Vanessa Vaughn Mathews is the founder and chief resilience officer of Asfalis Advisors. Vanessa’s breadth of experience in risk mitigation, crisis preparedness, business continuity, and terrorism mitigation equip Asfalis to support their customers, to include property managers, universities, international and intermodal logistics firms, retailers, the healthcare industry and athletic associations. Prior to Asfalis, Vanessa worked with a Tier 1 intelligence agency and a Fortune 50 company, which equipped her to be on the front lines of the industry to restore business and community resiliency amidst the Coronavirus pandemic.
Vanessa’s engagement with the community has earned her recognition at the local, national and international levels. The Mecklenburg Times recognized Vanessa as one of the 50 Most Influential Women in Charlotte, NC (2020). The US State Department recognized her as a “Global Innovation Fellow.” The United Kingdom’s “Acquisition International Magazine” named her as a finalist for the “Best Female Owned and Operated Small Businesses.” Vanessa also co-owns and hosts the Business Resilience DECODED podcast. Additionally, Vanessa was the 1st female in the state of Georgia to graduate with a degree in Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
Intro: [00:00:04] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, it’s time for GWBC Radio’s Open for Business. Now, here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:18] Lee Kantor here. Another episode of GWBC’s Open for Business. And this is going to be a good one. Today, I have with me Vanessa von Mathews. And she is with a company called Asfalis Advisors. Welcome.
Vanessa Mathews: [00:00:30] Hey, thank you for having me.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:32] Well, Vanessa, before we get too far into things, can you share a little bit about your work? How are you serving folks?
Vanessa Mathews: [00:00:38] Yes. So, I’m excited to be here. Our work is really in the space of helping clients to identify known and unknown threat around their people, processes, infrastructure and their technology. So, what people threat could be, “Hey, I’ve hired the wrong person, and they became a reputational risk to the business,” or a operational risk can be, “Hey, I have an issue within my supply chain that’s costing me money or that’s impacting how we deliver the products or the service,” or from a technology perspective, it could be, “Hey, we have a cyber security vulnerability that impacted the operation that’s causing a liability costs.” And so, we help organizations to find those things before they happen, and then give them a strategy to fix it.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:25] Now, how do you get into this line of work?
Vanessa Mathews: [00:01:28] That’s a great question. So, the first story is I experienced a tornado with wind speeds exceeding 135 miles per hour that picked up my vehicle and folded it while I was inside it. And so, I’m literally filling in my car, there’s a brick building that’s crumbled to pieces next to me, the wind blows, and my windshield burst, and my car goes off the ground. And there’s cars, dumpsters and billboards flying towards my head in the middle of the air. And so, for me, personally, it was the first time in my life where I realized you are not in control, and there’s nothing that you could do to change this situation, which is, ironically, where I meet most clients today.
Vanessa Mathews: [00:02:10] So, after that experience and a little bit before most of my career was attained in the space of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, I ultimately worked with the Department of Homeland Security in Los Angeles, did a lot of work at local and county governments, and then ultimately went into the corporate space from a retail, manufacturing and aviation perspective, and did a lot of work in risk mitigation, crisis preparedness, and ultimately what people call today business resiliency. And that’s helping company to think about what are those things that can disrupt your organization, and how do we give you a strategy and the training to make sure that you can absorb better impact and bounce back?
Lee Kantor: [00:02:56] Now, I want to go back to the tornado ’cause that, that’s freaking me out a little bit, to be honest. So, you’re in a car, and you see there’s a storm or something. You must know something’s amiss in the weather, right?
Vanessa Mathews: [00:03:13] No, actually.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:13] No.
Vanessa Mathews: [00:03:15] So, it was a beautiful Friday afternoon. As day turned to night, that was the problem right there where you couldn’t see that tornado, and it was in downtown Atlanta. So, it was actually the first tornado on record to hit the City of Atlanta. So, I didn’t think it was a tornado. Really, I thought it was a bomb because it just came out of nowhere, and you couldn’t hear the train that people tell you that it sounds like. So, yeah, it just came out of nowhere and-
Lee Kantor: [00:03:46] So, you just held onto the steering wheel?
