, “If I’m ever headed towards the pasture, you have to tell me before I get there. Because I don’t want to be here in the pasture. I want to take myself out.”
Mayor Shelley Brindle (17:50):
That’s a good way to put it. Yeah, I was afraid I was going to be in the pasture. And I felt like I needed another chapter. And this is weird too, I kept envisioning my eulogy. I was trying to convince myself to sign this contract. Who walks away from that? But I kept imagining my eulogy, and I was like, “Okay, well, if I die tomorrow, my CEO would be delivering the eulogy. It’d be surrounded by HBO employees.” And that’s not how I wanted to be remembered. And I was worried the longer I stayed, the next chapter would be harder to create.
Liz Tinkham (18:30):
So, you jumped off the cliff and you left.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (18:32):
I did. I did.
Liz Tinkham (18:39):
Now, at this point, tell us about your relationship with the town of Westfield, New Jersey.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (18:45):
At that point, I live in New Jersey obviously, I had a horrible commute to the city every day, I had three kids at home. And my life, so many other commuting moms and dads quite frankly I knew, my relationship was more with New York City than it was with my community. My weekends were spent shuttling my kids to activities and so forth. But my ability to be engaged was somewhat limited just because of my time constraints and my capacity. So, I moved here like a lot of people, we have this beautiful downtown, we have great schools. But my engagement was really in New York.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (19:19):
And when I left HBO, it enabled me to engage in my community in a way that I had never been able to. And I just started paying attention to how things were run. I was speaking to companies and doing some keynotes about creating cultures of growth and transformation. And then I remember sitting in our beautiful downtown, who had been very badly hurt by the transition to online shopping because we had this Main Street downtowns everywhere–and I wanted to see what the plan was for fixing it. What are we doing about it? Where are we going to go? Because it also creates opportunities for innovation when you have challenges like that.
Liz Tinkham (19:57):
You guys had storefronts closing, that type of thing?
Mayor Shelley Brindle (20:01):
Absolutely. And we had lots of big national chain stores in Westfield because are that kind of draw. We are just living high on the hog with all of that, and then clearly they started closing. And then with the financial crisis was the tipping point for online shopping, and then a lot of them left. And there was no plan. And that’s when I said, “Okay, well, maybe I speak about growth and innovation and maybe the best place to use my skillset is right in my own hometown.”
Liz Tinkham (20:27):
Yeah, and then how did President Obama inspire you?
Mayor Shelley Brindle (20:31):
I remember thinking one of his last speeches, I think it was raining and I remember that left a mark on a lot of people. And he said if you want to make a difference, pick up a clipboard, get some signatures and run for office. And that really resonated with me. And certainly after the 2016 election, which took me obviously like many of us a bit by surprise, I’m looking at a downtown that I felt was suffering and I felt like you cannot rely on other people to do the work you don’t want to do. And I picked up a clipboard and said I was going to run for town council. And I said, “I’ll just get a seat at the table. I just want to see what’s going on.”
Mayor Shelley Brindle (21:15):
I recruited a friend, who’s a big finance executive at a private equity firm, another woman, a female friend of mine to run too. So, two of us were going to run for council. We picked up our clipboard, we got our signatures, it’s two weeks before we were submitting our signatures to get on the ballot, and there was a slate with the guy that was running for mayor, and he, two weeks before, I find out he is dropping out of the race for personal reasons. And I was out of town, and there was a meeting that was had. I sent my high school senior daughter to represent my interest. And apparently at the end of the meeting they look at my daughter and they said, “Do you think you could convince your mom to run for mayor?”
Liz Tinkham (21:55):
And what does your daughter say?
Mayor Shelley Brindle (21:57):
She’s like, “Let me call her.” So, she calls me the next morning and she tells me about her conversation.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (22:04):
I’m like, “Oh my God.” That is not what I was signing up for.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (22:09):
And then she said, “You know, Mom, you’ve always talked about just trying to make a difference and you can’t think about winning, you just have to think about making a difference. And just by running you’re going to make a difference.”
