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The Fundamental Principles of Disruption feat. T. Canady Barton ’10

Owl Have You Know

Season 4, Episode 12

Scott Gale '19 interviews T. Canady Barton. With a background in chemical engineering, she pivoted to cloud strategy and delivery, working with major companies. She joined Google in 2020 and was head of strategy and operations for YouTube marketing, before becoming the customer experience and innovation leader at Google Cloud Consulting.

She's now pursuing entrepreneurship with BlackBoxx, redefining care packages. T. talks about joy and passion in her career, satisfaction in entrepreneurship, and shaping her legacy.

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Episode Transcript

  • [00:00:00]Intro: Welcome to Owl Have You Know, a podcast from Rice Business. This episode is part of our Pivot Series, where guests share stories of transformation in their lives and careers.

    Thank you for coming to check out this episode of Owl Have You Know, a Rice Business Podcast. I'm Scott Gale, one of the hosts here on the show. And for today's episode, I'm joined by T. Canady Barton, a 2010 graduate of the professional MBA program at Rice. We explore her journey from engineer to corporate disruptor to entrepreneur and everywhere in between.

    Don't forget to subscribe, like, and share. Enjoy the show!

    [00:00:37]Scott: All right, welcome to Owl Have You Know. I am joined today by Taneshia Canady Barton, better known as T, Professional MBA from Rice, graduated in 2010. T, welcome to the show.

    [00:00:50]T. Canady: Thank you. Thanks so much for having me.

    [00:00:52]Scott: So excited to have this conversation. Lots of things to just cannonball into. As I look across your resume, T, you've got some of the world's biggest company names on your resume. And so, I want to get into that, but, kind of, take us back. You're a chemical engineer by training. Why chemical engineering?

    [00:01:11]T. Canady: It was hard for me to decide what to major in. And I wanted to pick something that left me lots of flexibility. You know, growing up, what you hear, at least in my neighborhood, was, you know, you want to be a doctor, lawyer, engineer. And so, engineering was one of those things where, “Okay, if I have to pick one, then if I'm an engineer, then I can still go and be a lawyer or a doctor.” People like engineers, right? I was really good at math and science. I loved chemistry, still do. I nerd out at the periodic table, all of that. And so, I thought about biomedical and I thought about a lot of different fields, but that seemed to be the one that was most flexible, left me the most options, honestly.

    So, it was all about, “Well, where do I go from here?” And since I wasn't 1,000% sure, I wanted to leave the doors open. So, that's, kind of, how I landed on it. And I stayed with it. Despite all of the falling soldiers on my sides, I decided to stick it out. And I'm glad I did.

    I think, one of the biggest things about chemical engineering that people don't really understand is that it's really about process and how to solve a problem, not the exact answer. You could totally ace a chemical engineering test without having the precise answer. That's good, but they care more about how you think. And so, it actually ended up being a really good fit.

    [00:02:30]Scott: Love that. As a recovered chemical engineer myself, I appreciate the perspective on that. So cool, that problem-solving capability that, sort of, comes along with it. Tell us about, kind of, your first job out of undergrad. What, kind of, led to that? What was, kind of, your thinking? What was, sort of, that next step from, “Hey, I like math and science. I'm out here doing something challenging, learning how to solve problems? Like, what was, kind of, that thinking early in your career?

    [00:02:56]T. Canady: Right. So, it actually started, kind of, pre-graduation. I had a ton of internships, some of which I found things that I really, really love, like, new business development, exploring, innovation, all of those types of things. The chemical plant, per se, was not my forte. I was wearing steel toe boots all the time, and, you know, just the different things that come with that.

    It was not really my jam, but there were a lot of things that I liked about it. And, for me, it was, you know, going into graduation, again, still that same mindset of I want to keep my options open. I'm not exactly sure where I'm going to land, but there are things I know I like and things I know that, you know, I prefer to do less of.

    And when I was making considerations, it was really roles that were more sales-focused, roles that were more business-focused, and then roles that were deeply, deeply technical in a very specific niche. And at that time, I didn't know what I wanted my niche to be, but I did know that I wanted to be on the commercial end.