Vanessa Mathews: [00:03:48] I had a plan.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:49] So, you’re in the car. And then, all of a sudden, it’s on you. And now, you’re just holding onto the steering wheel, your seatbelted in, like you’re just going along for the ride, and just praying. I mean, is that how you do that?
Vanessa Mathews: [00:03:49] That’s exactly what happened. I thought about getting out and running. But literally, a brick building crumbled to pieces next to my car. And then, a light pole fell parallel to my vehicle. So, I felt like I was safer inside of the car than running outside.
Lee Kantor: [00:04:20] So, now, when you go through that, so then … I mean, I’m from South Florida, so we had hurricanes. But hurricanes are like slow moving, you see, “Oh, it’s coming in two days. Oh, wait one more day. it’ll be here.” Like you see it coming. I mean, it’s devastating while it happens, but it’s kind of a slow motion thing. But your thing is so random, and it could have happened anywhere, but then it goes away as fast as it came, right?
Vanessa Mathews: [00:04:45] Yes, absolutely.
Lee Kantor: [00:04:46] So, now, the thing’s over. You land back on the ground. How do you kind of process that?
Vanessa Mathews: [00:04:54] Yes. So, what’s funny, this is kind of pre-Twitter. So, everybody thought that I was lying and that it didn’t happen until the evening news caught up with the tornado. And during that time, it was about three or four tornadoes that touched down in the City of Atlanta. One person ended up losing their life. A few people lost their homes. There was an SEC championship basketball playing at the Georgia Dome. In the middle of the game, the roof ripped off the dome and 50,000 plus people began running out outside.
Lee Kantor: [00:05:24] Right.
Vanessa Mathews: [00:05:25] And so-
Lee Kantor: [00:05:27] I remember. I remember when that happened. All the windows from the Western blew out. Not all, but a lot of them. Like it was a traumatic moment for downtown Atlanta. I remember it vividly. So, when it’s over, how do you assess like, “Okay, I’m alive. My car’s probably trashed”? Like, what are you thinking about? Like, did you call your mom? Like, what do you do?
Vanessa Mathews: [00:05:53] All of the above. So yeah, I think the first thing is, one, just being grateful that, hey, I’m alive and I’m still here. Number two, what that experience helped me to do was to refocus about what my priority were, because my perspective was you could have easily lost your life and you didn’t. So, what are you going to do with it? What impact are you going to make, and how are you going to leverage this experience? Because the big thing is that I didn’t have a plan, and I’m in the field of crisis management, business continuity. Everybody comes to me to figure out a strategy for how to move forward in disruption. Well, Mike Tyson always said, “Everybody has a plan until you get punched in the mouth.” Well, my punch in the mouth was a tornado. And for some people today, they’re punched in the mouth was COVID-19.
Lee Kantor: [00:06:42] Right.
Vanessa Mathews: [00:06:43] Right? So, it’s taking that opportunity and , being grateful; but then, , what am I going to do next?
Lee Kantor: [00:06:51] So, I mean, I would think having gone through this, you have a lot of empathy for what your clients are going through because you’ve faced a crisis head on, kind of lived to see the other side of it, and also, that much more aware of, okay, you got to put some things. In your case, it was kind of random. It’s hard to prepare for that, but I’m sure you can prepare for bad weather. But in business, there are some things that they’re not going to happen guaranteed, but there’s a likelihood, depending on what your business, that these kind of risks are going to occur, and these crises are going to occur. So, be prepared.
Vanessa Mathews: [00:07:28] Yeah. So, you mentioned a great word, and that is empathy. What prepared me for COVID-19 was not only the tornado, it was also the experiences that I obtained in my career from helping to manage hurricane evacuations, shutting down facilities from a global perspective, fires and floods I’ve experienced, active shooter simulation drills, plane crashes, infectious disease, simulations and things that we’ve worked through, prison escapes, cyber threats. So, I’ve worked with a number of things in my career.
