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IAM1928 – Coach Empowers Women Who Runs Businesses and Changes the World

Podcast Interview with Nell Merlino

Why it was selected for “CBNation Architects”:

In this episode, the guest is Nell Merlino, an influential leader primarily focused on empowering women and girls. Nell is recognized for her significant efforts in making women and girls more visible, valued, and heard.

Key Points:

Nell's Story: Nell couldn't find a suitable job for herself in 1988, leading to the creation of her own consulting firm. As a CEO, she realized she could make a difference not only in her life but also in the lives of others. This realization led her to help thousands of women become CEOs in their own right.

Empowering Women: As the founder of “Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence,” Nell has been able to rally global companies such as American Express, Walmart, and Cartier, along with experts like Hillary Clinton, Corey Booker, and Suze Orman to help women business owners across the country gain access to billion-dollar financing, grants, contracts, and customers.

Business Service: Nell offers coaching services to empower women globally, offering guidance on how women can present themselves visually.

Secret Sauce: Her approach to successful leadership involves collaboration with other CEOs in both small and large groups.

CEO Hack: Nell advocates for physical exercise and setting priorities to maintain energy and focus.

CEO Nugget: Nell emphasizes the importance of trusting our gut instincts and seeking advice from other CEOs when in doubt.

CEO Defined: For Nell, the “E” in CEO stands for “Excitement.” Being a CEO brings liberation, the pleasure, and excitement to do more of what you aspire to.

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Nell Merlino Teaser 00:00

For women, what it looks like is still it's like some fashion models shoot and, some of us will do well in that. Some of us, that's not where that's not where we shine. And so how do we show up visually, particularly given the medium that you and I are talking through now? We need ways to show up visually that are not just all based on youth and beauty, but are based on beauty and power and accomplishment.

And how do you show that in a picture?

Intro 00:25

Do you want to learn effective ways to build relationships, generate sales and grow your business from successful? Entrepreneurs, startups, and CEOs without listening to a long, long, long interview?

If so, you've come to the right place. Gresham Harkless values your time and is ready to share with you precisely the information you're in search of. This is the I Am CEO podcast.

Gresham Harkless 00:52

Hello. Hello. Hello. This is Gresh from the I Am CEO podcast, and I appreciate you listening to this episode. If you've been listening this year, you know that we hit 1600 different where we're repurposing our favorite episodes around certain categories, topics, or as I like to call them, business pillars that we think are going to be extremely impactful for CEOs, entrepreneurs, and business owners, or what I like to call CB nation architects who are looking to level up their organizations.

This month, we are focused on innovation, disruption, women entrepreneurship, DEI, gig economy, remote economy, even the cannabis industry. Think about these industries and these disruptive technologies that really sometimes aren't as disruptive, but this people that are just paying attention to what the market needs and they're providing that.

So really think about the things that are quote-unquote outside of the norm, but really Help entrepreneurship to grow and fully develop. I think it's an extremely exciting time when you're talking about any type of innovation or disruption, because I think that there's so many opportunities and needs that aren't felt that are starting to be filled by different groups, different organizations, or even different industries.

So what I want you to do is sit back and enjoy this special episode of the I Am CEO podcast.

Hello. Hello. Hello. This is Gresh from the I Am CEO podcast. I have a very special guest on our show today. I have Nell Merlino of Nell, super excited to have you on the show.

Nell Merlino 02:17

I'm so happy to be here.

Gresham Harkless 02:19

Yes. I'm excited about all the awesome things that you're doing and excited to unpack some of those words of wisdom and knowledge that you have. And of course, before we jumped into the interview, I want to read a little bit more about Nell so you can hear about some of those awesome things.

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And Nell is an iconic leader whose life work is making women's and girls more visible, valued and heard. Nell mobilized more than 25 million people in support of girl's ambition in support of Take Our Daughters To Work Day.

And as the founder of Count Me In for Women's Economic Independence, Nell, help galvanize global companies, including American Express, Walmart and Cartier, along with leases, including Hillary Clinton, Cory Booker and Susie Orman to help women business owners across the country gain access to $billions and financing grants, contracts and customers.

A constant presence with the press for a decade now has generated millions of media mentions about women's and girls. And in her new business as an artist now is capturing every evolving female power and beauty and dynamic collage portraits of women who are running businesses and changing our world.

Nell, love everything that you're doing. Super excited to have you here today. Are you ready to speak to the I Am CEO community?

Nell Merlino 03:27

I am so ready because being a CEO has been the most extraordinary thing in my life.

[restrict paid=”true”]

Gresham Harkless 03:33


Nell Merlino 03:33

I love talking to other CEOs.

Gresham Harkless 03:36

Yes, I love that. You had so much perspective and experience. So, I guess before we jumped into hearing more about that, take us a little bit more through how you got started when I call your CEO story. We'll let you get started with all the awesome work you're doing.