    And so, I ended up going into global services at ExxonMobil. And one of the main reasons is because of the international view of things, the complexity of the business, and then the ability to work with so many different functions on a daily basis to really drive business decisions. I mean, you go into a company like ExxonMobil, and they give you so much responsibility so quickly because they've hired people that they can really trust. And at that time, they had a huge drive to get engineers into the business space because they felt that we could understand the business more deeply.

    And so, it was actually a really great fit. And that's how I made my decision. I often look back now, though, and say, “I wonder what would have happened if I would have chosen a role in sales,” because in so much of the work I do now, there is a sales function of it, right? You either are training salespeople, working very closely with salespeople. And so, I'm very adjacent to that role. But at the time, it was wanting to have a bigger impact and a broader focus. And I think that still holds true today. I like to do things that have bigger impact and broader focus.

    [00:05:08]Scott: I mean, Exxon's a world-class spot to land for an engineer. Sort of joke, when you get a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering, you can't, like, engineer your way out of a paper bag. But you go to a company that can, you know, then teach you how to do that. And so, understanding, kind of, the trappings around that. You then pivoted from ExxonMobil to, was it IBM?

    [00:05:29]T. Canady: Oh, boy. It was a, kind of, windy path. So, one of the things, like I said, I was, I was still exploring. I mean, that's what you do at 18, 22 years old. You're still exploring, you're still figuring out who you are, what you love. And, you know, there were so many things that I really loved about ExxonMobil.

    Again, I worked with legal, I worked with warranty, I worked with huge projects overseas, I worked with all the major stakeholders with these huge exploration projects and production projects and so many great things. But the one thing that my heart was missing was innovation and a quicker pace. We know that, you know, in oil and gas, things tend to take a very long time to develop. And you have to pay your dues. It's just what it is. And so, there's people that have been there before you, that have earned the right to move on more quickly than you have. And one of the things I wanted to do is, I was getting promoted, I was getting awarded, but I wasn't necessarily getting more opportunities to innovate and, kind of, build business.

    And so, really hard decision, but I decided to walk away and do some more exploration from an entrepreneurial standpoint. And so, my now husband and I decided to move out of the state of Texas and go to Atlanta and start exploring there. And so, he was graduating. And he was with a firm that allowed him to have a base there. And I just started to go deep into tech, right? And I just started to shadow anybody that would allow it. I just had lots of conversations. I translated what I learned in all my years of schooling at ExxonMobil and got into a role in a tech company and a tech organization where I could just basically translate those skills.

    And from that, I ended up… because of all these other skills, I ended up leading major innovation projects. And it went from project management to program management to portfolio management. And over a very few number of years, because of this, just, passion that I had for execution and innovation, it just, it skyrocketed.

    And so, I feel like, being in Atlanta were some of my most fundamental informative years, because just the environment that just was so conducive to allow me to, what I like to say, fly, they didn't have as many barriers around me on where I could move or where I could go. If you could prove you could do the work, you could do it. If you could shine there, they let you shine.

    And so, yeah, I did work for IBM. I also worked with InterContinental Hotels Group. Still friends with so many people there. I worked for several companies that are just so much of a part of who I am today, have helped make me who I am today.

    [00:08:11]Scott: That's so awesome. Was there, sort of… I'm interested in, sort of, like, the motivators for you. Or, were there mentors or people that you look up to or somebody's story that you were, sort of, like, “I can, I… that's what I want to go do?” Was it just, sort of, more internally driven or was it…

    [00:08:26]T. Canady: I wish I knew, Scott. I wish I knew, because I'm trying to figure out who this person is and where she came from. I think my biggest driver was just do something big, like, you need to do something. And I've said before that my only fear in life has ever been, really, mediocrity. And I just knew that whatever I did, it needed to have big impact. Like, it needed to be significant. I don't show up to hold space, you know, and just take up space and not do anything with it.

    And so, I think that was… well, it's my motivator. I remember being, like, 11, 12 years old and sitting on the curb outside of my house and watching cars go by and thinking, “Where are these people going? What are they doing?” I wonder if they're happy doing what they do. And I wish I could do more to help more people find joy in what they're doing every day because I saw so many people that just went to work. That is what they did. They went to work. It was a means to an end. It was something that they had to do. It was not a pleasure, necessarily, right?