Vanessa Mathews: [00:08:08] But the other thing that I think was important too was I’ve experienced my COVID-19 before COVID-19. And so, I understand exactly what it’s like to go over 14 months with no revenue. I know what it’s like to lose your entire pipeline. I know what it’s like to have to lay off your entire team. I know what it’s like to have your business model get to a place where it’s stagnant, and you don’t really know what to do next. I know what it’s like to hire a horrible person that causes a reputational risk to your business. And then, more importantly, I know what it’s like to lose your confidence in that entire process and not know what to do next.
Vanessa Mathews: [00:08:48] And so, what I’ve had to learn in my own experiences, going through my own crisis, , from a industry perspective and then , from a business ownership standpoint, is how to pull yourself up out of that and find the things within you that you did not know existed. And exactly to your point, what helped me to serve in COVID was those experience because it created empathy. I can, now, be more empathetic because I understand it.
Vanessa Mathews: [00:09:15] And so, I think, for our clients, what they care about is she gets me, she understands where I’m at. And we have clients that are in the enterprise level. We have some clients that are on the government side, some small business clients, as well as on the nonprofit side. And being able to be able to meet those four different groups of people where they are has been absolutely critical.
Lee Kantor: [00:09:40] Now, what are you telling your clients, some of which I’m sure prepared better than others, but like what are kind of does tough love conversations you have to have with them at this point when we’re in it now?
Vanessa Mathews: [00:09:54] Yeah. So, we’ve been working with our clients since January. So, in January and February, many people in the United States were not even concerned about COVID-19. Many of them thought that this would never happen, and we were overreacting. So, from the beginning, and even into the recovery phases of where we are now, we’ve been helping them with providing them expertise and intelligence. They’ve really enjoyed tapping into our breadth of experience, as well as the network that we have to give them information that’s firsthand, so that they can make more informed decision. We help them to identify known and unknown threats that’s been critical. For some organizations, they’re in a multi-state structure. And so, being able to know about what’s happening in this jurisdiction versus this jurisdiction, or what are some of the requirements that are coming out that I need to be aware of to reduce the liability for the organization.
Vanessa Mathews: [00:10:53] For some of them, we’re helping them to create decision making tools, so that they can think about how did they navigate this road ahead because what’s constant in COVID is change. And change is always constant, but it has accelerated in this environment, and they’re not accustomed to that level of uncertainty. We’re helping them to craft a method that they can sell, not only to their shareholders, but to the employees, the suppliers, and the customers. So, you can say that you want to reopen, but how do we know that we’re reopening because of people first, or are we putting their bottom line first? So, helping them to really think through what they’re saying and what they’re doing.
Vanessa Mathews: [00:11:32] And we’ve we’ve also been someone that they can latch on to. How do you lead when you don’t know where you’re leading to? Where I was leading to six or eight weeks ago is much different over the next 10, 20, 40 weeks. And so, we’re helping to help businesses think about, how do you redefine what success looks like and where do we go now?
Lee Kantor: [00:11:56] Now, how are you helping them kind of deal with a timeline? Are you giving them kind of 30, 60, 90-day timelines? Are you giving them a year to look forward? Like, what does the end look like to you in terms of time?
Vanessa Mathews: [00:12:13] That’s a great question. Probably the number one question that we get. So, first, I’ll caveat by saying from a business continuity perspective, this timeframe that we’re in where we’re having to “recover” and think about the new normal, we’ve never had to do it in this timeframe that we’re presented with, right? Typically, if there’s a fire, if there’s a flood, if there’s a hurricane, you may go one to two months, maybe three, potentially six months, depending on the business and the type of crisis, but we haven’t experienced a global crisis together that’s impacting everybody that also creates an economic crisis at the same time. And so, the first thing is even my industry is having to rethink a timeline.
