Modern Muse, our series celebrating accomplished, stylish, real women. In other words, women just like you.
This year, 1.65 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer. These women are fighting to end that. The Stand Up To Cancer co-founders and marketing veterans talk curing cancer, who they’re standing up for and what it’s like to make history. Meet our next two Modern Muses, Sue Schwartz and Rusty Robertson.
[Bailey44:] What inspired Stand Up To Cancer?
[Sue:] It was very personal. Stand Up To Cancer was started eight years ago by a group of women who had been profoundly touched by cancer. In my case, my two sisters are cancer survivors and I lost my mother to multiple myeloma. Rusty and I also had friends who were in the fight. We looked around and said “Why is cancer being treated the same way today as it was 40 years ago?” We were a small but determined group of women with the goal of making everyone diagnosed with cancer a survivor. We were tired of losing people and seeing our loved ones defining themselves by cancer. And now here we are eight years later with 19 dream teams of cross-disciplinary scientists, 36 young investigators, over 140 institutions, 165 clinical trials and over 9,000 patients benefiting from the research.
[Rusty:] It’s now evolved into something bigger than anything any of us ever dreamed of. The incredible accomplishments are even more significant because it’s been so collaborative with so many different people from different disciplines.
Tell us about your first jobs.
[Sue:] My first job was working at a jeans store when I was in high school. It was one of those quintessential shops where you could listen to great music and people would dance on the counters.
[Rusty:] I started out as a teacher – when I graduated college in the early 70s, I had my sights on acting and producing. However, in that era, you had to either be a teacher or nurse. I went to grad school for special education, taught for seven or eight years and then helped launch special education statewide. It was all new back then. Before I started teaching and acting, I didn’t realize that I had the skills or the fortitude to take big chances in business. Eventually one of my mentors told me to take my experience as a teacher and actress and turn it into something I would lead. I tell my children being able to teach is an attribute that helps in any field.
And lead you did! You went on to start your own marketing agency. What were some of your first big moments?
[Rusty:] In 1990 my company RPR and Associates was 2 years old. Susan Powter, who became a fitness guru, came into my office, showed me a picture of herself and told me she lost 133 pounds. She was funny and articulate, and I recognized that she had a message that would resonate with women all over the world. We became partners and later that year launched Stop The Insanity. It led to TV deals, movies, books and a radio show, which became the number one show in the country. That success brought me to being named to Advertising Age’s Top 100, and helped develop my reputation of being able to take someone’s dream and turn it into a mini movement. Being a part of starting the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation was also an incredible moment. Especially Race for the Cure. We started with 30 people at the Galleria in Dallas and a few years later I was lucky enough to see 100,000 women in Central Park. Nancy Brinker’s dream came true to honor her sister Susan, and we introduced breast cancer to the world as a disease that we needed to fight. Little did I know then how profound cancer research was going to be in my life.
You’re now powerhouses in marketing. How has your style evolved throughout your careers?
[Rusty:] Style has always been a way for me to feel and express my confidence. And the older I’ve gotten, the less conservative I’ve become. I’m finding myself wearing contemporary designers like Bailey44 – pieces that are a little sexier and a little edgier – and loving how it feels.
[Sue:] If I kept everything I wore when I started working I’d have a closet full of shoulder-padded black suits! I’ve become more relaxed with my wardrobe, which I think has come with self-confidence.
What are some of your go-to pieces?
[Sue:] Platform shoes, jeans and a great leather jacket.
[Rusty:] The most fashionable black slacks I can find. Also turtlenecks and cozy sweaters to wrap myself up in.
Tell us about some of your mentors?
[Sue:] When I was with Almay and Revlon I worked for an amazing guy named Michael Hammond. He personified inspiration and taught me to curb the impulse to react quickly. He would say, “Slow down, let things unfold, listen closely. Don’t feel like you have to jump in and immediately solve every problem.” If you react too impulsively you can create bigger issues than the one you are trying to solve.
[Rusty:] My husband has been an important mentor, and has taught me a lot about marketing and sales. To this day, he’s still my number one role model for making the right decisions. Sherry Lansing has also been an incredible mentor. She was my idol back when I was an actress. Every woman in the business knew her name because she was a person who truly broke the glass ceiling. Getting to know her and becoming friends, I realized that there aren’t only career mentors, but life mentors too.
What advice would you give to other women in your field?
[Sue:] Be the type of woman who supports other women — raise them up, give them opportunities, listen to them, let them lean on you and be open to leaning on others when you need it.
[Rusty:] You really can’t do it alone – you’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with. Also, you’re supposed to be afraid. Use that fear to energize you and share the positive energy with those around you.
What are some of the key moments in your life that define you?
[Sue:] In a strange way, losing my mom to cancer helped define me as a woman. It allowed me to reflect on her accomplishments as a mother and grandmother. It gave me an appreciation for the choices she made in life and the choices she made about how she wanted to end her life. When someone you love is reflecting on their life, it pushes you to think about your own life in different ways.
[Rusty:] There are so many moments that have defined me. The birth of my children and being a mother. This last year I have had the most life changing experiences with my two sons. Also realizing I’d found the love of my life. It’s hard as a businesswoman and career-driven woman – when you’re climbing the ladder in high heels – to find a forever partner. As a single mom, I didn’t want to depend on anyone else, so I’m so proud I recognized that God brought me this phenomenal guy. There were also moments when I could have not made it, when I could have given in, but I didn’t. I’m proud that I’ve never given up on myself.
Who are your Modern Muses?
[Rusty:] Two of our SU2C co-founders. Laura Ziskin, because she’d listen to my craziest of ideas and turn around and make them a reality. And Sherry Lansing, who’s take on life I truly admire.
[Sue:] Sherry Lansing and Laura Ziskin are on my list, as well. Also my partner, Rusty, and my two sisters. I’m extremely fortunate to be surrounded by strong, powerful women who inspire me every day.