Name: Trenelle Pierce

Position: Director of Business Development

Company: Cytellix

Trenelle is also a Member of The Board of Advisors for Dale E. and Sarah Ann Fowler School of Engineering.

Can you please tell us more about your background and how you ended up pursuing an MBA at Chapman University’s George L. Argyros School of Business and Economics?

I am a first-generation citizen in the USA, which I frequently reference as my “superpower.” My family on both sides is from Trinidad and Tobago. My mom, a single parent, along with my Grandmother, raised my sister and I. Growing up mainly in California, with some spurts in NYC, we saw a lot living in the lower middle-class parts of LA county. I learned early on what I did not want my life to look like, which led me to go directly to a 4-year university upon graduating high school and graduated with my 1st business degree from California State University, Fullerton (CSUF). Being a college graduate and the keynote speaker at our Pan African Ceremony to the class was a huge accomplishment being a first-gen. But if I am honest, the feeling of excitement quickly left after the celebration was over. I returned to my full-time job as a marketing analyst at a physical therapy center within a week of graduating. My roommates decided to move back home, and I could not afford rent in Orange County on my own. On a flight back from my sorority’s conference, I started writing down some plans on a napkin. That plan included moving to NYC for a year to stay with my aunt and uncle and “figure it out.”

I did just that. Within a month of being there, I decided to research MBA programs in California. My top 3 were Chapman University, Loyola Marymount, and Peter Drucker’s school. My reasoning for pursuing an MBA was simply because I knew my Bachelor’s degree was not competitive enough in the market, and I needed more leverage.

After visiting all three schools during various class times, asking current students, evaluating scheduling options, and understanding the program’s layout, Chapman stood out. I enjoyed the small class sizes, with people of all industry backgrounds, ages, and life stages. Many worked full-time, like me, who had no other financial support, and we found common ground in that alone. The experiences the program provided are noteworthy too: various speakers, a trip to Mexico to present to business leaders, and overall good times.

What personal motto/ethos do you live by as a leader? 

Be a Comfort-Zone Expander. If you are doing things day to day that comes easy to you, it is time to stretch. While it may not be possible every single day to commit to that, weekly do something that makes you a bit uncomfortable, especially in communicating with other people and fostering those relationships. It can even be as simple as studying or reading at a coffee shop and taking a moment to pause and say “hello, how’s your day going?” to a nearby stranger. If they are a jerk, move on, but they are likely to be friendly enough to respond and ask about yours – making it an opportunity to stretch your comfort zone and do something different. Truly those small experiences build up confidence along the way, and who wouldn’t want more of that? Something funnier to try: put on your pant’s left leg first or brush your teeth with the opposite hands. There are so many ways to learn new things if we are willing to give it a go.

What excites you about the field that you work in?

Cybersecurity is one of the most innovative industries I’ve ever been in, and it keeps the day-to-day exciting at times. Communities are tired of seeing the same faces, pushing the same messages. I get to come into these spaces, be myself and command the attention of people who are not used to seeing someone like me. I also get to utilize all of these interpersonal skills I’ve been strengthening along the way to talk about such a pertinent topic of cybersecurity to small e-commerce business owners. It could be my friend’s aunt or the 4th generation machine shop CFO who doesn’t even know what cybersecurity means or the IT lead at a mid-size company that called me because they received a letter from the Department of Defense to comply with a cyber standard that is urgent. My people skills have truly allowed me to thrive in spaces like these and not feel limited. The best part is I am helping businesses stay in business.

How has it been navigating this industry as a black woman and do you have any advice for those who aspire to work in a similar capacity?

The truth is that my path to cybersecurity has been a curvy road, which is how it usually is when you are taking the time to explore. And that is “a-ok.” I started off in marketing for a physical therapy center, then to a big box telecommunications company, manufacturing, and fashion, and then landed in cybersecurity. All the while learning how to build relationships in all those random but synergistic industries.

Being a black woman, in a male-led industry has been eye-opening and challenging. It is filled with people that have shown they want to grow with me, become my allies and are willing to share their knowledge/expertise in a reciprocal way. Allowing them to expand their own comfort zones quite honestly. There are others that do not want that, and that’s life with close-minded people here on earth.

My advice is that YOU get to write your story chapter by chapter. As simple as it sounds. Don’t judge people and most importantly, be OPEN to new relationships. It is a good thing when others around you are different than you, in age, race, industry, and life stages. Set reminders to reconnect with people, take notes on those calls or meet-ups, and reference that in your follow-ups. This industry like all others is built on strong relationships, and spend time growing them. Take an active interest in others and some way somehow will take an active interest in you!

What/who inspires you?

My optimism is what fuels my outlook on where I am headed. As I become better in who I am over the days, weeks, months years, I have no choice but to be inspired. I truly believe there will always be people I meet that genuinely want to see me win and therefore, I want to do whatever I can to make sure they too win.

A few people that come to mind based on some recent interactions, Denise Sarkor, who is a wealth advisor at BNY Mellon and has a huge heart for community work. Joye Purser, a Global Cybersecurity Leader, who I was introduced to by another leader in the industry, mentoring young people in the realm of cybersecurity. I think about Jennifer Montellanico, who works at Insperity as a Business Performance Advisor curating HR solutions for companies and is such a bright light every time I see her at any networking event. Ebony Brown, Founder & CEO of Black Girls Who Code, a non-profit that I volunteer with to inspire young people to engage in this community. And I would be remiss if I did not mention Martha Daniel, who is the CEO/President of IMRI, and Brian Berger, President of Cytellix Corporation. Both of them have been supporting my efforts through all the title changes I have had at the company over the years. Grateful to know these folks!

What advice do you have for students on how to stand out in the business world?

Be patient with yourself and your growth; it is a marathon! While striving for a job or title is good, make sure you invest in yourself outside your 9-5 grind. It can be classes or personal growth tailored to your needs, books, or conferences. Just make sure you are feeding yourself. You never want your value to be totally wrapped up in your vocation. People can always tell when a person is growing, and it is attractive. 

Be courageous leaders. Go Panthers!