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Michelle Pujadas is the founder and co-CEO of Zer0 to 5ive, a marketing and communications firm based in Philadelphia, with offices in New York and Pittsburgh. Since 1999, Zer0 to 5ive has helped clients in industries like education, financial services, healthcare, and consumer products build their brands, learn new technologies, and stand out in the marketplace. Thanks to its innovative campaign strategies and experienced team, the company has won scores of creative services awards, such as a silver 2014 Davey Award and multiple Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Silver Anvil Awards of Excellence and Big Apple awards. Additionally, Michelle Pujadas was named as one of Philadelphia SmartCEO’s 25 Powerhouse Women Leaders in 2013. Prior to starting Zer0 to 5ive, Michelle was a Senior Vice President at Ketchum, where she won the company its first Silver Anvil for its Technology Practice.
Tell us about your background as an entrepreneur.
MICHELLE PUJADAS: I do have an unusual background in that I commanded a unit during the Gulf War. I went through school on an ROTC scholarship, because my entire family it seems is related to the military, or was in the military somehow. I was encouraged to follow that route, so I went through ROTC, and during the time I went through ROTC, I went to Airborne School. I jumped out of planes and in Airborne School there are other ROTC students there, which is great, but you really meet the real military and you get so excited about what great people these are, the teamwork and the camaraderie that comes out of it, and then just finishing something like Airborne School you get a sense of “I can do anything if I put my mind to it.” That to me was a really great point in my life, because it made me realize that if you want to do something, you put your mind to it, and you work really hard you can do it—that may be a mental thing, or a physical challenge, whatever the case may be. Then I went through and was probably a pretty regular soldier. I went to my Officer Basic course, graduated number two in my class and got into the reserves. Then, all of a sudden, we had the first Gulf War. I was called up, given a unit to command, and I did that for six months. It’s one of those six month periods in life that you say, “Wow I’m really glad I did that for six months, and while I’m so glad it is over after only six months.” Because you really see people—all types of people—under very, very stressful conditions. It was a real growing up period for me. I was still in my twenties and I was in charge of people in their twenties, thirties, forties, and fifties coming from all walks of life. When you grow up as a technical writer and you’re working with entrepreneurs you sometimes do not have all the leadership and management skills that you need, and I feel like in that six-month period, I got my MBA in management.
Could you talk a bit about your personal, family life?
I have three children. They’re all girls, and they’re pretty fabulous. Definitely, as I mentioned earlier, logistics is a challenge sometimes, but I’m at the point where two are in college and I have one home, and I must admit I’ve had to hire a driver to actually move around from one activity to the other, but I think one of the best things is that the girls have grown up for the most part with me working at Zer0 to 5ive. I’ve always worked, but for the past sixteen years I’ve been with Zer0 to 5ive and they’ve seen a woman being an entrepreneur, they have seen the excitement of winning new clients, they see a mom working really hard, and I think that I’ve been able to kind of get over missing all of the meetings with teachers that maybe I should’ve had, but showing them the other slice of life. What’s also been great is because I have my own company, I can absolutely decide if there’s a meeting that I want to go to and I can work around that, so I feel very fortunate that—unlike some working moms who don’t have any flexibility—I do have some flexibility.
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