Elizabeth Chambers Hammer on how to be a powerhouse mom, baker and businesswoman -- and why it's okay to feel guilty about it
Elizabeth Chambers Hammer is a force to be reckoned with — whether she’s on air, in the kitchen or tucking her children into bed.
The mother of two has a pretty impressive resume — she serves as a judge on two network cable shows, is a regular on The TODAY Show, serves as the Chief Correspondent for the Human Rights Foundation, actively supports many philanthropic organizations such as STOP CANCER and The Hammer Museum, and is the CEO & Founder of the award-winning BIRD Bakery.
And while it can be a challenge to wear so many different hats, Elizabeth to manages to do it all, and do it all well.
Curious as to how she keeps her hair looking that good while she’s whipping up Monster Cookies in her kitchen?
“It’s all about that topknot!”
We sat down with Elizabeth to chat about balancing philanthropy, entrepreneurship and motherhood — and how to do it with a grace and ease that we can all only one day hope to emulate.
AOL: Let’s start with your philanthropic involvement. You’re Chief Correspondent for the Human Rights Foundation — how did you get involved with that and what’s the importance of philanthropy to you?
Elizabeth Chambers Hammer: “My first job out of school was at Current TV (which is Al Gore’s network) — It was a startup company and I was on air there for four years. We did heavily involved, journalistic stories — news that mattered. After I left there, I was doing more entertainment and more lifestyle, and I really just missed the hard-hitting news. And so, I went to work for the Human Rights Foundation. We do a couple stories every year, we also do the Freedom Forum and it’s just really important to me to keep perspective as to what’s going on in the world and to not get wrapped up in our own little bubble, which is so easy to do.”
AOL: What values and lessons have you learned through philanthropy that you want to pass on to your children?
ECH: “I think everything in life is perspective, I mean it’s so easy to get wrapped up in our day to day and think certain things that are pretty trivial are the end of the world … freedom is not a guarantee in other countries, something as simple as that is important for me to remind myself, and I certainly will encourage my children too feel the same. I do not want them to think that what they’re surrounded with is all that’s out there.”
AOL: How does staying active in philanthropy help you with motherhood?
ECH: “It’s all really tied in. Motherhood, being a leader in my company, and also being an on-air correspondent — it all really works together. I think that you need to have certain values in your life and structure in your life that help you in all of those avenues, and honestly they overlap in so many ways.”
AOL: What would some of those values be?
ECH: “Organization, putting systems in place — whether it’s at the bakery, or at home, or in television — and having policy and procedure, so you’re not doing the same thing redundantly every day, so you have a mainstream to do everything. And delegation — I always tell my employees…you know you can do something 100 percent, but I always say ‘I’m okay with it being done 80 percent if it means that you can do more.’ So, I think that that’s been the biggest challenge for me and for some of my management.
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The third thing I would say is prioritizing — I always call them ‘windows in your head’, we all have a million windows that are open, so you have to learn when to minimize certain windows based on what’s coming up … I always try to be focused on what I’m doing at the time, prioritizing is highly underrated!”
AOL: You’re also the CEO & Founder of the award-winning BIRD Bakery. How did the idea of the bakery come to be? What’s the concept behind it?
ECH: “They’re family recipes — that and my love of baking came together to create BIRD bakery. I started our first location almost six years ago based on my grandmother and my mother and my own recipes. I always loved baking and my background was television, so I was definitley in a different world, but Marketing was my minor in school and I always wanted to start a bakery. I thought I would be 55, I was like ‘I’ll be hosting the Today show and I’ll start a bakery in my 50s!’ but I’m glad I didn’t wait that long because I definitley would never have had the energy to do it — it’s a lot of work and a lot of all-nighters in the beginning. Thank God everyone loves my family’s recipes as much as I did!”
AOL: What’s your favorite BIRD bakery memory that you’ve shared with your family?
ECH: “My family being involved — it’s so cool to see my sister come and enjoy our Monster Cookies which we all grew up making or have my mom come and have her chicken salad that we always had on the beach every summer served to all of our guests…to have all those people kind of get to experience what I experienced in my childhood is a blessing.”
AOL: Do you have a favorite recipe on the BIRD menu?
ECH: “I have different favorites depending on the season — right now I’m really into our banana pudding. But our carrot cake is amazing and our Pimento cheese sandwich is to die for!"
AOL: Were there any challenges with getting BIRD off that ground that you hadn’t originally anticipated or planned for?