Nell Merlino 03:49

I found myself way back in 1988. I had finished working on a presidential campaign. Mike Dukakis ran. He lost. I had no job. I'm not looking for a job. And after a couple of months realized that there was no job that really fit me. So, I, at that point, decided to start my own. It was what I was a consulting firm. I think how a lot of people start, but I started that way and so quickly realized how liberating it was.

Because I had nobody telling me what to do. Any money I made was mine. And it started me on a journey that not only did I build an extraordinary communications company, but went on to build an organization that helped thousands and thousands of women become CEOs in their own right. So it is something for me that being the CEO of a company, but more importantly on some levels, being the CEO in your own life.

Where you are not, I notice now and I'm particularly during the pandemic people who were at loose ends because they weren't reporting to their boss in the same way and those kinds of things and I didn't skip a beat, for reasons because I'd always been, my own boss and often, the employer of other people and I think one of the greatest thing CEOs do is provide other people with livelihoods.

That is, that has been a great it's difficult. It's a challenge. I found myself at one point with a huge payroll and gasping for air, but also knowing that I was putting food on the table of dozens of families. So, I think there is a real wonderful both responsibility and freedom being a CEO.

So I recommend it highly. Not everybody is cut out to be one, but I think more of us than not, it's something worth doing even for a little while in your life. It changes how you see everything. I think.

Gresham Harkless 05:50

Yeah, absolutely. So I love that, you've been able to do that in your life. And, of course, it creates that trickle effect and allowing others to be able to do that. as well.

Nell Merlino 06:00

It's, as you say it is, we're all confronted with things that we know aren't right for us. And we have the opportunity to create situations that are right for us.

And that is the most liberating thing to stop thinking that we don't measure up to someone else's standard. We set standards in our own businesses. Obviously, there are standards that exist and their laws and all those things we have to comply with. But beyond that, it's how do you want to live and how do you want to work and how do you want to treat people?

And how do you want to treat and engage with your customers? That is highly doable. So and I know so to anyone out there that's doing it, it's the best, the best.

Gresham Harkless 06:47

Absolutely. So, I wanted to drill down a little bit more here a little bit more about your new venture. It sounds like it's a manifestation of all the different experiences that you have. And the take your daughter to work day the count me in for women's economic independence. It sounds like, the work that you're doing now is built up on that, but I wanted to hear a little bit more about that and what you're doing there.

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Nell Merlino 07:08

What struck me a couple of years ago is particularly for women, but I think it's true for a lot of people is how do we see ourselves? Women particularly have been bombarded for centuries with how we're supposed to look what's fashionable or in the case of when I started my first business, how are we supposed to act less feminine and more masculine?

Because that was the business model. This is not a criticism of men. It's just, it was the reality. It's when women showed up in blue suits with those pussycat bows, looking like ties and all that stuff. That's what I started. So it's. It's how do we now show up as ourselves?

And what does that look like? And I started to play around with that myself and ended up making a collage of myself as the Pope. And I was raised a good Catholic girl. And I was told in second grade that you can't be the Pope. You particularly, you girls cannot ever have this job. And that has always stuck with me.

As like, how is that possible in 2022? And there's a whole other discussion about that today. But anyway and I made this image of myself to look at what is forbidden and it was, it gave me a sense of my own authority. That I have not had before and it's gotten me thinking about how many of us get to points of success and transition in our life.

I need to step back for a minute. It's like the opposite of a vision board. We're looking about what we want to achieve. We need to take a moment and understand what we have achieved. What we have achieved, what does that look like? What does that look like? Because for women, what it looks like is still, it's like some fashion models shoot and, some of us will do well.

And that's some of us. That's not where that's not where we shine. And so how do we show up visually, particularly given the medium that you and I are talking through now? We need ways to show up visually that are not just all based on youth and beauty, but are based on beauty and power and accomplishment.

And how do you show that in a picture? How do you show that in a picture? So that's what I've been working on. And I've been working with extraordinary women who wanted to do coaching with me. And I said to them, I said, I'd love to do that, but I want to produce a portrait of you at the end.

Gresham Harkless 09:27

Awesome. Awesome. So what would you consider to be what I like to call your secret sauce? This could be for yourself, the businesses or organizations you build our combination of both. But what do you feel sets you apart? And makes you unique.

Nell Merlino 09:38

The thing that has fueled me all through this is being with others is being with other CEOs. Small groups, large groups. From the time I started, I ran, we ran a competition for years called make mine a million dollar business. And reporters were constantly saying, what turned, cause Susie Orman was involved, Hillary Clinton, Cory Booker. There were so many cool people and what drove me was the women was being around.

And I still periodically talk to a business coach who was a CEO of a highly successful company. She sold the company is still living off the revenue from selling the company, her name is Marjorie Miller. She's in Dallas, Texas. Got a company called People Biz. She's incredible.