Mayor Shelley Brindle (22:20):
And I said, “Shut up. Who taught you that?” And honestly, what do you say to that? You’re trying to set an example particularly for all these young girls and women and honestly I just said, “Okay,” and naively said, “How hard can it be?” And it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (22:42):
You know that adage that if you knew how hard something would be you never would have done it? So, be glad you didn’t. Honestly, I was like, “Really how hard could it be?” It’s 31,000 people in my town, it’s a volunteer job. Honestly, how hard could it be? And I was naïve to how the town was run really to the old politics that were taken on. And not to get partisan, but it was a very Republican-run town. Our government was nine Republicans, zero Democrats.
Liz Tinkham (23:09):
Union County is some large percentage Democratic.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (23:15):
Liz Tinkham (23:15):
So, is Westfield a Republican holdout within Union County?
Mayor Shelley Brindle (23:20):
Yes. There’s a few smaller towns. Westfield is not only the Republican bastion and has been historically through a lot of the background of Union County, all of the big state GOP leaders live in Westfield. And I didn’t know any of this. I knew that our state senator, the minority leader of the state, the minority leader of our assembly lived here, but I didn’t know Governor Chris Christie’s top five people lived here. I didn’t know this until I was already in it.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (23:45):
And the result was that they were very… They couldn’t lose this election because it wasn’t a good look for them. So, they spent lots of PAC money on this little mayor’s race against me.
Liz Tinkham (23:58):
That’s unbelievable. But you prevailed.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (24:02):
I did, prevailed by 50 high school kids that we recruited and that started out in the AP government class and then they recruited all their friends and they were incredible. They went door to door, they texted. We did a whole texting campaign to get people to register to vote. We had the highest voter turnout in the state and we had the highest mail-in ballots in the state.
Liz Tinkham (24:23):
Wow, that is so fun. So, now you’re mayor. If I’m a listener and I want to think about running for office, as you reflect on that, is there any advice or a couple questions you’d say you might want to ask these two things before you step into it?
Mayor Shelley Brindle (24:41):
Yeah. Yes, I’ve actually advised some women in particular who are thinking about running for office. First of all, these are all things that I didn’t do, but they actually all worked out for me.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (24:53):
Find out, first of all, what kind of government your town actually employs. I know that sounds really silly, but in New Jersey we have 550 municipalities and they each have a different form of government, many of them do.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (25:05):
And so, for example, after I was elected I went to this conference two weeks later and people were asking me if I was a strong mayor or a weak mayor. And I’m like, “Well, I’m a strong mayor of course.”
Liz Tinkham (25:15):
Mayor Shelley Brindle (25:16):
And I find out it’s actually a form of government, and yes, and thank goodness I’m a strong mayor because the mayor has a lot of power and influence in my town. I actually think we have one of the strongest mayor positions governments in the state. But that’s important to know because you need to figure out… It depends on what you want to do and what you want your level of influence to be. Just make sure. So, some people might think they could be mayor and have all this influence only to become mayor and realize they actually don’t have as much influence as they might think.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (25:47):
So, I just think you want to find out about how your government is run, what the dynamics are, but be very clear on what it is you want to do. I was very clear about what I wanted to do. If our town was running great and I didn’t see those issues, I never would have run for office. I only ran because I had a very clear vision of what I thought we needed to be doing. And that was really, really important.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (26:11):
And then you just have to be prepared. I also learned it is very, very hard to take on an incumbent. I was running against a three-term incumbent and you need a lot of… You need a network, you need a lot of support. It’s pretty hard but it’s doable. But I think the most important thing is just a very clear articulation of what the value and the vision you have to bring to your community.
Liz Tinkham (26:34):
Okay, how was it seeing your name on signs all over town?
Mayor Shelley Brindle (26:37):
That was kind of weird. It was almost embarrassing.
Liz Tinkham (26:41):
Was it Brindle or Shelley Brindle or what was it?