ECH: “Everything was a challenge! It truly is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. Honestly, something as simple as getting someone to show up to work [is a challenge]. We’re a from-scratch bakery … every single day, you’re creating all of your product from scratch. It’s literally building that village, daily, from nothing… you really have to have reliable employees. In the beginning you’re doing everything… You have to really know how to do every part of your business that you’re asking other people to do.”
AOL: Are your kids involved in the business at all?
ECH: “They are! To me, it’s very important to create an example for my daughter and for my son of a working mom. Harper, when she comes, she’s our greeting committee … she knows how to sweep, she knows when there are crumbs .. she knows where we keep all the unfrosted cupcakes because she goes back and sneaks them! But my son is only seven months, so I hope that in time he will absolutely learn the ways of the business. And I hope one day, as soon as they can, that they’re our youngest paid employees.”
AOL: Do you find that traveling so often for business is a challenge? How do you balance spending time with your children and traveling so often?
ECH: “Traveling is definitley a challenge. I travel almost every week and I try to bring [my children] with me. To me, life experience is stimulation, it’s something that they’re learning — my daughter is almost three and she’s a little sponge, every single experience is just something new for her. Even though its more work for me, and it would be easy to just leave them at home, I try to bring them as much as possible. And yes, it takes more work, but i also think the payoff is much greater.”
AOL: Do you have any tips for prioritizing travel time and family time? Or any advice on how to balance it all?
ECH: “I think you always have to do — not what’s easiest — but what’s best. I definitley challenge myself more than my husband would like, in terms of that, or more than my staff, but I think you can do your best to do it all. It does take a lot of work, and it’s not easy (I’m still breastfeeding my son and he’s almost 8 months … to me breastfeeding is really important and I’m not going to stop working!) It’s just a little less sleep and a little bit more effort, but in my opinion, it definitley pays off in the end.
AOL: Do you ever feel guilty about having to leave your kids to travel or to work in general?
ECH: “You feel guilty about everything! You feel guilty if you’re not working, you feel guilty if you’re not with them … people will say ‘What have you sacrificed?’ And I don’t think it’s a sacrifice one way or another, I think it’s always just a shift. Theres a fluidity to wearing so many hats, and to me, the best way to counteract that fluidity is to stay present. When I’m with my children, i put my phone away and focus on them as much as i possibly can. The other day I had this moment where I was at the park, pushing the swing with one hand and checking my email with the other, and I was like ‘I’m not actually answering this email and I’m not actually really being here with my daughter, so this is really a lose-lose for everyone.’ So, really just prioritizing and focusing on what you’re doing when you’re doing it, to me, is really the best way to counteract that guilt (which everyone feels!)”
AOL: What do you find to be the biggest similarity between being a mom and being an entrepreneur?
ECH: “I think the challenges — there’s always going to be phases …There’s always going to be good, there’s always going to be challenges, but you have to just know that this is a moment and it’s going to change. And I think that’s true with business, I think that’s true with motherhood — You have to just enjoy it … enjoy what you’re in when you’re in it.”
AOL: What do you hope your children can learn from having a mom that can do it all?
ECH: "I hope that they know they can do it all! I’m not saying that I do it all perfectly — I think that when you try to do it all, it’s easy to get wrapped up in ‘What is perfect? What is the best?’ But I know that I won’t have any regrets —I really hope that [my children] know they can try anything, do anything, that they’re not put in a box. The sky is the limit and it’s going to be a journey along the way, but they’re only going to be better for it.”
AOL: What’s your main piece of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
ECH: “Never give up. There are so many challenges and there are so many reasons why you should not pursue your dream — You can literally make a list a million words long as to why you shouldn’t do it. But there’s one reason why you should, and that’s because it is your dream and it’s your goal, and you will always regret it if you don’t pursue it. Focus on that one instead of the nine million reasons why not.”
AOL: What would you say to someone who wants to pursue a business venture but is nervous that they can’t because they’re also a parent? What would you say to someone who thinks that they have to choose between the two?
ECH: “I truly believe that being a businesswoman makes me a better mom. I know that my daughter sees me multitasking and sees how hard I work … you can tell your kids to work hard, and you can tell them to pursue their dreams, but actions are so much more powerful than words. So, why not show them how to do that?
No matter how much hard work it is, I never regret once that i pursued [my business]. And i know that it makes me a better parent, to show my children that you can do that.”
You can learn more about Elizabeth’s bakery, BIRD Bakery, here.
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