Mary Trigiani returns home, championing the concept of “leaning in”

Mary Trigiani(EDITOR’S NOTE: After this article was written, Mary Trigiani called with the news that she had accepted a new position to champion even more the concept that she advocates for corporations. She is now Senior Vice President for Strategic Planning and Development for New Peoples Bank that has branches in Virginia, Tennessee and West Virginia.)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Spend a few minutes with Mary Trigiani, as we have on two occasions recently, and you are quickly caught-up in her passion for the Southwest Virginia/Northeast Tennessee region.

The long-time communication consultant, formerly based in Silicon Valley, recently returned to her Big Stone Gap, VA roots and adopted a key principle that drives her days and evenings. It is captured in two words – “leaning into.”

“How do you leave this world a better place than you found it,” she asks? The answer is those two words which, in essence, mean getting engaged and helping others rather than sitting on the sidelines and waiting for government or someone else to do it.

It’s a simple but powerful philosophy that she espouses on every occasion, inspired by the title of Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In. The latter is the well-known Chief Operating Officer of Facebook.

“The phrase kept popping-up in my head as I learned more about the region’s economic landscape – and how making opportunity out of the big industrial changes is going to require energy, focus and courage,” Trigiani says. “Stay close to the challenge instead of running from it. Put shoulder into the challenge – brains and brawn. Uncover the opportunity – it’s in there for sure. Find partners in the region and beyond it – people who share our vision and energy. Discover new solutions and approaches and not fall back on what we always did.”

We met Trigiani in May when Tony Lettich of The Angel Roundtable introduced us during the early May “Pitches & Pints” event in Kingsport. We later had a longer conversation at Kingsport’s Sync.Space.

Trigiani started as a Clerk/Typist at Arthur Worldwide in Chicago in 1980 and left a decade later after serving as Manager of Executive Communications. She started her own consulting firm – Spada – that advises C-level clients on positioning, messages and stakeholder engagement; marketing direction and integration with business model and strategies; and project management and execution.

In 1996 Trigiani recalls watching Charlie Rose interview Larry Ellison, Co-Founder of Oracle. The topic was the future, and it got her to thinking about the Bay Area. For the next three years, Trigiani split her time between Palo Alto and Chicago before moving to California full-time in 2001.

“I went to Silicon Valley to help people there communicate better,” she says. “They feel that because they are a technology behemoth, everyone should come to them. They set the bar.”

Last fall, Trigiani moved back to Virginia. “It was a professional, personal and somewhat emotional thing that called me to Virginia,” she says.

For the effervescent, high-energy consultant, it has been a most inspiring decision.

“People involved in technology here are timeless,” she says. “They are so engaged, but they also respect others.”

Those characteristics are very important to Trigiani who explained that she decides which clients to accept based on two criteria – can I really help and is this someone I want to help?

Over the last year, Trigiani has also determined that there is the opportunity to set a standard that is unique to the region, and it’s all about growing a more vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“What we can do here is set the bar for how you do business, not just the financial aspects, and use technology to serve the business and the community,” she explains in describing her thoughts as a renaissance.

That’s where embracing the “leaning in” philosophy is so important.

“I want to be a part of encouraging business people to ‘lean into’ this (supporting entrepreneurs) rather than leaving it to government or non-profits,” Trigiani says. It includes individuals’ wealth as well as their time and energy.

“It’s selfish not to share,” she observes. “We have a better construct for people leaning in. I want to see more business people at the table.”

There’s a Thornton Wilder quote that Trigiani says captures her belief. It is as follows: “Money is like manure; it’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around encouraging young things to grow.”

Northeast Tennesseans will be hearing more and more from Trigiani as she champions the “leaning into” cause.

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