Mayor Shelley Brindle (26:46):
Yeah, Brindle for mayor. Yeah, it was funny. I will tell you though, the support I got, it was very validating. I almost went in and I felt like I was having reflection on my life during this campaign because I wasn’t really well known in my community for the reasons I mentioned earlier. But the people that came out for me initially, my whole HBO family and all my clients, they were the ones that were donating money. I had our security guards at the HBO building donating money saying, “It was like, I can finally do something for you.” It made me cry thinking about it.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (27:27):
And so they are the ones that sustained me honestly through the beginning of the campaign while I was able to really engage with the community. And then by the time the fall came around, and my executive network in New York, all these women leaders were great. By the time the fall came around I was going to houses three times a day and meeting with people in their kitchens and just talking about it. It was a very, very, very much grassroots campaign.
Liz Tinkham (27:53):
So, you’ve been mayor now for how long?
Mayor Shelley Brindle (27:54):
Three-and-a-half years. I’m up for election this year.
Liz Tinkham (27:56):
What’s been the most surprising thing about being the mayor of a town in New Jersey or just being the mayor in general?
Mayor Shelley Brindle (28:08):
Well, being mayor in New Jersey is in and of itself an issue because New Jersey, it’s probably like Illinois. It’s kind of crazy some of the things that top the political landscape. Even though I was prepared, everybody says, “You’re going from the media private sector to municipal public sector, oh my gosh.” And it was just a bit of a level setting in terms of all these things that you want to accomplish. You realize you have to build the form foundation first. You have to build the things before you can do the big things. So, that was representative of oh gosh.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (28:45):
And I will say you don’t have a lot of resources, but the biggest resources you do have are the members of your community. And like anything, I happen to live in a very highly educated community and we have incredible talent and resources in our town and all people need to do is be asked. And so I’ve tried to tap into the incredible talent in our community to bring those benefits to bear on behalf of progress in our town. And that has been incredibly rewarding to see how many people have come out to volunteer their time and talents and people who are really tops in their field have been really spectacular.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (29:24):
But someone asked me what I had been most proud of, and there’s a lot of big things I could talk about, like we’re moving forward on this really incredible vision for our downtown and investment and so forth. But honestly the things that have really caught me by surprise at how sometimes be like, “Okay, this is why I’m doing it.” For example, we raised the Pride flag in our town for the first time after I was elected. That had never been done. I had parents coming up to me with kids who are now in their 20’s who felt like they had never belonged here. And there were just tears streaming down their face, like, wow, I feel like they can come home.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (30:01):
We have this incredible African American community in Westfield. Paul Langston lived here, Paul Robeson lived here. I’m sorry, I mean Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson. We have this incredibly dynamic African American history in Westfield that has never really been celebrated.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (30:16):
So, my daughter, the same one that got me into this, is a history major, digital humanities minor, and so she worked with our MLK Association to create this African American historical digital walking tour in our town.
Liz Tinkham (30:31):
Oh, how cool.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (30:32):
It was really cool with all these landmarks, whether it was slave trading or the Langston Hughes place or Paul memorials. So, we kicked it off with the association. And their gratitude for the public acknowledgment of their contributions to our community that had never really been done in a meaningful way really was so profound for me. Those types of moments are the ones that really, I think, will be most memorable for me.
Liz Tinkham (31:06):
How is our country’s polarization, how does that impact you at a local level, if at all? I assume it does.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (31:11):
With social media it’s brutal. It’s really, really brutal. You just have to keep moving forward honestly. Every community has these various Facebook groups and so forth, and they just devolve into this unfortunately spirals of negativity almost. So, I just try to look for other ways to communicate with the public.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (31:34):
I’m very proactive on social media myself and I’m sending out emails, newsletters weekly. I try to meet people as much as possible in person. I don’t read any of those things because it can divert you from… If you’re very clear on what you want to do, those comments can distract you and make you second guess things, and they’re not necessarily grounded in any real facts. So, yeah, it’s brutal and you’ve got to have a really strong mindset.
Liz Tinkham (32:11):
Good thing you were the assistant football coach.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (32:11):
I’m telling you. I think being in the arena quite frankly, with men and football and then being the only woman in a C suite at HBO, I think it prepared me for these things. And it really is. So, it’s unfortunate but you have these moments. But most of my feedback comes from these honestly casual interactions that I have when I meet people in town or on the street, and that’s where I find the most meaningful interactions happen. That’s where I get the real story, not what these people are doing on social media.
Liz Tinkham (32:42):
So, what’s next? Are you going to run again?
Mayor Shelley Brindle (32:44):
I am. I announced I’m running for reelection. If you had told me four years ago I was going to do this again, I’d be like, “No.” Because I thought we’re going to get all this accomplished before I’m done. But we are on the cusp of some really exciting things in Westfield, like transformational things. And quite honestly, COVID has been horrible but I also think it’s created opportunities for innovation.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (33:05):
And so I’m so excited about a lot of these things that are about to unfold. I feel an obligation to stay for the next four years to make sure that I get to see them through.
Liz Tinkham (33:17):
Okay, so after you’re two-term Mayor Brindle, Governor Murphy, should he be worried? Are you coming after him?
Mayor Shelley Brindle (33:24):
Oh my God. I have to say I’m doing it in spite of the politics not because of the politics. And so I don’t know. I don’t know what my… It’s kind of similar to my career honestly. I never looked that far ahead, and that’s not just some politician saying that. I didn’t plan my own career that way. It was always about what impact can I make at this point in time and then we’ll just see where that leads. That’s how I navigated my entire HBO career and it’s kind of what I’m doing now.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (33:55):
I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know what’s next for me. I just know that I’d hope enough people will see what I’m able to do and what I’m good at, that when this thing runs out, someone will say, “Hey, I have an opportunity for you over here.” I’m just kind of rolling with that.
Liz Tinkham (34:12):
I’m sure they will. So, I almost named this podcast I’m Not Done Yet, because I feel like I’m not done yet. So, what aren’t you done with yet?
Mayor Shelley Brindle (34:20):
My husband always wishes I’d be done, but I’m never going to be done. And something tells me, Liz, you’re never going to be done either.
Liz Tinkham (34:25):
Nope. Yup, that’s why I had to do this to find more to do.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (34:30):
Right, and so I’m the same way. Early on you have this vision of what retirement’s going to be. No, my retirement is not going to be just sitting at the beach and playing tennis. That might be a small part of it, but I just feel like I’ve got to be making a difference. Put it this way, life is going too fast for me and I feel like I haven’t done enough. And I just feel like I’m always going to be trying to make a difference somehow, some way.
Liz Tinkham (34:59):
That’s great. Well, thank you, Shelley, for coming on the podcast. We will include the reference, at least the link to your mayoral site and the donation and everything else. Where else can we find you online? You’re on LinkedIn, right?
Mayor Shelley Brindle (35:14):
I’m on LinkedIn and if you want to keep up with what’s going on in Westfield, you can follow Mayor Brindle on Facebook and Mayor Brindle on Instagram, and I’m @swbrindle on Twitter.
Liz Tinkham (35:25):
Okay, we’ll include all that in the show notes. So, Shelley, thanks so much.
Mayor Shelley Brindle (35:32):
Thank you, Liz.
Liz Tinkham (35:33):
Thanks for joining me today to listen to the Third Act podcast. You can find show notes, guest bios and more at thirdactpodcast.com. If you enjoyed our show today, please subscribe and write a review on your favorite podcast platform. I’m your host, Liz Tinkham. I’ll be back next week with another guest who’s found new meaning and fulfillment in the third act of their life.
Want to share the story of your own Third Act on our podcast? We welcome stories from executives who pivoted their careers to find their passion and purpose later in their lives. Tell us more about yourself to be considered as a guest.
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