Vanessa Mathews: [00:13:01] Number two, we’re dealing with the unknown, and that is the virus. Because many health professionals have stated the virus dictates the timeline, right? And so, how do you develop a plan when there is no cure at the moment or a vaccine, right? So, what we’ve taken guidance from is we have a counterpart, Dr. David [Lance], that actually came up with a COVID-19 Recovery Framework to “Cultural Normalization.” So, what do we define as the new cultural norm? And it’s laid out in a phase one, phase two, phase three approach. And phase one is 10 weeks, phase two is 20 weeks, and then phase three is 40 weeks.
Vanessa Mathews: [00:13:42] And so, at the date of this podcast or interview, that’s really looking advanced into 2021 and helping them to think through, how are you going to navigate over the next 10, 20, 40 weeks into 2021? And what are those leading indicators? That’s the key thing. What are those leading indicators that you need to be paying attention to? And when they meet a certain threshold, what decisions should you be making now?
Lee Kantor: [00:14:09] Now, how are you helping your clients from a leadership standpoint in order to communicate effectively with their people in terms of, like you said, there’s so many unknowns, there’s so much information out there, there’s so much misinformation out there. You don’t know what’s good information. It’s hard to tell. Even educated people have a difficult time discerning what is the truth, what is opinion. We don’t have enough data in terms of facts. Like we don’t know how many people have the disease. We don’t know how many people have it or asymptomatic. There’s a lot of unknowns in this. So, do you err on the side of just being more careful and conservative, or do you say, “You know what? Since we don’t know, we can err on the side,” because it doesn’t look so bad and kind of in certains, it depends on how you look at it, things aren’t that bad, so we can be more aggressive. So, how do you kind of manage their kind of risk tolerance?
Vanessa Mathews: [00:15:16] Yeah. So, from a communications perspective, I think it always starts with trust. So, we’ve outlined, what are the four crisis leadership principles that we believe that every crisis leaders should have and should embody. And the first is trust. You always want to make sure that trust is established. And more importantly, trust is maintained. People don’t follow people that they don’t trust. So, you have to lead with trust and integrity through your communications, which can show up as transparency or openness.
Vanessa Mathews: [00:15:50] The second thing that we talk about is communication, which is absolutely critical. That’s your verbal. That’s your non-verbal. But communication from the concept of really taking this from the change management side, what do you want people to know when you are communicating with them? What do you want people to feel when you are communicating with them? And more specifically, what do we want people to do once you send off that communication? Oftentimes, we think about what we want people to know and feel. Very rarely do we help them think about what we want them to actually do. And so, we’ve helped them to kind of think through what that process is.
Vanessa Mathews: [00:16:28] The third thing from a crisis leadership perspective is influence. Whoever is communicating or is the face of this crisis for the organization needs to lead with influence. And for us, that means having the character, the connection, and the competence. And people can see those three different aspects from you.
Vanessa Mathews: [00:16:53] And then, the fourth thing is being able to provide hope. I believe that in this time, now more than ever, people need hope. The economy may be reopening, but that doesn’t mean jobs are coming back. So, how are you giving them a message of hope, so that they have a future that they can believe in? Even if they don’t see it, you have to have that. And the reason why I believe that is going back to my own crisis. I learned that, in my opinion, you’re not a real CEO until your business goes through a crisis. Because it’s crisis situations that show you who you really are. It shows you how you show up, and it shows you your ability to be able to lead when everything around you is disrupted. And being able to have hope in the midst of chaos is absolutely critical for crisis leaders.
Lee Kantor: [00:17:46] Now, how has your organization kind of had to adapt to this difficult period we’re in?
Vanessa Mathews: [00:17:55] Yeah, we had to stop and take a nap. So, when it first started, it was pretty smooth. And then, around March, when it caught up with the US, it just felt like we were trying to keep our head above water. You know, it’s great that we’re a crisis management company. So, our expertise and our intelligence were used a lot and are continuously being leveraged, but we definitely had to make sure that, first, we were taking care of ourselves.
Vanessa Mathews: [00:18:31] So, from a purely business perspective, one thing is being able to quickly respond to the needs of our clients. We’ve seen a drastic shift. 85% of our clients are specifically focused on the supply chain. So, they want training, and capacity, and the infrastructure built for their supply chains tier one, tier two, tier three suppliers, so that those organizations can better leverage and strengthen risk management, crisis management, business continuity for the business. Whether you’re a one-man shop or if you have 200.000 employees, if you’re running a business and you have an operation, risk management is there to support the operation. So, those principles are absolutely critical.