She has helped thousands. But so I say this to CEOs. I have a coach. My secret sauce is I don't ever think about how am I going to get all this work done ever. I think about who am I calling? Who am I calling? It's not how you're going to do it. It's who are you calling or texting or whatever to do the work with you or for you. I think that is key.

Gresham Harkless 10:55

Yeah, absolutely. So what would you consider to be what I like to call a CEO hack? So this could be like an apple book or a habit that you have. What's something you feel like makes you more effective and efficient.

Nell Merlino 11:06

Exercise, physical exercise. I have worked out for years. And I would say given the pressure of the job and the, and for someone who was constantly traveling, you have to be able to physically show up and you have to show up for yourself, but you have to show up for everybody else with some level of energy and ability and health literally health.

So, I would say that, and I don't think that's an uncommon one, but it is, I think vital, health exercise. And I think setting priorities has been a real power of mine to just know that in the course of the day, I know my friend Nelly Golan has only set three.

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Marjorie says seven. They're different. They're different. I don't think you can do more than seven and that you really, as anytime you start to get tight or like feeling like crazy or you can't do something. Just get it down, get it down and see that these things that are in your head need to go on somebody else's plate.

And there are three things or seven things that you need to take care of.

Gresham Harkless 12:14

I love that. So I want to ask you now, you might've already touched on this for a CEO nugget. So this is a little bit more word of wisdom or a piece of advice. I like to say it might be something you would tell your favorite client, or if you were to hop into a time machine, you might tell your younger business.

Nell Merlino 12:27

I made a very bad business decision. About 5, 6 years ago, and I've thought about it a lot because failure teaches us everything. And I did not trust my gut instinct. My gut instinct was to not do this and I overrode it. I overrode it and I've written about this process of overriding my best judgment.

Whenever you doubt your those strong signals that come to you, if you doubt them, you really have to sit yourself down. This is when you talk to your other CEOs and say, here are the facts. Here's how it makes me feel. I would say the other thing is. You have got to check in with how you feel, because how we feel is how we got to where we are.

And when we deny it, we're like, shutting off our secret sauce. So, it's a long answer, but it is a, how important our gut instincts are, how much we have to respect them. And if we don't. To understand why we don't.

Gresham Harkless 13:37

Yeah. I appreciate you, having that, transparency and sharing that with us. And so you, you might've already touched on this as well, and I was gonna ask you for the definition of what it means to be a CEO and our goal is to have different quote unquote CEOs on this show, Nell what does being a CEO mean to you?

Nell Merlino 13:52

Wow, I tell you chief enjoyment officer. Chief excitement officer, chief energy officer. I have a lot of energy. I enjoy my work and my life. I think what I know what I do excites people. And it is, and I think the other word I use liberation, it is I'm sitting in a beautiful home office at an extraordinary address, because of relationships, because of all kinds of things.

And we get to choose more than we know. And so, CEO could also stand for choice and choosing because there are things that happened to us that we have no control over, but there are things that we have more control over than we know. And so I would say that if you are doing this. If you are a CEO, get the energy and the enjoyment and the excitement going in it.

Because with that, you can just, you can do more. You can make more of what you dream about come true.

Gresham Harkless 15:01

Absolutely. And I appreciate your time even more. So what I want to do now is pass you the mic, so to speak, just to see if there's anything additional that you can let our readers and listeners know.

And of course, how best people can get out of you find about all the awesome things that you're working on.

Nell Merlino 15:14

Okay, first of all, you can reach me at their opportunity to sign up for an exploratory call with me to do art with me to do coaching with me because the art and the coaching goes together, but we can do one or the other, depending on what you want and Count Me In.

We now have a website called count me in revival where we also offer coaching. So you can go either route, or because I would love, I love talking to CEOs.

Gresham Harkless 15:43

Awesome. I appreciate you so much, Nell. We will of course have the links and information, the show notes as well too so that everybody can follow up with you, and I hope you have a phenomenal rest of the day.

Nell Merlino 15:51

Thank you. Thank you so much. This was so fun.

Outro 15:54

Thank you for listening to the I Am CEO Podcast powered by CB Nation in Blue 16 Media. Tune in next time and visit us at IAMCEO is not just a phrase, it's a community.

Get your driven CEO gear at Don't forget to schedule your complimentary digital marketing consultation at This has been the IAMCEO podcast with Gresham Harkless, Jr. Thank you for listening.


Dave Bonachita - CBNation Writer

This is a post from a CBNation team member. CBNation is a Business to Business (B2B) Brand. We are focused on increasing the success rate. We create content and information focusing on increasing the visibility of and providing resources for CEOs, entrepreneurs and business owners. CBNation consists of blogs(, podcasts, ( and videos ( CBNation is proudly powered by Blue16 Media.

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