    You found joy in it in some ways, but it was not a pleasure. And so, no, I didn't have, in my immediate vicinity, people that, you know, were doing things I wanted to do. I don't, it hadn't even been invented at that point. You know, transformation, innovation was not really the talk of the town. It was, make the donut, right? Like, just do it. Or at least in the circles that I was in.

    But I do remember one time seeing…I think it was 2020. And recently, I tried to find this. And I think the company, I don't want to mess up the company name, but they were doing innovation. And something sparked in me so loudly, I could almost hear it, where they were talking about how they were creating products and what the innovation process was. All of the things that had to do with that and how it was this think tank and, you know, how they made it all happen and they brought new things to life, that is what I gravitated towards. And I think, for a long time, without knowing it, that's what I was chasing.

    [00:10:29]Scott: Love that. Thank you for sharing. I think that's so cool. And I'm… I want to ask, the time that you've spent, sort of, thinking about disruption and innovation, like, to think about it as, like, you know, these big organizations have this weight of incumbency and they just, kind of, have the way they do things, what are some of the, like, fundamental principles of disruption, in your view, from your learnings? Just curious around the…any commonalities in that, or things to look out for when you're trying to disrupt a big incumbent.

    [00:10:56]T. Canady: Well, I'll say loud and clear that nobody has it figured out. Nobody has it figured out. There's not some magic wand. There's not some special formula. Nobody has it figured out. Everybody's trying to figure it out in their own way. And I think the common thread that people get to — or should get to — is that we're still in the people business. No matter what business you're in, you're in the people business.

    And it doesn't matter how great your idea is. It doesn't matter how much money you're going to make. If people can't understand it and people don't buy into it and they don't understand how to use it, it doesn't matter.

    And so, our job as technologists, our job as business leaders is to make it easy to understand, to simplify the process, to make it easy for them to get to, for them to explain to their team. So, it trickles down. If we don't do that, it really doesn't matter. It's not going to go very far. And so, I think those are the common things people get to... It's hard. It is hard. Anything worth doing usually is. It has some hard part about it. Your idea can be brilliant, but implementation matters. Adoption matters. And how do you get that, right? It's not just talking to the C-suite. Of course, you need their buy-in. You need them to validate and adopt it themselves. But you got to get to the heart of the people in any organization. You got to go to every single level of that organization and make sure people are clear, that they're bought in, they understand it, and you're moving whatever roadblocks you have to to do it. You got to stay scrappy. You got to have grit. And, you know, if you really want to make it happen, you got to show the passion.

    [00:12:35]Scott: Yeah. It's not just the technology or the, you know, the change. It's the human psychology of it, such an important feature and factor to solve for along the way. I want to talk about Rice. You graduated in 2010. So, the financial crisis was, you know, happening through your MBA experience.

    [00:12:53]T. Canady: Yeah. I was in Atlanta. At the time, was buying a house in Texas during this crisis that you speak of. So, my… now he's my husband, we were married while we were in Atlanta. And we just knew we were coming back to Texas. Texas is home, and we knew we would be coming back at some point in time. And we, kind of, made the decision that, “Now was the time to come back.”

    But it took us about two-plus years to find the space we wanted to land. And during that time, I did look at other MBA programs. Texas is very fortunate to have some stellar programming, right? I can name a few, and I will not. However, Rice stood out for me for a number of different reasons.

    One is the legacy. Rice, the name speaks for itself. You know, you have a lot of pride when you speak about the alumni that have come from Rice, the statue of the organization itself, how it always competes on every level, particularly academically.

    I almost went to Rice undergrad, is what people don't know. Almost went to Rice undergrad. I came for an athletic visit. I felt like this was my time to get that opportunity to come. The alumni and the recruiting staff were so warm. They were so inviting. They really made me feel at home. It was one of the few programs, particularly at the time, that as a working professional, I didn't have to do it online. I could be on the beautiful campus, which means that I could connect more deeply with my colleagues.

    The rigor that it takes to get a Rice MBA, right? I did not want something that was not going to make me deep-think or that was not going to have me connect in the classroom in a way that I was having just as much learning from my peers as I did from my teachers.

    And so, when I thought about all of that — the brand, the connection, the network, the rigor — it was an easy choice, actually.