Vanessa Mathews: [00:19:16] The second thing is we are paying attention to the workforce. There’s a lot of great talent that has been released from several organizations. So, we’re going back to the drawing board and drawing on the relationships that we have to help identify talent for the future of where our company is going.
Lee Kantor: [00:19:33] Now, talk about the GWBC. How has that organization helped your company?
Vanessa Mathews: [00:19:38] Yeah. I think it’s really been about , being able to connect with women and seeing people who share your same experiences. I’m a recently married person. And so, connecting with other business owners who are married, who also run a business, and who ultimately have children, there’s a different dynamic to what that looks like than our male counterparts. So, that’s been amazing. I think the second thing is the network, whether that is through our small businesses or it’s through the corporate partners that support GWBC, it’s been a good opportunity to build on some of those relationships.
Lee Kantor: [00:20:16] And if somebody wanted to learn more about what you’re up to and have a conversation, is there a website?
Vanessa Mathews: [00:20:22] Absolutely. So, if you want to follow the company on social media, we are @asfalisadvisors on all social platform, as well as our website, www.asfalisadvisors.com. And then, for me, I am @vanessavmathews on social media and on LinkedI,
Lee Kantor: [00:20:46] All right. Well, Vanessa, thank you so much for sharing your story today. You’re doing important work.
Vanessa Mathews: [00:20:51] Thank you.
Lee Kantor: [00:20:52] All right. This is Lee Kantor. We will see you all next time on GWBC’s Open for Business.
About Your Host
Roz Lewis is President & CEO – Greater Women’s Business Council (GWBC®), a regional partner organization of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) and a member of the WBENC Board of Directors.
Previous career roles at Delta Air Lines included Flight Attendant, In-Flight Supervisor and Program Manager, Corporate Supplier Diversity.
During her career she has received numerous awards and accolades. Most notable: Atlanta Business Chronicle’s 2018 Diversity & Inclusion award; 2017 inducted into the WBE Hall of Fame by the American Institute of Diversity and Commerce and 2010 – Women Out Front Award from Georgia Tech University.
She has written and been featured in articles on GWBC® and supplier diversity for Forbes Magazine SE, Minority Business Enterprise, The Atlanta Tribune, WE- USA, Minorities and Women in Business magazines. Her quotes are published in The Girls Guide to Building a Million Dollar Business book by Susan Wilson Solovic and Guide Coaching by Ellen M. Dotts, Monique A. Honaman and Stacy L. Sollenberger. Recently, she appeared on Atlanta Business Chronicle’s BIZ on 11Alive, WXIA to talk about the importance of mentoring for women.
In 2010, Lewis was invited to the White House for Council on Women and Girls Entrepreneur Conference for the announcement of the Small Business Administration (SBA) new Women Owned Small Business Rule approved by Congress. In 2014, she was invited to the White House to participate in sessions on small business priorities and the Affordable Care Act.
Roz Lewis received her BS degree from Florida International University, Miami, FL and has the following training/certifications: Certified Purchasing Managers (CPM); Certified Professional in Supplier Diversity (CPSD), Institute for Supply Management (ISM)of Supplier Diversity and Procurement: Diversity Leadership Academy of Atlanta (DLAA), Negotiations, Supply Management Strategies and Analytical Purchasing.
Connect with Roz on LinkedIn.
The Greater Women’s Business Council (GWBC®) is at the forefront of redefining women business enterprises (WBEs). An increasing focus on supplier diversity means major corporations are viewing our WBEs as innovative, flexible and competitive solutions. The number of women-owned businesses is rising to reflect an increasingly diverse consumer base of women making a majority of buying decision for herself, her family and her business.
GWBC® has partnered with dozens of major companies who are committed to providing a sustainable foundation through our guiding principles to bring education, training and the standardization of national certification to women businesses in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina