To Be Truly Successful, Find Your Passion (And Eat More Cake)
Dr. Tina Bacon-DeFrece’s career began as a successful research director for a multi-million-dollar scientific instrument company for five years. She was then ready to break free from the strict formula of day-to-day operations and follow her passion for fun.
As a cofounder of Big Frog Custom T-Shirts and More, a 100+ location custom t-shirt retail franchise, Tina has hustled her way to the top from marketing positions, to the President role, to now acting CEO.
I had the opportunity to interview Dr. DeFrece recently. Here are the highlights of that interview.
Jill Griffin: Where did you grow up? Describe your early childhood and its significance on your life.
Dr. Tina Bacon-DeFrece: I was fortunate to be the daughter of a Coast Guard officer. That meant I was always under the watchful eyes of his military colleagues on the various bases we lived. I had to make my father proud in every situation – school, activities and base functions. Moving every few years meant I had to be adaptive and attentive to cultural differences. It was a lifestyle that kept me challenged and I was excited to be supporting our country in my own way. Learning how to quickly assess a situation and assimilate was an invaluable tool that I use now with new challenges that arise in my organization. It has been especially beneficial in my leadership role helping grow Big Frog Custom T-Shirts & More to 100 locations nationwide.
Griffin: When did you first get the whisper you belonged in business?
Dr. DeFrece: In graduate school, I helped to operate a R&D lab. That’s when I realized I longed to be part of the strategic and financial planning, as well as team development. I had lots of ideas and really no way to implement them at the university. This continued into my post-doc and research career. I was intrigued with always finding better ways to operate. At some point, it was the natural thing to start my own business. To take everything I learned along the way and create something I can nurture and build. This drive led to the birth and evolution of Big Frog Custom T-Shirts & More.
Griffin: Was there an early teacher that inspired you? Who and how?
Dr. DeFrece: In my childhood, I had a teacher in New Orleans, Sister Caritas, who truly lived up to her name. She was the epitome of kindness and had a true love of learning. The Sister was always rewarding focus and initiative. I fell in love with math, science and literature because of her positive affirmation that we were all capable of achieving great things with hard work and dedication. Her patience allowed us to all flourish and I do think that was something I absorbed from her at that early age.
Griffin: What’s a great piece of business or life advice you’ve received, who gave it to you, and how has it enhanced your life?
Dr. DeFrece: Leeward Bean is my business partner and mentor, and he has many great mottos, but my favorite and the one that I really try to remember is “Let it Go.” The song came years later, by the way. If something has happened that’s out of my control, I have to breathe and recognize that worrying has no impact on what’s happening. I don’t know if this is because I’m Type A, but I struggle with this a bit every day. Stepping outside and taking a few deep breaths can usually set me right.
Griffin: Please give me the top three bullet points in your Personal Leadership Credo.
- Research, think strategically and act decisively.
- Every team member should be empowered to enact change and be their best person.
- Communicate with empathy and transparency.
Griffin: Describe a painful setback in your life and what it taught you.
Dr. DeFrece: At 29, I suffered a minor stroke and was in the hospital for a few weeks while they tried to diagnose my condition. I was eventually diagnosed with a rare blood disorder caused by Lupus. I am very thankful they discovered the condition as the mortality rate is generally less than five years if left untreated. This event changed how I was living my life. Soon after, I left my job to start Big Frog and follow my passion. I’m fortunate I had no lasting effects from the stroke so I was able to dive head first into this business. However, with lupus you need to take care of yourself first. That means I couldn’t stay up all night working, forget to eat or travel incessantly. I had to work smart and efficiently and learn to depend on my team for support when needed. That dedicated and loyal team is what’s going to get you through today and help you succeed tomorrow.
Griffin: What advice do you have for young, talented, ambitious women who want to rise?
Dr. DeFrece: Right before my friend’s mother passed away, he asked her what she would have done differently in her life. Her simple answer, “Eat more cake.” Those words have stuck with me for over 15 years. How is that business advice? Don’t deprive yourself of any experience that can help you develop either professionally or personally. Do internships for less money if it means working with an incredible team. Go back to school to take that specialization. Learn Chinese. Take that risky job with a startup. Don’t be afraid to ask someone you admire to be your mentor. And definitely eat more cake.