    [00:14:42]Scott: I think this is such an important topic, because I think there's a lot of discussion about how to engage alumni. And there's a subset of people who go get MBAs, and they pay their tuition, and they get their piece of paper, and they, kind of, move on. I like to say, like you, you get half the value of your MBA on graduation day and you spend the rest of your life chasing the other half. And I think that you're a representation of that.

    I want to talk about your entrepreneurial experience. I've got a couple of company names in front of me that you founded: BlackBoxx, ThinkPower. Probably missing some. Like, talk me through the entrepreneurial experience.

    [00:15:17]T. Canady: So, let's start with, kind of, why. I think, growing up, you know, we talked about, what did you have around you or what made you decide chemical engineering or to do these different paths? I saw entrepreneurship around me. It was not necessarily successful entrepreneurship, but I did see entrepreneurship. And I saw the reward of building something your own. Even if it didn't always net the result that you were hoping for, even if it didn't lead to insane riches, I saw the satisfaction of building something with your own hands, right? Whether it was a lawn service or a dealership or a retail store.

    And that fire is just something special, when you see someone giving all to build something new and take that chance and go out there and bet on themselves. I think that fire was fueled from a young age when I saw it. And I thought, you know, “I wish I could help them do this more successfully.” And as I got older, I was able to contribute to several friends and family members’ business to help them think through things to help their business be more successful.

    So, of course, you know, my husband and I, we were both working full time, but we decided our first business was actually a pressure washing business. Another little known fact. Imagine me in a big yellow wetsuit. I did that. I washed apartment buildings when I had to. But it was, you know, his dream, right? It was his dream. He wanted to do this for many different reasons. And so, I was on the side, doing all the things to make it happen. It didn't matter if it was the marketing, the sales, the customer acquisition. It didn't matter. Whatever it took, that's what we were doing.

    And so, we did that for several years, had lots of people coming to us asking how to build business. And then, that ended up going into a business consulting firm about execution, management consulting, all the things that are required to build a business.

    And then, you know, we did go back and forth a bit, where we would have people ask for us to come in and work at their company, basically, like a loaned leader, a loaned executive in some of these companies. And so, we did that. And so, it was a lot of mix. Entrepreneurship for us hasn't been this straight path where you just run with this one business. It's been, “Take this learning, apply it to a new business, help other people build business with it, go work back in corporate for a little bit, and, you know, use those skills to help build organizations and entities within those businesses.” It definitely hasn't been a straight path, but it's been a very rewarding one, because we have still been able to have impact.

    I think sometimes we put these blinders on, like, “I'm going to be an entrepreneur. That's the only thing I'm going to do.” But I think when you have a greater purpose, you realize that you can do it both ways. It's just timing of what makes sense to do what. And so, I've had no problem going back and forth or, you know, running… letting this business run itself. It's just about what do you want your focus to be?

    And I think another thing that has come as I, again, explore entrepreneurship, and keeping that lasting legacy, is that it's just that. You go from wanting a job, and then I thought I wanted a career. But then, what I've come to realize is that I really just wanted legacy. Sometimes, that's built by how many different organizations you can touch to make them better. How can you grow business? How can you plant seeds of innovation and growth in other places to see other businesses thrive? Like, what is it that you want your legacy to be? And don't bottle that up. You know, you can be an intrapreneur, which I've done that as well. You can, you know, step back outside when it makes sense for you. But don't, you know, sacrifice yourself because you just have to have this name title. And that goes with corporate as well. Just because you want to be, you know, a certain level or a certain title, you do your best work where you are and then it will figure itself out. And if that means you step aside and grow something else, then you should be free to do that. You should understand where your talents are best utilized for that point in time and not, you know, suffer or suffocate yourself because you can't get something out to the world that you really want to get out.

    [00:19:28]Scott: For, kind of, the aspiring entrepreneur out there, you, kind of, have to opt into an entrepreneurial experience in some ways, and there's some, you know, camps that, sort of, say, like, entrepreneurs are, kind of, born, that you have to have, you know, a specific personality or a specific whatever, and then there's a lot of entrepreneurship that can be learned. And I love this intrapreneurship, entrepreneurship kind of thing. It's like, it's like a dissatisfaction with how the world runs. And so, curious to know, like, advice that you would give to aspiring entrepreneurs or people that want to have more of that impact. How do you self-select in or identify, what are some of the characteristics?

    [00:20:09]T. Canady: Yeah. For me, I'll say greatest success has come when I was really clear on the purpose behind it. Not always the product being the most crystal clear, not always the market being the most crystal clear, because I think that evolves over time. And I think sometimes it's even greater than you expected. Sometimes we limit ourselves on the reach we think we can have. But being really clear on the purpose, like, what do I intend to do, what is the job that needs to be done here, and how do I see this evolving, right? And just, kind of, think through just, like, three years, five years on what you would like to see happen.

    I think my biggest issue, if I can call it that, was not dreaming big enough. And so, I often ask myself, “Well, why don't you go do that? Like, what's stopping you, really stopping you from going to do this idea that you have?” You can start these things wherever you are. Whatever your employment status is, you can start that thing.

    What you have to be clear on, again, is the purpose. And then, start to craft something. Get it out there in the world. Trial it out, right? Don't make too many assumptions. But once you understand the purpose, the job to be done, and you have an idea of the product, start testing it. Start seeing who that audience might be. Start exploring a little bit. Ask questions. Get it out to people. Start with friendlies, right, to see what that looks like.

    And then, be prepared, because it's not, it's not easy. It's not for the fainted heart. And if you decide that you want to jump into it, you do need to be, you know, somewhat financially prepared. I think sometimes we overdo it, right? And we think, “I got to have 10 years of savings.” Well, maybe not 10 years, but, you know, you do need to be prepared, though, if you want to buy a house, right? This may not be the time. So, there's definitely sacrifices that need to be made. You need to make sure you have accountability partners. You need to make sure that your significant others are on board.

    Those are some of the things to just prepare yourself in the immediate for entrepreneurship. Is this something you're willing to sacrifice for? Are these things, you know, as Dave Ramsey says, are these things you're willing to go beans and rice for, if it took that? Or, is it superficial? Because a lot of times, if it is something that is purpose-driven, you are willing to do that. You are willing to make those sacrifices. You're willing to do the things, the hard things. You're less likely to give up because of some dissatisfaction somewhere. So, really center yourself around, what is that thing I feel like I have to get out there? Who are going to be the people that help me to just be accountable? They may not be the people that know everything about your product, but they may be the people that know you deeply enough to know why you're driving to do this and to keep you accountable to your purpose — not just to the business, but to your purpose.

    [00:23:03]Scott: Entrepreneurship isn't a vanity project. It's like a lifestyle, right?

    [00:23:07]T. Canady: It's not a vanity project. You know, we hear all the… especially now with tech and everything, we hear all these success stories and people going, you know, IPO and all these fabulous things. And the 12-year overnight success story, it's more likely the scenario, right, where people have been grinding in their garage for so many years because they were so passionate about this theme. And then, look at how many of them started with this one product. They ended up being something totally different. But what was the thing that was the same? It was the passion. It was the purpose. They had an intention. And it may have evolved a bit, but that intention, that purpose usually remains pretty pure and pretty much to the core, significantly similar, I'll say.

    [00:23:54]Scott: Yeah, have clarity of the “why” and build from there.

    [00:23:57]T. Canady: Yeah. What, what is your “why?” Because if you're just out here doing it, it's not going to last long.

    [00:24:03]Scott: Yeah, and it's tough enough you'll be completely miserable and lose yourself along the way.

    [00:24:09]T. Canady: And I was doing entrepreneurship when I did the Rice MBA program. So, I really had to be committed because I didn't have anybody footing the bill for that, right? So, it was like all-in committed to getting what I needed to know in order to scale, in order to connect, you know, more deeply. And regardless of which business, you know, or which time, just what do I need to get here?

    [00:24:35]Scott: Comparing and contrasting your career pre-Rice experience, post-Rice experience, is there anything that stands out that came through from that Rice experience that is now folded into your approach, things, or experiences, or moments, or connections, part of the network, whatever that contributed to what you're working on now?

    [00:24:58]T. Canady: I feel like Rice validated my insanity. Like, this wild idea that I could do these crazy, crazy things, right? I think, before, you know, the possibility was stronger that I was going after particular roles, particular titles, and things like that. And the MBA would be a feather in my hat to help me get that or be validated in some kind of way, even though I had the experience.

    I think what ends up happening on the other side is that I became more rooted in who I really am and what I really aspire to be and less apologetic about that, because I had a community of people that, you know, sometimes are just as crazy as I, or at least were validating, saying, “No, you should do that. You're this enough. You're that enough. I would buy that. I would do that. I believe in you.” Whatever it is you need your tribe, right?

    And so, I think with Rice, it's definitely one of, you know, those tribes that has helped to validate that crazy a little bit. And then, when you have professors that are willing to sit down and talk you through any points that you may be having concerns with, whether it's marketing, whether it's pricing, whether it's selling, and you're sitting in classes, like, with the late great Al Napier, who's telling you to be rooted in your vision and what you want your legacy to be when you're 70, 80 years old, and making you think about that now as a 20, 30-year-old somebody, and thinking about, “Well, what do I want to be said when I'm 90, when I'm 80? And how do I get to that?” When you have other professors who have been successful entrepreneurs coming back and talking through you about, not just the sunshiny parts, but the hard parts, and willing to sit down again at any time to talk you through whatever it is you need to talk through, it makes you a better person. It makes you a more willing entrepreneur.

    I think if you already have that itch, it makes you feel like it's even more possible and that you're not alone doing it. Because I think, as entrepreneurs, so many times you feel like you're on an island, right? And you feel like you have to do everything on your own. And I've certainly been that. And I've certainly done that. But now, I'm much more inclined to pick up a phone, to send a text, whatever it is to get an answer, to get an idea, whatever it is to just make a connection, whatever it is I need at that time. I feel like I'm much more willing to do that because of that community.

    [00:27:39]Scott: A bit of what you're describing, I like to say, kind of, living a life that echoes. In the spirit of that, like, reverberation, we've been talking a lot about the past. I want to talk a little bit about the here and now. Like, tell us a bit about what you're doing, what you're working on. Like, what's on the horizon?

    [00:27:55]T. Canady: Yes. So, right now, I'm completely committed to legacy-building. It's a little early. Some people might say that. But I feel like it starts… like, you have to be very intentional about that. So, every project that I'm taking on right now has to have elements of leaving a legacy for, not only my family, but for other families. And so, it's about leaving those nuggets of innovation and helping people to build their business, whether it's a small one or a large one. It doesn't matter. To me, it's really about fueling that entrepreneurial fire inside and outside of corporate.

    For my family, you know, what does that look like, as I sow seeds into my children, into my two girls, right? What does that look like? As I restart a passion project, I like to say, that's all about just that — empowering entrepreneurs, building brands, helping people to connect more deeply, and just sharing pure joy. Those are the types of things I'm focused on right now.

    [00:29:02]Scott: Thank you for sharing your spirit of rebellion and entrepreneurship and all these things. It's so awesome. Been an inspirational conversation. Any last thoughts that you would like to, kind of, share or maybe said another way, advice you would give or people considering a Rice experience, however you want to shape it?

    [00:29:19]T. Canady: Do it. Don't blink, you know. And I was going to tell you this. When I started the process, I did look at, you know, other organizations, but when I actually applied, I only applied to Rice. Like, it was that clear to me. So, what would I have done? I don't know. But I was so committed and so sure about my choice. It was the only place I actually applied to. That's how strongly I felt about it. And I think it was absolutely the best choice, the right choice.

    For those aspiring entrepreneurs, I say, go for it. You know, start somewhere. Start now. Don't wait. Dream bigger. Nobody's coming to save us, you know. Like you've got to start yourself. Show the proof. Be the proof. And just go for it. Like, just live your biggest, loudest life possible, at least on paper, right? Like, live that life that you wrote down. What is important to you? And live that life.

    [00:30:16]Scott: Thank you for being awesome. Thank you for being on the show. It was a real privilege.

    [00:30:20]T. Canady: My pleasure. Thank you, Scott.

    [00:30:23]Outro: Thanks for listening. This has been Owl Have You Know, a production of Rice Business. You can find more information about our guests, hosts, and announcements on our website, Please subscribe and leave a rating wherever you find your favorite podcasts. We'd love to hear what you think. The hosts of Owl Have You Know are myself, Scott Gale, and Maya Pomroy.

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